As seen in:
FlashForge
Creator Pro
HICTOP
Prusa I3
XYZprinting
Da Vinci 1.0
Printrbot
Assembled Metal Simple
ROBO 3D
R1 Plus
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Good

Class-leading layer height. Stable, versatile, and reliable. Excellent website and customer support.

Impressive build volume. On the lower end of pricing spectrum.

Competitive build volume. Slightly faster speed than some other contenders.

High-quality output. Helpful online community.

Competitive build volume. Can accommodate HIPS, t-glase, and laywood materials.

Bad

Can be noisy. (Not good for TV room or bedroom.) Set-up can be slightly difficult.

Assembly required. PLA products can be inferior. Occasional missing parts and Z-axis motor trouble.

Accepts cartridges but not spools. Owners must use XYZ software.

Compact machine means compact output: smaller build volume and slower speed. Patchy customer reports on quality.

Speed is on the slower side. Some consumer concerns about construction quality and functionality.

Bottom Line

A leader in terms of quality, stability, and output. The best on the market.

A basic, budget-priced 3D printer with known strengths and weaknesses.

Easy to use and efficiently priced. The highest quality for the least amount of money.

A small-scale, quality contender with a few known flaws.

A well-received machine with some technical issues.

How we decide
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Products received from manufacturers
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Models Considered
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Hours Spent
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Experts Interviewed
193
Consumers Consulted

Best 3D Printers

The first 3D printers (from the mid to late 1980s) used a system called stereolithography, which is still used today on high-end machines. It's very accurate, but it's expensive -- as are resin, powder, and liquid-fed 3D printers.

At a more affordable level are 3D printers that use filaments, and these are the type we concentrate on in our ratings. They're still pretty accurate (most build with layers just a few thousandths of an inch thick), but the materials they use are more readily available. These materials include ABS (used for everything from children's toys to suitcases) and PLA (a biodegradable plastic made from things like corn starch and sugar cane).

Consumer machines didn't become available until around 2011, but prices have already dropped tremendously, and dozens of manufacturers offer a bewildering choice of different models. After extensive research, we've narrowed the options down to a final five that represent a fascinating cross-section of what's currently available. They are:

Products we Considered

FlashForge
Creator Pro
HICTOP
Prusa I3
XYZprinting
Da Vinci 1.0
Printrbot
Assembled Metal Simple
ROBO 3D
R1 Plus

Considerations

Capabilities

Each of our 3D printers uses FDM (Filament Deposition Manufacturing) or FFM (Fused Filament Modeling) -- which are actually different ways of saying the same thing. The ABS or PLA filament is melted and sprayed through a nozzle; this process is similar to the way an inkjet printer works. However, a 3D printer builds up a solid object layer by layer. Specifications like the size of objects produced varies from printer to printer. We examine these types of specifications in this part of the review.

Practicalities

In this section of our ratings, we examine what each 3D printer is like to work with. Our ratings probe print quality, reliability, ease of set-up/use, and any other issues that affect real-world performance.

Back-Up

We look at the back-up offered by the manufacturer, hardware and software compatibility, and what kind of information is available from other sources to help consumers create 3D models.

Price

All of the 3D printers on our shortlist are quite affordable when you consider what they have to offer. However, there's still a giant cost difference between our cheapest 3D printer and our premium option. In this section, we sum up what you get for your investment.

Considerations

Capabilities

HICTOP Prusa I3 3D Desktop Printer

Considering its low price, the HICTOP Prusa I3 3D printer has very competitive capacities. One of the main ratings for 3D printers is "build volume" -- the maximum height, width, and depth of object that can be produced. The HICTOP's yield is an impressive 270 x 200 x 170 mm (approximately 10 x 8 x 7 inches). There are also speed ratings (in millimeters per second), but their value is difficult to judge because (a) the measurement is linear rather than volumetric, and (b) the measurement tells how fast the machine head operates but not the amount of material deposited. Nevertheless, speed rating is a useful figure as a comparison, and the HICTOP runs at 120 mm/s. In terms of actual build (layer thickness), it's between 0.1 and 0.4 mm (about 4 to 16 thousandths of an inch). Acceptable filament sizes are standard 3 mm ABS or 1.75 mm PLA, though the latter -- which requires hotter temperatures and a heated bed -- does not perform particularly well, according to users.

XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D Printer, Blue

Build volume for the XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D printer is slightly less than that of the HICTOP at 200 x 200 x 190 mm (roughly 8 x 8 x 7 inches). In most cases, however, this small difference would not be significant. Given the products usually produced and the cost of materials, it's not often that people build models out to those maximums! The XYZ's speed, at 150 mm/s, is a little higher than that of the HICTOP. Some potential buyers will see this as significant because all consumer 3D printers are a bit on the slow side. Layer thickness is the same as the HICTOP at 0.1 to 0.4 mm (often expressed as 100 to 400 microns), and the XYZ will take both ABS and PLA. However, the XYZprinting machine takes proprietary cartridges rather than readily available spools, and some owners weren't happy about this. There are hacks to get around this, but doing so could invalidate the warranty.

Printrbot Assembled Metal Simple 3D Printer, Black, PLA Filament, 1.75mm

The name of the Printrbot Metal Simple 3D Printer might be a bit misleading because it doesn't actually print metal. (The machine's frame was originally made of wood, but it has now been upgraded to a more durable steel construction. That's where the name comes from.) This is quite a compact machine, and a build volume of 150 x 150 x 150 mm (effectively a six-inch cube) reflects this. It's also quite slow at just 80 mm/s, and because there's no heated bed, it only prints PLA (at 100 microns layer height) from standard 1.75 mm rolls. These are not particularly impressive figures, but as we'll see later on in our ratings, it has other strengths.

ROBO 3D R1 Plus Fully Assembled 3D Printer

At 25.4 x 22.9 x 20.3 mm (10 x 9 x 8 inches), the ROBO 3D R1 3D Printer has one of the larger build volumes among those we've reviewed. Speed, however, is a mere 50 mm/s, which is surprisingly slow. Layer thickness is 100 microns, and it works with standard 1.75mm ABS or PLA. Interestingly, however, the manufacturer says that this 3D printer can take advantage of a number of other materials including HIPS (high impact polystyrene), t-glase (a material with high tensile strength), and laywood (wood-based). Owner feedback is not always positive. Several people have had problems producing models with ABS, and a number of others have complained about general construction quality and functionality.

FlashForge 3d Printer Creator Pro, Metal Frame Structure

Like ROBO, FlashForge is another company that has moved from a wooden to a steel frame construction on their 3D printer. The FlashForge Creator Pro's build volume is average at 225 x 145 x 150 mm (approximately 9 x 5.5 x 6 inches), but it can be comparatively rapid with variable speed from 40 to 100 mm/s. It boasts class-leading abilities when it comes to layer height, which can be from 100 to 500 microns -- a potential time saver! Components are made from standard 1.75 mm ABS or PLA filaments, and it will also print from PVA. Owners are generally very happy with the way this 3D printer is put together, but they do say it's rather noisy.

The FlashForge boasts class-leading abilities when it comes to layer height, which can be from 100 to 500 microns -- a potential time saver!
Considerations

Practicalities

HICTOP Prusa I3 3D Desktop Printer

Though the HICTOP Prusa 3D printer is one of the cheapest models on our shortlist, it is not an entry-level machine for one significant reason: you need to put quite a lot of it together yourself. So much assembly is required, in fact, that the HICTOP could be considered a "kit." Unfortunately, most owners and expert reviewers say that the instruction video is not good at all. However, many rate component quality highly and say that assembly is not particularly difficult. (Some actually said it was fun!) They also say it's a great way to learn about the printer's functionality and that when put together carefully, it's a capable machine. (It's perhaps relevant at this point to add that a degree of enthusiasm and a willingness to "tinker" will help get the best out of all the 3D printers on our shortlist.) The only commonly reported faults on the HICTOP are that components are sometimes missing and that Z-axis motors occasionally have problems.

XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D Printer, Blue

One of the first things you'll notice about the XYZprinting Da Vinci 3D printer is that it's enclosed. Not only does this make it look like a more professional machine, it brings about two other important benefits. First, it's safer. 3D printers heat material upwards of 250 degrees Celsius (482 degrees Fahrenheit); heated platforms can reach 70 degrees Celsius (185 degrees Fahrenheit). Anything that keeps your hands out of the way when a 3D printer is working is a good idea! Second, the XYZ maintains a stable operating temperature, thereby preventing fluctuations that could ruin your work. In general, owners respect the design of this product. It also rates highly in terms of ease of use. Making sure 3D printers are level is vital to proper operation, and the XYZprinting Da Vinci is frequently complimented for the way it assists users with this. Owners also like the automatic nozzle cleaning. However, what they don't like is the fact that they have to buy proprietary filament in order to print something.

