Most 3D printers on the market today are built around designs and technology that is derived from the RepRap project. This being so, there are a few main components in every fused filament based 3D printer that we need to look at. Below is a quick breakdown of each and what to look for when making your decision on which printer to purchase.
Each 3D printer has its own frame that its manufacturer considers superior to others for whatever reason. When choosing a 3D printer you need to pay close attention to what the frame is made of and what style it is based off of. For simplicity I am going to categorize the most common frames into four categories.
Open Air Style - This style frame can be found on some of the cheaper kits that utilize as few parts as possible to keep the cost down. These usually make very good entry level printers where frame rigidity is not a concern. One of the most popular open frame designs is the PrintrBot line of 3D printers.
Box Style - This was the most popular style for hobbyist grade 3D printers for a while and still remains up there with the prefabricated printers being sold. Their advantage is that they are quite portable, and offer a rigid frame if properly assembled. Their major disadvantage is that they are incredibly frustrating to work on and service. Makerbot popularized this style with their CupCake, Thing o Matic and Replicator 3D printers.
RepRap Mendel Style - This style is by far the most popular style amongst scratch builders and kit makers alike because there is a plethora of information available as well as an entire IRC channel that is quite active with those willing to help you get your printer up and running. Mendel's are based on a wedge design that is constructed from printed parts and threaded rod. The open design allows for very easy access, tuning and maintenance. The only flaw that I can find is that inexperienced users may have trouble getting all the threaded rods to match up perfectly. The current popular model is the Prusa Mendel variant that is cheaper and easier to assemble.
RepRap Mendel Max Style - Based off of a Prusa Mendel, the Mendel Max design is in my opinion the best out of the bunch. Its frame is constructed out of 20mm aluminum extrusions which are connected together by printed connector plates. This makes for a very solid and very strong construction which can easily support the weight of a man standing on top. The Mendel Max is the favorite of high-end kit builders as well as manufacturers who offer prebuilt machines. My personal printer, a Lulzbot AO-100, is a Mendel Max based machine and the only flaw I have found is that without rubber feet, the machine will move around a hard toped surface.
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