CAD Tech News (#20)

25 Jun, 2015 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Desktop 3D Printers for CAD Professionals

This evaluation of three compact, affordable, office-friendly models can help you determine which solution is right for your workplace.

By Robert Green

Interest in 3D printing has exploded in recent years, and has even grown into a hobbyist movement with companies such as MakerBot — and now Autodesk — vying to get a 3D printer in every home. But beyond the curious early adopters, is there really a use for 3D printing on a CAD user's desktop? And if there is such a need, what characteristics, costs, and features should be taken into account during the selection process? In this review, Cadalyst Labs takes a look at three 3D printers that are designed for in-office use.

Do You Need a 3D Printer?

Rather than starting out by asking which 3D printer your company should buy, first determine whether you need a 3D printer at all. Some diagnostic questions that can make that clear include:

  • Do we need to create our own mechanical prototypes?
  • Do we need to produce scale models of buildings?
  • Do we need to analyze fit and tactile properties of products?
  • Do we need to represent specific colors or textures in the things we design?

If you answered yes to any of these, then ask how often the need arises. The more often your company experiences these needs, the more likely it is that you could perform the tasks more quickly and less expensively by using 3D printing — but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to own a printer. If your needs are infrequent, you're probably better off outsourcing the work to a 3D printing bureau instead of purchasing your own machine. And if your needs are frequent but extend to making large parts, crafting with metals, or achieving extremely fast throughput, your company will likely need to invest in (and find the space for) a large professional unit, as those capabilities are beyond what a desktop model can offer.

What to Look For

Once you've decided you'll pursue a desktop 3D printing solution, you'll need to start comparing available models based on a few key variables:

  • Type of Material: Plastics, nylon, rubberlike materials, etc.
  • Multimaterial: The capability to incorporate more than one material in a single print job.
  • Multicolor: Printing in multiple colors in a single print job.
  • Build envelope: The maximum size object you can print.
  • Resolution: The smallest feature size you can print (the smaller the value, the smoother and more finely detailed your printed items will be).
  • Speed: How quickly a given part can be produced.
  • Cost: How much the printer costs initially, plus the annual cost of consumable materials and upkeep.

Generally speaking, the larger the build envelope, the more colors needed, the finer the resolution, and the faster the speed, the more expensive a printer will be. All these specifications, except for speed, are typically available on the manufacturer's web site. Speed varies because it is dependent on how a printed model is oriented and which materials and resolutions are used, so manufacturers often don't quote values, but many times the utility software included with the printer can make good estimates of print times.

Of course, the typical object size you'll need to print is easy to quantify, with a 5" cube representing the smaller end of the spectrum and a 10" cube representing the upper end of what desktop-size printers can produce. Print quality is somewhat subjective; you'll want to see samples to personally evaluate the look and feel of various materials and print resolutions, and determine which will meet your needs.

The Desktop Sweet Spot

Somewhere above the hobbyist-level 3D printers and far below the huge, high-volume solutions has emerged a mid-priced category of desktop-sized 3D printers in the $1,250 to $5,000 range. These printers offer a good range of materials and build envelopes, with resolutions and production speeds that produce great-looking prints without being hugely expensive. This desktop "sweet spot" is of increasing interest and has attracted startup companies and established vendors alike to flood the space with products — a sampling of which we reviewed for this roundup. Read more »

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Cadalyst Contributing Editor Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada.



▶ Fusion 360 Primitives: An Introduction for Autodesk Inventor Users

This IMAGINiT Tricks tutorial explains some similarities and differences between creating primitives in Fusion 360 and in Autodesk Inventor.

By Anthony Dull

Fusion 360 Primitives: An Introduction for Autodesk Inventor Users

Watch the video »

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Anthony Dull is a manufacturing solutions consultant at IMAGINiT Technologies.


CAD Manager's Toolbox: Recommended Reading for CAD Managers — Rework
Become a better, more inspiring technical leader with these tips for finding the best ways to work. Read more »

CAD Manager Column: The Proactive Power of Surveying Your Users
Get your users' input and give yourself a chance to solve problems before they become crises. Read more »

Let AutoCAD Find the Perfect Scale Factor for Your Objects
Join Cadalyst contributing editor and Autodesk Evangelist Lynn Allen as she explains how AutoCAD can figure out the perfect scale factor to get your objects to the desired size. Watch the video »

User Profile: Inventor in Training
Ernesto Mosqueda is always striving to expand his design skills — and to use his growing knowledge to improve everything around him. Read more »


CAD/CAM/CAE Demonstrations: Direct Modeling in the PTC Creo 3.0 Parametric Environment
July 2, 2015
1 p.m. PT
This PTC webinar will discuss the use of PTC Creo FMX in a multi-CAD environment, handle late stage design changes, and simplify designs for downstream use. Read more »

2015 Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference (CMSC)
July 20–24, 2015
Hollywood, Florida
This 31st annual event provides a professional venue where attendees can network and learn about the latest innovations in the field of portable 3D industrial measurement technologies. Read more »

Building Content Summit 2015
July 22, 2015
Washington, D.C.
This one-day event will focus on better understanding the unique challenges related to BIM content. Read more »

Revit Technology Conference 2015
July 23–25, 2015
Washington, D.C.
Attendees of the fifth North American Revit Technology Conference can learn from some of the world's top instructors and industry experts. Read more »

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on Are you hosting an event that you would like to include in our calendar? Submit details at least two weeks in advance to

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

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