Choosing a 3D Printer

Which 3D Printer is right for you?

With four different models to choose from, picking the right MakerBot 3D printer is not always easy.  Microway is here to help explain the differences choices so that you can select the printer that is right for you.

On a Budget

Replicator 2

Replicator 2

The workhorse of the MakerBot line, nothing beats the Replicator 2, which despite its name is actually a fourth generation printer.  It prints using PLA filament, which is a renewable, biodegradable plastic that comes from natural substances such as corn starch or sugarcane.  It is both affordable (priced at $2,000) and powerful, able to print at the same 100-micron resolution that the 5th generation Makerbots can.  Its build volume of 11.2″ x 6″.0 x 6.1″ presents a substantial value at its price point.  Combined with its ease of use and the quality of its print jobs, this printer has consistently proven itself to the 3D printing community.

The Replicator 2 has been so popular, in fact, that MakerBot has begun running out of stock.  Manufacturing efforts have been focused on the newer, 5th generation printers, so the Replicator 2 might not be available for much longer.

Two Heads Are Better than One

Replicator 2X

Replicator 2X

Possessing a second extruder head, the MakerBot Replicator 2X provides a lot of versatility for only $2,499.  The second head allows you to print two colors or to use a dissolvable filament.  While the benefit of having extra color is clear, the purpose of dissolvable filament might not be.  If you’re not already familiar with printing techniques, you might not be aware that complicated prints sometimes require support structures.  As you can see from our 3D-printed insulin molecule here, the support structure (in white) helps the printer print overhangs that could potentially sag or cause the job to fail.  The support structure normally just breaks away, but your job sometimes requires sanding down afterwards.  Dissolvable support structure makes for a smoother finish and also allows the support structure to be removed more easily.  The dissolving period can take some time, though, from as little time as four hours to as much as twenty-four.

Another important difference with the Replicator 2X is that it prints using ABS filament.  Similar to Legos, ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) has a high melting point and is easy to print with.  ABS requires a heated build plate to ensure proper adhesion, so the Replicator 2X comes with a special platform. The one downside is that a 2.5% shrinkage occurs when printing with ABS.  Fortunately, with a bit of work, the Replicator 2X can also print PLA.

Bells and Whistles

Replicator 5th Gen

Replicator 5th Gen

The 5th generation Replicator is MakerBot’s latest desktop printer, coming in at $2,899.  It has many of the same features that the 4th generation Replicator 2 has, such as a 100-micron layer resolution and a .4 mm nozzle diameter, but it comes with additional features too.  The display is an upgraded 3.5″ color LCD that even allows you to preview your models locally on the printer, not much on your computer.  The smart extruder has a special sensor that can detect when you run out of filament and pause your job.  It can even send notifications to your desktop or mobile device.  Finally, there’s an on-board camera that allows you to remotely monitor your print and save reference images.

Dimensionally, the 5th generation Replicator has a reduced length but increased height compared to the 4th generation Replicator 2.  It has a volume of 456 cubic inches, compared to the Replicator 2’s 410.

Bigger is Better

Z18

Z18

For the final say in build volume, look no further than the Z18.  As the name suggests, the Z18 has an 18-inch build height, which combined with 12 inches in length and width translates to an impressive 2,592 cubic inches.  This printer has the same 5th generation features that the Replicator has, such as the smart extruder and on-board camera.   In addition, the Z18 has a heated build chamber that reduces the chance of curling on larger build volumes as well as a super-flat build plate.  At $6,500, the Z18 is the most expensive MakerBot printer, but its ability to print much larger jobs is a unique feature that can be valuable to many users.

When in Doubt, Talk to an Expert

If you need additional help or if you’d like a quote, please contact one of our experienced sales technicians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *