The price of 3D printers has fallen steeply over the last few years, but they’re still not exactly selling for pocket change – especially if you want a mid- to high-end model. If you’re looking for one, but baulking at the price, you might be tempted to open ebay and see what sort of deals can be found on everyone’s favourite global car boot sale. As you might expect, there are a lot of 3D printers on there. Many of them are new – eBay is a favourite with Chinese tech companies – but there are plenty second-hand ones for sale too, and some of them promise a lot of printer for surprisingly little money. The question is, is buying a used 3D printer a good idea?
Like most things, of course, there are some good points about buying a used 3D printer and some not so good ones. Let’s look at the downside first, for a change:
Unless you buy a used 3D printer from a shop, there are few guarantees about what you get. The most risks probably come with buying one on ebay or a similar website; you just have to trust the seller that the machine works as claimed. If it turns up and doesn’t work you can try submitting a complaint through the site, but it’s going to come down to your word against his. If you can collect the printer in person, ask to see it producing a small test print before you hand over any cash – but if you can’t do that, you’re gambling on how well it works (if it does work).
What are you getting?
An ex-business 3D printer might be well maintained to manufacturer’s specs, but if you’re buying from a private seller it’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get. Hobbyists are generally enthusiastic tinkerers, and it’s quite likely your secondhand printer will come with some upgrades and modifications. These can be great – they might increase performance significantly. On the other hand they might also void the warranty, and of course you don’t know how competently they were installed.
Ridden hard and put away wet?
There’s also the question of wear and tear. Like us, 3D printers aren’t immortal. With proper maintenance they can last a long time, but parts do wear out. You’ll probably have to change the print head of a used printer anyway, and motors and other parts might be getting elderly too. If you can, inspect the printer before buying it. As well as checking for obvious damage make sure the print head moves smoothly and easily, and that there are no issues with feeding or changing filament.
So there are definitely a few potential pitfalls in buying used, but on the bright side there are some advantages too:
A used printer is always going to lose value, so compared to buying new you can get the same printer for less money, or a better one for the same price.
It probably works
As long as you can be sure that the printer operates, you’re ahead of the game compared to buying a kit – or even a cheaper, ready-assembled printer. They can be temperamental beasts, and a lot of us have spent hours tweaking and adjusting a new printer to get it to work at all. If you buy used, someone else has already done that for you.
The safest way to buy a used printer is to get one that’s been refurbished by the original manufacturer or a 3D printer specialist. That will cost more than getting one from a private seller, but you can be confident you’ll end up with a working printer. Personally we wouldn’t go down the used route for a mission-critical device, but for hobbyists on a budget the used market can offer some real bargains.