Many who have followed the development of the Printrbot 3D printer (and who have used the previous version) are highly complimentary of its new steel construction. Quality of the machine itself is high, as is the accuracy of components produced. The unit's auto-leveling probe also comes in for a lot of praise. However, when we look at the big picture, we notice some significant inconsistencies in owner feedback. While the majority give positive feedback, each area also receives its fair share of complaints. Sadly, it would seem that both construction and performance are patchy. Apparently, the good Printrbots are great -- flawlessly put together and easy to use -- but quite a few have been returned. Owners who have been prepared to tune theirs and spend money on upgrades seem happiest (it doesn't come with a heated bed or controls on the printer), but many have said that they expected the Printrbot to be better out of the box.

The ROBO 3D printer is another that has undergone recent upgrades and, according to many owners, is considerably improved because of them. The ROBO 3D is very easy to set up and use; owners especially like the fact that no assembly is needed. "Tinkerers" love the variety of materials it can accept and the fact that they can finesse the machine for better performance. The difficulty is that owner feedback varies wildly: more people give compliments than complaints, but the numbers aren't as wide apart as you might expect. The core problem appears to be with reliability. The manufacturer has claimed that most faults reported are with older models and that the current ROBO 3D R1 is a far better printer. However, much of the online 3D community is still having trouble with various aspects of the ROBO 3D. The flip side is that those machines that do work properly -- while slow and a bit noisy -- do deliver excellent results.

FlashForge 3d Printer Creator Pro, Metal Frame Structure

Our final selection, the FlashForge 3D printer, is a fully-enclosed model. Owners enjoy this machine's print stability, effective leveling system, and overall sturdiness and quality. In almost every usability review, owners rate the FlashForge quite highly. Much is made by the manufacturer of the two extruder heads, but these don't operate together, so their main function is making color changes easier. That aside, it offers ease of set-up/use for beginners but also great complexity for more experienced users. Some will say that it needs fine tuning to produce its best, and several would like a larger build area, but few have any complaints about accuracy or reliability. It is noisy, so you wouldn't want it in the same room as the TV. A few buyers had issues with damaged parts (these should be covered by warranty), and there are those who struggled with set up, but the majority -- from beginners to experts -- think that this an excellent machine.

The fully enclosed FlashForge 3D Printer Creator Pro offers print stability, an effective leveling system, and overall sturdiness and quality.
Rafe
Expert Consultant
Rafe
Technologist, Product Review Professional

Rafe Needleman has been testing and writing about technology products for over 20 years. He has evaluated hundreds of products as editor of CNET and reviews/editorial director of Yahoo Tech.

Considerations

Back-Up

HICTOP Prusa I3 3D Desktop Printer

The HICTOP 3D printer comes with open source 3D software called "Cura," which is also used by some other 3D printer makers. Owners tend to rate this software as adequate rather than exceptional, and a number prefer to use a software package called "Repetier" with their HICTOP. Both run on Windows and Apple computers. (Repetier also has an active online user community with plenty of information and help available from like-minded people of all levels.) You can connect a computer directly to the printer via USB or take advantage of the SD card slot -- although a few owners experienced problems with this. Impressions of the manufacturer's customer service have been mixed. Some complaints could be down to language difficulties or mistakes in translation, but while responses are usually received, they are often slower than consumers would like them to be.

XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D Printer, Blue

If there's one major drawback for some XYZ owners, it's that buying the XYZprinting 3D printer also means buying into the company's own software, community, and support network. There are two ways of looking at this. For some, particularly beginners, this could be an ideal solution; no need to search here, there, and everywhere for help with challenges. On the other hand, some definitely find the software/community/support network limitation too restrictive. Indeed, the XYZprinting software does attract a fair amount of criticism. One way around this is to use a program that creates .stl files (something of an industry standard) and then send them to the printer. However, this is by no means foolproof. Connectivity is via USB to either an Apple or Windows computer, but there's no SD slot. Customer support from XYZprinting isn't rated as perfect, but it is praised by most. Consumers can also find plenty of informative videos on the manufacturer's website.

Printrbot Assembled Metal Simple 3D Printer, Black, PLA Filament, 1.75mm

Though the Printrbot 3D printer is open source and can theoretically use a wide range of 3D software, it's Cura or Repetier that are recommended by the manufacturer. (These are the same programs used on the HICTOP.) Once again, .stl files can also be used with other programs that turn solids into slices for the 3D printer to interpret. This can be a confusing area, so it's probably best to start with what the manufacturer suggests and branch out once you've become comfortable with what you're doing. (This goes for all 3D printers!) Both Apple and Windows computers can connect to the Printrbot via USB, and there's an SD option, too. The Printrbot website has lots of useful information, and many owners think the associated community is well worth exploring. Although not everyone has been happy with the company's support when contacting them directly, most report that the responses they receive are acceptable.

