The best 3D printers aren't just for design shops. These days, you'll find them in classrooms and even the homes of hobbyists and makers. The appeal of 3D printers is no secret — they let you create everything from models to working prototypes to protective gear.
While it's easy dreaming up something to create with a 3D printer, finding the right device can be a challenge, especially if you're just getting started. But we've tested enough models to separate the best 3D printers from the also-rans, with choices ranging from entry-level units to more advanced machines.
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From low-cost printers aimed at novices and students to higher-end models that help with professional design projects, here's how to get your hands on the best 3D printer capable of producing just what you're looking for.
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 as the best 3D printer for anyone on a budget. It produces good-looking prints at speeds you'd expect from more expensive models.
Monoprice also makes our best budget 3D printer, the Delta Mini V2, which is easier to find these days than the also excellent XYZ da Vinci Nano. We also like the 3Doodler Create Plus pen as a tool to help teenagers and hobbyists create their own 3D objects.
As for SLA printers, the Form 3 ($3,499) from FormLabs is ideal for 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 Photon Mono X is even cheaper, bringing the cost of SLA printing to less than $1,000.
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.
To get started in 3D printing for less than $200, look no further than the Monoprice Delta Mini V2. It's an affordable printer that's still fully featured a delivers excellent print quality for the price.
You'll make some compromises like a small build volume, even compared to other budget 3D printers like the da Vinci Nano. But you do get support for a wide variety of materials, with the Monoprice Delta Mini V2 able to handle PLA, ABS and other materials. You don't often see this kind of flexibility in an entry-level device.
It's hard to beat the value of the Monoprice Delta Mini V2, especially for people just getting started in 3D printing.
Read our full Monoprice Delta Mini V2 3D printer review.
As good as the Form 3 is, it's very expensive. The Photon Mono X offers a cheaper entry into SLA printing, and the results are pretty impressive. We found that Photon Mono X created high-quality SLA prints quickly, despite the occasional printing error.
3D printing enthusiasts will appreciate the large print area — 331 cubic inches. That's particularly impressive given the Photon Mono X's comparatively small size — it's only 18 inches tall and a little more than 11 inches wide, so it will fit easily into a home workshop or similar setting.
SLA printing remains a messy, smelly business. But the Photon Mono X helps bring down the cost of this process without forcing you to make too many compromises.
Read our Photon Mono X 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.
You may have to hunt down the LulzBot Mini 2 and finding it for a price around its original $1,500 cost may be a challenge, as the printer is in short supply. It remains available at 3D printer retailer Dynamism for $1,495. That's a better price than we've seen at other retailers, suggesting supplies for this older printer may be running low.
Read or full LulzBot Mini 2 review.
With the Monoprice Delta Mini V2 3D printer now available, the da Vinci Nano from XYZprinting can no longer boast that it's the best inexpensive 3D printer around. Still, it's a good bargain, if you can find the da Vinci Nano for around $200. (That may take some doing, as the printer is in seemingly short supply these days.)
The da Vinci 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. (That's bigger than what Monoprice's budget printer offers.) 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. A wireless version — the da Vinci Nano w — is available at the XYZprinting site for $249.
Read our full XYZ da Vinci Nano review.
If you want to take 3D printing into your own hands, we recommend, the 3Doodler Create Plus. This handheld pen lets you create 3D objects as easily as you would with a standard pen and paper.
We like the 3Doodler Create Plus because it's easy to hold and it supports a variety of materials. Less expensive options like the Polaroid Play 3D Pen restrict you to PLA, so you get greater flexibility with the 3Doodler Create Plus. You'll also find hundreds of stencils from 3Doodler that can help you design toys, animal models and other architectural designs. There's a $19.99 kit that features additional nozzles for changing the layer size and texture of your model.
3D pens typically attract younger users, and the size and simple controls of the 3Doodler Create Plus is the right size for tiny hands. You'll find yourself reloading the pen frequently, as the 3Doodler Create Plus uses shorter filaments, but overall this is a very good experience for people who want to find a creative way to design small objects.
Read our full 3Doodler Create Plus 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 for $1,999.
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. If you'd like to experience Toybox for yourself, you can buy a starter kit directly from Make.Toys that includes the printer and a selection of materials; the Toybox has also popped up at some retailers' sites.
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 Peopoly Phenom are lowering the price.
In addition to 3D printers, there are also 3D pens that hobbyists can use to create models using plastic filament. These are handheld devices that 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, and some of the best 3D printers now cost less than $200.
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.