Makerbot 3D printerIf you buy a 3D printer “off the shelf,” say a MakerBot or Lulzbot, you get what you got.

Of course, based on the number of units sold of these machines, you can assume they are of some quality. You also know the capabilities of the printer, the kind of filament it can handle, its footprint, and, well, pretty much everything about it.

And you also have, in most cases, an established company you can go back to when things get squirrelly.

But the way 3D printing is evolving, just like computers, the minute you buy it, it’s obsolete. The newer printers can handle more exotic filaments, create larger and better prints. But you have the same 3D printer.

That’s one of the advantages of having a printer that’s built by a small company or even open source ….

My first 3D printer was a 3D Systems CubeX. It could print in 3 colors (theoretically – I never was able to get it to work). At about 6 years old, it’s now on life support.

Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer & artist Kevin CaronI have 3 other 3D printers, all made by Cerberus 3D, a small company here in Arizona. They are different sizes – from 32 inches to 8 feet tall – and have different capabilities. For instance, my Cerberus 3D 400 can print much hotter, letting me use PETG and other more exotic filaments, while the 8-foot-tall Gigante can print up to 4 feet tall!

All of these printers are based on open source plans readily available on the Internet.

That being said, I couldn’t build one myself, which is where Cerberus 3D comes in.

The brains behind Cerberus 3D, Steve Graber, is also the reason that I can keep these 3D printers running. Steve offers excellent support of the machines and, perhaps as important, stays up to date on what is going on in the world of 3D printing. That means he keeps updating my machines, too.

I’ve done some things myself – I added the Gigante’s heated bed and filament spool holder, for example – but there is no way I can keep up with the latest and greatest advancements. After all, my real job is being an artist, and I still work in metal as well as 3D printing.

So all of my printers are subject to change – make that “update.”

After 5 years, almost all of the parts of my Gigante have been updated except for the metal uprights. Among the parts changed are the struts, the bed (as mentioned), the printhead (more than once), the controller, the connectors that hold the uprights into place (In smaller printers, 3D-printed parts did a fine of holding things together. In an 8-foot-tall 3D printer, they needed to be much stronger.). These are just some of the parts that have helped keep the Gigante printing.

Of course, I’ve updated my software numerous times over the years, too.

So while having a 3D printer made from open source plans may seem frightening, in some ways it’s an advantage to keeping the machine refreshed so I don’t have to buy a new one every few years as technology leaps forward.