In our sales process at FormWerk we run into this question almost everyday. Sowe thought we’d give some examples of the process we take our clients through, to guide them to a purchase decision that best fits their needs.

General wisdom has it that, markets permitting, you get what you pay for. And this, of course, applies to 3D printers, too. Which means that, more often than not, a premium product can be expected to come with a premium price tag. Conversely, there are no-name products that mostly come from the Far-East, with scarcely any readable documentation, barely working or breaking down sooner than expected, but within quite a low budget. Moreover, with 3D printing still a new technology, in a not-yet-matured market, these extremes in terms of price / premium quality ratio are farther apart than in other more standard and mature product segments.

So the first question to ask is really: what am I willing to spend for my 3D printer?

Our advice: Please also allow here for some contingency for spare parts, consumables and, last but not least, printing material… In some cases, those contingencies may surpass the price of the single item 3D printer.

Usually, the second question spins around the topic of proficiency and additional useful training and experience. 3D printing is another tool in a human’s vast toolbox and it needs to be mastered, just like any other tool. Of course there are different levels of mastery, from ‘apprentice’ to ‘black belt’.

Our advice: Assess your skills as realistically as possible, as your proficiency level will cause the supplier to form certain criteria of the equipment and services that they offer you. And, trust us, you need those to accurately match your proficiency level, or, in simpler words, mismatches are a sure-fire recipe for disappointment. This will affect not only the printing process itself but also the pre- and post-processing of the print. Think about it this way – if you had a brand new driver’s license would you buy an expensive sports car needing a complete engine check-up after each summer day spin…?

Next question to ask regards the typical applications the 3D printer – and you – will face most often. Is it for personal hobby purposes? Is it for industrial use, for commercial prototyping or even regular production? Is it for technical and/or art education? What typical designs and materials will be most certainly used on the 3D printer?

Our advice: There is no such thing like one size fits all in 3D printing – one printer model definitely cannot do it all. There are several dozens of different printing technologies out there, each serving a special technical or economical requirement. So, in the end you may need two or three different printers to serve all your needs. Even so, you still need to know which printer will be the most important in your fleet to start with.

Typical capabilities and specification of 3D printers such as build size, speed, material, serviceability, availability, mean time between failures, expected lifetime, accuracy and repeatability or quality are usually a function of the budget. That means you, as a potential buyer, face a typical multi-criteria selection process, where it is highly recommended and useful that you develop a clear list of priorities and be transparent about it.

After all, any business or sale-purchase is a process that ultimately involves… people. So the better the communication about all those checkpoints, the better the final purchase decision!