FDM printers are very common these days and work by depositing layers of heated plastic in sequence to create a finished 3D model. FDM Printers are very affordable, starting at less than $200 USD and going up from there.
We use Creality Ender 3 v2 and CR-10 v3 printers in our workshop which can be purchased from a variety of venders including Amazon. Prices and features vary on different printers, but we always recommend considering the build plate size and the types of materials it can handle as well as reading healthy number of reviews from different sites before choosing your printer.
Slicers are programs that you run on your computer that prepare 3D STL files for printing. In their raw form, STLs are not readable by your printer. Slicing programs, or slicers, take the information about the object you are trying to print, applies printer specific parameters and other settings to your file and exports it in a code that your printer can read.
We use Ultimaker Cura in our shop for this step. There are other slicers out there, but we have found that unless you need a specialized one for your printer, Cura is top of the line and FREE. You can download Cura from their site here.
Here is a quick rundown of some of our material settings we use
These are by no means universal settings and may need tweaking depending on your specific printer. We can also offer the Cura settings files that we use on our Ender 3 printers as a decent starting point, though we recommend you review the settings and feel free to adjust as needed. There are thousands of videos and articles details the functions of each of the settings in Cura.
Filament refers to the roll of plastic used in FDM printing. There are thousands of choices out there for filament. It can be hard to choose one when you are getting started. Material type, Diameter, color, and finish are all factors in your decision. There are tons of articles out there on filament choice and we won’t rehash all of it here, but we will give you the highlights.
Diameter is easy. You can check to see what type your printer uses and just go with that. 1.75mm is most common for smaller/hobby printers.
Material type is a little more subjective, but we can tell you that PLA is what we use as it is inexpensive, widely available, easy to work with, and doesn’t off-gas toxic fumes like some other types.
Color is totally up to you, but we like grey and black as they are more forgiving to paint over.
Finish, like glossy, translucent, glow in the dark, or silky is also totally your choice too, but if you plant to paint over it, these may not be worth much thought.
To that end, we use Hatchbox Black and Grey PLA as well as Matter Hackers MH Build Grey PLA in our studio.