ShapeLock Design Plastic, Maker Shed, $14.95
This stuff is a low-melting thermoplastic called polycaprolactone. Supplied in pellet form, it can be melted in hot water, or in the microwave, at 160° F (71° C), then safely molded by hand, cooling to a rigid, opaque, machineable solid at room temperature. It is reusable, and can be reheated and reformed as often as you please. If you have a 3D printer, it’s easy to form ShapeLock into suitable filament or rod so you can print parts directly in solid polycaprolactone. You can even add stuff to the molten ShapeLock to change the properties of the finished plastic. For instance, adding carbon black allows you to produce a homemade conductive plastic which, rolled into filaments and fed into an extruder, can be used to print electrically conductive parts.
Material Sample Kit, Shapeways, $29.99
You don’t have to own your own 3D printer to get into 3D printing. In fact, the quality of the prints you can get from a contract printing service like Shapeways is likely to exceed the quality of prints you’ll get out of a consumer-level 3D printer. Contract printing prices are dropping all the time, and commercial printing services offer parts printed in unusual materials like stainless steel and ceramic. Shapeways sells a basic sample kit, shown above, so you can get a hands-on feel for the finished products. It comes with a $25 gift voucher good towards your first purchase of a 3D-printed object, so basically it’s a $25 gift certificate with a $4 materials sampler.
PLA Filament Rainbow Fun Pack, faberdashery, £22
Plastic for fused-filament printers is usually sold in big rolls, which is good for economy but kind of a drag if you like to print in multiple colors, as building up a full “palette” of 1kg spools can get pretty expensive, pretty fast. So the clever folks at UK’s faberdashery have thoughtfully put together this rainbow filament starter pack that includes 10m each of 10 different colors of PLA filament in either 1.5 or 3mm diameter. Their marketeers are doing a good job naming the colors, too. There’s Fire Truck Red, Squeezed Orange, Mellow Yellow, Village Green, Greenery Green, Electric Blue, Glacial Blue, Princely Purple, Cherry Blossom Pink, and Buttercream, which I, personally, have found to be the best-tasting of the lot.
Soft PLA Filament, 2PrintBeta, €25.95
Though it may not look like much, the unassuming roll of red plastic pictured to upper right is a fairly exotic type of flexible, soft, rubbery plastic for 3D printing. It’s still PLA, but it’s been polymerized under different conditions which make it bendy, instead of rigid, so you can use it to print all kinds of cool flexible stuff like springs, living hinges, gaskets, belts, pads, and other bendy bits that might not work so well if printed in regular, rigid PLA. If you have an experienced MakerBot, RepRap, Ultimaker, MakerGear, or other consumer 3D-printer user on your gift list, this hard-to-find stuff is sure to be a big hit.
Bulk Spooled Plastic Filament, Maker Shed, $43-46/kg
If you’re buying for someone who already owns a 3D-printer, and you’re looking for a gift that’s sure to be appreciated, consider extra filament. Most printers ship with a few short lengths to get you started (sort of like the itty-bitty cartridges that come with new inkjet printers), but, at normal printing rates for an excited new 3D printer owner, the starter supply is unlikely to hold out for more than a couple of weeks. You’ll need to know what diameter filament the printer requires (either 1.75/1/8mm or 3mm) and whether the operator prefers to print in ABS or PLA. If in doubt, go with PLA. Bulk rolled filament is widely available, online, but, naturally, we would appreciate your business over at Maker Shed.
Water Soluble PVA Filament, Inventables, $89.50/kg
Here’s another “exotic” printing material choice sure to be appreciated by the adventurous home 3D printer, especially anyone with a Makerbot Replicator or other dual-extrusion capable fused filament printer. PVA (poly-vinyl alcohol, not to be confused with poly-vinyl acetate, the stuff white glue is made of) extrudes like normal 3D-printing plastics but has the special property of being completely soluble in water. You can use it to print fully bio-degradable, entirely water-soluble objects (like Tony Buser’s seed bombs, shown above), or as support material in a dual-extrusion printer to produce objects with complex overhangs and internal spaces, like Tony’s Hilbert cube.
