When working with hobbyist 3D printers, you will sometimes suffer from the printer resolution. Then, it is good to know that there are professional printers out there as well. We have already looked at shapeways, and now it is time for i.materialize.
The site accepts STL files, among other formats. The available materials range from different plastics, steel to silver and gold. The site also has a nice gallery from which you can order prints, or simply take inspiration.
Looking beyond i.materialize and shapeways, the difference between commercial 3D printers and hobbyists ones are – apart from the price – generally the following:
- The ability to handle more complex shapes, including overhangs.
- The resolution of the printer.
- The size of the printing envelope, although this is changing.
- The ability to use other materials than molten plastic.
One way to combine the best of two worlds is to prototype parts using a hobbyist printer, then order the component printed in steel or titanium from a professional shop. That way, you know that your piece will fit, and you can use other materials than plastic. Still, for most of my projects, plastics is good enough, so I’m happy with the results from my MakerBot Thing-o-matic.