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These days, it’s no surprise that people are looking for medical masks just about everywhere. While bandanas and cloth masks are fine, many are more interested in something that they can put a filter in, cover up with more thoroughly, and filter out more particles.
They’re hard to come by, and many retailers selling these items are reserving their inventory for medical professionals only. If you’re an average citizen without a true medical need for a medical-grade mask, you may be out of luck.
However, if you’re adept at 3D printing already or you simply don’t know where else to turn and are thinking about printing your own medical masks, you can invest in a 3D printer. You can make your own, and the bonus here is that you can also sell them to others to recuperate some of the cost.
Should You Print Your Own Masks?
There’s a lot of debate going on about whether or not you should be printing your own masks at home or not. One of the primary reasons for this is that even with the same template, multiple printers can produce a product with a huge range of resulting quality.
Some may be great while others may not. Not only that, but you can’t verify these masks were produced in sanitary environments.
However, you shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet. That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t make your own masks at home using a 3D printer you already have or one that you’ve been longing to buy anyway.
What it does mean is that you likely can’t market your masks to local healthcare workers. Healthcare facilities contract with licensed producers of medical equipment to purchase their masks. It’s the only way they can ensure they’re getting the quality disease prevention they need.
But if you decide to print your own masks at home, you can make a huge impact selling them to family, friends, neighbors, and your community. Every little bit helps, and for the average wearer who is already being cautious and practicing social distancing, it can provide them with a piece of much-needed protection in a non-sterile environment.
What to Look For in a 3D Printer
If you’re shopping around for the best 3D printer for medical masks, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here’s what you should be looking for.
Review FDA guidelines
In times like these, access to critical medical supplies may be in short supply. Before you buy a 3D printer, review the FDA guidelines for critical medical supplies to make sure you’re making the right kind of masks to protect you and your family.
Find 3D printer companies offering downloads
Many 3D printer companies are printing masks, face shields, and other supplies themselves. You can count on these devices working to print PPE because the company themselves is doing it.
Many of these companies are also offering free downloads so you can get the templates you need straight from the source. This is a helpful way to ensure that the file you’re using to print is compatible with your device.
Do some research on who is currently printing masks and who is offering free templates to their users. These may be the best printers to buy because it’s easy to source the files you need.
If speed is important to you, you may want to consider a 3D printer that can accelerate the printing process so you’ll have masks available to use right away. More and more cities are requiring masks to be worn in all public spaces, so if you don’t have one, you’ll likely need one very soon.
Many 3D printers give users the ability to speed up the printing process, but be careful of going too fast, because you may sacrifice quality, which isn’t something you want to do when you’re dealing with your health and safety.
Sometimes price and quality go hand in hand, but not always. There are a lot of resin printers out there that offer a great quality print for a fraction of the price of 3D printers that use filament.
An excellent quality printer will give you the results you want more consistently than one that isn’t built well.
Depending on the type of equipment you’re printing, you’ll have to make sure you get a 3D printer with a build volume big enough. While face shields are easy to print, they’re larger than masks and will require more space.
Masks are intricate and can be more difficult to print, but even the largest masks are quite small and don’t require as much room.
If you’re purchasing a 3D printer for the sole purpose of printing masks, you may not want to spend a ton of money. You’re likely not going to recoup your costs very quickly, if at all. If the good citizen in you doesn’t care, then that’s fantastic. Well done!
However, if you’re concerned about the money you might spend, consider buying a cheaper 3D printer for printing the masks you need.
Here are some of the best options on the market, meeting this criterion, and enabling you to print your own medical masks at home.
Monoprice isn’t new to the 3D printer game, but this model is perhaps one of the best options for most people. It makes it really easy to get started, and the excellent print quality leaves even experienced users satisfied.
It won’t cost you a ton, either, so it’s a great option for beginners who want to buy one just for printing their own masks or for those who have done 3D printing before and want a machine they can use for other projects after they’re done with masks.
This model has a heated print bed so when using materials like ABS, which is recommended for printing masks, you get a more reliable print. It’s also easy to remove your finished products by sliding out the bed and bending it slightly.
It’s ideal for those who want the extra safety of enclosed print space, making it great for homes with kids or beginners who aren’t experienced yet. You’ll also enjoy a speed that’s normally found on more expensive machines. Coupled with the print quality, this is a great feature to have for producing masks. The Voxel can recreate intricate details and capture smooth curves, too.
As with anything, it’s not perfect. There are some minor annoyances when it comes to set up, but when you get it up and running, it’s relatively easy to use.
- Great print quality
- Heated print bed
- Fast print speeds
Formlabs Form 3
These days, resin 3D printers are all the rage. Resin printers don’t use heat, so they’re quite a bit safer than printers that use filament. They feature many of the same benefits as a filament 3D printer but can offer increased reliability, which is definitely a plus when printing masks.
It features a large print area, which can be used for larger PPE items like face shields, or you can keep it and use it for other large projects when you’re done.
The Form 3 is the third in this series from Formlabs, and it features a redesigned optics engine. The optics are sealed in their own package, increasing this printer’s reliability. It keeps dust out of the way of the laser, which can interfere with its ability to cure your final projects.
While every now and again, a print will fail, with this 3D printer, that happens even less, if at all. It also uses Low Force Stereolithography, meaning it works less to create more. It doesn’t need a lot of force to create many hardened layers of your most detailed print.
