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Any recommendations on a 3D printer?

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  • Member since
    November, 2014
Any recommendations on a 3D printer?
Posted by BLACKSMITHN on Thursday, May 14, 2015 12:24 PM

I am toying with the idea of eventually getting a 3D printer for hobby use. I'd like something easy to set up and easy to use, but versatile. Since I'd be using it in my home office, I'd like something not too noisy. I just started thinking about it and have really no idea what to look for as far as capabilities, features, or add-ons. Any thoughts, suggestions, or reviews would be greatly appreciated.  

  • Member since
    May, 2009
  • From: Poland
Posted by Pawel on Thursday, May 14, 2015 3:06 PM


A year ago I got to set up a 3D printer in the 1500$ price range. It was a design called Fabbster coming from a German company. My conclusions are: Forget it, learn to use a CAD program and go to the professional printing services after you draw something nice.

Want me to explain some more? OK, what we mostly have on the market are the FDM 3D printers - that means they melt some kind of material (say, plastic) and put it on in thin layers. That kind of method isn't very good for making overhangs - parts of the object to be printed not supported by parts under them - it's a serious limitation. There are also other limitations plus if you get that printer in form of a kit, like I did, you have to put it together and sometimes work the bugs out on yourself - I had to do that on my machine. Still, I've got a machine for which I see no use in my modelling. Things I could use it for are still easier done with traditional scratchbuilding. That's because of long print times - most parts take hours to print - and low reliability - when a print goes wrong, and that happens time to time, you have to start over. Then, let's say I printed my highly complex part - I still have to sand it smooth, remove the so called raft and so on - and that's not counting drawing the part in 3D. Like I said - so far scratchbuilding got me the parts I needed faster.

Hope it helps - good luck with your builds and have a nice day


All comments and critique welcomed. Thanks for your honest opinions!

  • Member since
    May, 2015
Posted by Danyen on Thursday, May 14, 2015 5:21 PM

Pawel is absolutely correct in his recommendations. I have worked in the 3D printing/rapid prototyping industry since the early nineties at the service bureau andOEM equipment manufacture levels as a design/mechanical engineer and manager.

I have the same experience and time with CAD, CAM/CNC and silcone mold making. I could write a book on the subject, but from a scale modelers point of view and have access to all of these toys, here is my take on the subject and recent experience.

A year ago, my oldest son (37 years old) bought a Makerbot 2X to build 1/10th scale RC crawler parts. In the last year he has put 2400 hours on the machine. he only builds parts in ABS, as the PLA, PET and Nylon materials aren't really  meant to be sanded,bonded or painted. He picked up Solidworks pretty fast and I gave him my Next Engine 3D scanner a couple months to round out his shop.

Since buying the machine he has upgraded the system with aftermarket CNC'd  aluminum parts that support the build platform; replaced the OEM heated build platform with a third party unit; reflashed the CPROM with third party software; and he uses a third party software program for all of his part slicing and build setup. So today he is building some pretty high resolution parts for 1/10th scale use.  

So from my perspective using 3D printing systems for model parts for myself...

Detailed Parts

The best detailed parts come from Objet based printers. I have seen and handled 1/1250 scale ship models that had details that would blow you away. But Objet systems are pro level and very expensive. Shapeways or a service bureau is the way to go for highly detailed parts directly out off the printer. Some of the SLA base systems can get close, but I would only use an Objet printer in these cases.  

"The Real World" of FDM/FFF 3D Printing

I use only ABS for building parts. And ALL the parts, except for build fixtures and tools I have designed require finishing. My preferred modeling method is to use #D printing as a starting point or base for either a epoxy molded or vac formed final part.  

I use the system for what I call near-net parts...I get to 80-90% of the shape I want on the printer and use a hybrid scratch building approach to get to the final part. Here are the projects that I have used the FDM/ABS printer for.

FYI, all ABS parts have to be scaled up in CAD by about 3% to allow for "skrinkage" as the plastic cools down...this is the same issue with injection molded parts as every plastic shrinks as it cools down to some degree.

