Saturday, April 29, 2017

Printing at Home vs SLS Services for Chainmail

Recently posted about some chainmail that I printed on my Monoprice Select v2. A friend asked how this chainmail differed from a version that I had printed from - so here's a quick comparison.


Materials: The home printer version (black) cost me pennies on the dollar compared to Shapeways. I can't state the exact costs because they are different sizes and materials, but it's something like $0.80 vs $80 for the same sized sheet. Let's just say the home-based machine has already paid for itself in material costs.

Labor and Time: Well Shapeways is super convenient, just submit the file and wait one to two weeks to get it back. With the home printer I had to convert and slice the project (15 mins) load the printer and wait for it to heat up (another 15 mins) and monitor the project over four hours. Also, I had some filament break, so I lost another two hours. Basically, Shapeways is more convenient and quicker.

Development Time: Here, the home printer definitely wins - no question. I can try small-batch experiments in minutes (the one shown here is probably about a 12 min print). I can try different sizes and shapes and heights quickly. This ability to run rapid iterations is, for me, the real reason to own your own printer.

But what about quality and strength and appearance? Well you can see from the above photo that the black PLA print is considerably more chunky, about 30% larger than the white version from Shapeways.

That's because Shapeways uses a thin laser to print the object while the home printer squeezes melted plastic out of a nozzle. That nozzle is 0.4 mm wide, so if you want two layers on each side you will get a 1.6 thick object. Both of these prints use the smallest, thinnest dimensions recommended by their manufacturers.

Strength and Appearance

I would say the black PLA print is stronger, but if the white Nylon were printed at the same size, then it would be stronger. Part of that is the material properties. Nylon is simply stronger than PLA, and PLA is kind of brittle.

However, the home printer can print other materials like modified PLAs, PETG and even some types of nylon. So with those materials, the home-printed version might be as strong, or even stronger, than the Nylon from Shapeways.

Shapeways' lasers also bond all the layers together very well which assures a consistent, dependably strong part. Home printers can also print dependably, but it's good to note that you will need to know how to set up your printer to achieve those results.

As noted, the home printed version is thicker, less delicate. The white version from Shapeways almost begins to feel like a fabric while the black PLA version, though flexible, still feels like traditional chainmail. It's flexible and comfortable and smooth to the touch - definitely wearable - but nothing like a fabric.


Get a home 3D printer. They still can't produce as delicate a print as the SLS from a service provider. But you can experiment quickly and to your heart's content for pennies a day. And with the huge varieties of filaments of all colors (including glow in the dark, color-changing and transparent) you can print out several different versions for the price of one experiment printed from a service provider.