There was a time when 3D printers were only something Captain Picard had access to on the USS Enterprise. Now, with the steady march of technological progress making the dreams of sci-fi fans a reality, you can buy your very own 3D printer!
Consumer 3D printer technology is emerging from the lab and landing in the home of tech enthusiasts across the nation, and in that spirit, we've compiled a list of ten of the best 3D printers on the market today.
We know that researching the best 3D printer can be exhausting and never-ending. There are so many brands and so many models, that it can be hard to pick the jewels from the junk.
The price may intimidate some and knowing what you should pay when considering the features isn't easy. With this list, we hope to provide you with the best products and the most useful information.
Consumer 3D printers come in a wide variety of price ranges, each accosted with a particular class of printer.
On the low end, you may pay as little as $200 and expect a modest desktop printer for fun projects and education.
In the middle, you'll find printers available for $1500 to $2000, and you can expect a much more powerful machine, capable of advanced projects and design work, like architecture.
On the upper end, you can pay anywhere from $5000 to $10,000 or more for the capability to perform advanced experiments and light manufacturing. High-grade industrial printers are available for hundreds of thousands, but those are not feasible or practical for the average consumer.
What features should I consider before buying any 3D printer?
What are the more advanced features that I should consider in a high-end 3D printer?
First off, let's take a look at Makerbot's Repilcator+. Makerbot designs stylish professions-grade 3D printers for designers, engineers, educators, and tech enthusiasts alike. Their Replicator+ is the middle ground option among their product list, with good capacities in both fun experimentation and practical utility. This printer is on the high end of the price range for middle-grade printers, putting it slightly closer to a high-grade model in terms of price.
The Replicator+ is designed from the bottom up to be consumer-oriented. That means that it has a number of features that allow its user to start utilizing it right out of the box.
The print bed is factory leveled and has a guided wireless setup available with the MakerBot companion app.
The printer uses extrusion technology, which is a 3D printing process wherein thin layers of material (usually a plastic of some kind) are deposited over a long period of time over one another in order to form a three-dimensional shape.
The Replicator+, while mostly closed source, has an open source option for its Smart Extruder+ material depositor that allows for a wide range of materials to be used. MakerBot also claims to have the world's largest 3D printer model marketplace.
Overall, in comparison to their other models, the mini and the Z18, the Replicator+ is the most generalist and multi-use model from MakerBot.
This model is not, besides the extruder, open source in software or hardware. You must use what MakerBot provides. While it is possible to use other filaments for the extrusion process, it is unadvised unless you are using their Experimental Smart Extruder.
The print bed is unheated and for some, the open print bed design might be a problem. Some customers have complained about noise and slow print speeds, and others have received printers with quality issues.
Several customers have complained that the Replicator+ does not, for the price, produce prints that are of the same quality as cheaper models, as well.
Next on our list is the LulzBot Mini 3D printer. LulzBot manufactures 3D printers and parts for professional organizations, Fortune 500 companies, and even NASA. The Lulzbot Mini is their beginner oriented mini printer that is designed with the capacity for more high-level projects as the user improves their skills. This piece runs at the low end of a mid-grade model. It is a little over $1,000, which is a lot for a mini, but you're getting quality.
This is the first "mini" on our list, so let's dive into that feature here. A mini printer is a particularly small 3D printer size that allows a user to fit their printer almost anywhere there is a flat surface, providing a greater range of locations that their printer can be used and overall improving convenience. The drawback is that the printer has a lower volume than a standard size model.
The LulzBot Mini uses the extrusion method of 3D printing and has a heated print bed for even cooling. It is an open design, which means it's lighter overall, and has the benefits of open design models.
It is also completely open source, which means that you can customize and experiment with it as much as your heart desires. There is a strong community presence for this model, and it is capable of supporting multiple material types for different projects.
Being a mini model, the LulzBot Mini lacks some of the print volume of other models, meaning that it isn't particularly useful for anything except small-scale experiments, toys, and generally learning the ropes of 3D printing. For such a small range of tasks, it comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Customers have complained about some serious quality issues as well as poor customer support, too.
FlashForge was founded in 2011 with a mission to develop and manufacture affordable desktop 3D printers for the consumer market. The FlashForge Finder is their novice printer, designed for beginners and educators to use right out of the box. This is one of the cheapest models on this list and we'll explore why below.
This model is very similar in size and general design to the LulzBot Mini. Both have about six by six inch print beds, both are geared toward beginners, both feature an open design and are open source. Both are extrusion-type printers, as well. So what makes it any different?
For one, the Finder is advertised as being quieter than any competing models, and of the same quality to boot. It also has a Polar Cloud enabled wifi connectivity, making it easy to access the printer from anywhere you have a good wifi connection.
For the price range, the main difference is that it lacks a heated print bed but otherwise is comparable in many ways.
