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There is something that feels inherently futuristic about summoning something physical out of the ether with some of the best 3D printers. While it is a strangely specific hobby, 3D printing has some outstanding industrial and educational applications when used correctly.
Depending on where you're planning to use your 3D printer, there are a handful of things to keep in mind. Industrial settings will benefit from larger volume printers, capable of churning out larger components at a rapid pace for prototyping. However, if you're using this in an educational capacity, you can get by with a lower-end printer as long as it has an intuitive interface.
Simple to use
Doesn't operate well at high speeds
Needs to be calibrated
The Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer is by far the best 3D printer on the list as an introductory unit. The Monoprice offers not only an economical 3D Printer consumer option, but comes packed with everything you’d expect from other high-end models.
The Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer supports all filament types. Its heated build plate with varying temperatures allows it to work with basic filaments such as ABS and PLA, as well as more complex materials such as wood and metal composites. The 3D Printer comes assembled straight out of the box with full calibration and includes a sample PLA filament and MicroSD card with preinstalled models, so you can begin printing immediately. It comes with a one-year warranty.
Solid print quality
Good customer support
Not terribly intuitive
The M2 from Ohio-based Makergear is a professional–level 3D printer praised for its all-round solid engineering. The M2 has a build area of 254 x 202 x 203 mm, and a minimum layer height of 20 microns. It’s a standard FDM printer best suited for ABS and PLA, and comes pre-assembled, but it also has a wealth of upgrades and potential tweaks that allows it to become your perfect 3D printer. For example, there’s the option for onboard controls, a dual extruder and interchangeable nozzles.
It’s not the easiest of 3D printers to get started with and it’s pretty noisy, so the M2 might not be the best choice if this is your first 3D printer. Its design appears basic, but this simplicity ends up being a strength since you can use it year after year. Once you have the M2 calibrated, it produces consistent high quality prints at a fast speed. As it’s an open platform, you are free to use the software of your choice, such as the popular Simplify3D. A clear winner for the 3D printing enthusiast.
Consistent print quality
Software is lackluster
Assembly is a pain
The FlashForge Creator Pro is a fantastic value for anyone looking to get into the 3D printing world without spending a small fortune. Often described as the “absolute best value for the money," the plug 'n’ play setup is just one of the many reasons why this FlashForge appears on this list. A build area of 225 x 145 x 150 millimeters that can be used with ABS, PLA and exotic materials allows for a minimum layer height of just 100 microns. Offered with dual extruders, the FlashForge is ready to print a wide range of experimental materials. There’s plenty of availability for spare parts and maintenance is fairly straightforward.
There are some reviews that highlight noise as a notable con, and many reviews recommend using open source software for printing over the included FlashForge software. And at 24.25 pounds, you’ll want to create some space for it in the house or in an office before it arrives.
High print volume
Compatible with different types of filament
Very little assembly required
Can be a little tricky to use
If you're just getting your feet wet in the 3D printing world, then the Monoprice 13860 Maker Selected 3D Printer V2 is a great option to consider. While more experienced 3D printers are kit-based that require a certain level of knowledge and experience, the Maker Select assembles with just 6 screws. The included 2GB microSD card offers preloaded 3D printable models that you can attempt with the sample PLA filament also included out of the box. And once that runs out, what you want to use is up to you, as the Maker Select can print with any type of 3D filament.
The large 8 x 8-inch build plate and 7-inch vertical spacing offer additional space for printing larger, more complex models than most beginner 3D printers. The heated build-plate allows for highly-reliable printing utilized alongside compatible professional and open-source software that works with Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Online reviews highlight the easily sourced replacement parts if they cannot be 3D printed, as well as numerous upgrades you can make for more professional and complex prints.
Fast and quiet
Amazing print quality
Easy to use
Small build volume
Expensive compared to similar models
The LulzBot is notable for its simplicity and reliability – you can just plug it in and get started. Its auto-leveling bed, all-metal hot end and self-cleaning nozzle make the LulzBot effortless to use. It also has a strong community of users behind it for when you need a bit of technical support.
