m42_cover_hrIf you’re a regular reader here at Make, then you have seen many 3D printers. We talk about them all the time, and have even done comprehensive comparisons between many of the commercially available desktop printers in our Special 3D Printer Shootout Issue. One common question we get though, is “why does that one look different than the one over there?”. To hopefully answer that question a bit, we’d like to take you through the 3 most common filament based printer configurations.  We’ll toss in some quirky and interesting oddballs at the end too.



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Let’s start with the Cartesian. These printers are named after the most widely used coordinate system which helps robots to decide where and how to move. They will typically have a square print bed which will run along the Y-axis. The X-axis will carry the print head and for the Z-axis (up and down) movement, the print bed may descend as it does on this Ultimaker 2  or the X-axis will rise up as the printer builds objects like it does on the Printrbot Simple.






Another popular printer style is called the Delta. Delta printers also work within the Cartesian plane however as you can see when you look at the DeltaMaker, they can’t be mistaken for Cartesians. Deltas will usually feature a circular print bed. The extruder will be suspended above that by three arms in a triangular configuration (thus the name “Delta”). These nifty robots were designed for speed and they also have the advantage of a print bed that does not move which could be advantageous for certain prints.

If Cartesian and Delta printers are too straightforward for you, how about a Polar 3D printer? Photos simply don’t do these bad boys justice so check out a video instead.

These machines use polar coordinates. This system is similar to the Cartesian except that the coordinate sets describe points on a circular grid rather than a square. Yes, with a little rocket science, we can have a printer with a spinning bed and a print head that moves up, down, left and right. No need for forward and backward movement! On a side note, did you know that you can make a rocket engine with any of these printers?

Lastly, let’s not overlook those oddball printers that we find in the robust RepRap community. There’s a fellow by the name of Nicholas Seward who is creating some beautiful bots. Check out his SCARA (Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm) style printer.

He also designed a Delta variation called the GUS Simpson that is, well, poetry. I mean just look!

So whether you want to make rocket engines, Yoda figures or robots with positronic brains, there is a 3D printer out there for you. Have fun in the new age!