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Desktop 3D Printers on the Market (2012)

The Leapfrog Creatr and Xeed Printers

When Martijn Otten, founder of Leapfrog (not to be confused with the educational technology giant), saw these DIY desktop 3D printer kits, he realized they had sharp learning curves and were not streamlined.  Mr. Otten noticed that they were often unreliable with small build areas.  This led to smaller 3D objects with bad print quality.  Additionally, on the more commercial/professional side of the 3D printing market (with printers used for prototyping and architectural models) Mr. Otten saw that they were far too expensive for the average consumer wishing to 3D print at home.

Leapfrog Creatr

Thus, Leapfrog was founded in order to supply both sides of the market.

They built the Creatr and Xeed printers with this purpose in mind.  The Creatr is their entry-level 3D printer using FDM.  It is made from laser-cut aluminum parts which help the Creatr look much more attractive than its DIY predecessors.  This printer also has been designed with a reliable hot-end for extrusion.  Dual extrusion is also available, which mean you can print 3D objects in different colors.  On top of all this, its software is all open-source, so it’s updated regularly, and best of all it’s free.      Leapfrog Xeed

The Leapfrog Xeed printer is bigger than their Creatr printer.  It has a lower minimum layer thickness, which allows for more detail in the objects the Xeed prints.  To increase its user-friendly interface, Leapfrog integrated a tablet computer into the Xeed.  It has a touch screen and is connected to the Internet.  It even has its own email address so that users can email their STL files to the printer, where they are automatically converted to the correct code (gcode) for printing.  The user doesn’t even have to hook up a computer or install any software. 

Though the Creatr and Xeed printers are Leapfrog’s first rollout, more printers are on their way.  Leapfrog is currently working with a polymer specialist so that they can develop different types of filament with unique characters.  Leapfrog is obviously a much newer player on the 3D printing scene than either MakerBot or 3D Systems (makers of the new Cube printer), but they represent a slightly lower cost option to the more established companies. 

MakerBot’s Replicator: No Longer Science Fiction         

MakerBot, a 3D printing company in Brooklyn, NY, has been striving to bring (relatively) inexpensive 3D printers to the home desktops of customers worldwide.  Beginning with Thing-O-Matic and continuing with their ‘Replicator’ printer, which came out this January, their printers have been designed for the mass market. 

MakerBot Replicator

The Replicator, though a bit more expensive than other options, coming in at $1750-$1999, is capable of printing in different colors and materials.  (Though it primarily uses ABS plastic, the same plastic used to create LEGO pieces)  This printer also has quite a large print area, as demonstrated by Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, who fit an entire slice of bread onto the print shelf!  The Replicator comes pre-assembled and is ready to use straight out of the box.  However, on the downside, there is a six-week lead-time to receive the printer. 

MakerBot Replicator (with Bread Loaf!)

The Replicator is also a step forward in 3D printing technology because the extruder moves around instead of the base plate, which is the case with many older 3D printers.  This allows for increased accuracy in the objects it prints, which are becoming increasingly more complex without rough edges or accidentally loose fibers.  Projects without using different colors tend to take about an hour to complete, with more complicated projects (such as using different colors) will take “longer”. 

Perhaps the most exciting thing MakerBot has come up with so far is Thingiverse.  Thingiverse is a website that helps the creators and designers using MakerBot printers communicate with each other.  They are able to share design files of objects they have printed out.  This is the way of the future: instead of mass production, a democratization of design. 

Mr. Pettis says that the main market for MakerBot printers, at least currently, is children and their parents.

He believes that showing a child they can use their imaginations in order to create actual, physical objects begins to teach them about subjects like 3D architecture and the fundamentals of engineering.  Indeed, the next generation of thinkers, designers, engineers, and even artists will have tools similar to a MakerBot that they will be able to instantly use them.  MakerBot is so passionate about this vision of the future that they have begun an initiative to get a MakerBot into every classroom, starting with 3D printers installed inside of private and public NYC-area secondary schools. 

3D Systems’ Cube: The “Personal” 3D Printer

3D Systems, one of the leaders in the 3D printing industry, has been busy as of late.  Acquiring smaller companies within the market left and right, such as Botmill, My Robot Nation, Zcorp, and Paramount Industries, 3D Systems has secured themselves into an even more comfortable position than they were before. 


3D Systems’ Cube

This growing corporation has now announced the launch of a new “personal” 3D printer, the Cube.  This sleek and sexy looking device will be shipping out to customers on the 25th of May.  It is priced at $1,299, which is relatively cheap compared with its competitors.  As with the MakerBot, it is fully assembled and ready to print right out of the box.  It weighs a mere 9 pounds, which allows for portability around one’s home.  It also prints in a wide range of vibrant colors. 

Along with the Cube, the customer will be given 25 free designs of 3D objects the printer can print.  3D Systems boasts that the user interface is very easy to use, with a touch screen.  Also with the printer comes a membership to, their version of Thingiverse, where “Cube Artists” can share their object designs with one another.  Obviously, nobody has gotten a chance to review the Cube yet, but it is a slightly cheaper alternative to MakerBot if you prefer not to go through Reprap and DIY a printer yourself. 

Well, there you have it: an overview of the range of desktop 3D printers currently available on the market.  Though this is a relatively recent portion of the overall 3D printing industry, it is growing at a noticeably rapid pace.  It isn’t inconceivable to envision a not-so-distant future where they’ll be a 3D printer in every home in America.  Let the printing begin!

Images courtesy of Leapfrog, MakerBot, and Cube (3D Systems)

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