Most things that involve computers are solo efforts. Letter. Programming. Construction electronics projects. It’s not unheard of for creative geeks to lock themselves up for a few days, isolate themselves from the world, and crack their designs.

But the problem is that it’s not particularly great.

Humans are social animals that crave interaction and approval. They are joint animals. That’s why countless developers, digital artists, manufacturers and engineers have launched «makerspaces».

What is makerspace?

Makerspaces — also known as «hackerspaces» hackerspace hackerspace and «hack labs» exist to provide a shared space (and often raw materials) for members of the local developer community to collaborate on creative projects. In the vast majority of cases, production spaces are managed by the community for the benefit of the community without any profit motive.

Some even offer «hotdesking» where freelancers and remote workers can informally hire a desk for a short period of time. This accessibility and lack of commitment has resulted in thousands of startups being born at Makerspaces.


There are many reasons why someone might want to open their own creative space. From building the foundation of a community of creators to building new connections and acquaintances.

But it doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Dedicating your own production space can be done cheaply, without any equipment compromises. Here is a shopping list for those hoping to create their own creative space on a budget.

3D printer

Hardware startups having multiple renaissances right now because it has never been so easy to create a physical product. Simply design your product layout in the CAD program of your choice and use the 3D printer. wait until it turns into something tangible.

makerspace-3dprinter in action

The driving force behind this process is the 3D printer, which, once new and incredibly expensive, has become available. They work by taking a flexible strand of polymer and melting it until it is sufficiently viscous. The machine then regurgitates it layer by layer until it resembles the shape of your design. That’s all.

3D printers are essential for any manufacturer. But choosing the right 3D printer for you can be confusing.

There are many 3D printers to choose from. The cheapest one is probably the Peachy Printer, which only costs $100. For one Benjamin Franklin you get a quiet, customizable printer based entirely on free and open source software. However, some assembly is required and it is still in pre-order — new orders are expected to go on sale in October 2015.

The next step on the path to excellence and quality is the XYZPrinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D printer, which costs only $500 and offers convenient and secure printing with the ability to print larger objects.

Some 3D printers cost thousands of dollars, like the Makerbot Replicator 2. So when you spend more money, what do you get in return? In short: higher resolution prints, vastly improved quality — with some 3D printers capable of in-store production.

Ultimately, it’s about what your budget can handle.

laser cutter

But what if you don’t want to just work with plastic?

Laser cutters work on a principle similar to 3D printers. You give them a computer circuit and they start building it. But instead of applying layer after layer of hot melted polymer, it instead uses a high-intensity gas laser to cut paper, cardboard and wood or engrave.

There are many examples of people using laser cutters to create beautiful physical products. A great example of this is the Arduino-based WhereDial system, which was built at the DoES Liverpool manufacturing site from laser-cut plywood and plexiglass.


Laser cutters are versatile and powerful, but also extremely expensive. Units worth thousands of dollars are the norm, not the exception. Of course, there are some laser cutters in the basement if you look hard enough. They involve some pretty big compromises. Cheaper devices often have a smaller cutting surface area and boast slightly less powerful lasers.

If you just want engrave according to wood and plastic, you can choose the Arduino-powered SunWin mini laser engraving machine, which costs $145.

But if you want something more powerful to really punch things through, you can expect much, much more. Full Spectrum Laser has successfully crowdfunded its H-series laser cutter with one of the most affordable cutters on the market for $3,499. But it is still out of reach for many people.

There is a happy compromise on Ebay that is littered with affordable laser cutters. Some of them are used, but others are from unknown Chinese manufacturers.

A quick look at Ebay US revealed that a 40W Co2 laser cutter from an Asian hardware manufacturer costs just $400, plus $200 shipping and handling.

Of course, you should always be careful when purchasing equipment from a manufacturer you are not familiar with.

Former vacuum

Vacuum formers are a time-tested tool used in production. They work by taking a single sheet of meltable, pliable polymer and pulling it down a mold, thereby creating an identical facsimile for it.


They are often used in industry for the production of plastic products on a large scale. But there are smaller and cheaper vacuum formers that can fit comfortably in a workshop and are a great addition to any production space.

When it comes to vacuum molds, you have a lot to choose from.

At the bottom end of the former vacuum market sit homemade vacuum formers that you can easily buy on Ebay. They work by using your kitchen’s oven to heat the plastic and then attach it to the mold with the light suction provided by a shop vacuum. The cheapest ones cost around $45 for the smallest model. Large models cost more.

If you can only foresee making small molds, an affordable way to get a vacuum molder is to buy a dental molding machine. They work on the same principles, but smaller. Cheaper, with some generic models only costing $160 on Amazon.

Electronics Gear

Every production space worthy of its salt has a decent layout of electrical equipment. Because, let’s face it, once you’ve made your beautiful 3D printed product, you’ll want to make it do something.

But unlike the previous tools we’ve discussed, supplying a manufacturing space with relatively cheap electrical equipment is pretty cheap.

First, you will need good soldering equipment. This usually means a soldering iron, and somewhere safe to put it down when not in use. For $30, the Aoyue 469 soldering station offers a solid 60-watt soldering iron, as well as a sponge and holder when not in use.

makerspace solder

In our article on soldering tips for beginners Guy McDowell also recommends some decent goggles as well as a fume hood.

Soldering is a complex and complex business that requires precision, especially when dealing with components that can be as small as a grain of rice. Helping hand SE MZ101B is ideal for such situations. For your $6, you get a magnifying glass that can be locked in place and adjusted as needed, making it easy to solder even the smallest components.

No electronics kit is complete without a multimeter. They allow you to measure current, voltage and resistance in one small package. Prices for multimeters range from $10 to several thousand for a set of lab kits. The INNOVA 3320 is only $20 and is the best selling multimeter on Amazon, but if you want more accuracy you might want to consider the Fluke 115. Accuracy comes at a cost — the Fluke costs about $155.


Finally, it’s good to have some general purpose materials for creative work.

It is always a good idea to purchase resistors, capacitors, LEDs, and other electrical items in bulk and make them available to your users. You can recover your expenses with the «honesty box».


If you decide to turn your workspace into a workspace, as many have done, you will need office furniture. You can get it for free from Freecycle or Craigslist.

Some manufacturers offer soft drinks to their users at a reasonable price. Of the ones I visit, most snacks and sodas are bought primarily from Costco, with users putting a few coins into an honesty box for what they consume.

Thinking about founding Makerspace?

You may have already founded one. Anyway, I want to hear about it. Leave me a comment below and we’ll chat.

Photo Credit: Makerspace der SLUB, SLUB Dresden, Wheredial (Corey Doctorow), Vacuum Former (Lee Liverpool), Liverpool April 2014 (Mitch Altman), Resistors (Windell Oskay), 3D printer in action (Michael Coughlan), Ada Lovelace Day Attendees (DoesLiverpool)

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