1/35 Armor - 90% near-net models - tank and truck main bodies, turrets, and masters for epoxy molded cupolas and fuel containers/accesories. WW2 German armor is easy, a cast hull Sherman takes time.

1/72 Aircraft - 90% near net with some finishing, primarily filling and thinning - fuselage, wings, rudders,elevators, masters for vac-forming canopies, some ordnance. I have made masters for radomes (AD5N, P2V, EP-3,etc).

1/48th Aircraft - Same as above but add in engine housings masters (B-17, B-24) masters for more ordnance molds as well as larger masters for vac-formed parts. I have made a few interior parts like cockpit tubs for modern jets, and a few "masters" to scratch build ejection seats around.

1/25th Cars - fender flares, seats (like Recaros), interior panels masters, engine blocks, and custom fixtures for scratch built, tube chassis.

I have a lot of years doing this so I can design a part that I want in CAD understand the best process I need to use to get to the final part. Pawel is right on point...and my recommendation is to use 3D printing as a add on to your scratch building needs...not a replacement as the FDM/FFF technology isn't ready out of the box for for the likes of us and our expectations as scale modelers.

I would recommend looking at OnShape as a CAD tool, if you dont have any previous experience in or with CAD.


  • Member since
    July, 2013
Posted by modelmaker66 on Friday, May 15, 2015 12:50 AM

Thanks Pawel! That's actually very informative. I was led to believe early on that you could do almost anything with this as far as modeling was concerned. The price not withstanding, this sure shows how hype can get in the way of realty. I really appreciate the honest advice. I only hope you can get some practical use out of it or be able to sell it.

  • Member since
    April, 2004
Posted by Jon_a_its on Friday, May 15, 2015 4:09 AM

Yup, as Pawel said, learn CAD

2 free options to start with:

Sketchup  (huge community, loads of books, tutorials, add-ons can read & output STL's, & free!)

AutoCAD's Autodesk 123D  (new, not wven looked at it yet, but promising & free!)

Avoid for now the hobby 3D printers, not enough resolution for anything but toys yet...

It won't be long, though when Carbon 3D new processes can print an Eiffel Tower in 6 minutes, instead of  2 1/2 hours...

East Mids Model Club 29th Annual Show 19th MAY 2019

Don't feed the CM!


  • Member since
    November, 2014
Posted by BLACKSMITHN on Friday, May 15, 2015 10:01 AM

Thank you all. That snuffs that idea for me. I'm looking for a tool I can use, not a separate hobby in and of itself.

  • Member since
    April, 2006
  • From: ON, Canada
Posted by jgeratic on Friday, May 15, 2015 10:24 AM

Some great insight on this technology posted here.  

I have also read  (from a modeler's perspective), that at this point 3D machines can be compared to the time when vacuum forming machines became available.  A novel new approach to model making, but never took off as being mainstream, and only became another arsenal in one's 'toolbox' to create parts.  I hope, and expect, that 3D printing will excel in the future.



  • Member since
    May, 2009
  • From: Poland
Posted by Pawel on Friday, May 15, 2015 12:59 PM


Today we already have great tools in our arsenal - but those are expensive, costing hundred thousands of dollars - I'm talking here about 3D printers, decal printers, mask cutters and photo-etch equipment. Still, it's perfectly OK to take advantage of them, as there are companies offering the machines for use, and together with them the expertise how to use them. We, as modellers have to concentrate on design, assembly and financing. That's a lot better than buying an expensive machine and letting it collect dust between rare applications. For now I already have ordered custom PE and custom decals, and the results were very good. So I say support your local or not-so-local comanies and so our hobby can get a wholly new dimension!


All comments and critique welcomed. Thanks for your honest opinions!

  • Member since
    February, 2007
Posted by mitsdude on Monday, May 25, 2015 11:33 PM

This thread basicly confirms what I have observed. The printers available from places like Best Buy are still a novelty as far as models go. However professional and research level printers are amazing. But of course these printers are very expensive, the medium is expensive, and the design skill is way beyond basic CAD.

