Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Eeny, Meeny, Mino, Moe: Which 3D Printer Should We Own?

By on January 27, 2016

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the start of my journey to create a Language Arts and ELD class that leveraged 3D printing as a means to initiate a more purposeful curriculum for reading and writing.  I will be posting more about my rationale in my February post for Edutopia.  I will also be sharing some of my lessons, my (hopeful) successes, and my (sure to be many) failures as well.  Check back for future posts to live vicariously through the drama.

I should say here that none of this happens without the support of my  principal and my district.  This is a collaborative process trying to think “outside the box” to reach students that need something other than what we’ve given them before.  It’s a jump into the unknown for us all, but we’re willing to hold our breath and leap.

This post will take you through a detailed continuation of my hunt for the perfect 3D printer.


My last post included a list of printers I had learned about through the folks on the e-NABLE discussion boards.  I’m planning to use e-NABLE hands as a keystone project for the class.  They partner people with 3D printers: classrooms, vendors, and hobbyists, with children in need of prosthetics.

I’m hoping that by weaving e-NABLE into the curriculum, I don’t just lure my students into more authentic informational reading and writing, but also nurture a vital character trait that can be allusive to many middle schoolers: compassion.  Middle School is, developmentally, a very me-centric chapter in one’s life, and I’m hoping that this relationship with e-NABLE and the potential to 3D print solutions to other problems as well, is something that will excite students to thinking beyond themselves.

But I digress.  The folks on the discussion boards, amazingly generous and knowledgeable folks,  led me to one of the printers, the Lulzbot. I called the Lulzbot folks. They gave me the name of a local (somewhat) reseller, Matterhackers, in Lake Forest, CA. I called Matterhackers, and within one week, my principal and I had an appointment to go to their showroom for a tour.  Matterhackers, for us, is about a two-hour drive.  Nevertheless, my principal and I went on a field trip.

When we got there, it was a little like the tent that Mr. Weasley sets up for the Quidditch World Cup. When we walked in, it appeared to be a small room with a few printers on the tables and prints on the walls.  But when we were escorted through another door, a whole other world opened up.

We were guided through shelves and shelves of ceiling-high stacks of multi-colored filament that theyIMG_5615 ship all over the world.  We were introduced to developers, designers, salespeople, and marketing agents.  All of them were happy to contribute pieces of information that added to our growing knowledge about this world.

We ended up meeting in the work room where the employees tinker and print their designs.  A Lulzbot was busy building a gear behind us, creating a sort of industrial music as we spoke.  There were machines of all sizes, kits you could build, and super sexy Apple-esque ones that looked more sci-fi than industrial age.

They had even done research on e-NABLE hands so that if we didn’t think to ask a question, they could still anticipate what we needed to know.  That’s key.  It’s important to find folks that aren’t just waiting for you to ask the right questions.

In the end, we walked away with quotes on two bundles of printers and various other accoutrements. I’m going to break this down for you because I know there are teachers out there who are just as new to this as I am.


The two printers we settled on are the Ultimaker 2 and the Lulzbot Mini.  Both are user-friendly and reported to be particularly plug-and-print, vital in working with kids.  As a teacher new to this, I wasn’t looking for one that required a great deal of tinkering to see initial results. Some things we had quoted with both printers:

  • Five 3D printing pens – They worked out a discounted price for us.
  • A MatterControl tablet – These are not necessary, but we didn’t want the printers to require a tether to a particular laptop.   There’s free software as well, but then the printers would have to be USB-attached to their own computer.  We want students to use Tinkercad on their Chromebooks, send their files to the tablet, and form a queue of projects that won’t fall asleep in the middle of the printing process.
  • Some filament – discounted with an additional discount on all future filament orders
The sexy Ultimaker 2

The sexy Ultimaker 2

 The Ultimaker 2

  • The Ultimaker 2 is apparently about to be discontinued as they bring in the Pro.  The differences in the products addressed some tweaks folks were asking for, but for this reason, Matterhackers was able to give us a discount on the remaining inventory.  Check your local resellers to see if they are doing the same kind of deal.
  • The Ultimaker is housed with a box around 3 sides to make it both sexier and safer.
  • We’re told the extruder (the thing the stuff comes out of) produces a nice product, but can be a little trickier than other models.  Nevertheless, it seems do-able.
  • The bed is large (to support bigger pieces) and heated.  That’s important because we want the filament (stuff) to stick as it prints.
  • This baby’s the top-o-the-line, and reviews predict it to have decent longevity.  After all, we might have money now, but in two years we might not.
  • In terms of nozzles, the Ultimaker only needs the one it comes with for hard and soft filaments necessary for e-NABLE hand creations.  Some printers need you to do a nozzle switch-out to make that possible.
Lulzbot Mini

Lulzbot Mini

 Lulzbot Mini

  • The Lulzbot looks more industrial.  My principal loved how you could see the gears working and liked the exposed wires.  (shrug)
  • We saw it in action, and while it was loud, it really did create a cool “making” sound that was somewhat satisfying to hear.
  • In order to create an e-NABLE hand, the Lulzbot needs a different nozzle extruder attachment.  That brought the price up to almost the same amount as the Ultimaker 2.  (The Ultimaker Pro is still a few hundred more.)  However, the Lulzbot Mini got higher points with Matterhacks for its ease in how the filament comes out.
  • I should note here that there is a bigger version of the Lulzbot (the Taz) that is also ranked high. Pricewise it ranks between the Ultimaker 2 and the Lulzbot Mini.  However, the guys at Matterkachers did their research and pitched us the lower price model after confirming that it could work with the e-NABLE hands as well.


In the end, we’re going to approach the district with both quotes but pushing more towards the Ultimaker 2.  We’re hoping to get some MacBooks as well for multimedia chronicling and to create How-to iBooks.

I’ll continue sharing my findings and decisions as I learn more. Schools and our students can make a difference in our local communities and beyond.  I can’t wait to share this journey with you!

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