The best 3D printers can create everything, from toys to prototypes. During the coronavirus pandemic, in fact, some people have even used 3D printers to churn out protective gear. So 3D printers are very flexible, finding a valuable role in classrooms, design shops and even homes of hobbyists and makers.
With that wide range of users comes an even wider range of printer options. 3D printers are available in all shapes and sizes, with prices ranging from a couple hundred dollars to four-figure price tags. And the right 3D printer to get started in the home or classroom is certainly not the one you're going to want to use for prototyping or other commercial uses. That can make buying a 3D printer intimidating, particularly if you're just getting your feet wet.
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If you're in the market for a 3D printer, what you plan to use the printer for goes a long way to determining what you need. Hobbyists and students can find less expensive models that still produce high-quality printers while designers who use 3D printers for professional needs will want more advanced features.
Fortunately, we test and review a wide range of devices to find the best 3D printers that fit a range of skill sets and budgets. From low-cost printers aimed at novices and students to higher-end models that help with professional design projects, we can help you find a 3D printer that's perfect for what you need.
What are the best 3D printers?
Based on our extensive evaluations and hours of testing of more than a dozen models in different price ranges, we recommend the Monoprice Voxel ($399) as the best 3D printer for anyone on a budget. It produces good-looking prints at speeds you'd expect from more expensive models. If you'd like to save even more money, the $180 XYZ da Vinci Nano is one of the best 3D printers for beginners and a good choice for classrooms that need low-cost printers for STEM instruction.
Those looking to print in a variety of materials should turn to the LulzBot Mini 2 ($1,500). Meanwhile, 3D-printing enthusiasts and professional designs will appreciate the two swappable extruders and excellent print quality of the Ultimaker 3, though be prepared to pay more than $3,000 for this very advanced model.
As for SLA printers, the Form 3 ($3,499) from FormLabs is ideal fro professionals who need a dependable 3D printer and who won't blink at the printer's high price tag. If you'd like to pay less for your SLA printer, check out the Peopoly Phenom, which at less than $2,000, is almost half the cost of the Form 3.
The best 3D printers
If you're looking to get started in 3D printing, the Monoprice Voxel 3D printer is a great choice, as it delivers high-quality prints without costing you a fortune.
Novices will particularly appreciate the heated print base on the Voxel, which means more reliable prints when you use materials like ABS. The top of the print bed slides out, too, and it's bendable, so removing prints is a snap. We also like the fact that the Voxel is enclosed, an important consideration if you're planning on using a 3D printer in a home or classroom.
The MP Voxel is speedy, producing prints in times we usually see from more expensive devices. We were also impressed with the quality of prints, which accurately recreated details and captured natural, smooth curves in our testing. You may run into some minor frustrations with setup, but once it's up and running, the MP Voxel is the best 3D printer for people who want to experience 3D printing for the first time.
Read our full Monoprice Voxel review.
How do you follow up the best resin printer around? Build something even better, which is what Formlabs has done with its new Form 3 3D printer. You'll get a slightly larger print area than you did with the Form 2, but the real change in this new version is the Form 3's redesigned optics engine. The laser and optics are located in a sealed package that makes the printer more reliable since it keeps out dust that might block the path of the laser.
We certainly saw that reliability when testing the Form 3, as none of our prints failed — a first for us. We also appreciate the use of Low Force Stereolithography, which means that the Form 3 uses less force when working with the hardened layers of a print in progress.
At a starting price of $3,499, the Form 3 is not an inexpensive 3D printer, though if you don't need the new features, Formlabs sells refurbished versions of the Form 2 for around $1,000 less. (Your best bet for buying the Form 3 or Form 2 is to go directly to the Formlabs website.) Artists, designers and professionals who do a lot of 3D printing won't mind the price, as they'll appreciate the time saved by the dependable Form 3.
Read our full Form 3 3D printer review.
This updated version of the LulzBot Mini doesn't miss a step when it comes to replicating what made the original such a great 3D printer. Once again, you get a printer that's flexible enough to handle different materials at an affordable price tag if you're ready to step up from models aimed at beginners.
But the LulzBot Mini 2 outdoes its predecessor by giving you a larger print area to work with and a new, more flexible printhead capable of handling even more materials. Our testing revealed that the Mini 2 churns out prints faster than the original with quality remaining high on the finished product.
LulzBot maker Aleph Objects underwent a rough end to 2019, laying off most of its staff in October. Fargo Additive Manufacturing Equipment 3D has since bought Aleph, which means the LulzBot Mini 2, LulzBot Taz Pro and other 3D printers remain available. That's good news if you want to get your hands on one of the best 3D printers we've tested in recent years, though you may have to shop around to find retailers that have the LulzBot Mini 2 in stock.The LulzBot website lists the LulzBot Mini 2 as in stock, as does B&H Photo.
Read or full LulzBot Mini 2 review.
It may take some effort to track down, but the da Vinci Nano from XYZprinting remains a top choice for novices and teachers who don't want to spend big bucks getting started in 3D printing. The da Vinci Nano is an especially good bargain if you can find it for $200 or so — some retailers offer it for less if you're willing to search for a deal.
The printer is relatively compact, about the size of a bread maker, but it has a generous-for-its size build area of 4.7 inches on all sides. There's a door to close off the print area and block out some of the noise from printing, but be aware that opening the door doesn't stop the printing process.
The da Vinci Nano is no speed demon — other best 3D printers produce objects in much less time — but the prints it produced in our testing were of very good quality. The software that accompanies this 3D printer is also easy to use, another reason why we recommend the da Vinci Nano for classroom settings.
Read our full XYZ da Vinci Nano review.
