I have taken a hard long look at where Additive 3D printing technology stands today. I have determined it is a viable high quality creative process in the high end commercial and industrial marketplace. This is because it is a large investment to get top quality output.
I have no first-hand experience using any 3D printer, so my judgement is based on available video and information gleaned from internet sources. A condensed reference for 3D printing is available on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing.
The bulk of the consumer grade 3D printers, up to one thousand dollars, are really playthings. (Don’t hate me if you own and love one. It’s just my studied opinion.) Up to and around five thousand there are acceptable quality (output) jewelry wax machines and small prototype laser fusion machines available. The really high quality large commercial machines are far above that range.
The bulk of the under one thousand dollar machines are hobby grade and use a glue gun type material extrusion technology under CNC stepper or servo motor control. The hardware works most of the time and the output can be reasonably useful. There exists probably a dozen or more types of plastic like materials that can be hot extruded as the building “ink”. These materials vary from hard, to flexible, and even water soluble. Many machines can only use one or two materials. PLA and ABS are the most common. Some open architecture machines can be programmed for a wide choice of other materials. Many printer makers want to sell their own proprietary materials.
PLA (PolyLatic Acid) is a biodegradable plastic derived from material like cornstarch while ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a synthetic type plastic and is more durable than PLA. Leggo bricks are ABS plastic. I am not going into more detail on material. That’s not my intent in this post.
I see low cost 3D printers being used to produce one off prototypes where quality of finish right off the printer is not highly important. Tiny ridges in the surface is OK. Second operation finishing can be used to smooth the appearance of printed objects.
I called the under one thousand dollar machines toys. But that doesn’t mean that I would not love to play with those toys. I am sure it is the lowest cost way to develop an understanding about this new high tech tool. My investigation clearly indicates quality of the output of these filament media systems seldom puts them into a professional class as far as the finish quality of the parts produced. It is more a proof of concept that 3D drawings can be sliced into stacking layers that can then be used to stack build an object, layer by layer.
Right now eager entrepreneurs are creating a huge variety of beginner machines and trying to get hobby enthusiasts to purchase them. I read about some of them being scams just looking for investors in new style machines. The money is being made in producing the machines for hobbyists, not the product that the machines can make.
A small printing service industry has developed offering to print objects that other people create digitally. Pretty much like the regular printing business where you deliver the code for what you want printed and the business has enough work to afford running it on a high quality printer. A reasonable option if the goal is the object printed rather than the experience printing it.
So money can get you what you want if you have enough of it. You get out of a 3D printer what you can pay to put into it.
As I said, I would love to have one to play with. But that would be the only reason. I can’t and won’t pay for a high end 3D Printer and I can’t (yet) think of any product a hobby type printer will produce that could pay for the time spent. Of course I realize, I heard the same question and reasoning when I first started playing with my homemade personal computers. You have to start somewhere.