This thing isn’t cheap, so you’ll want to be sure you need a workhorse like this before purchasing, but it is one of the best resin 3D printers on the market. It’s geared more toward designs and other professionals who need a dependable device.
- Reliable and dependable
- Enhanced optics
- Excellent print quality
If you live life in the fast lane, the Polaroid PlaySmart printer can offer you the speed you need to get masks done. For those looking to print a lot of masks in very little time, this is the best option. It’s not surprising that something so fast would come from the company that made instant photos a reality.
It’s a friendly device for beginners but can print your projects faster than most other machines. The quality is good, but not perfect, which is to be expected when printing more quickly.
Other models in this price range aren’t quite as fast, and you’ll still experience smooth, clean output with few problems. It can also support a lot of different materials, meaning you can move from masks to other projects using the same printer.
The print area is a bit smaller, which means it’s great for masks and other small projects, but not for anything large. However, if you’re ready to get the job done quickly, this is definitely one of the safest bets. (Here also check the Polaroid Nano Review before making the final choice!)
- Fast print speed
- Good results
- Supports many different materials
You’re going to have to think of the Ultimaker 3 as more of an investment than a toy. It’s pretty expensive, but it’s a fantastic option for 3D printing enthusiasts. If you’ve been looking for an upgrade to your current model, and you’re considering printing some masks along the way, too, get this beast.
Design professionals will enjoy all of the advanced features of this machine and the print quality is by far some of the most excellent you’ll experience. Even draft mode is better than most other printers. It supports a huge variety of materials, but you can’t expect speed. If you’re printing masks and you want them done right, you can count on the Ultimaker 3 to print the most accurate final job you’ve seen.
However, you’ll wait a while for the completed product because it definitely takes its time to get it right. It also has a huge build area, making it the ideal choice for more than just a mask or two. The software is easy to manage and it features a redesigned print head that gives it more flexibility for intricate detail. (Here check our Formlabs Form 2 vs Ultimaker 3 Comparison  and Prusa i3 MK3 vs Ultimaker 3 )
- Fantastic print quality
- Great software
- Supports a wide range of materials
This one definitely makes the list for its affordability. Not only is it capable, but it costs less than comparable devices. Many other SLA printers are pricey, while this one offers a large print volume at a more accessible price point. It is compatible with many different resins without sacrificing print quality or speed. While you likely need to have some experience with 3D printing to understand how it works, you’ll enjoy a lot of features.
It has a few quirks when it comes to setting up and customizing, and it may require a bit of patience, but Wi-Fi connectivity makes it a bit easier. It also tends to be a noisier printer, so make sure you can handle the sound or put it in its own dedicated space.
It’s a large printer, but well worth it for the expanded build area. You can create a lot more than just masks with this one.
- Supports many different resins
- Huge print area
Do 3D-printed masks protect against the coronavirus disease as well as N95 respirators?
The short answer is no. N95 respirators are designed for contaminated environments. They filter the air in, but they do not filter the air you breathe out. They protect the wearer from contaminants, but they do not protect others.
Masks made from a 3D printer may look similar to other PPE, but it all depends on how they’re made and how you wear it. Some 3D printed masks have places where you can insert a filter, meaning you can choose how well it filters the air based on what type of filter you use.
It also depends a lot on the design. Everyone’s face is a different shape, and some 3D printed mask designs may fit your face well, while others do not. If the mask doesn’t fit your face as it should, it won’t protect you, no matter what type of filter you put in it.
When 3D printing masks, you have to be very careful about which design you use, and it’s up to you to remain safe by choosing the one that will work best for you.
What type of face mask is best during the coronavirus disease pandemic?
This is another answer that will vary from person to person. Different masks are used for different purposes. N95 respirators are designed for contaminated environments while surgical masks are designed for sterile environments. They work in different ways.
When adding cloth masks and 3D printed masks to the mix, it can get confusing. The most important thing to remember is that no mask will work the way it should if it’s not covering both your nose and your mouth. You can wear any type of mask you choose, as long as you’re careful to wear it correctly and then clean or dispose of it properly. Disposable masks should be switched out after every use while cloth masks should be washed daily.
Depending on the material, 3D printed masks can be sanitized effectively, but if you’re inserting a filter into your mask, you also need to make sure you switch it out frequently as well.
Does CDC recommend people to use surgical masks or N95 respirators?
If you already have some of these supplies at home, you can use them. However, if you’re looking to buy some, you won’t find them anywhere. These items are being reserved for essential healthcare workers.
Rather than look for surgical masks or N95 respirators, you can make your own masks at home. Many people are using bandanas or other fabrics to cover their faces, but you can also 3D print your own if you’d like.
How can I best protect myself during the coronavirus disease pandemic?
Along with washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, practicing social distancing, and staying home when you are sick, you can wear a mask when you go out to help protect yourself. While surgical masks and N95 respirators are being reserved for medical personnel, you can always wear a cloth mask or a mask you 3D printed at home.
If you’re thinking about 3D printing masks at home for yourself, family, friends, neighbors, or your community, you can certainly contribute to the cause. Evaluate the most important features of a 3D printer and make sure you get one that will fit your needs.
Don’t expect to make your money back on the project though. Doing it out of the kindness of your heart will ensure that you feel fulfilled by your good deeds while staying safe.
As an added bonus, you can continue to use your 3D printer for other fun projects when you’re done printing masks.