To start with, as stated above, the Finder lacks a heated print bed and therefore may be prone to some warping. There are two main customer complaints. One common complaint is that the printer randomly breaks down, rendering it unusable. The second major complaint is intimately tied to that one. Many customers have complained that, after having their product break down, FlashForge refused to do anything about it. The Finder only has a 30-day warranty and seems, in various cases, to break down after 3 to 4 months of use.
Next, the Formlabs Form 2 printer. Formlabs is dedicated to professional 3D printing and offers company packages with multiple printers at a reduced price. Therefore, their printers are geared toward professional use and that is clearly reflected in the price. The Form 2 is a high-end printer meant for prototyping and in-house production, which is available on the Formlabs website for just over $3,000, putting it between high end and mid-grade with a focus on the higher-end side.
The Formlabs Form 2 is the highest level 3D printer we have explored on this list yet. This is larger, heavier, and a higher volume printer by far than the previously listed printers. It is meant to build full-scale prototypes for product showcases as well as perform high-level experiments and occasionally may be used for small-scale production.
The Form 2 uses a light polymerization process called stereolithography, wherein lasers strike a liquid resin and cause the struck molecules to form into polymers which create a 3 dimension solid structure. After the structure is completed, it needs to be rinsed in isopropyl alcohol and post-cured in order to maintain structural integrity.
The Form 2, because of the process it uses, must be a closed design. It is also closed-source, meaning that Formlabs has specially designed their products for their intended tasks. The Form 2 also comes with PreForm, the proprietary software that converts CAD models into a usable format for the Form 2 to print.
To begin with, the Form 2 is very expensive and complicated, which makes it practically a no go for beginners. As a closed source piece, it has the benefit of having a body of experts who know its design inside and out, but it lacks a strong community that can help you work out problems on your own. The process is slow, and every print must be processed with the finishing kit afterward for the print to turn out satisfactory, adding to time. There is also an added, and quite expensive, cost associated with keeping the resin and resin tanks stocked, as they are consumables and will need to be replaced.
Now, let's take a look at the Ultimaker 3. Ultimaker is dedicated to providing 3D fabrication technology to every part of daily life and the economy. They want professionals and amateurs alike to use their printers for any fabrication task. Their Ultimaker 3 is a high-end prototyping model geared towards designers and product testers. It runs at about the same price as the Form 2.
The Ultimaker 3 is unlike the other extrusion printers on this list because it has two extruders instead of one, meaning it can accomplish twice the rate of extrusion and improve time on printing. It has about the same print volume as the MakerBot Replicator+, but uses a closed design and heated print bed.
The open-source nature of the Ultimaker means that any type of material from any manufacturer may potentially be used, and the machine itself may be modified to fit one's needs. The software is closed source, though, meaning that you must use their software to input models from CAD if you want to print them.
The price for these features is a bit steep, considering that it shares so many similarities with the Replicator+.
The Ultimaker 3 seems to be unsure of what it is. It advertises itself for being as much a prototyping model as it is a light manufacturing model, and customers who have used it for both purposes have said it does both poorly.
Some customers have complained of issues with print flooding and general overheating problems, and many customers have complained about the very poor customer service.
Next, we'll look at the XYZprinting Da Vinci Mini printer. XYZprinting has focused its efforts on designing affordable 3D printers that can function at higher levels than most comparable models.
The Da Vinci Mini is their home printer for beginners and families to learn the ins and outs of a 3D printer and still get an adequate amount of work done. This model is only slightly more expensive than the FlashForge, putting it on in the low-end price range.
In terms of design, the Da Vinci mini shares a lot in common with the FlashForge. Both have the same dimension print bed and both are extrusion printers. Both can use a number of different materials and both are used more or less for the same purpose.
The Da Vinci seems to be geared more toward those who want to learn about operating 3D printers on their own and use one for small projects, while the FlashForge seems more geared towards education and community use.
They differ in that regard, as the Da Vinci is designed with a sleeker, more lightweight approach for "on the go" experimentation and fiddling while the FlashForge is slightly bulkier and is better as a stationary teaching tool.
Their main difference is between the open source nature of the FlashForge and the closed source of the Da Vinci. The open source of the FlashForge is better for teaching as it is easier to modify and experiment with hardware wise.
The closed source nature of the Da Vinci lets the user feel more confident in learning the ropes of a 3D printer on their own, knowing that the company can handle any problems that may arise.
Being a mini, the Da Vinci is not practical for larger design or prototyping projects. It also lacks an LCD display or a heated printing bed. It is closed source, meaning that you have to pay a lot for new printing material and you don't have a strong community for resolving issues. You also can't modify the Da Vinci. Customers have complained of quality issues where models have stopped working after a short time, and that customer service did little to help them.