The brand that made its name with cameras that can instantly produce photos is now doing the same with 3D printing. The Polaroid PlaySmart is one of the best 3D printers to get if you're looking for a beginner-friendly device that also produces good-looking prints relatively fast.
In our testing, this Polaroid 3D printer churned out prints much faster than comparably priced devices. The output looks good, too — details are clean and smooth, and we had very few problems with our test prints. We also like that the Polaroid PlaySmart can work with different types of materials, and you're not locked in to buying your printing material from the manufacturer.
You can find less expensive options if you're looking to get started in 3D printing, and the print area on the PlaySmart is pretty small relative to more advanced models. But this printer takes a lot of the waiting out of 3D printing process, and we think you'll be pleased with the results.
Read our full Polaroid PlaySmart review.
You'll pay a steep price this Ultimaker printer, but if you're a design professional or serious 3D-printing enthusiast, the Ultimaker 3 is more than worth the cost.
Print quality is excellent — some of the best we've seen from a 3D printer, even in draft mode — and the Ultimaker 3 supports a wide range of materials. Don't expect blazing fast print times, but you will get a generous build area of 570 cubic inches. (Opt for the taller Ultimaker 3 Extended if you want an even bigger print area.)
Excellent software makes it easy to manage prints with the Ultimaker 3, and a redesigned printhead with two swappable extruders adds to the Ultimaker 3's impressive flexibility. That feature lets you create prints using different colored filaments or even entirely different materials, making this one of the best 3D printers available for designers who want to create something distinctive.
Read our full Ultimaker 3 review.
SLA printers can be pricey, but Peopoly is doing its part to knock that cost down. With the Peopoly Phenom, you can get an SLA printer that's capable of working with a wide variety of resins for less than $2,000. And you don't even have to sacrifice on print speed or quality as the Phenom produces excellent 3D prints.
You will need to be fairly comfortable with 3D printing, though as the Peopoly Phenom has its share of quirks that require a lot of tweaking and some patience. There's no Wi-Fi connectivity, for example, and creating a print involves a few manual steps. Printing can be pretty noisy and there's a slight chemical smell, so you'll want to have a dedicated space for this printer in your workshop. (And set aside a lot of space — the Peopoly Phenom is a very big printer.)
Still, if you're a 3D printing veteran, you'll appreciate the lower overall cost of the Peopoly Phenom. And the expanded build area means you'll be able to create prints that simply aren't possible on some of the other best 3D printers. The Phenom is available directly from Peopoly.
Read our full Peopoly Phenom review.
There are more sophisticated 3D printers out there than the Toybox 3D Printer. But as an introduction to 3D printing, this device will appeal to young makers looking to flex their creative muscle. And they'll get to produce toys as part of the bargain!
Using the Toybox 3D Printer, you can create small toys — you're limited to prints that are around 3 inches on each side. The controls are simple to operate, and printer maker Make.Toys includes a selection of free toy templates that you can use to get started. You're also able to modify designs or even upload your own, adding to the creativity that this printer can spark.
Kids shouldn't use the printer unsupervised, as it's too easy to touch the hot printhead or one of the other moving parts. Because the Toybox's printing bed isn't head, sometimes prints can be difficult to remove. Nevertheless, we were charmed by this printer and how quickly it produced good quality prints.
Read our full Toybox 3D Printer review.
How to choose the best 3D printer for you
Not sure how to decide which 3D printer is right for you? Here are a few things to consider when shopping for a printer.
Printer type: There are two main types of 3D printers: FFF (fused filament fabrication) and SLA (stereo lithography). FFF printers — which also cover FFM (fused filament manufacturing) and FDM (fused deposition modeling) devices — 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. FFF printers are generally cheaper, simpler and easier to use, although SLA models like the XYZprinting Nobel 1.0 (around $1,000) and the $1,199 Peopoly Moai are lowering the price difference.
In addition to 3D printers, there are also 3D pens that hobbyists can use to create models using plastic filament. Unlike printers, 3D pens are handheld and usually cost $100 or less, so they're another low-cost way to give a kind of 3D printing a try.
Printing materials: Whichever type of printer you choose, pay attention to the type of material it uses when printing. The filament material used by FFF printers 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 FFF counterparts, but printers like those from FormLabs can use resins that produce models ranging from very rigid to flexible and rubbery. The best 3D 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. (One of the best 3D printers for people on a budget, the da Vinci Mini, only works with PLA filament from manufacturer XYZprinting, for example; on the bright side, 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.
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.
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 3D 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).
Price: The best 3D printers don't have to cost a lot, though the ones used by professional designers and creators who print at heavy volumes will certainly put a big dent in your budget. (Both the Ultimaker 3 and Formlabs Form 3 cost upward of $3,000, for example.) But you can find very capable 3D printers for around $1,000, and prices are even lower for machines aimed at novices, educators and home printing enthusiasts. Prices for entry-level 3D printers are now below $300.
While online retailers like Amazon offer different 3D printer options, some 3D printer makers only make their products available through their own websites, so don't be shy about shopping around.
How we test 3D printers
When we review a 3D printer, we set up each model, noting how long it takes from the time to remove the printer from its packaging to calibrating the printer so that it's ready to use. We also take note of any special set-up instructions.
We look at what kind of materials a 3D printer supports and whether the manufacturer requires you to only use materials they sell.
When its time to test the printer, we have three different test models — a miniature statue of Rodin's Thinker, a complex set of planetary gears that incorporate interlocking parts, and a geometric sculpture to see well the printer can reproduce sharp edges and points. In addition to evaluating the quality and detail of each print, we also time how fast the printer works at various speeds, from draft mode to the highest-quality setting.
We also consider the software that a printer uses and the different ways you can control prints, whether it's from a computer or via a control panel on the 3D printer itself.