Best 3D Printers 2015

3D printers make up one of the most exciting areas of the current technology landscape. Every few months, a slew of new models arrive that cost less, print things faster and produce larger objects than ever before.

Based on our extensive evaluations of more than a dozen models in different price ranges and hours of testing, our top overall pick for those on a budget is the Printrbot Simple Metal ($599), because it offers an easy-to-use entry into the world of 3D printing. Those looking to print in a variety of materials should check out the LulzBot Mini ($1,350), which supports ABS, nylon, polycarbonate and polystyrene. 3D-printing enthusiasts will like the speed and reliability of the TAZ 5 from LulzBot ($2,200). 

To make it easier to know which 3D printer is right for you, here are a few things to look out for, along with more information on all of our top picks.

What to Look for in a 3D Printer 

Printer type: There are two main types of 3D printers: FFM (fused filament manufacturing) and SLA (stereo lithography). FFM printers work by melting a plastic filament in a moving printhead to form the model. SLA printers use an ultraviolet (UV) laser to solidify a resin, focusing the laser to form the solid model. FFM printers are generally cheaper, simpler and easier to use, although new SLA models like the $1,499 XYZprinting Nobel 1.0 are lowering the price difference.

Printing materials: Whichever type of printer you choose, pay attention to the type of material it can use to print. The filament material used by FFM printers like the LulzBot TAZ 5 is available in several different materials, such as PLA (a brittle, biodegradable material), ABS (the same plastic used in Lego blocks), nylon, TPE (a soft, rubberlike material) and HDPE (a light, tough polystyrene). Many of these materials, particularly PLA and ABS, are available in a huge range of colors. Filaments come in two sizes: 1.75 mm and 3 mm, which are not interchangeable. 

SLA printers have fewer options than their FFM counterparts, but printers like the Form 1+ can use resins that produce models ranging from very rigid to flexible and rubbery.

The best printers can use a wide range of materials, each of which comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. (HDPE, for example, is light and tough, but not suitable for food use, while nylon is food-safe.) However, some printers only allow the use of approved materials or materials produced by the same company that made the printer. In that sense, those types of 3D printers are like more traditional paper printers: The manufacturers sell the hardware cheaply and then make money back on the consumables. Still, some 3D printers place no restrictions on the type or origin of the material. 

Print volume: All printers have limits on the size of the 3D print they can produce. That limit is defined by the size of the print bed and how far the printer can move the printhead. This is usually measured in cubic inches, but you should also pay attention to each of the individual dimensions, which determine the maximum size 3D print the device can create. So, for example, if a printer like the LulzBot Mini has a print volume of 223 cubic inches (6.2 x 6 x 6 inches), it can print objects that are up to just less than 6 inches high, wide and deep.

Print speed and quality: 3D printing is a slow business, and at present, there's no way to get around this. You should expect a 3- to 4-inch model to typically take between 6 and 12 hours to print, depending on the print quality you select. That's because of the way 3D printing works: The print is constructed in layers. The thicker these layers are, the quicker the print is produced but the lower the print quality is, as the layers become more visible. So, there is a trade-off between print speed and print quality. The best printers will allow you to determine which way you want to go with this, producing prints quickly or more slowly but at higher quality. The best printers offer a wide range of quality settings, from fast (but low quality) to slow (but high quality).

MORE: Resin: The Next Little Thing for 3D Printing

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    Your comment
  • I really want a 3D printer to make free Lego pieces.
  • printing a 3d printer with a 3d printer :D lol
  • As cool as having a 3D printer would be, I just don't see myself having a need for one... yet
  • People who print Legos should never own one of these. What are you thinking, Legos are cheap, it would cost more for the material to print them not to mention the actual printer. These printers are really for designer, product developers, and engineers. That's why I'm buying one; anything else is a joke and waste of money.
  • 3d printers are not practical for the masses. They are very expensive complicated ways to produce small imprecise rough-hewn plasticy artsy objects.
    if you need a replacement plastic part for something, buy the correct, perfectly spec'd and properly colored oem-based replacement at online/brick store.
  • Question, how can you state Best 3D Printer for Beginners when it has not come out yet? This cannot be taken seriously, what factors are you using to base the choices on. I expected much better from this website.
  • After reviewing many pre-assembled printers out there, I chose to spend the money on the Ultimaker 2.