  • Member since
    May, 2009
  • From: Poland
Posted by Pawel on Saturday, August 25, 2018 2:46 PM


I know this is an old one, but I've got some new info. Recently I've managed to cross the line and install some software and learn how to use it. Let's not call any names right now (although it is important what software to use). Anyhow, after just a few hours I was able to design a 3D model and then I used an online printing service (you know, the well known one), uploaded my model and immediately ordered it printed. A few days ago I got it in the mail:

1:72 M60 Machine Gun by Pawel

Here it is: 4x 1:72 M60 machine guns! Then I've cut one out with a razor saw:

1:72 M60 Machine Gun by Pawel

In the next step I have cleaned it up with acetone (to degrease it and to get rid of possible wax residue) and then I have painted it with Gunze Dark Iron (no primer). The handguard, pistol grip and stock were picked out in gray (also Gunze).

1:72 M60 Machine Gun by Pawel

Just for kicks I have posed my gun in one of my 1:72 Loaches:

1:72 M60 Machine Gun by Pawel

What do you think? More details here.

From what I know a 1000$ 3D printer wouldn't be able to print this kind of detail. So this would underscore my point: Learn to draw in 3D and let the pros do the printing with really nice machines.

Thanks for reading and have a nice day


All comments and critique welcomed. Thanks for your honest opinions!

  • Member since
    September, 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Saturday, August 25, 2018 3:29 PM

I worked out well.

Yes, your point is a good one. I have not and probably never will design a 3D model to be printed, but, a lesson I learned making resin cast masters is that the casting does not have to be the entire object. 

  • Member since
    January, 2015
Posted by PFJN on Saturday, August 25, 2018 9:20 PM


A couple years ago I picked up a used Da Vinci XYZ 1.0 off eBay for about $300 (if I am recalling correctly).  So far I have been very happy with it, though it does take some experimenting with, and you do end up having to post process/clean up your work.

Here are some images of a 3D ship model that I started last year.  Unfortunately, a had to set it aside for a while, but hope to get back to it soon.


This 1st image above shows the CAD model that I developed, and the 2nd two show the main hull that I printed out.  I did the hull in four pieces since my printer is limited to about an 8" x 8" x 8" print volume.  In the bottom image you can see a small printing glitch toward the front, and some red discoloration, where I inadvertantaly cracked the front piece and had to glue it back together (I can't remember what the other numbers in the image mean right now though Surprise)

In the bottom picture though you can see that at the transom I was able to make the thickness fairly narrow, where the ship will have an enclosed overhang, as shown below.


The image below though shows a couple more "glitches" in the midle section of the hull where there was a bit of an offest between layers that I ended up having to sand and fill.


The next two images show some of the misc small pieces that I printed, with varying degrees of success.  


The two similar items third from the right are meant to be enclosed lifeboats, based off a free 3D model that I found on the internet.  In the image you can see a bit of white putty where I had to fill in some gaps in the print job.  In additional when I printed the mast and Funnel, there were some small bits of "overhang" on them.  For those items the print software adds some "supports", as shown below, which need to be removed.  Overall though I was happy with not only how well my relativelt basic printer handled some of these small parts (as well as the transom thickness shown in a previous image).


Below are a couple images showing my initial prints of the various parts of the focsle deck along with some showing it after assembling the parts, filling and sanding some areas and after it has been painted.

F SideF TopFocsle PortFocsle Stbd

From these images you can see that I had initially hoped to make the windows as actual hull openings, but eventually decided to fill them in and go with vinyl cutouts, like in the image shown below.


As far as "printing rafts" go, I have found that I can often go without them, especially if the part that I am printing is flat on one side, as shown below for the main part of the focsle deck.


Below are a couple images of where I stand right now.

P Sidethree qtr

Anyway, sorry for going on so long, but I just wanted to give a feel for what a relatively cheap 3D Printer might be able to do for you.  As you can see its not perfect for everything, and you do need to do a fair amount of clean up, but as a "scratch building tool" I thnk its great.  I can easily 3D print a shape like a hull, which may require clean up, filling and sanding, but I can do it easier than it may have otherwise taken me to either carve it from wood or build it up from sections, shapes and sheet styrene.  And some of the smaller parts that I have tried to print have also come out surprisingly well.


1st Group Build


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