The 5 Best Affordable 3D Printers – October 2018
Even as an up-and-coming technology, 3D printing over the past three decades has evolved from a futuristic idea to an accessible creation tool that, with a bit of saving, anyone can get involved in. As late as 2008 or 2009, the technology was seen as a tool for professionals only, with commodity 3D printers being years off. And yet, throughout the 2010s, we’ve seen a breakthrough in 3D creation. Despite early 3D printers costing consumers six-digit fees to purchase, advances in technology and processing power over the ’10s have brought the price for good 3D printers to under $1,000 for beginner models. From professionals and students to hobbyists and amateurs, 3D printing has become a skill that anyone can pick up and try.
When considering the five best 3D printers for our list, we considered several different metrics to judge exactly what made a specific 3D printer better than the rest. First, the two main types of 3D printers: FDM and SLA printers. Each use a different technique for creating their 3D models when printing. FDM, or fused filament manufacturing printers, use an actual printhead to manually create the model, similar to older paper printers that used ink cartridges melted on metal printheads to slowly create your printout. SLA printers are a bit newer, and are far more similar to the digital printers we see today. SLA, or stereolithography printers, use an ultraviolet laser (like those seen in DVD or Blu Ray players) to create a physical model of your three-dimensional design. Much like traditional 2D printers, FDM printers are typically cheaper than what we’ve seen in the SLA camp, and are easier to use, clean, and operate.
A 3D printer will have varying degrees of speed, quality, and volume as to the size and shape of objects. No 3D printer is going to be able to create you a physical object in seconds, or even minutes, but there are variations in how long each print will take. We’ve considered all of these factors when trying to find our favorite affordable 3D printers, and while nothing in this category is going to be the best printer money can buy, we’ve gathered the five best 3D printers that meet acceptable standards in nearly all of these categories, all while staying comparably light on your budget.
Monoprice rose to fame for their collection of cheap PC cables, parts and accessories, and they’ve used their success to branch out into everything from keyboards to computer monitors to, well, 3D printers. And the original Monoprice MP Select Mini is still one of our top picks for cheap 3D printers. At just over $200, it’s an easy accessory to buy into, with affordable inks and easy-to replace parts. If you’re looking for something to complete large prints, you’ll want to look elsewhere, but for hobbyists and beginners just starting out on their 3D printing adventure, the MP Select Mini is feature-packed and ready to go.
The design of the MP Select Mini is not the most attractive machine we’ve seen, but it’s perfect for apartments or garages, with a small, compact design perfect for keeping on your desk or in a workspace. The printer comes pre-built, meaning you won’t have to assemble the device yourself, and is calibrated at the factory before shipping. With a quick-release steel gear filament feeder, heated build plate, and an included nozzle-cooling fan, the MP Select Mini ships with every feature you’d want, without adding any extra cost from equipment you don’t need. And this doesn’t even mention our favorite feature: the Select Mini supports not one, but every type and variety of filament type, including basic types like ABS and PLA, to more advanced materials like PLA, wood and metal composites, and dissolvable PVA. The flexibility in function of the Select Mini makes it a perfect pick as a gift for a friend or family member looking to dive into 3D printing while not needed previous knowledge.
Monoprice ships the device with an included microSD card, which is used to load your designs and prints into the machine, and a small LCD panel on the front of the printer is used to select and determine which print design should be created. The LCD screen is color and backlit, but it’s a bit small when compared to other devices. Likewise, because the device is small enough to fit on a desk, the prints it creates are, appropriately, just as small. Don’t expect to make large designs with the printer; it simply isn’t designed for it. Instead, most prints are about keychain-sized, big enough to notice detail in the print but not much else. And we should mention: the included spool of filament is a sample size; order yourself a spool of 1.75mm filament in order to use the device correctly out of the box.
Overall, we’re super impressed with Monoprice’s design and cost here. For just over $200—and sometimes even cheaper—you can own a pre-built 3D printer that’s calibrated and ready to print out of the box. Much like other enthusiast technologies like drones, 3D printing is a hobby you want to start small with, learning how the program and machine works before moving into more expensive and more difficult machines. the MP Select Mini is a perfect design for beginners, and we can’t recommend it enough.
- Great price for a 3D printer
- Small footprint
- Smaller prints
- Open design might be dangerous for students
XYZprinting’s daVinci Jr. model is another great, entry-level 3D printer that is ideal for both students and hobbyists, especially younger users who may require some additional protection when using the machine. Unlike Monoprice’s model, daVinci Jr. is a great-looking printer that happens to be child and teen-friendly, with a closed-interface that can protect users from accidents and mistakes when using the device. Combined with its colorful, fun design and education software platform, daVinci is a great choice for those looking to get on-board with 3D printing at a young age.
