What to look for in a DIY 3D Printer kit?
Not all kits are the same and as I alluded to in the past, some kits come complete with everything you need to build your own, while others leave out some of the hardest to find or more expensive parts. It's very important when choosing a kit that you reference the printer's bill of materials against the parts listed in the kit, as some kit makers do not disclose what parts they leave out. In this section, I'm going to go over a few different kits that I feel are some of the best available.
Prusa Mendel Kit from Maker Farm - This kit is to help you build a V2 Linear Bearing Prusa 3D printer and features a Greg's Accessible Extruder. This kit features V2 Linear Bearings which are far superior to any of the printed bushings or bronze bushings you will find another kits. This equates to better prints and easier assembly. This is because the Linear Bearings have virtually no resistance so everything slides like butter.
The kit includes everything you need from printed parts, to hardware, and even electronics; however there are a few parts you will need to purchase separately. Threaded and smooth rods are not included, and you will need to source a PC power supply to power the unit. A piece of glass is needed for the heated bed as well as the supporting Kapton tape and binder clips which hold the glass to the bed.
This kit will run you about $550 before the purchase of additional parts, but it is a good way to get started quickly. Unfortunately at the time of this publication Maker Farm seems to be out of stock on this kit, but it should come back in stock shortly.
Prusa 8" i3 kit from Maker Farm - As I mentioned earlier, the Prusa i3 is a fairly new printer to me, and as such I am not quite as familiar with it as I am other RepRap 3D printer designs. However, I do know the man behind the design, and if his previous works are any indication, the Prusa i3 is a superior printer to the Mendel design. Maker Farm has a laser cut 8" x 8" x 7.25" i3 Kit that is said to be the easiest to build out of any 3D printer kit they have carried. It includes everything you need to get up and printing except for an ATX PSU and sheet of glass for the build platform.
Retailing for $560, the Prusa 8" i3 kit appears to be one heck of a deal and I may just pick up one for myself to see how well it prints.
Printrbot LC and PrintrBot Plus - PrintrBot burst onto the 3D printing scene early last year and is the result of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Today they offer four different models covering the whole range of build volumes and budget levels. Each kit comes with everything you need to get started printing and the only extra purchase you will need to make is some extra filament because you will be printing so much.
The Printrbot LC (Laser Cut) was one of the first models released by the company and features a 6" x 6" x6" build envelope. It is a little tricky to put together, but build instructions and documentation is one thing the PrintrBot crew excels in. It is available with 3mm or 1.75mm filament provisions, and a fan mount with fan. At $649 it is a little more expensive than the Prusa i3 kit listed above, but it comes with better build instructions.
The Printrbot LC PrintrBot PLUS is identical to the Printrbot LC except it features a larger build envelope of 8" x 8" x8". This is very close to the Prusa i3, but cost almost $300 more. On the upside the printer has been around for about a year, so there are many users in the printer bought community page who are more than willing to lend a hand when issues arise.
Printrbot Jr and PrintrBot Simple - Featuring a 4.5" x 5.5" x 4" filled envelope, the Printrbot LC Printrbot Jr is a much simpler version of the Printrbot design. Unlike its larger siblings, it is only able to print in PLA and uses one less motor than the two Printrbot models mentioned above. The company touts this as being a more kid friendly version, but with the extruder still reaching temperatures high enough to melt plastic, parental guidance is still advised. The Printrbot Jr is the cheapest kit we have featured yet coming in at $399.
Rounding out the Printrbot offerings is the Printrbot Simple, a new mini sized 3D printer with a build envelope of 100mm. At the moment it's still in the beta phase, but will retail for $299 when it launches later this month.
Mendel Max kit by TeraWatt Industries - This is an entire do-it-yourself Mendel Max version 1.5 kit, and features a Greg's accessible extruder. It features a build volume of 8" x 7.5" x 4" and all you will need to add is a sheet of glass for the build plate and an ATX power supply. Coming in at just over $1,225, this is a serious commitment to consider when purchasing your first 3D printer. As I mentioned before, the Mendel Max is by far my favorite design, as it allows for faster printing speeds and a more rigid frame which equates to better quality prints.
Mendel Max 2.0 kit by Makers Tool Works - The Mendel Max 2.0 is the next generation of the super rugged robust RepRap derived 3D printer. It features a build volume of 9" x 10" x 7", which is significantly larger than the original Mendel Max. At the moment the kit is still in the beta stage that comes with everything you need to build your own Mendel Max 2.0. Priced at $1,495, it is the most expensive kit listed, but has the largest build volume out of all we have looked at. Keep in mind this is a beta kit and documentation is still being put together.