Best 3D Printers 2017

Product Use case Rating
XYZ da Vinci Mini 3D Printer Best Budget 3D Printer 8
Lulzbot Mini Best Intermediate 3D Printer 8
Ultimaker 3 Best Enthusiast 3D Printer 9
Formlabs Form 2 Best Resin Printer 9

From classrooms to design shops, 3D printers seem to be popping everywhere. And as you would expect for a product that appeals to everyone from professional designers to educators to hobbyists, there's a wide array of 3D printers that vary wildly in both features and price tags.

Based on our extensive evaluations and hours of testing of more than a dozen models in different price ranges, our top overall pick for those on a budget is the XYZ da Vinci Mini ($270), as its auto-calibration features are helpful to novices and it produces good prints at decent speeds. (If you want to save a little money, consider the da Vinci miniMaker, which is selling for $45 less than the Mini on Amazon, but is essentially the same printer. It connects via USB instead of wirelessly like the Mini.)

Those looking to print in a variety of materials should check out the LulzBot Mini ($1,250), which supports ABS, nylon, polycarbonate and polystyrene. 3D-printing enthusiasts and professional designs will appreciate the two swappable extruders and excellent print quality of the Ultimaker 3 ($3,495). If you're not prepared to spend that much on a printer, we also like the LulzBot Taz 6, which costs about $1,000 less than the latest Ultimaker model and turned out fast, high-quality prints when we reviewed it last year.

Because 3D printer makers are constantly announcing new models that cost less, print things faster and produce larger objects than ever before, it's worth knowing about just-released printers before you buy. Check out our New & Notable section below for the latest information on newly released printers, including some of the more eye-catching models we spotted earlier this year at CES.

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 SLA models like the XYZprinting Nobel 1.0 (around $1,000) 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 6 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. 

MORE: 3D Printing Materials: Pros and Cons for Each Type

SLA printers have fewer options than their FFM counterparts, but printers like the Form 2 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.)

Note that, 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. (Our top budget 3D printer, the da Vinci Mini, only works with PLA filament from manufacturer XYZprinting, for example; however XYZ's filament costs about the same as most third-party materials.) Other 3D printers place no restrictions on the type or origin of the material.

We have a comprehensive look at the different types of 3D printing materials, along with their pros and cons, and how much you can expect to spend on each.

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

New & Notable

Related Buying Guides:
Best All-in-One Printers
Do College Students Need Their Own Printer?
How to Buy a 3D Printer

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    Your comment
  • Phillip Taringa
    Re: Best 3D Printers 2016 by Richard Baguley
    Can this be true? "HDPE, for example, is light and tough, but not suitable for food use, while nylon is food-safe." This statement seems to be the opposite of everything else I have read on the subject. I would like this explained or corrected. People's health is at stake.
    Phillip Cox
  • mpechner
    The M3D does not work with El Capitan. They lied to get me to buy it. The told the truth once I complained when I received it. I have to run windows to used it. I think a lack of integrity should take it off this list. They have no date as to when it will work.
  • jimbike
    Interesting to see there are no delta printers on this list. I have an Altair 3D printer and am very happy with the quality. I saw them at a show and was very impressed. Too bad more people don't know about them - they have a good product.
  • Chip_3
    What is your methodology for selecting printers to test and actual testing? Did you test all the different peer printers in the enthusiast category?
  • eneven
    ORIGINAL PRUSA I3 MK2 not are joking, right?