The daVinci Jr. is a small, cube-based design that functions as a far more self-contained unit than the MP Select Mini reviewed above. It features an enclosed print bed, which allows for additional safety when using the device. The print tray isn’t heated, unlike the MP Select, so if you require a heated print tray for your basic usage, you’ll want to skip this one and check out some of the other entries on our list. As far as printing materials go, the daVinci line uses XYZprinting’s own proprietary cartridges, which mean you’re tied to using the manufacturer’s materials rahter than using any of the cheaper options available on Amazon. And since the daVinci Jr. is a smaller printer than some of its competitors, you should expect your prints to be about the same size as what we saw from the MP Select.
daVinci Jr. is ideal for students ands entry-level hobbyists, but we also want to mention XYZprinting’s other 3D printers, which include larger printing models and heated beds. The traditional daVinci printer is an extra $165, and if you require expert installation, you can add another $150 onto the price. But the main-series daVinci printer is a few inches bigger in dimension than the Jr. model, and includes a heated bed and more-advanced software that allows for more advanced users to design their products while still focusing on student-inspired safety features. If you need to step up from the daVinci, the daVinci Pro is available for an extra $100—and the 3-in-1 Pro model is just under $900, and includes laser engraving for your projects.
For most users just starting out, though, the daVinci Jr. is a great, small machine that doesn’t break the bank. We don’t love how each of XYZprinting’s products have to use their proprietary filament cartridges, but the printers themselves are advanced enough for most hobbyists to enjoy, while being safe and simple for students. If you plan on 3D printing with your children, the daVinci Jr. is ideal for under $200.
- Great for students and beginners
- Closed printing bay for safety
- More advanced models come with extra cost
- Some models need to be built post-shipment
Beeverycreative’s BeetheFirst 3D printer is one of the very best-designed 3D printers you can buy for under $2,000. With an excellent design, a modern look, and a small footprint, you get what you pay for in terms of ergonomics and design. BeetheFirst can print for over 5,000 hours without having to be recalibrated, making it one of the best printers in terms of ease-of-use once the product is set up. Beeverycreative is extremely proud of how their printer is capable enough to be used by professionals, while being simple enough for amateur hobbyists and newcomers to the 3D printing arena.
The price might place it in an entirely different tier than our top-two picks, but for the price, you’re getting one hell of a machine. Printing is fast and smooth, with two separate models supporting different styles and materials depending on your budget. Loading and unloading filament, even during a print, is easy and quick, and the printer tray is magnetic to help support your prints. Its print volume measures out at 190 x 135 x 125mm, ideal for smaller and medium-sized projects. In terms of design and ergonomics—it even has a handle for easy travel—the BeetheFirst is one of our very favorite models on the market today, even if it’s a bit more expensive than its competitors.
- Recalibration not needed for 5000 hours
- Great ergonomic design
- Design means prints are small
- Expensive when compared to other printers
Dremel is a brand known for their series of tools and portable multi-tools, but with the Idea Builder 3D, they’ve branched out into an affordable 3D printer that we’re rather fond of, for both its excellent price point and its features. The Idea Builder isn’t the prettiest product out there—sitting next to the BeetheFirst, it certainly won’t be winning any design awards anytime soon—but coming in at $599, it doesn’t have to be. A self-contained printer with an internal printing bed, the Idea Builder is ideal for anyone wanting to take their design skills to the next level. This model includes a clear LCD touchscreen panel, internal filament holder, a removable well-built plate that measures bigger than any of the models on this list, and software designed by Dremel specifically for this model.
Dremel’s website even includes sample builds and designs to print from, to inspire and teach on how to 3D print. This is another model that requires expert installation, and if you choose to have someone build the machine before you, the price pushes over $1,000. It certainly isn’t a cheap machine for most users, but if you’ve tried a smaller, cheaper model and you’re ready to try a new challenge, Dremel’s machine is excellent.
- Well-built, solid machine
- Professional software and hardware
- Lacking a unique design
- Bigger model means it takes up additional room
The M3D Micro began life as a Kickstarter project, where it earned enough funding to launch the product at a competitive price point. At only $300, this is a well-designed, beautiful machine available in a dozen colors and small enough to fit on a shelf or a desktop. The M3D Micro is ready to plug and play right out of the box, making it ideal for beginners who want a well-designed machine without the complications of similar products like the daVinci series. It has an entirely self-contained body and printer bed capable of 116 x 109 x 113mm, with an included USB connection for syncing and designing your 3D prints.
It only uses PLA filament, which doesn’t require a heated-bed, making it ideal and safe for students or beginners, and is compatible with a wide varieties of filaments for your machine. The software included with the printer is easy-to-use, with minimal learning curve, while also featuring advanced technologies for those with practice in 3D design. As the name suggests, the Micro is a small printer—you won’t be using this to design any large-styled prints, but it’s big enough for most users to jump in and start 3D printing right away. It’s one of the more affordable 3D printers on the market, making it ideal as a gift or introduction to the world of 3D printing.
- Great design
- Compatible with a wide variety of filament brands
- Smaller prints
- Limited to PLA filiment