Precision is lacking when compared to the Ultimaker 2, at a minimum layer height of 50 microns. It is also significantly smaller than the Ultimaker 2, with a build area of 152 x 152 x 158 mm. As an FDM 3D printer, ongoing costs are low. It can print at temperatures up to 300 degrees Celsius, and the included Cura LulzBot Edition software is super easy to understand and use.
So what’s not to like? The LulzBot Mini is a bit noisier than most, and unlike many printers, it requires a constant connection to a computer while prints are being completed. Otherwise, it’s a highly recommended choice for beginners in 3D printing.
Excellent print quality
Different resin types available
Effective printing can require some trial and error
At the other end of the scale is the professional desktop resin printer for intermediate or pro users, and the Formlabs Form 2 is a top choice for this segment. A new peel feature and heated tank increase print consistency. A touchscreen display and wireless controls make for easier manipulation, and an automatic resin system keeps things cleaner with less mess.
Build volume is slightly bigger, at 145 x 145 x 175 mm. Layer height remains at 25 microns. SLA resin printing still remains much slower and more expensive than FDM, so take that into account if you’re planning on choosing a Form 2 because you want to increase your print runs. It may be better to use a Form 2 to build an excellent master and use other methods such as injection molding or resin casting to make hundreds of copies.
Consider the Formlabs Form 2 if you value a larger size, high quality resin printer with additional wireless controls that’ll make your life easier on a day-to-day basis.
"Always check your printers filament compatibility, while most printers can work with the most common PLA filament, using the wrong type can lead to inconsistent print quality or potentially damage your printer." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor
Solid build volume for a mini printer
Fast print speeds
Filament sensor is a bit finnicky
Inconsistent build quality between filaments
If you're hunting for a professional 3D printer in a compact package, the Monoprice Mini Delta is a superb option that won’t break the bank. Fortunately, mini doesn’t mean flimsy as the anodized aluminum shell and 50-microlayer resolution ensure the same level of stability that’s often found in larger, more expensive 3D printers. Continuously self-calibrating, the 110 x 110 x 120-mm print bed never requires bed leveling, guaranteeing that prints will always be properly leveled.
The real highlight of the Mini Delta is the inclusion of three motor-driven arms that write directly on the circular print bed. The approach is certainly new, but it leads to excellent results — especially given the machine's low price. Capable of working with a 1.75mm filament and ABS and PLA materials, filament from any manufacturer will suffice. Setup is as basic as it gets with all the necessary controls available on the LCD display and included on a microSD card in the box. Wireless connectivity is also an option; you can sync print controls directly to your Android or Apple smartphone.
If you're just starting out, your best bet is going to be the Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer. But if you're a seasoned veteran, the Makergear M2 might be a better option.
Our top choices for 3D printers haven't been tested just yet, but our experts will be printing a variety of models with different filaments all while keeping track of differences in print time and quality. They also pay attention to how easy each printer is to setup up, use, and in some cases assemble.
Patrick Hyde has a master’s degree in history from the University of Houston and a job in Seattle's booming tech industry. His interests and knowledge span the past, present, and future.
Alice Newcome-Beill has often viewed 3D printing as more of a novelty but does see the inherent potential in it. To date, she has printed custom keycaps, board game pieces, and other curios from a number of futuristic printers.
Printing material - Considering your printing materials is a critical step in selecting a 3D printer. Two of the most popular ones for at-home printing are ABS and PLA. Different printers are geared toward different materials, so decide which one you prefer and go from there.
Resolution - Not all 3D printers can print to the same level of detail. Whether you’re looking to create simple shapes or more ornate models, be sure to check the minimum layer height of a machine to help understand how much detail it’s capable of creating.
Build area - The build area is the stage upon which your printer can print a 3D model; the size of this stage affects how large of an object you can print. While some printers can print objects that are almost a foot long, others can manage ones that are only a few inches.