ROBO 3D R1 Plus Fully Assembled 3D Printer

Like the XYZ, ROBO 3D printer comes with proprietary software that doesn't always get the greatest of reviews. However, unlike the XYZprinting machine, the ROBO 3D printer is open source. In addition to the ability to use .stl files, there are other options, too. There's also an online user forum at the manufacturer's website which, when we checked, had thousands of discussions. Owners rate this printer very highly. There's no USB slot with this printer but, as usual, you can connect either Apple or Windows computers via USB. The company's own support system does have its critics, but it also receives a lot of praise -- particularly from owners who have contacted them for help with technical issues. Sadly, the need for technical assistance seems to happen more often than it should.

FlashForge 3d Printer Creator Pro, Metal Frame Structure

ReplicatorG is the name of the 3D software that comes with the FlashForge 3D printer and, as with most others, many owners aren't particularly fond of it. However, that's not much of a problem because FlashForge is open source. The software issue is complex one, and it's an area that bears further investigation to get what suits your needs best. Whatever software you choose, the FlashForge 3D printer should accommodate it. The same is true of your computer; both Apple Macs and Windows machines connect via USB to the FlashForge. There's also an SD slot, and many owners suggest that it is the preferred way to run files. The manufacturer's website offers downloads for latest software and firmware releases and a useful video section. Owners rate the wide user community highly. Company support is equally well regarded, with many rating it "solid" or "excellent."

Consumers can find plenty of informative videos on the XYZprinting Da Vinci manufacturer's website.
Considerations

Price

HICTOP Prusa I3 3D Desktop Printer

Many people's instinct, when they see that the HICTOP 3D printer costs only $306, would be to order one immediately. So what if it needs a little assembly? Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that most owners -- even those who consider themselves to be quite experienced -- take a few days to put this printer together. Assembly instructions are considered by most to be fairly awful. However, that doesn't stop patient owners from assembling a machine that, in the end, can produce some very good results. The HICTOP has a good capacity and is fairly speedy. One owner described it as a "thousand dollar machine for a third of the price." That's great -- as long as you don't mind building it yourself.

XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 3D Printer, Blue

For just $399, you can buy the XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0. This machine is arguably the cheapest "plug and play" 3D printer on the market. For the money, you might expect it to have a bare-bones kind of construction, but it's actually one of two fully-enclosed models in this review. Owners think it's well designed, safe, and easy to use. It's also the fastest machine on our shortlist. The main drawback, in many people's minds, is the proprietary nature of the filament spools and 3D software. Although there are ways round this, many find it frustrating. Others, particularly beginners, like the fact that the XYZ's accoutrements are single source and find it to be a superb value.

Printrbot Assembled Metal Simple 3D Printer, Black, PLA Filament, 1.75mm

Right now the Printrbot 3D printer is $599, which is not a lot for a printer that has gone through a number of upgrades and, as a result, is much improved over the original version. The quality of the machine and the components it produces is considered very good by the majority of owners. However, minor alignment problems can affect this printer's output, and build volume is on the small side. There's no heated bed (its available at extra cost), so it can't handle ABS. Nevertheless, this is still a top machine for the price, and customer complaint rates are lower than average.

ROBO 3D R1 Plus Fully Assembled 3D Printer

The ROBO 3D printer will cost you $649. This is a significant sum, but when compared with the 3D printer market in general, it's not all that expensive. Most owners think it's an attractive, well-made unit with good build volume. Unfortunately, it is quite slow! In every other area, it's pretty competitive. The ROBO has recently undergone improvements, and many users are complimentary about general functionality and ease of use. However, there do appear to be continuing quality control problems. According to owner feedback, if you get a good one, they're excellent -- but not everyone does.

FlashForge 3d Printer Creator Pro, Metal Frame Structure

With a current price of $899, the FlashForge 3D printer costs more than any other model on our shortlist. Potential buyers inevitably ask if this product is worth the price. The answer, according to one owner, is that this is without a doubt the "best value for money" 3D printer available. While that might seem a bit of an odd comment at first, it's because the Flashforge isn't generally put in the "entry-level" bracket. On the contrary, it is usually compared with models costing upwards of $2,000. So, for many consumers, this is actually a cheap 3D printer. In any case, the FlashForge is well made, has acceptable build volume, and can work quickly. It gets praise for its ease of use, yet it can accommodate more skilled users. User support -- both from the manufacturer and the owner community -- is among the best in the sector.

