3D printing has been around for decades—for some perspective, I worked with an industrial 3D printer as an engineering student back during the Reagan administration. But it’s only in the last decade that 3D printing has become inexpensive and reliable enough to be practical at home, in small businesses and schools. But not just any 3D printer will do. Even if you’ve equipped yourself with one of the best 3D printers, it’s still not necessarily a rewarding hobby for the faint of heart or casual 3D printing tourist.
Equipped with a 3D printer, you can create anything you can design—or find digital plans for online. … [+]
That’s because 3D printing remains challenging. 3D printers are finicky beasts. They require precise temperatures and finely calibrated hardware to “print” real objects from raw materials like strands of plastic filament, and it doesn’t take a lot to ruin a build (or at least spoil it enough that you may need to try printing it again). If you live in a humid environment, for example, prints can even go wrong if your filament absorbs too much moisture out of the air—now that’s finicky. It’s helpful to be pragmatic about 3D printing challenges, because it’s not yet as effortless as using a Star Trek replicator.
To help poise you for success in 3D printing, we rounded up the 7 best 3D printers on the market. These are models that are easy to get up and running, require minimal maintenance and offer excellent print quality. If you choose one of the printers in this list, you stand the best chance of gleefully exploring the universe of 3D printing rather than troubleshooting arcane problems like layer shifting, under-extrusion and excessive stringing.
Best Overall 3D Printer
Creality CR-6 SE
The Creality CR-6 SE got its start on Kickstarter, and after a variety of birthing pains (many complaints you see about this printer are related to the first ones that rolled off the assembly line), it has evolved into what may be the single best choice for the average creator to use for 3D printing. There’s a ton of stuff to love about this printer; it has a substantial 9x9x10 inches of build volume, so you can print pretty big objects, coupled with excellent hardware that makes this printer accurate and reliable.
The printer has a one-touch auto-leveling bed that does a superb job of eliminating printing problems that arise from poor adhesion. It also has a virtually silent stepper motor system; you can set the printer in the middle of your office or workspace and it’ll barely be noticeable throughout the print. An LCD touchscreen makes it easy to control the printer’s various options and features, and there’s an SD card slot for loading your print jobs (there’s no wireless or USB connectivity).
The printer has some other features that make it stand out from the crowd, like a resume feature that can pause a print mid-stream if your filament breaks, and pick up again after you resolve the problem. And if you’re a dedicated hobbyist, there’s a community-created firmware update that delivers a slew of extra features, though you should stick with the factory software if you’re a casual creator.
Best Budget 3D Printer
Flashforge Finder Lite
You can get a solid taste of 3D printing without spending a fortune. In fact, the Flashforge Finder Lite costs just $250—very nearly an impulse buy. You’re not going to get a large build deck or the most versatile 3D printing for this price, and in fact the build volume is a pretty cramped 5.5×5.5×5.5 inches. That small size might be why FlashForge positions this printer for kids, but that claim has two important caveats. First, it’s perfectly serviceable for adults who want to explore 3D printing on a budget, and second, there’s little about this printer that seems especially kid-friendly. An adult will almost certainly need to be on hand for setup, calibration and even routine printing.
Case in point: It has a bed leveling feature, but it’s far from automated. Leveling involves tightening and loosening screws as a level sensor tries to find the build plate, and an audio alert tells you when everything is adjusted. On the other hand, the Finder Lite comes fully assembled. It’s a cube-shaped, mostly enclosed printer that doesn’t take a huge amount of desk space, and it is operated from a color LCD touchscreen on top. While the slightly upscale FlashForge Finder lets you send prints to the printer via USB, Wi-Fi and SD card, this Lite model works with SD card only. We love the fact that it’s quiet and safe; you have to go out of your way to burn yourself on the hot end of this printer, and it only prints PLA, which is a non-toxic and relatively benign plastic filament.
Best 3D Printer for Educators
Dremel DigiLab 3D45
Unlike most 3D printing companies, Dremel has a long and storied history before the rise of 3D printing—you doubtless know the brand from its line of tools for creators and hobbyists. The DigiLab 3D45 is Dremel’s latest 3D printer, and it is an impressive device that works great by safely and reliably making high-quality prints, along with special features that should appeal to teachers and schools. The only real downside? At more than $2000, it’s among the pricier printers you can buy in this class.
What makes this printer great for educators? First and foremost, it’s compatible with a wide range of printing materials. You’re not limited to PLA, but instead can use Dremel-branded Nylon, ABS and PETG as well. Dremel includes an RFID tag on each filament spool that tells the printer what the material is so it can optimize the bed and hot end temperatures accordingly. It includes a carbon filter to minimize odors when printing in a classroom or lab, and Dremel backs the printer up with educational curriculum that covers a spectrum of ages from grade school through college. There are dozens of lesson plans for teachers to adapt and the printer even comes with an online, self-paced training program that gives the instructor up to four professional development credit hours.
All that is not to overlook the printer itself, which is an enclosed design (though you can open the transparent door even while printing) with a print volume of 10x6x6.7 inches. It has a smart auto-leveling feature for the print bed and you can send print jobs wirelessly via Wi-Fi. In every way, it feels like it’s worth the money.
