When you think of 3D printers, what comes to mind? Do you think technology like 3d printing is beyond the reach of homeschoolers?
It’s not! 3D printers have become affordable and easy to use. There are many 3D printers that have been specifically designed for home use and homeschoolers can use them to teach STEM topics.
Your kids can learn about 3D modelling, engineering, and other scientific principles while designing their own creations. Who knows, maybe your child might design a better mousetrap with his or her 3D printer.
In this podcast, I’ll cover the basics of 3D printing, some basic guidelines to consider when purchasing a 3D printer and talk about 5 3D printers under $500 for homeschooling. If you’re already familiar with 3D printing you can skip ahead to the list.
How Do 3D Printers Work?
Let’s start with a primer on how 3D printing works. 3D printing can also be referred to as “additive manufacturing”. The printer slowly adds material to build the 3D object through an extruder.
Most 3D printers use a technology called Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM for short. The material, or filament, is added layer by layer on to a build plate in 2D layers. When all of the layers have been completed, a 3D object has been printed.
The filament in a printer can consist of many different materials but most are PLA or ABS plastic. All the printers discussed here use PLA, a non-toxic material derived from natural materials like sugar cane.
For more information about 3D printing and how 3D printers work, check out this guide from 3Dprint: What is 3D Printing & How Do 3D Printers Work?
Things to Consider When Buying a 3D Printer
Prices for 3D printers vary depending on their application. Many entry-level 3D printers can be had for under $500. Some hobbyists spend $2,000 – $5,000 on personal 3D printers.
I’m primarily focusing on entry-level 3D printers designed for home use. If you plan to purchase one here are some things to consider:
- Safety features. The filament can be very hot when extruded from the nozzle so consider features like an enclosure and a tip sensor so that printing stops if the door is opened or the printer is tipped.
- Ease of use and setup. Does the 3D printer need to be assembled or is it ready to go out of the box? Is the software provided easy to use for your kids?
- Cost of supplies. Most printers come with a small about of filament. Once that runs out how much will it cost? Does the 3D printer support generic filament or is it proprietary?
- Software included. What software is included with the printer? Is it compatible with other 3D printing software or can you only use the software designed specifically for the 3d printer?
- Online resources. Does the manufacturer provide online educator’s resources? Are there lesson plans and a curriculum guide available? Are these guides designed for home use or in a classroom?
- Build volume and resolution. How big are the objects that you can print? Also, how fine is the nozzle? Can you print smooth and intricate objects or will you need to manually add details.
- Production speed. Depending on the size and complexity of the object being printed, it can take as little as 10 minutes or several hours to complete. If you have impatient kids, consider a 3D printer with faster production speeds.
- Additional features. Heated plates, wireless or Bluetooth connectivity, and LCD screens are just some of the options you’ll find. Typically, the more convenience features a 3D printer has, the higher the cost.
5 3D Printers Under $500 for Homeschooling
Now that we’ve covered the basics of 3D printing and what you want to look for in a 3D printer, let’s talk about some of the 3D printers that you might want to consider for homeschooling.
da Vinci miniMaker
XYZprinting’s da Vinci series is colorful and affordable. Designed specifically for young kids, the miniMaker uses a proprietary filament and software package.
It comes with 300g of starter filament and you’ll have access to a free online curriculum and education guide.
It has one the largest build areas on this list at 5.9″ x 5.9″ x 5.9″ but the built plate is not removable.
da Vinci miniMaker – $189 at Amazon
MP Select Mini
The MP Select Mini is a great 3D printer for people who want an open platform. It can use any compatible filament and software package.
Despite its low price, it features a heated build plate , color LED screen, nozzle cooling fan, and accessory kit. All of these features are normally only found in more expensive 3D printers.
It ships fully assembled but getting started has a pretty steep learning curve. Be prepared to tinker and tweak to get it going. Build area is 4.7″ x 4.7″ x 4.7″.
MP Select Mini – $219 at Amazon
Toybox is designed to get kids started with 3D printing quickly and easily. It comes with a companion app that lets kids find and print toys easily. It has the smallest build area on the list: 3.5″ x 3″ x 3.9″
It comes with half a pound (~225g) of “printer food” and features a removable, flexible build bed that allows kids to easily remove their builds. Additional “food packs” are available for $34 that include your choice of 4 colors of filament.
Toybox is currently on back-order until March and will retail for $399 but if you purchase through their crowdfunding campaign you’ll save 25%.
Preorder ToyBox from IndieGoGo – $299
The Finder is an entry-level 3D printer from Flashforge. It comes pre-assembled, is easy to use, and features a number of convenience features.
It uses a proprietary filament so you’ll be buying your supplies from Flashforge and that will limit your selection of colors.
Features include a filament run-out detection, a color LCD screen, removable built plate, and USB stick support. The build area is about 5.5″ x 5.5″ x 5.5″ making it one of the largest in the group.
Flashforge Finder at Amazon – $399
Printrbot Play provides high-quality 3D printing at an affordable price. It has a metal chassis, fan shroud, and heat shield to protect little fingers from touching the hot nozzle.
Printrbot Play uses open filament so you’ll have plenty of choices with regard to color and spool capacity. Printrbot is known for their customer service and a great community surrounding their 3D printers.
In addition, PrintrBot provides lesson plans and other educational resources for use with their 3D printers.
The movable stage has a print volume of 4″ x 4″ x 5″.
Printrbot Play at Amazon – $499
Do you have a 3D printer? What model would you recommend? Are you thinking about introducing 3d printing to your kids? Let me know in the comments below.
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Music for the podcast by Kevin Macleod.