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3D Printing Without Breaking the Bank

Think 3D printing is too far out of reach for your kids? Colorado Parent's "tech dad" introduces parents to an affordable 3D printer they can set up at home.

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Printing with a 3D printer is a fun way for kids to get creative while learning computer design and engineering concepts. Problem is, 3D printers aren’t always affordable or easy to use and understand. I recently tested a desktop 3D printer so you know what to expect.

The Anet A8 Plus is a budget model printer that costs about $219-$250, depending on whether you want a preassembled or DIY version. I chose DIY and opening the box was a bit daunting—there were plenty of pieces to put together. I spent about 30 minutes following the YouTube video instructions to get it assembled properly. Even after it’s put together, there will still be some tweaking and adjusting needed to get it just right before you can start printing.

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The A8 is a stand-alone unit, meaning it doesn’t need to be connected to a computer in order for it to operate. Upload 3D print files onto the included microSD card and use the built-in screen to decide which file to print. The screen and dial make it easy to navigate the menus but I have to admit that much of it was Greek to me. If you haven’t spent much time using 3D printers, you’ll need to do some basic research online to understand how X, Y, and Z coordinates work, what a hotbed is, and what PLA is.

Once your printer and 3D print file are set up properly, select “print” and your design will slowly turn into an actual 3D object. It’s actually pretty awesome once you get everything dialed in and working.

Overall, a budget 3D printer like the Anet A8 Plus is not for the faint of heart. There is plenty of assembly, software configuration, and tweaking to get it right. You’ll also need to navigate the desktop software used to create 3D files for the printer. If you’re up for the challenge (or happen to have a helpful friend who has done this before) it’s an awesome way to inspire and encourage a child who has that STEAM spark.

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