Best Premium 3D Printer
Original Prusa i3 MK3S+
The history of the Original Prusa i3 MK3S+ is a long one, with multiple improvements and name changes over the years. You don’t need to know any of that to appreciate that this is one of the smartest, most reliable 3D printers you can buy, making it well worth the $1000 price tag. It comes fully assembled and pretty much ready to go, just an auto-calibration away from reliably printing high-quality models.
This open-frame printer has a 10x8x8-inch print volume and can handle a variety of printing materials, including PLA, PETG, ASA, polycarbonate and polypropylene. It’s quiet—ordinarily not as quiet as a printer like the Creality CR-6 SE, but you can switch to a stealth mode that muffles the stepper motor even more. We also love the power loss recovery, which means it will generally be able to continue printing after losing power (which can be a lifesaver if you lose power in the middle of a 12-hour print). It has some really cool flourishes as well, like the way the build plate is held down with neodymium magnets, making it super secure and snapping in place with a reassuring thwack.
Best Resin 3D Printer
Anycubic Photon Mono X Resin 3D Printer
While most consumer-level 3D printers use fused deposition modeling, or FDM, to melt tiny amounts of a plastic filament and use it to build a model one layer at a time, that’s hardly the only kind of 3D printer available. Also quite popular is stereo lithography, or SLA. This kind of printer uses a laser to cure liquid resin, turning it into hardened plastic via a process known as photopolymerization. The technical details aren’t as important as this: SLA printers (also called resin printers) seemingly pull completed 3D models out of a pool of liquid resin as if by magic. And the models are generally of a very high quality, often with a better resolution than filament-based FDM printers.
That’s a long preamble to explain that the Anycubic Photon Mono X Resin 3D Printer is a fundamentally different beast than the other printers in this list, and is, on balance, likely the best value in SLA printers today. First, the basics: It has a build volume of 7.5×4.7×9.7 inches and relies on an 8.9-inch 4K monochrome LCD screen for prints. The maximum print speed is 60mm per hour, which is 2-3 times faster than most other resin printer. The build plate leveling is a manual process (a necessity among resin printers), but fairly straightforward. But printing is a snap—it takes mere minutes to put the printer together after taking it out of the box. Level the build plate, pour resin into the vat, pull your print file off a USB flash drive, and you’re in business. There’s also a Wi-Fi antenna you can use to monitor your build on your phone, but it’s fiddly and probably not worth the effort.
Like with any resin printer, completed prints need to be washed in isopropyl alcohol, and Anycubic sells a complementary Wash and Cure appliance for under $300. They look like matching gadgets with their translucent yellow hoods, and look good sitting side by side.
The bottom line is that the Photon Mono X is an excellent resin printer—a significant step up from filament-based printing, for sure. SLA is a messy business (Anycubic even includes gloves in the box to handle the resin) and requires a more substantial commitment than FFDM. But if you have the time and interest, the results are worth it.
Best 3D Printer for Beginners
A lot of 3D printers try to be beginner friendly, but Monoprice’s Voxel does a great job of being ready to go right out of the box and insulating new users from a lot of the complexity of 3D printing. This fully enclosed design comes fully assembled and doesn’t require much setup; there’s an automatic bed leveling feature that even beginners can power through. And while you might not need to use this feature often, Monoprice lets you change the print nozzle quickly and easily without even using any tools. That’s cool, and it ‘s too bad it’s such a rare feature among printers. The printer has a handy touchscreen control panel up front and can receive print jobs via Ethernet, Wi-Fi or USB flash drive, and it works with a cloud service as well.
The printer isn’t enormous; it has 6x6x6 inches of print volume, which is just a bit bigger than what you get in the similarly priced Flashforge Finder. And while most beginners will stick with non-toxic and easy to use PLA filament, the Voxel can handle ABS as well. A nice touch for the price: the Voxel has a built-in camera for monitoring your prints.
Best Dual-Extruder 3D Printer
FlashForge Creator Pro2
FlashForge’s Creator Pro2 does something no other printer in this list can pull off: It can print two objects at once, or print one object in two different colors. That’s thanks to its IDEX—independent dual extrusion—system. As that suggests, the Creator Pro2 has two completely independent print heads and nozzles, which opens up a world of creative possibilities. If that’s the only thing the Pro2 could offer, it would probably still be worth the price of admission.
But the Creator Pro2 is a great printer in a lot of ways. It’s not perfect, of course; the fully enclosed design has a pretty modest print volume, just around 8x6x6 inches. The print bed is also fixed in place—you can’t remove it to ease the task of separating your completed print. And the bed has to be manually leveled, though the software helps you through the process. You also have to use the bundled FlashForge slicing software. It’s not bad, but you might miss a more robust app like Cura.
But those objections aside, the Creator Pro2 is a superb printer. After a small amount of assembly, this enclosed printer makes excellent prints dependably, job after job. It also handles a variety of materials including PLA, ABS, PETG and TPU.