I completely forgot to respond to this sorry guys.
First up - £500 is the budget end of the 3D printer spectrum. Most mid-range models start past £1000, usually around £1500. You will probably have to settle for no thrills.
The most ideal situation would be to get yourself to a couple of 3D printing hubs close to you and get a few things printed off on the brands and models of printer they have. This will give you the best idea of the quirks each brand/model have and you can see what you’re comfortable using - really, if the hub is a well maintained one you could just use it for all of your needs. Worth thinking about.
There are so many brands and models available now and the technology is still so unpredictable even on the best machines that there is no sure fire advice any one can really give - YMMV is very much in play with 3D printers at this stage. The Ultimaker 2+ we have at work is touted as a brilliant, reliable printer but I’ve had a lot of problems with the thing and have had to dismantle it a bunch of times because of misfeeds, jams, warped build plate, etc - it is currently sat unused until Ultimaker get back to us because it has developed a fault in the nozel and now spits material out at an angle despite repeated cleaning and recalibrating.
Some quick notes that will be helpful and by way of some actual advice:
- Avoid self-assembly printers - Horror stories aside, they need more maintenance and to be calibrated much more often and are more prone to faults and errant behaviour. They’re also a nightmare to find replacement parts for confusingly.
- If you want to print parts with heat resistance avoid PLA since it is soft and has a low melting point. ABS would be a good starting point (glass transition temperature of 105°C as apposed to 60°C with PLA) since almost every printer I’ve seen lists ABS as a compatible material - you will have to make sure there is good ventilation though since it does release some fumes which might cause a problem in confined spaces. There are other materials that are more heat resistant, some of which required more specialised printers but that is a big rabbit hole so you’d have to know the sort of temperatures you’re dealing with and the applicaiton of the parts before choosing a material and then the printer to go with it.
- Speaking of material - I have used various types but the best I’ve come across is Innofil. This experience is entirely with PLA, but they get equally high praise for their other materials including ABS. Not cheap but you get a lot for a roll. what ever you end up choosing just get the one roll to start out with and make sure you keep it sealed in a resealable bag, at room temperature and out of directly sun light - many materials absorb moisture like a champ and can end up setting in sunlight or really bright direct light.
- You’ll need two lots of software - The finishing software recommended by which ever brand you choose (Ultimaker uses Cura for example) and a 3D modelling program of your choice like 3D Max, Maya, Blender, etc. I actually get away with using the free online one from Autodesk ‘TinkerCad’ which is ultra basic but good enough.
Aside from this (which I hope is at least a little bit useful - it doesn’t really feel like it is, sorry), all I can really recommend is to search through a load of ‘top 10 under £500’ lists and look out for common brands popping up. When you’ve done that have a dig in to open review sites for these brands/models and look for user reviews stating long term experience looking for common failures and narrow down from there.
I’m happy to give any you might have found/might find a look over if you want.