"So, instead of just reviewing printers ourselves, we decided to ask our community. We got a huge response. More than 7,500 people," Garret said.
3D Hubs plans to periodically update the buyer's guide, though the timeframe for that has as yet to be determined, he said.
More than 2,000 of the reviews contained "in-depth" information based on months of printer use that included information on the machines, the printer filament or liquid they used, as well as any upgrades to the machines.
The 3D printer owners on 3D Hubs' network were sent a questionnaire through online survey service Typform. Each owner had 10 days to complete the survey and also had to undergo "verification" by demonstrating their machine's ability to make a basic object. 3D Hubs selected "Marvin," a small robot-like figurine, for that task.
"What's surprising is there's a number of printers in the guide that are relatively unknown to the public. For example, there's a Polish company that makes a printer called Zortax that many mainstream users don't know about," Garret said.
The Zortax M200 3D printer began as a Kickstarter crowdsourcing project last year. The printer received an 8.9 rating from users.
One of the top-rated 3D printers in the guide was made by Makergear, a small company started in 2009 in Beachwood, Ohio. The printer, the Makergear M2, is best suited for experienced users, engineers and designers. It received a 9.0 rating on the user's guide.
Rick Pollack, CEO of Makergear, said he started out in his garage with a small machine tool lathe making aftermarket filament extruder heads for Makerbot 3D printers.
Pollack, whose career background is in software, said he became aware through online user forums of problems with extruder heads from Makerbot, a leading manufacturer now owned by 3D printer giant Stratasys. Stratasys claims 24% of the 3D printer market, according to Market research firm Canalys.
"People replaced Makerbot extruders with Makergear extruders," Pollack said. "After about a year and a half, we started making our own machines."
Makergear has only about a dozen employees, and several local businesses manufacture parts for the Makergear M2. All testing on the machines is performed in house. The printers are so popular that Makergear already has a monthslong backlog of orders.
The sub-$10,000 3D printer market explodes
The market for desktop 3D printers in all categories is hot.
Canalys estimates that some 33,000 3D printers were shipped worldwide in the third quarter of 2014, representing quarter-on-quarter growth of 4%. Revenue from printers, materials and services grew 9% on the back of strengthening global demand.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is particularly popular in the Western hemisphere, where businesses use the process for rapid prototyping of products.
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