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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Elegoo Mars Is the Nerdy Gift That Never Stops Giving

We might not live in the future where 3D printers are as common as microwaves, and that makes sense. Most people don't really need one, and they're rarely worth the expense even if they could be useful for you. However, I've found one exception to this rule: the Elegoo Mars. Especially if you're a big nerd like me.

The Elegoo Mars series of 3D printers are a bit different from the 3D printers you might've seen before. Instead of using a nozzle that melts filament to trace out an object, these are photocuring resin printers. They work by using ultraviolet light from a screen in the base of the printer to harden specific spots in a pool of liquid resin—layer by layer—until a full product emerges.

The technicalities might sound dry and boring until you see the results. Resin printing provides much more highly detailed prints than you'll get from filament-based printers. This not only cuts down on all the sanding and post-processing work you'd otherwise have to do, but it also makes it possible to print smaller, more intricate things that other printers would struggle with.

Instant Print 

Elegoo Mars 3 Pro 4K$358 at Amazon$300 at Elegoo

This level of precision makes the Elegoo 3D printers perfect for, say, building out your collection of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures. Model-generating tools like Hero Forge let you customize minis and download the corresponding 3D files. Sure, you can order physical copies from the service, but a resin printer lets you make as many copies of the mini as you want. Your Warhammer army is just a few hours away.

Now, I'll admit Warhammer isn't my nerd kink. In fact, I've used my 3D printers for … weirder things. But one of my favorite uses is making cosplay bits. Say you wanted to go to a con as Doctor Strange. There are plenty of models from helpful community members out there who have already designed the Eye of Agamotto he wears around his neck, and you can download them and print them yourself.

This, in my opinion, is the real reason to have a 3D printer in your house—not as a utility to bring down the cost of mundane products, but as a creative tool. There's no world where buying and learning how to use a 3D printer will save you enough money on pencil holders to justify the cost from a practical standpoint. 

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But making your own dice towers? That's a blast. Designing a new character for your D&D game and printing off a minifig to paint that day? Good clean fun. Even if you don't have experience in 3D modeling, there's an increasingly wide array of tools to help you design all kinds of things. For example, this app lets you design your own custom dice. Not only can you print these, but you can use them as masters for resin molds to make more (another fun hobby!).

Sensible Price

Hobbyists have known that 3D printers are good for this kind of thing for ages. But the Elegoo Mars lineup stands out in one other way: It's cheap for a 3D printer. The older Elegoo Mars 2 Pro—the first one I ever used–costs a little over $200. The latest model, the Mars 3 Pro, adds a 4K screen for higher-detail prints and a slightly bigger print volume. It's just over $350. 

Personally, the Mars 3 is my model of choice right now. It's nearly as good as the Mars 3 Pro, but you can often catch it on sale for closer to $200. This is a far cry from the several hundred or even thousands of dollars that 3D printers of the past cost, and it makes it much easier to pick up casually. I don't use this 3D printer every day (or even every month), but it feels like less of a sunk cost when it didn't cost so much in the first place.

It's worth noting the cost of materials to use the Elegoo Mars, but this isn't as much as you might think. This 1000-gram bottle of gray resin costs about $33 (though it's often on sale for less), and it can cover a ton of prints. Chitubox, the included slicing software that prepares models for printing, even gives estimates of how much resin you'll use for each print and how much it will cost. Many of the mini figures I've printed cost in the area of a dollar or two apiece worth of resin. A trivial cost compared to buying minis from stores (or even the 3D models in some cases).

More importantly, creative outlets don't necessarily require financial justification. The Elegoo Mars 3D printers are cheap enough that you can pick one up as a hobby and easy enough to use that you don't need to dedicate months of your life to learning how they work. Plus, there's something special about being able to print little gifts for your friends for the holidays—or just for fun.

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