A few years ago, I bought my first 3D printer. It was a Geeetech i3 Pro V Prusa clone. I bought it as a kit off of ebay based on a recommendation from the
Design. Prototype. Test. YouTube channel. He did a video where he compared budget 3D printer kits at the time and he suggested that it was the best. So, I ordered one and waited about a month or two for it to arrive.
I assembled the kit in about 5 or 6 hours. It didn't print right out of the box, it needed a lot of adjustments and I was very new to 3D printing, so it took a few days until I had a solid print. It was very satisfying when I did, though. I spent the next 6 months printing parts and getting them off of ebay to make the printer better.
After about a year, I started to notice that I wasn't printing anything with it, so I sold it to a friend. I almost instantly regretted that decision. So, I saved up my money and bought a new printer called the Creality Ender 3 Pro. It was a budget, entry level 3D printer from a company that had success with the larger CR-10 printer, and it got great reviews.
However, this time, the printer was easier to put together. I had it up and running in about 45 minutes. Not only that, but it printed successfully right out of the box. I was amazed at the quality. I got started printing upgrades. A few months later, I began ordering parts like an auto bed leveling system. After about a year with this printer, I noticed that I wasn't printing any more, so I gave it away to the same friend that bought my Geeetech. I almost instantly regretted that decision, too. After asking him to print some things for me, he asked me if I just wanted him to give the printer back, so I accepted and took it back.
My most recent upgrades have been a new main board (called a motherboard on PCs) and a Direct Drive Extruder, which allows me to print with flexible filaments.
I've probably spent almost $1000 USD on my 3D printing hobby.
So, what do I have to show for it? A 12" Spaceship model that I printed that looks like the one below and a split ergonomic keyboard case.
Sure, I've printed cute characters and tug boat stress tests, but I don't have one single thing to show for all the money I've put into my printers. ("But what have the Romans done for us, lately?")
However, I would spend that money again, and twice more, to experience the joy and happiness that this hobby has brought me. The only useful 3D prints I have ever made were parts to go on my 3D printer. I used it to improve itself.
I plan to spend even more money on this hobby. I don't know what I'll buy, yet, but I know there will be some upgrade that I want to try out or some new 3D printing technology I want to try.
There are various styles of 3D printers and I'd like to try my hand at building one from scratch. There are plans to build a CoreXY style printer (where the printer is a cube) called the HyperCube. There's an improved version of the Hypercube called the Hypercube Evolution (HEVO). You can buy all the parts from China and build the frame yourself using Aluminum Extrusions. I think that would be pretty cool.
I may also buy a fully assembled 3D printer from Prusa in the Czech Republic, because they have such a good reputation for creating printers that "just work". Those are pretty expensive, though and I almost feel like that's the same kind of situation of Apple versus PC. Why spend $3000 on a mac when you can spend half that on a PC of the same speed and with the same features?
I think one of the greatest joys of the hobby is that you use the printer to make the printer better. That excites me.
Another avenue of exploration is 3D design. I installed Autodesk Fusion 360 (they have a free personal license) and I've been using it to design 3D printable RPG terrain. I posted my designs to Thingiverse and they've been downloaded quite a bit. I'm glad that other people can use them for their games. I've also designed parts for my printer. I needed a way to cool the Raspberry Pi that runs my printer and I had a 5015 fan already, so I made a nozzle that pointed the airflow down into the Pi to keep it cool. I've since purchased a suitable fan for the purpose, but it was fun to pull out the calipers, measure everything, and design and print my own printer parts. I recently designed a part that turned an old robotics optical speed sensor that I had lying around into a filament runout detector for the printer. As soon as my new main board arrives, I'll wire it up and my printer will stop printing when it runs out of filament and allow me to insert new filament. I like that I can instantly see the results of my designs in three dimensions. It's a fun way to be creative.
The 3D printing hobby is one that supports other hobbies, too. I'm a mechanical keyboard hobbyist. I'm not hardcore like some people who will drop over $1000 on a designer keyboard (professional gamers and other hardcore enthusiasts), but I do enjoy the feel of a mechanical keyboard over the feel of a "traditional" membrane keyboard. Honestly, it's not really any different typing on a mechanical keyboard than it is on a mebrane keyboard, but the sheer amount of customization from keycaps, switches, and keyboard styles makes it a fun hobby. 3D printing allows me to explore some experimental (or not so experimental) keyboards like the Dactyl Manuform, which is a split ergonomic keyboard meant to "bring the keys to your fingers, not your fingers to the keys". All of the keys are close by your fingers due to the curved body of the keyboard. There are also a number of keys on the thumbs that allow for more advanced use and less finger strain. Lots of people say that the Dactyl Manuform has cured their RSI or helped their Carpal Tunnel. I've printed two different styles of the DM, one with 6 columns by 4 rows and one with 5 columns and 4 rows. I will be using the 5x4 and probably selling the 6x4 case.
I also enjoy hobby electronics. I like to design and build PCBs and solder the parts on them. I like building electronics kits, as well. By using the 3D printer and Fusion 360, I can make enclosures for my electronics designs.
I keep finding new ways to enjoy the 3D printing hobby and each time I am happy to learn of some new way to do something or some new technology application that I have never seen before. I won't be giving this printer away or selling it this time, and I'll probably add to my collection. There should always be some way to use it to enhance the hobby. I'll also keep designing and printing new things.