Kinect for Xbox 360, Microsoft, $109.99
3D scanning, in which digital 3D models are made from real 3D objects, is the natural compliment to 3D printing, in which real 3D objects are made from digital 3D models. As in desktop publishing, those interested in desktop manufacturing are likely to want a scanner as well as a printer, sooner or later, and probably the cheapest and easiest way to get into 3D scanning at home is the free-for-noncommercial-use ReconstructMe software suite. ReconstructMe allows you to use an off-the-shelf Kinect sensor to produce very high-quality full-color 3D models of objects from about the size of a human hand up to, say, a small car. You don’t need the fancy expensive Kinect for Windows package, either—the plain ol’ Xbox-360 version works just fine. Amazon has a Prime deal for $99.99.
Printrbot Jr Assembled 3D Printer, Maker Shed, $449
The first and cheapest in a series of low-cost 3D printers from epic crowdfunding success story Brook Drumm, the Printrbot Jr is the most portable 3D printer on the market and certainly the cheapest available in fully-assembled form. It’s compact, folds up to make it even easier to move and store, and performs as well (or even better) than printers costing three times as much. It prints in PLA, only, and has a build volume of 4 × 4 × 4″.
Printrbot LC 3D Printer Kit, Maker Shed, $549
The “mama bear” of the Printrbot family, the LC is a step up from the Jr. For $100 more, you get more than three times the build volume (6 × 6 × 6″) and the ability to print in hotter-melting ABS as well as PLA plastic. Note that the LC does not come assembled, but includes everything you need (except tools) to get it up and running in a few hours. The LC series of Printrbots is designed to be expandable along all of its printing axes so you can add capacity, later, if you outgrow the factory printing envelope.
Printrbot LC Plus 3D Printer Kit, Maker Shed, $699
Sporting the largest factory-standard printing envelope of the entire Printrbot family, the Printrbot LC+ can build objects up to 8 × 8 × 8″—more than twice the volume of the standard LC, and fully eight times the volume of the Jr. Like the standard LC, this one is supplied as a kit, can extrude both ABS and PLA, and is designed to be expandable as you go.
Afinia H-Series 3D Printer, Maker Shed, $1499
The Afinia H479, a US-market rebrand of the Chinese PP3PD UP! 3D printer, was awarded “Best Overall Experience” of the 15 printers we recently tested in-house to prepare The MAKE Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. Our staff found it easiest to set up, and one of two easiest to use, of all the 3D printers in our testing pool. The Afinia was also the only printer to clearly render the tiny nostril indentations in the nose of Tom Cushwa’s owl statue, which was one of our four standard challenge models, marking it as a standout for print quality, as well. To top it all off, Afinia is offering a $150 rebate, in the form of a prepaid Visa debit card, to anyone ordering an H479 between now and January 1.
MakerBot Replicator Dual Extruder 3D Printer, Maker Shed, $1,749
Even now, some three months since the Replicator 2′s launch in September, the original MakerBot Replicator remains the premiere consumer-grade 3D printer in many ways. Unlike its successor, the original Replicator has a heated bed and can build models from both ABS and PLA, and is equipped with two extruders so it can print objects in multiple materials. One extruder, for instance, could be loaded with rigid PLA, while the other is equipped with water-soluble PVA, enabling the extrusion of complex structures (such as Tony Buser’s Hilbert Cube) in which PVA is used to fill voids and support overhangs that would be otherwise impossible or very difficult to produce.
MakerBot Replicator 2 3D Printer, Maker Shed, $2,199
On the other hand, the Replicator 2 is an amazing machine, and represents a number of bold design gambles on MakerBot’s part that, by and large, have completely paid off. The Replicator 2 sports a larger bed, powder-coated all-steel frame, superfine vertical resolution, and completely overhauled, proprietary MakerWare software suite. By abandoning the heated-bed design and committing to a PLA-only system, MakerBot’s designers have achieved a 25% larger build volume, as well as a dramatically reduced cold-start time, in exactly the same footprint as the original Replicator.
NextEngine 3D Laser Scanner, NextEngine, $2,995
The NextEngine represents the low end of the “pro-grade” 3D scanner market, and though it is an order of magnitude more expensive than Kinect + ReconstructMe, it is also much more accurate and precise, especially at smaller scales. If you’re looking to duplicate mechanical parts or other intricate objects smaller than, say, an adult hand, a laser-line scanner is the way to go. The NextEngine boasts full color scanning, up to 0.005 inch accuracy, up to 400 data points per square inch, two minute capture times, and no inherent size limitations (besides field-of-view) on scanned objects.