You thought we were done, here. You were wrong. After extensively reviewing 5 3D printers for sale under $200 and picking the best from the reviews, we went back to our two favorites and put them through their paces, abusing both for an extra month to make sure that when I say this is the best printer for field work, I mean it.
These printers have been dragged around, beaten up, put in the hands of children and child-like adults, and run through the wringer to ensure that they stand up to the kind of abuse you might expect from the field. Now we’re really ready to make the call and tell you which are the best dirt-cheap, field-ready 3D printers.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been enjoying watching David Shiffman and Craig McClain take their first steps into 3D printing. For a small subset of people, small consumer 3D printers can be an incredibly useful tool, for a larger subset, 3D printing has fantastic teaching applications, but for most enthusiasts, it’s a fun hobby. Fortunately, the 3D printing hype train has slowed down in the last few years and it is now much easier to separate the wheat from the chaff and drill down into the applications where 3D printing really shines.
3D printers are fairly inexpensive now. You can get a pretty okay 3D printer like the Monoprice Mini (which we used at various hack-a-thons and maker events) for around $220 USD on Amazon. I’ve worked a bit with that particular printer and it’s good. It won’t blow you away but it will do everything you’d expect a solid 3D printer to do. My in house machine is a Printrbot Simple Metal, which has since been replaced by the Simple Pro. It’s not the cheapest one out there, but it’s an absolute beast, taking all the abuse I can throw at it. It’s even been to sea.
From simple sand dollars to life-sized hammerhead shark skulls, 3D printable ocean objects present an incredible opportunity for ocean outreach. Many commercial biological models are expensive, fragile, and often overkill for educators’ needs, where simple, robust, and easily replaceable anatomical models suffice. Over the last year, I’ve been honing my 3D printing skills, learning how to design 3D-printable objects, and mastering 3D scanning using free software and the now-ubiquitous smartphone. My designs, along with the open-source objects used for Oceanography for Everyone, can be found on my YouMagine profile (though Patreon supporters get early access to most prints).
Earlier this year, I wrote about how the ability to essentially photocopy a three dimensional object in a matter of hours revived my Ocean Optimism and opened up a whole new world of outreach possibilities. Since then, I’ve been working behind the scenes on some bigger projects that depend on 3D printing, one of which, Oceanography for Everyone launched last month. It’s a big ocean out there, and one person can’t possibly come close to producing a comprehensive collection of ocean objects. With several successful 3D scans under my belt, I think it’s time to share the process and invite the rest of the ocean-loving world join me in my efforts to scan the sea.
123D Catch, the software that powers it all.
Carcharocles megalodon is the largest shark that ever lived. It roamed the oceans from 15 to 2.5 million years ago. Its teeth can be found at fossil beds around the world, but especially in Yorktown and Pungo River formations in the coastal Eastern United States. Megalodon teeth are incredibly useful teaching tools, allowing educators to convey just how massive these animals were and open up discussions about evolution, extinction, and ecology while instilling a sense of wonder.
Now you can print your own piece of prehistory with this 3D printable Megalodon tooth!