The high-quality, no-fuss XYZprinting Da Vinci is arguably the cheapest "plug and play" 3D printer on the market.

Best of the Best

Each of our finalists deserves its place in this review, but the best 3D printer is, without doubt, the FlashForge Creator Pro.

It's built on the same foundation as the well-known and highly respected Makerbot Replicator, yet it only costs around half as much. At $899, it can't really be called a "cheap" 3D printer, but it is undeniably competitive. Many owners -- particularly those who have owned 3D printers in the past -- think it offers tremendous value for the money. It's noted for its rapid set-up (especially the leveling system) and ease of use, and it is widely regarded as a top-notch entry-level machine. Under its skin, it's not just for beginners; there's enormous flexibility waiting to be exploited by more experienced 3D modelers in the FlashForge Creator Pro.

Technically speaking, the FlashForge is on a par with (or better than) every other 3D printer here and a good many that cost a great deal more. Build volume is approximately 9 x 5.5 x 6 inches. That's not massive, but it's more than adequate for what the majority of users need. Variable speed (up to 100 mm/s) makes it among the fastest in its class. It handles standard, readily available material and has twin extruder heads for fast color change. Construction quality is rated as excellent by users, and the enclosed design means the interior should maintain an even temperature. Both hardware and software are open source (you're not restricted to the 3D program provided), and you have the choice of either connecting your Apple/Windows computer or using the SD slot provided.

Consumer-level 3D printers are still relatively new, and it's fair to say that all models -- even those that cost $5,000 or more -- need tuning to produce their best. This is why it's vital to have good back-up from the manufacturer AND a community of active users to offer additional, experienced help. In this respect, FlashForge's own website offers plenty of useful videos, and there are numerous invaluable FlashForge forums available online, too.

No machine is perfect, and the FlashForge Creator Pro does get criticized for being noisy. Additionally, one or two users have encountered malfunctioning parts that needed to be replaced. Some owners were also unprepared for the "bedding in" and tuning process that's necessary with all 3D printers. Overall, most people are impressed with the FlashForge's performance and are extremely satisfied with what they got for their money.
Best of the Best
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The FlashForge Creator Pro's variable speed (up to 100 mm/s) makes it among the fastest in its class.

Best Bang for your Buck

For those addicted to tinkering, the HICTOP is tough to beat, but the Best Bang for Your Buck 3D printer is definitely the XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0.

The Da Vinci might cost a bit more than the HICTOP, but the HICTOP is a kit and the Da Vinci comes fully assembled. The XYZprinting Da Vinci also boasts an enclosed platform, which is very important for consistent results. The only other 3D printer here that has the same advantage (and high safety factor) is the FlashForge, and that costs significantly more money. The Da Vinci's build volume is on a par with the best in our ratings, and it's noticeably the fastest 3D printer here. Easy set-up is helped by an assisted-leveling system, and there's automatic cleaning of the nozzles. The filaments come in easy-to-install cartridges. It's Apple Mac and Windows compatible with connectivity via a USB port, but unfortunately, there's no SD slot.

We've spoken about how important support is with 3D printers, and the company's own website provides extensive information. There are also numerous 3D forums where Da Vinci users can find additional assistance. Owners who have had cause to contact the company directly, however, weren't always happy with the help they got. Additionally, quite a few were disappointed with the need to buy proprietary materials and the fact that the Da Vinci's 3D software is not open source. There are ways to hack through and enable the use of third-party products and programs, but doing so invalidates warranty, so it's not something we recommend.

For many, the Da Vinci's all-in-one nature is actually seen as a bonus, and there's the argument -- particularly among 3D modeling beginners -- that having everything from one supplier makes life easier. At $399, it's not a huge investment in 3D printing terms, so if people want to move on from this entry-level machine to something more professional, it's a relatively inexpensive part of the learning curve. That may well have been a factor in the deliberations of the judges at the highly influential CES show who declared the XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 to be their "Most Affordable 3D Printer." It's a decision that we, and the majority of owners, wholeheartedly agree with.
Best Bang for your Buck
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The Da Vinci's build volume is on par with the best in our ratings, and it's noticeably the fastest 3D printer on our shortlist.
The team that worked on this review
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    Bob
    Writer
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    Melissa
    Editor
  • Jess
    Jess
    Researcher
  • Jimi
    Jimi
    Product Analyst
  • Adrian
    Adrian
    Senior Engineer