    The printer is great. It is fast, relatively quiet, and very accurate. The Cura slicing software does a great job, too. The finished products look and feel excellent. I've only used the PLA that it came with, so far.

    Unfortunately, the customer service is terrible! I had to wait 11 days for a response to inquiries sent to customer service and sales. Only after requesting to cancel my order did I get a response! Part of my decision to buy the U2 was based on an offer they provided for North American customers, which was 3 free filament reels. They told me that I missed the promotion by 2 days (ended Oct 12th? Not the first of the month, not the end of the month, not even the middle?). This end date was never displayed on their website so it felt very much like a bait-and-switch. Finally, after requesting to cancel my order, someone from customer service promised 3 reels if I kept the order.

    So I kept the order and now have a U2. But, I still haven't heard back regarding the 3 promised reels. Nor, have I heard back regarding the wrong power cord that they sent.

    In summary, I like the product, but if anyone else builds a 3D printer as good or better, I'd rather buy from elsewhere.
  • Declaring the Cube 3 as best 3D printer for beginners is way off the mark.

    When the Cube 3 first started shipping (October 2014), I was an unfortunate recipient of this poorly constructed and poorly tested product. Beginners would be well advised to avoid this product and company altogether.

    To make matters worse, 3D Systems refuses to refund money... as company policy! This, I was told by their tech supplrt, after spending over a month working with their tech support trying to figure out how to get through a whole print without clogging and sending in numerous bug reports.

    First they blamed their cartridge supplier and sent me a few new cartridges (which also consistently failed), then they blamed the firmware and their "automatic" calibration all the while saying that my printer is just fine. After downloading their new firmware and following a complex set of instructions to calibrate under this new firmware, I discovered that their calibration did not solve the problem. So now they want to send me a new printer, after a month of blaming everything but the printer. I feel like a beta tester; is this the way they treat all of their customers?

    Filament clogging is bad enough on a printer with a user serviceable extruder, this built in extruder is a disaster! At $50 per filament cartridge (containing only 12 oz of filament) this is no small problem because the extruder is built into filament cartridge and the cartridge is not user serviceable.

    Cube 3 (and 3D Systems in general) is also a poor choice if you use an Apple computer because their MAC software (what little they have) is riddled with bugs. My advice is to avoid this company entirely, they certainly don't understand how to make-it in the consumer market.
  • Do not buy anything from 3d systems. Not only are they horrible with the customer support they break down far too often. Expensive to maintain and the only thing left on the machine I own that isn't brand new do to repair is the outer shell
  • I would STRONGLY recommend to include CraftBot 3D printer as well:
    8 x 8 x 10 inches build area with PLA,ABS,Nylon + USB + LCD-control with a price of 700$(+shipping):
  • Don't buy a 3D printer if you don't want do spend 98% of your time fiddling, wait 3-5years for 3-4 generations newer designs. Right now all are stil in a lab state. I bought a Lepfrog for 2500$ earlier this year and I have gived up. This printer is a real crapy mess off bad designed and assembled stamped alusheet parts. I dumped it in a metal recycling container today.
  • Of course all printers are very good examples of man's technical innovations on the earth as D printers are very fantastic to see because of its coverage in three dimensions
  • Hi, I was just wondering if this article is reflective of the printers that have come out during CES this year. Are there DIY kits or budget 3D printers that might beat this selection? I was particularly interested in the Polar 3D but I'm also thinking I want to get a DIY kit to do some tinkering.
  • "3d printers are not practical for the masses."

    I heard the same nonsense about 20 years ago when inkjet printers first broke the $500-$1000 barrier ......

    Ditto for large LCD monitor screens and HDTV ......
    Before that a bunch of dunderheads were claiming computers in every home was never going to be a reality .....

    People like you were wrong then and you are just as wrong today about this technology ......

    Parents looking to further their children's STEM education in high school I strongly suggest a kit version and they will learn mechanical, and electronic engineering, programming, CAD and Math skills. This will give them a an advantage in a few years in a job market that will be screaming for more people with Additive Manufacturing ing and design skills, as well as demand for more programmers and technicians to build, maintain, and repair the equipment.
  • I'm on the verge of purchasing a 3D printer. These things are an expensive long-term investment. I wish Linux support would be specified up front so I could rule out the non-Linux manufacturers out-of-hand. Formlabs Form 1+ looks like my favorite from a hardware standpoint, but the lack of any Linux support whatsover has me leaning heavily toward the comparable Ultimaker 2...
  • 1. "3d printers are not practical for the masses."

