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At what point does it become less expensive to buy your own 3D printer and plastic stock than to buy from Shapeways, Boyce, etc.?
That is a hard question with personal preferences mixed in. I’d liken it to changing your own oil versus taking it to a shop. I think it really comes down to how much of your time you are willing to put into it, how many uses you might have for 3D printing, and the personal satisfaction you can get from the I made that feeling. If you don’t have a lot of time and much use for one, going the Shapeways/Boyce route is likely for the best. It can be a real time suck, especially if you also design your own parts. For this project I’m using the Amazon Basics PETG, which was $17.99 for a 1kg spool. The Estes Maxi-Brute Pershing 1A clone nose was about $2.03 of material and the one fin about 18 cents. Your printer choice sort of depends on the quality you want coupled with how much time you are willing to invest in tuning the printer, versus having an out of the box experience. If you are willing to put the time into tuning the printer and printing parts to enhance it, you can get great results from the lower end printers versus a multi thousand dollar unit. My printer is a Creality CR-10S Pro, it was $650, but you can get decent printers like the Ender 3 that requires some assembly for a couple hundred. You just can’t expect an out of the box experience like you can get with something like a MAKERBOT. I can’t stress enough that if you buy one take the time at the beginning to learn how to level the print bed and how to make sure your prints stay adhered to the print bed during the printing process, it will save you a lot of frustration. The CR10S has been a much better experience than my MonoPrice in this respect. And there is the learning curve of how to setup your print settings and work with different kinds of plastics, but that you are going to encounter despite the printer. I did have a lot of frustrating failures are first trying to print this project, but now I think I have it down. I think my print at home results for quality is really good and the PETG is really tough stuff if printed properly. But then there is all that time waiting for the part to finish printing…….argh! On the flip side, my teenage daughter and I have had fun printing some non-rocketry projects too. I’ve also discovered several people here at work that have recently bought 3D printers, so we’re sharing tips and experiences.