Picking the best 3D printers can be tricky — not because there aren't a lot of great options out there, but because of the wide variety of printers you have to choose from. 3D printers can handle all sorts of tasks, some more ably than others. Finding the right one comes down to identifying the 3D printer suited to your skill set and budget in addition to picking a printer capable of handling your workload.
3D printers are flexible enough to find a place everywhere from classrooms to design shops. But there's a big difference between the printer you'd want to build prototypes and one you'd want to use on your own.
We've tested enough models across a wide range of use cases to help you pick out everything from entry-level 3D printers to more advanced machines ideal for regular output. Whether you're a novice who just wants to get started with 3D printing or someone looking for a higher-end model to 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. When you're ready to step up to a more advanced printer, we'd point you to the FlashForge Adventurer 4.
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, we've tested the Form 3+, an updated version of the Form 3 that speeds up and simplifies the printing process. It's a worthy successor to the Form 3, but if the $3,499 price is too much for you, the Photon Mono X lowers the cost of SLA printing to less than $1,000.
The best 3D printers(opens in new tab)
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.
Resin-based printers have seen a lot of competition from lower-priced devices in recent years, but the Form 3+ from Formlabs remains the device of choice if 3D printing is a regular part of your workflow.
The Form 3+ replaced the Form 3, formerly our top pick for resin printers. This new version churns out prints faster than before, and it's much easier to use than before. Loading up resin is simple, and a floating level sensor keeps close tabs on how much resin is in the print tray, controlling the flow so that just the right amount is used on each job. A more flexible build platform simplifies the task of removing prints.
The Form 3+ produces speedy prints, but more importantly, the quality of our test prints turned out to be superlative. At a starting price of $3,499, the Form 3+ is not for everybody, but this 3D printer easily meets the demands of designers who need a steady flow of good-looking prints.
Read our full Formlabs Form 3+ 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. Printers like the now sold-out Peopoly Phenom brought down the price of SLA printing somewhat, but the Photon Mono X offers an even cheaper entry. Even better, 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.
When you're ready to step up beyond 3D printers for beginners, look to the FlashForge Adventurer 4. It offers a relatively fuss-free printing experience with minimal quirks and complications.
The Adventurer 4 comes with swappable print nozzles for controlling the layer size of your prints as well as handling different temperatures. That makes this one of the more flexible 3D printers we've tested, as the Adventurer 4 is capable of handling a wide variety of printing materials. While print speeds are average for a 3D printer of this type, the Adventurer 4 produced excellent quality prints in our testing. Even better, at less than $1,000, you get a very polished printer without having to spend big bucks.
Read our full FlashForge Adventurer 4 review.(opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) for around $200.
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 (opens in new tab) 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.
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 (opens in new tab) that includes the printer and a selection of materials; be aware that this 3D printer is on backorder as of this writing.
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. (Devices like the Ultimaker S5 and Formlabs Form 3 cost thousands of dollars, 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.