    2. "They are very expensive complicated ways to produce small imprecise rough-hewn plasticy artsy objects.If you need a replacement plastic part for something, buy the correct, perfectly spec'd and properly colored oem-based replacement at online/brick store."

    This is wrong on two points:

    1. This was best addressed by longjohn119 so, see above.

    2. Not all parts to be replaced are precise to begin with, at least in so far as being necessarily so. You're not going to use them for rockets or race cars so close tolerances wouldn't generally be an issue. Remember, it can be trimmed/filed/sanded as needed to be functional. I've worked in a service capacity in the commercial HVAC/Refrigeration industry and have, on more occasions than I care to remember, have had to replace fairly new, out of warranty parts that cost several hundred dollars because of a broken plastic component that cannot be found aftermarket and the OEM would not sell/give you the part you need. They're not interested in piece work.This would be a practical solution in many instances such as this. The same could be said for items around the home for DIY's and hobbyists where worn/broken
    parts are financially impractical or simply unavailable and the only solution would be a far more expensive, complete unit replacement. Also understand that if
    you have one and your neighbors/friends/family are aware of it, you will suddenly
    become a convenient resource for them, probably to the point of becoming a
    nuisance, which could become slightly profitable or at least fund your filament needs.

    Overall, since the technology IS still relatively new the unit cost will continue to
    come down and quality and accuracy should continue to improve. In several years it probably will become practical for many people to own one. Filament costs/quality will likely follow the same curve. In the meantime, I've noticed many new homegrown, small operations have cropped up to fill the demand for small replacement parts or 'artsy' pieces that are unavailable otherwise.
  • Quote:
    I really want a 3D printer to make free Lego pieces.

    Time for someone to stand up for CaptainHurt. He's basically correct. You are not going to get replacement Lego pieces out of a fused filament printer, at least not ones that work with other Lego pieces. Fact is, the plastic parts you'll get out of a fused filament printer are mere representations of what you are seeking. The technology is crude and there are many,many ways that a print can go wrong. Start with the basic process, which is totally different from the injection molding or blow-molding processes by which most familiar plastic parts are manufactured. Fused filament is incapable of reproducing the uniformity and precision of injection molding. It's distinct advantage is that you can make a one-off item. The costs of producing a mold and the runner required to produce an injected molded part makes it an impractical technology for short production runs.

    Next, consider the materials. How many variations of plastics are there? Thousands. How many are available as filament suitable for entry-level 3D printers? A mere handful. Will that situation improve? Sure, but the range of materials will still be a tiny subset for the foreseeable future.

    CaptainHurt is correct. If you are falling for the hype in thinking that you can buy a 3D printer and start pumping out replacement parts for all the plastic things that break in everyday life, you are going to need to be a patient, tolerant person with low standards of performance. However, if you are looking for proof of concept, prototyping, or working on design projects with students, or you need a special or custom part that does not require high strength, precision or aesthetics, then cheap 3D printers can be fantastic. For art and craft that isn't going to be looked at very closely, they are also great.

    I cringe when I see news reports on 3D printing, as they are rarely accurate reflections of the current state of the art, at least that which is available to the masses. I read an article recently in which an "expert" proposed that soon auto parts stores would stop stocking and ordering parts and would instead simply 3D print them on demand. That person was definitely not an auto mechanic, an engineer, or even a technician. Will it happen in the future? Perhaps, but one might as well be writing SciFi.
  • We have the Stratasys Mojo bundle that came with a WaveWash 55 parts washer for just over two years. The WaveWash stopped working and Stratasys will not support it directly, the vendors don't support it, so, now I must replace the unit for about $1000 for what should be less than a $100 repair. Not very good support in my book. Shop wisely ! I"ll be replacing the unit with an ultrasonic cleaner for a quarter of the price.
  • I would like to have a simple swiss army knife jacket spec'ed. its large however... what is the best idea for a mock up? Are there people who have their business doing that?
    Is it better to just go the OEM route?