FlashForge makes another appearance on our list with the FlashForge Creator Pro. It is FlashForge's designer model, meant for advanced users to prototype, design, and experiment on higher levels. In terms of design philosophy and overall look, the Creator Pro is very similar to the Ultimaker 3. However, unlike the Ultimaker 3, the Creator Pro is just under a thousand dollars, putting it at the very lowest end of the mid-grade price range.
The Creator Pro is the Replicator+'s big brother. It is designed to be used by professionals looking for an affordable model that can do everything they need it to do. such as basic prototyping, design projects, and higher level experimentation.
The Creator Pro has the look and overall philosophy of the Ultimaker 3, but without the hefty price tag.
This is because the Ultimaker 3 is built with the intention of industry-grade prototyping and light manufacturing in mind while the Creator Pro is more focused on individual work and design in general.
The closed design allows for better environmental controls around the print, and the open source nature of the printer allows for individual iteration on the product.
Closed design may be a problem for those who want a simpler, easier to work on open source printer.
Several customers have had minor issues that made their printers malfunction and have had major trouble getting help from technical support.
Some customers have also complained that FlashForge's software is very poor and often malfunctions.
Next up we're looking at the Dremel Digilab 3D45. Dremel Digilab casts a wide net, building printers for home use and hobbyists, educators, and professionals. The 3D45 is, in that spirit, a sort of generalist that can be used as a high-end education tool, for experienced home users, and for small-time professional work. As far as price goes, it sits nicely in the mid-grade price range.
The 3D45 is one of the more generalist models on this list. It can be used by hobbyists who need an upgrade in order to expand their knowledge. It can also be used by educators teaching advanced classes.
As far as professional work goes, Dremel offers higher grade models, but the 3D45 can be used for small-scale testing and design work.
It has a heated print bed and a closed design which make for better print quality overall. It has all proprietary technology and software meaning that the company has design experts who can assist in solving any issues. It also has an advanced LCD display and a number of connectivity features for accessing the printer on the go.
Being closed source makes it harder to find information from communities and limits some of what you could potentially do with this model.
Several customers have had problems with print quality with this model, citing heating problems and overall low quality of parts.
Customers have had some issues with customer service when presenting these issues, and in some cases have received no reply to their complaints.
Here, we're taking a look at another product by LulzBot. The LulzBot TAZ 6 is their flagship desktop 3D printer for designers and educators, capable of larger print volumes and more advanced work than their other models. The price puts it just over the top end for mid-grade printers, but not too far over.
The TAZ 6 is LulzBot's comparable model to the FlashForge Creator Pro. Both are meant for designers and educators and both are around the higher price range of mid-grade printers. The TAZ 6 is open design, which is better for its open source nature and seems to be more geared towards larger scale design projects and education than the Creator Pro.
The Taz also has a larger print volume than the Creator Pro and has self-leveling and self-cleaning features. The TAZ 6 also has access to more material types than the Creator Pro, which is what makes it ideal for larger scale design projects.
Being open design, the print may be vulnerable to environmental changes. Several customers have complained that the TAZ 6 is missing a lot of features for the price point, especially considering that the Creator pro is just under $1,000 and the TAZ 6 is well over $2,000. Several customers have had recurring hardware and software issues that technical support has not addressed, as well.
Last on our list, we have the Monoprice Mini V2. Monoprice designs and manufactures a wide range of consumer electronics, including 3D printers. Their Mini 3D Printer V2 is a tiny, highly affordable 3D printer, best for kids and those who are only just beginning to learn about 3D printing. The V2 is the least expensive model on this list, at just under two hundred dollars.
The V2 is a mini 3D printer in the strongest sense of the word. This is a true desktop printer and is available at a very cheap price for a reason. This printer is practical beyond testing out basic 3D printing functions, playing around, and teaching children how 3D printing works.
This is advantageous because with an open source platform, this printer can be modified and integrated upon, so kids can learn at a young age about technology, 3D printing, and design from this piece.
It also has a heated print bed and uses extrusion technology, meaning it has everything needed to be an affordable education tool. It is compatible with several kinds of software and can use a multitude of different materials for different projects.
This product is not practical for learning anything more than the basics when it comes to 3D printers. It is best for those looking into the hobby or learning how to use 3D printers, For design and prototype purposes, this printer is not for you. It works best in early age education capacities as well as for those who want to play around with an affordable model. While some customers have given the open source community credit, there seems to be a problem with technical support form Monoprice itself. Some customers have also complained that this machine has a number of technical issues that haven't been addressed by Monoprice.
With this convenient list, you can finally bring the technology of the future into your home or business. Whether you pick one of the affordable or more functional models from this list, or simply use the given information to find the model that works for you, you can start your 3D printing experience off right. Hopefully, you have learned enough to make the right choice on the product that suits your needs.