Testing 3D printers is a complex process. Printers often don’t use the same materials or even the same process to create models. I test SLA, 3D printers that use resin and light to print, and FDM, printers that melt plastic onto a plate. Each has a unique methodology. The core qualifications I look at include:
- Hardware quality
- Easy setup
- Bundled software
- Appearance and accuracy of prints
- Corporate and community support
A key test print depicting the (now old) CNET logo assesses how a printer bridges gaps, produces accurate shapes, and handles overhangs. It even has small towers that can be used to measure how well the 3D printer copes with temperature ranges.
When testing the speed, we slice the model using the standard slicer that the device comes with, at the default settings, and then compare the real time of printing with the completion time of the statement on the slicer. 3D printers often use different slicers, and these slicers can vary greatly depending on how long they think they will take to complete.
We then use Prusa tailor To determine how much material the print should use, divide this number by the real print time to get a more accurate number for the speed in millimeters per second (mm/s) at which the printer can run.
Each building board is supposed to heat up to a certain temperature, so we use that InfiRay thermal imaging camera for Android to check how well they are doing. We set the build plate to 60 degrees Celsius—the most commonly used temperature for build plates—waited 5 minutes for the temperature to stabilize, and then measured it in six different locations. We then measured the average temperature to see how close the 3D printer came to the specified temperature.
Resin testing requires different criteria, so I use the Ameralabs standard test – I print out a small resin model that looks like a tiny city. This helps determine how accurately the printer works, how it handles small parts, and how well the UV exposure works at different locations in the model.
Many other anecdotal test prints are also run on each printer using different 3D models to test the longevity of the parts and how well the machine handles different shapes.
For the other criteria, I research how well the company responds to customer support requests and how easy it is to order replacement parts and install them yourself. Kits (printers that come only half-assembled) are judged based on how lengthy and difficult the assembly process is and how clear the instructions are.