Whether you’re buying your first 3D printer or your fifth, choosing between an open or enclosed model may be a major factor in your decision. It certainly was (and still is) for me. It’s easy to see the advantages and drawbacks of each, making it a decision you need to think through…
But which is really better: enclosed or open? In general, enclosed printers cost more and can help you print higher-quality parts with high-end materials. However, if you don’t have special use in mind, the cost is probably not worth it. If you do go the open printer route, you always have the option of upgrading it with a DIY enclosure.
So, you may be wondering: “How do I know what is best for me?” This depends heavily upon what you are trying to accomplish with your 3D printer. Is it just a hobby? Are you making parts with a real-world application?
Do you want to print with specialty materials like nylon or are you content using PLA and just small ABS parts? All of these and more are important things to consider when deciding between an enclosed vs. open 3D printer.
More Material Choice
3D printing lets you take advantage of a wide variety of materials. You can print with everything from standard materials like PLA to “exotics” like nylon with carbon fiber reinforcement.
Some high-end industry printers can even print with human tissue on a bio-engineered scaffolding. Even though we can’t print our own organs at home just yet, it is still fun to experiment with different types of materials.
When using an open printer, you are somewhat restricted because of uncontrollable variables in your printers environment. For example, things like unwanted airflow and temperature fluctuation are things that an open 3D printer might struggle with. This limits you to printing with materials that are not picky, so to speak.
If you want to start printing with specialty filaments like nylon and your prints are very big, you’ll need an enclosed printer. The enclosure around the print area ensures that no unwanted airflow disrupts your print.
It also helps keep the environment warmer than an open structure can. For materials with varying rates of cooling and warping, this is very important. The enclosure helps you maintain a stable, consistent output.
Say you are just getting started with 3D printing and don’t even know the difference between the different types of the filament on the market. Chances are, you don’t care about keeping temperatures within the range of a few degrees. Likewise, you probably won’t be too frustrated if your print comes out with a few lines showing or a minor flaw here or there.
Now imagine that you are an experienced printer that needs to make functional parts with real-world applications. In this case, a varying temperature can make all the difference between a part that comes out clean and one that is unusable. Meanwhile, a minor flaw could mean hours of re-printing and wasting much more expensive material.
This is the difference between an open and enclosed 3D printer. If you are someone that wants precise output each and every time, then you will appreciate the consistency that comes with an enclosed printer.
Not only does the enclosure regulate temperature, as mentioned above, it makes the frame of the printer sturdier. This helps reduce shaking and enhance the overall print quality. This extra rigidity can end up meaning you can print at higher speeds, allowing for greater productivity.
So, if enclosed printers almost always yield better results, why would anyone buy an open printer? This my friends, brings us to the problem of cost.
If you’ve ever browsed the market for 3D printers, then you’ve likely noticed that there are some decidedly more expensive than others. While in some cases this can be attributed to the quality of the parts used or the physical size of the printer, it is often more closely tied to its enclosure or lack thereof.
Generally, enclosed 3D printers are significantly more expensive than their non-enclosed counterparts. This is due to the increased manufacturing cost of making them.
However, manufacturers also know that people will pay more for a higher-quality product and are able to charge more. Since the enclosed 3D printer is as close to a guarantee of quality you can get, you pay for it.
With this being said, it really isn’t necessary for most people to spend the extra hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to get a printer just because it is enclosed.
For example, the novice hobbyist just starting with 3D printing will benefit more from a more basic printer. These are both easier to maintain and easier on the wallet.
This allows him/her to spend more on cheaper materials to get new colors and simply more for the money. When printing trinkets, figurines, and the occasional functional part, an enclosed printer just isn’t necessary.
If you’re crafty and have some time on your hands, it is possible to upgrade many open 3D printer models and turn them into enclosed ones. For example, there are instructions online for models like the popular Prusa i3 Mk3 that allow you to construct an enclosure around the frame.
There are other ways to do this as well. You can order enclosures that are simply a large box that is set over top of the entire printer. Unfortunately, this has the possibility of leading to overheating since the entire printer is throwing off heat into the box.
Regardless, it is possible to upgrade an open printer for cheaper than buying an enclosed one. Keep in mind that this method may not be as effective and may not be the same quality. However, even a DIY enclosure will help cut back on unwanted airflow and keep your parts cleaner.
The Choice Is Yours
At the end of the day, you must decide which type of printer is best for you. In most cases, an open printer is enough to get started with the hobby and get the job done. However, when you want to start experimenting with more exotic materials or value the extra reliability that an enclosure offers, consider upgrading to an enclosed printer.