The 5 Best Affordable 3D Printers [October 2020]
Despite early 3D printers costing consumers six-digit fees to purchase, advances in technology and processing power over the last decade 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 print heads 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. The good news is, while nothing in the budget 3D printer category will be the best money can buy, anyone shopping for a great 3D printer this summer will want to make sure they pay attention to all five units on this list.
Whether you’re looking for a creative gift for the young inventory in your life, or you’re just diving into the world of 3D printing for the first time yourself, these are the best entry points into 3D printing this winter.
Comgrow’s Ender 3 Pro is an incredible value for those looking to start out with 3D printing. Available for under $300, Comgrow is a Chinese company that makes it simple to get into 3D printing without paying an arm and a leg. There’s a lot to love about the Ender 3 Pro, and it starts when you first open the box. Though the build of the device makes it difficult to recommend for younger users, the good news for older students and beginners is that, outside of the vertical pieces, it comes assembled in the box, saving you time and making it easy to get started. The rest of the assembly is part of the experience, allowing you to learn about how 3D printers work as you finish the device. And with how simple and easy the Ender 3 Pro is to use once you start printing, you won’t want to stop.
There are plenty of benefits to the Ender 3 Pro, but its main features come down to safety. That safety starts right when you plug the device into the wall: a UL-certified power supply protects your printer from unexpected power surges while you’re building, which is important when you’re talking about a device that can get really hot, really fast. The removable build surface plate gives you added protection as well, keeping the build plate safe when not in use and giving you consistent temperature throughout the build surface. Plus, it’s easy to remove the printing models after cooling, which means you can start displaying your models sooner rather than later.
The Ender 3 Pro includes a 12 month warranty, lifetime technical assistance, and 24 hour customer service that guarantees you’ll be able to get help with your print prior to major issues. The source code for the printer is completely open, which means anyone can add or modify the underlying code for the Ender 3 Pro. As one of the highest rated 3D printers on Amazon, anyone looking to pick up a 3D printer in 2019 owes it to themselves to check out Comgrow’s prosumer model. It’s truly a great starter set for anyone looking to dive into 3D printing.
- Great starter printer for under $300
- Semi-assembled upon unboxing
- Not great for younger users without supervision
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
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 $649, 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
We’ve already highlighted one of Monoprice’s other 3D printers higher up on this list, but if you’re looking for the absolute cheapest 3D printer on Amazon to get started building, this is absolutely the one to grab. For starters, the Monoprice Mini Delta comes fully assembled right out of the box, so you won’t have to worry about messing up your build. For some, this may be a negative, not a positive—part of the fun with 3D printers can be building your own unit. For others, however, not having to build your printer will feel a lot less stressful, especially if you’re buying this for a child or teenager.
Also reassuring: the frame of the Mini Delta is made out of steel and anodized aluminium, which means it should hold strong against even the most abusive users. This model also supports self-calibration, so the stress that comes from leveling your printing bed goes right out the window.
Much like the Select Mini from Monoprice that we reviewed above, the Mini Delta is completely open source, allowing you to use different filament types from any manufacturer. The print bed and extrusion nozzle both support variations in temperature, so you won’t have to worry about picking up the wrong material from your print. Likewise, the ability to print wirelessly over the internet, through a physical USB connection hooked up to your laptop, or wirelessly with a microSD card means you don’t have to worry about teaching anyone how to print. This thing is basically ready to go from the jump, and it’s quite the relief.
Overall, if you just want the cheapest entry point into 3D printing, Monoprice has gone above and beyond here, offering something that feels twice as good as what they’re charging for it. There are some questions regarding its durability in the face of a small amount of negative reviews. Issues pointed out by fans include WiFi connectivity issues and, perhaps unsurprisingly, some problems with filament backup. Still, for just $160, it’s hard to not recommend the Monoprice Mini Delta as a great starter kit or gift for those in your life who want to get started with 3D printing.
- Cheapest model on the list
- Open-source technology
- Some reviewers had issues with durability
- Comes pre-assembled, taking away the build experience.