From the very start of the desktop 3D printing boom, this newfound industry was nearly evenly split between open source advocates and those who preferred more proprietary measures. Nowadays, 3D printing companies that are not open source have still found success on the market, but makers everywhere are starting to realize the great advantages of the more controllable and modifiable experience of open source 3D printing. Companies such as Aleph Objects and Ultimaker have reinvigorated the definition of the ‘maker’ with their open source prowess, and have proven that the more control the user has over the process, the more potential for innovation there is.

Open source 3D printing also provides immense benefits when it comes to filaments as well, particularly when it comes to unique and different types. One of the premier open source 3D printing companies is Aleph Objects, famously known for their LulzBot branded 3D printers. Their open source hardware, which includes the LulzBot TAZ 6 and LulzBot Mini, offers the user full control over the process, which makes it much easier to manage and modify along the way. This is especially true when it comes to specialized or unique filaments.

“The user can fully understand and control how the technology works, benefit from collaboration that makes the product better, and even make modifications. In regard to filament, the open filament format allows for dozens of different materials to be used with the machine, including standard plastics, metal fills, flexible filaments, nylons, polycarbonate, and more,” said Kara Sawinska, the Market Associate at Aleph Objects.

Now, utilizing open source hardware might seem like a daunting task to those who have novice experience with 3D printing technology, but in reality, it can help you get up to speed much quicker and more efficiently. In addition, there are a number of possibilities that the user just wouldn’t have access to with the closed approach. Though there are advanced aspects that can certainly be considered difficult to achieve, makers generally have guidelines and a knowledgeable community to help with every step along the way. “Opportunities to customize and extend functionality beyond out-of-the-box operation can require advanced skills. Fortunately, extensive documentation, community insight, and technical support is available along the way,” Sawinska told us.

Not only does the user benefit greatly from the open source 3D printer, the hardware manufacturer also gains a great deal by having such a strong relationship with their community. With open source, the users are able to advance the products for the manufacturer, creating a process where everyone involved contributes to the development of the 3D printer. For instance, Aleph Objects has the LulzBot Forum, which provides an extremely active community with over tens of thousands of posts about improving the printer and printing experience.

“Countless ideas from the community have advanced our products and made them easier to use than ever, from self-leveling and the PEI print surface to cooling fans and firmware,” said Sawinska. “It's hard to pick one, but the LulzBot Forum is a great resource with tens of thousands of posts and active participation.”

At the end of the day, the 3D printing industry has always had a strong foundation based on open source hardware and free software, and as the industry and community continues to expand, open source hardware companies are thriving as proprietary 3D printers grow old and unchanged. Although some “closed” 3D printer may provide a streamlined and easy-to-understand printing process, open source 3D printing does that and much more. With a more adaptable and modifiable 3D printer, users are able to improve performance, add new features, and also make the printing process easier and more reliable. Open source printing equals user freedom, it gives you a 3D printer that grows in capability alongside you, and it also means a more enjoyable time with your 3D printing filaments too.