3-D Printing for Everyone

Prices for most consumer-level 3-D printers have stayed fairly similar to one another. Models that come assembled, such as the Replicator from Makerbot, sell for about $1,500 to $2,500. Consumers can save a bit of money by choosing a kit that requires building, such as the Mosaic 3-D printer from MakerGear, which costs about $700.

Now, consumers have another choice of 3-D printer. A small company in Brooklyn, New York, has started manufacturing the Solidoodle 2, a fully assembled 3-D printer, for only $500. Sam Cervantes, the CEO of Solidoodle, has a long history in 3-D printing, having worked for MakerGear and served as the chief operating officer of MakerBot. Before his 3-D printing days, Cervantes was an engineer with General Electric. He clearly has the experience and knowledge to make a 3-D printer work, but some people are skeptical of the Solidoodle’s low cost.

If the Solidoodle 2 delivers high quality to consumers, it could seriously upset the market for 3-D printers with such a low pricetag. Currently, even self-built kits are hard to find for less than $800. Solidoodle, by contrast, is preassembled and even includes an attractive enclosure. It’s no surprise that many consumers are looking for problems with the machine.

From a strictly technical standpoint, the Solidoodle is a solid product with features that match its competitors. Here are the features of the most popular 3-D printers on the market:

    • Solidoodle 2: 6x6x6-inch build area, single extruder head. Price: $499.
    • Makerbot Replicator: 8.9×5.7×5.9-inch build area, dual extruder head, onboard controls, direct printing from SD card reader, wooden frame. Price: $1,999, or $1,799 for the single extruder version.
    • 3D Systems Cube: 5.5×5.5×5.5-inch build area, single extruder head, Wi-Fi printing, plastic chassis. Price: $1,299.

A heated build platform is available with the $549 Solidoodle Pro version. This feature helps keep basic layers in place during printing, which is crucial with the high level of detail involved. For $50 more, buyers get the Expert model, which features a slick metal and acrylic enclosure.

Software is a bit of a concern for users of the Solidoodle 2. The printer uses the open-source combination of Skeinforge and Pronterface, and Pronterface isn’t very easy to use. Rescaling or reorienting prints can be fairly difficult with the program.

The ReplicatorG software used by MakerBot is somewhat simpler, but it’s still quite challenging. 3-D Systems, on the other hand, has created user-friendly custom software for buyers of their Cube printer. Unfortunately, the high price tag of the Cube leaves it too expensive for many consumers. At $1,999, the Replicator is even more costly.

The $500 to $600 Solidoodle 2 is a much more attractive for consumers’ first forays into 3-D printing, even with complicated software to learn. Now, the question is whether Solidoodle’s product stands up in terms of quality. If it does, it raises the specter of even lower prices as 3-D printing technology progresses.

Just as the screenprinting crowd waited to see whether the new digital printers performed t shirt printing to the level they anticipated, today’s consumers look to Solidoodle with hopes of equal or greater quality in the 3-D arena. Instead of custom t shirts, however, Solidoodle promises to open the floodgates of custom industry to cottage manufacturing and beyond.