Few words are quite as captivating as ‘free.’ But few things ever really are truly void of cost, as most businesses use the term to refer to superfluous additions to their expensive products as a purchasing incentive.
The word ‘free’ is made even more enticing when referring instead to something big and otherwise expensive, like a car, computer, or 3D printer. And when we see that these things can actually be acquired without whipping out a credit card, we’re hardwired to want to know more.
Regardless of how interested you are in owning one, the draw of a raffle, competition, or any other way of getting your very own free 3D printer is difficult to ignore when given the opportunity.
If you are enticed by the idea of having a 3D printer, then you’ll be happy to know that there are a few ways to get one without spending a penny. These ways are circumstantial, sometimes you just need to know where to look.
While you’re unlikely to land yourself a free 3D printer from the top shelf, smaller and cheaper models may go for far less than you think, even nothing. To save you money, here we’re going to look at ways you can get a 3D printer for free!
1. Build Your Own 3D Printer
The most obvious solution, but one that isn’t technically free – building your own anything is how many people with the right skillsets get themselves some impressive things while avoiding heavy costs.
In fact, the first time I ever even heard of a 3D printer was from an old friend of mine who was building one for his engineering degree. True story.
Back then the idea was completely science fiction to me, whereas now you can find YouTube videos aplenty of people who’ve managed to put together a working 3D printer in their garage!
Of course, this route to getting a free 3D printer requires a particular skillset and, dare I say, talent. But if you’ve got a mind for engineering and a lot of patience (even better if you have like-minded friends) then you’ll have no trouble finding the resources online to help you put together your own 3D printer.
While you’ll probably not end up with the kind of 3D printer you’ll see for sale online from big companies, you’ll find the work satisfying, rewarding, and even fun, especially if carried out with others. Who doesn’t like a good group project with their friends after all?
The RepRap Project
Taking building your own free 3D printer to another level is the RepRap project. With the goal of creating self-replicating machines, including desktop 3D printers, RepRap was primarily designed to print more of itself.
If you have a friend with a RepRap printer, you can ask them to take part in the project by printing parts for your own RepRap-designed 3D printer free of charge, or with the promise of using your own finished model to pay it forward, as it were.
Read more: the best RepRap 3D printers
The software and licensing for these machines are entirely open-source, and the project can therefore be carried out completely above board. It’s a very interesting concept, if not a roundabout method of getting your own 3D printer.
Of course, some money will need to change hands for the initial machine, but if you have a friend or family member who is already a 3D printing enthusiast then that money doesn’t necessarily have to be yours.
It’s a win-win scenario that will get you an incredibly basic 3D printer, but a free one nonetheless.
2. Online Competitions and Sponsorships
There’s always somewhere online to find competitions to net you a free 3D printer. These competitions are carried out by the manufacturers themselves, or enthusiasts looking to share their passion with the world in new ways.
There isn’t a single day that goes by where I don’t see artwork or tech worth hundreds of dollars going for free on Twitter with the only caveat being a like, retweet, and comment.
A simple search will have you looking at plenty of resources to get a free 3D printer at the cost of filling out a form or helping to boost an artist’s ad space on your own platform.
We all have that one aunt on Facebook who seems to share every post they get their hands on for a free getaway or Christmas basket, and there is some method to that particular brand of madness. Casting a wide net will increase your odds, as long as you watch out for a few things.
First of all, be very cautious when entering competitions online. Doing even a little research on the companies or people offering free 3D printers in competitions is a great way to watch out for scammers, and there are some red flags to look out for.
Typos and grammatical errors are forgivable in small amounts, but many scammers will deliberately make their posts deliberately illegible to the well-read to only attract the least observant of suckers.
And remember, free means free. No one who can afford to send you something like a 3D printer free of charge is going to need you to cover postage costs. If you find yourself being asked for bank details from a private individual, back out immediately.
In essence, do your research and only give information – especially personal or financial details – to places and people you know you can trust. With enough common sense and a bit of luck, you could find yourself with a free 3D printer that only cost you a little bit of time.
3. Personal Ads
Spring cleaning isn’t just a springtime activity. There’s always someone cleaning out their garage, basement, or attic, and there’s always someone who simply doesn’t want to go through the hassle of haggling to get rid of something they neither want nor need.
Sites like Craigslist and Gumtree are full of people getting rid of unwanted stuff, which can be anything from books and videogames to furniture and cars. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone looking to give away a 3D printer for which they have no use.
Caution also applies here, however. There are plenty of horror stories regarding giveaway sites and online markets that I strongly recommend you don’t google if you’re of a paranoid disposition.
Always do your research, know who you’re talking to, and be sure to go with a friend or tell someone exactly where you’re going if you’re picking up your free 3D printer in person. While most marketplace trades or giveaways are legit, maximizing your safety is of utmost importance, even if just in case.
I myself have been on plenty of ridealongs with friends collecting PC parts, childcare equipment, and furniture from people they’ve met online. Every one has ended up being safe, but the precaution was necessary for some fairly obvious reasons. The world can be a scary place after all.
But, chances are you’re looking at a genuine way to get a 3D printer for free. Some people don’t see the point or hype of owning one, and are more than willing to free up some space by quite literally giving them away. One man’s trash and all that!
4. Company Giveaways
3D printing is still seen as something of a science fiction, or at least very expensive, concept for a lot of people. Many avoid even thinking about owning a 3D printer of their own, considering it something of a pipe dream only the rich or very technologically savvy really get to experience.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, but is evident in shows like Futurama which shows 3D printers as thousand-year-old technology that still hasn’t quite been mastered, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which billionaire genius character and ‘Iron Man’ Tony Stark brags about 3D printing his own car.
Naturally, 3D printer companies are trying to market their wares to hobbyists for home use, especially models that are very affordable and easy for beginners to use.
To combat the incorrect image of 3D printing as a far-away futuristic concept, these companies will often host giveaways or support content posts that offer a free 3D printer with the promise of some positive press.
While selective, there’s really no harm in throwing your hat into this ring. If you have your own blog or are in any way influential on even a local level, you may find that 3D printing companies are willing to give you a 3D printer for free. If you can prove that you’ll be of great use showing that 3D printing is for everyone.
Reaching out to bigger, more popular companies is less likely to get you a free 3D printer, but smaller companies or start-ups may be willing to enter a win-win agreement. You get a 3D printer and they get some good press for the cost of one machine, which is a lot cheaper than advertising on average.
Even if such giveaways aren’t publicly advertised and chances are slim, you’ve got nothing to lose by sending an e-mail, right?