What I’ve learned after the first 6 months of owning a 3D printer

My Creality CR-6 SE setup

The Dichotomy of being a 3D printer owner is ever present, as this hobby space never lets us forget that we are always a clogged nozzle away from wanting to bash in our printer like Michael Bolton from Office Space. On the other hand, when we get those perfect prints, it makes owning a 3D printer all worth it.

So to get it out of the way up front, I have never truly considered getting rid of my 3D printer. I have had times where the issues I ran in to had me believing that perhaps the 3D printing hobby wasn’t for me. After all, I’ve gotten to a point where I no longer building my PCs from scratch. I no longer look to get the latest and greatest smartphones as they hit the market (I prefer my cell bill to be as low as possible instead) and you can forget about keeping up with the latest gen consoles.

Understanding that 3D printing is still nowhere close to the consumer space and resides squarely in the hobby space, for some time I had been looking to dive into this new arena. So how did I land on the printer I did? What have I learned in 6 months of owning and operating one? Is there anything I would have done differently looking back?

Read on my intrepid friend to find out.

I’ve known Tom Tullis of Fat Dragon Games for quite some time, ever since we met at GenCon back in the mid-2000s. His company makes great 3D terrain files for gamers to print out on their own 3D printers, allowing them to create their own building, miniatures and terrain for their RPG or board game of choice. Even back then, I felt like the 3D printing world wasn’t accessible enough for me to get into as a hobby. And that kept me from getting into the 3D printer space at the time.

Fast forward and I had been eyeballing them again, reading up on all the advancements in technology over the years. Granted, these things weren’t plug and play, but they had come a long way. So sometime in 2018, I seriously started looking at purchasing my first 3D printer. I was reading and watching everything I could find on the various makes and models on the market, trying to navigate my way through the sea of information. I would balance all of that against price. What best “bang for my buck” could I end up with?

This went on for over a year. Until I saw the Kickstarter campaign for the Creality CR-6 SE printer.

The single repeating theme I noticed with every single thing I read about 3D printers was clear: leveling the print bed was the most crucial (albeit not by itself) part of ensuring your prints came out successfully. The Creality CR-6 came with “auto bed leveling” technology, that would take the guesswork and frustration out of the printing process. And the price point was right in my wheelhouse for what I was willing to spend. So I backed the campaign and sat back, happy in the knowledge that I had made the right choice for my first printer.

Until I decided to cancel my pledge.

Some of my more recent projects, in varying stages of completion.

I am cursed with a pragmatist mind. This doesn’t mean I’m incapable of making impulse decisions. But when it comes to those larger things in life, I oftentimes will be more apt to overthink things, rather than not.

Even though I told myself more than once that the CR-6 was the right choice, I ultimately reversed course and decided to wait and see. With hindsight, I’m glad I did. Not because I made a different purchase, but because apparently there were some issues with the initial run of printers from that KS campaign that I was able to avoid.

In November of 2020, I finally pull the trigger on the CR-6, and overall, I’ve been very happy with my decision. So here are some things I’ve learned since beginning my 3D printing journey:

  • When deciding what printer to purchase, read all you can, from as many varied sources and review sites as you can. Educate yourself on basic terms and the overall terminology of 3D printing. This will be help you not only in your decision making process, but down the road as well.
  • In preparation for your new printer to arrive, look at joining online communities that are centered around your printer make/model. Everyone started off at one point as a beginner 3D printer(er). Don’t be intimidated by asking questions, we’ve all been there at one point or another.
  • When assembling your new printer, take your time. Go slow. No points are awarded for finishing first here. Double check your work and this will only make life easier as you look to crank out your first prints.
  • Printer supplies are a must. I’m not just talking about filament, but also extra PTFE bowden tubing, nozzles, couplers, zip ties, an x-acto set, to just name a few.
  • You will have jobs that fail. It is inevitable. No matter how well you have your printer “dialed in.” This is part of the learning process, so embrace your failures.
  • Everyone has a favorite filament. Ask 20 people in the hobby and you’ll likely get 18 different answers to the question, “which is their favorite filament brand?” Starting off, get several different brands of filament you plan on printing with (PLA, PETG, Wood, etc) and try them out. I myself use the eSun PLA+ grey, as my CR-6 has never had an issue it. But YMMV!
  • Learning how to use a slicer is paramount. No matter which slicer you prefer, knowing how to operate the program to certain levels will only make your printing experience that much better.
  • Additionally, learning how to use a 3D application such as TinkerCad or Microsoft 3D Builder will only augment your 3D printing super powers. I’m still learning these platforms, but it’s come in handy that I have for a few print jobs.
  • HAVE FUN! It’s called a hobby for a reason. It should be enjoyable and fun.
Action Shot (Yes, i’m fully aware how dirty the bed is in this shot, please don’t @ me)

This takes us to the end of the story. What does it all mean? What are the lessons to be learned here? Probably that like any endeavor in life, if you’re looking to start a new hobby or interest, don’t let ignorance or lack of skill keep you from taking it on. Educate yourself, do the research and don’t be afraid to learn from failure. It’s the best we learn. I know it has been for me.

So get out there and do that thing!

As always, leave a comment with your thoughts. Until next time, LLAP!

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