Huge print space of 2,549 square inches. Utilizes a long-lasting premium extruder. Designed for printing massive prototype objects. Uses PLA material. Straightforward printing software.
This 3D printer is awfully pricy model.
Class-leading layer height. Stable, versatile, and reliable. Excellent website and customer support. Price falls in the mid-range.
Can be noisy, and setup can be slightly difficult.
Large print area. Utilizes PLA plastic. Manual and Wi-Fi controls. Built-in camera monitors progress. Sturdy buildplate. Incudes high-end extruder. Easy to set up.
This 3D printer can be fairly noisy while it's printing.
Heated build plate. Durable. Reliably high-quality prints. Tall and wide build area. Prints surprisingly quietly. Simple touch screen interface. Automatically levels print bed.
The lack of an on/off switch is a bad design choice.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Of all the new technology in the digital age, one stands above all the others for its potential: 3D printing. Fans of classic sci-fi series like Star Trek might better know them as “replicators,” but in the real world, 3D printers are here, and you can use them to print plastic goods of all kinds.
You can’t use them to print clothes or food — yet — but you can use a 3D printer to make your own objects ranging from smartphone cases to custom measuring cups. In fact, the 3D printing community is incredibly active and adds new projects every day, so once you buy your 3D printer, you can get started right away using the ideas and printing plans others share.
If you’re excited about 3D printing, but you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about 3D printers.
Finding just the right 3D printer requires some research on your part. At BestReviews, we work to provide readers with the trustworthy information they need to make a wise purchase in any product category, including 3D printing.
Understand that we never accept free samples from manufacturers. This means you can trust that our selections and product reviews remain free of bias.
If you’re ready to purchase your own printer, consider one of our highlighted models.
To learn more about comparing 3D printers, continue reading our shopping guide to help find a model that's right for you.
If you’re worried about noise, look for a 3D printer that offers a completely enclosed design to cut down on the sound generated.
3D printing involves a vastly different process than printing on a piece of paper with an inkjet printer. A 3D-printed object is exactly that — a three dimensional, physical object. Most consumer-grade 3D printers produce objects in various forms of plastic. However, other printers can create objects from a wider variety of materials, including metals, wood, concrete, and even chocolate or confectioners sugar.
The first step in 3D printing is creation of a model. This can be done with software, or through the use of a 3D scanner. (There are also plenty of places to simply download 3D models online.) The 3D printer brings the models to life, building an actual object from the computer drawing.
Large manufacturing companies have used 3D modeling and printing for a few decades. But as the price of 3D printing has dropped, and the technology has evolved, manufacturers now sell smaller printers for use at home.
Three major types of 3D printers are available today, though only two of those are typically affordable for home us. Each type has a few pros and cons, as we’ll discuss next.
FDM, short for Fused Deposition Modeling, is the most common type of desktop 3D printer. The FDM printer uses a spool of filament, typically plastic, as the print material. The filament is melted in an extruder, then deposited onto the print bed, layer by layer. The layers fuse as they cool. FDM printers work faster than other 3D printer types and cost less than other types. However, this type of printer requires regular maintenance and frequent cleaning. The extruder can clog, especially when using a specialty filament, so some knowledge is needed for occasional repair.
Follow any other specific maintenance tasks that are listed in your 3D printer’s user guide.
SLA, short for Stereolithography, works in a very different manner. Instead of the melted filament of an FDM printer, a reservoir of liquid resin is used to create 3D objects. The SLA printer uses an ultraviolet light to harden the resin in precise spots, producing one layer after another. SLA printers work well for creating very high-specification designs because of the thinness in the layers. However, the final liquid resin objects have a brittle consistency. You also will experience a lot of messy leftover material with this type of 3D printer.
SLS, or Laser Sintering, makes use of a powdered material to create the 3D objects. A laser heats the powder to make it solid. Very few SLS printers are offered at an affordable price point, so you won’t find a lot of SLS 3D printers in use in homes. These printers are extremely precise, allowing for high-level models.
3D printing can be a lot of fun, but it also may involve a lot of time and troubleshooting. If you don’t enjoy the challenges of a fledgling technology, 3D printing might not be for you. But if you enjoy the ups and downs of learning a new skill, playing with technology, and learning from your mistakes, you’ll almost certainly love 3D printing.
New to 3D printing entirely, or simply have no interest in electronic assembly? Look for a machine that has been assembled at the factory and will be ready to use out-of-the-box, with simple software included. You may have to do a bit of calibration and troubleshooting from time to time, but this type of machine will be easiest to use.
Run calibration tests on your 3D printer regularly to ensure the unit will give you the best possible performance.
Some 3D printing enthusiasts are also electronics hobbyists – people who like to play with tech devices, and don’t mind challenging tasks. Look for a 3D printing kit, which has some automatic features. You will need to assemble the machine yourself, but all the parts will be in the kit. Kits can be significantly less expensive than out-of-the-box printers. However, such machines are not perfect. You’ll still need to do calibrations and troubleshooting on a regular basis.
If you enjoy tinkering with machines, you have the option of building a 3D printer from scratch. You can purchase individual parts and construct your own machine at whatever size you like. Only people who have experience with machine building and 3D printing should attempt this process. There will be frustrations along the way, so just be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
There are many features and options to choose from when you shop for a 3D printer. Here are a few of the most important to consider.
Leveling is a crucial part of the 3D printing process. The print bed must be perpendicular to the extruder for your printer to create objects successfully. Many printers are leveled manually — you adjust three or four wingnuts below the printhead while gauging the gap between the print bed and extruder nozzle. Self-leveling printers can save you a great deal of time and headache. Using sensors and motors, the self-leveling printer takes care of leveling before each print job.
Leveling the print bed is crucial to ensuring successful prints. Some printers offer an automatic or “self-leveling” feature, which can save you a lot of time and frustration.
Your 3D printer has to be given a file, usually referred to as “gcode,” to direct the printhead. Most printers allow you to plug a laptop or desktop computer directly into the printer, but it’s far more convenient to put the gcode file on an SD card. Keep in mind that many prints require hours (or even days) to complete. If your printer doesn’t accept SD cards, your computer must remain attached to the printer through the complete printing time.
The two most common materials for printing on an FDM printer are ABS and PLA plastic. ABS plastic absolutely requires a heated print bed; your objects simply won’t print successfully without one. PLA can be used with a non-heated bed, but most users report greater success with a heated bed. Some printers come with a heated bed as a standard offering, while others offer it as an upgrade. Some, however, don’t allow for a heated bed even as an aftermarket addition.
For the best chance of successful prints, clean your print bed after every task. Debris and dust prevents the plastic from sticking to the bed, potentially ruining a print halfway through the job.
Similar to SD card support, some printers allow you to connect via WiFi.
The majority of home printers are single-extruder. The printer only feeds one spool of filament at a time. If you want to change colors or material in the middle of a print, the printer must allow you to pause the print, swap out the filament, and resume printing. Dual-extruder printers support two filaments at once, allowing you to mix colors and material types within a print. While some 3D printing enthusiasts consider this an extremely helpful option, most are content with single-extruder printing.
Q. How much noise do 3D printers create?
A. Because a 3D printer makes use of drive belts and motors, it does create a bit of noise while operating. It’s not an extremely annoying type of noise, such as you might find with beeps or high-pitched whines. However, you will notice. You can decrease the sound by getting a fully enclosed printer.
Q. What kind of software do 3D printers use?
A. 3D printers depend on “slicing” applications to generate gcode files, which control the printer. Most consumer printers ship with the manufacturer’s slicing program, but these are typically very simple applications, lacking advanced features. Other slicing programs are available on the Internet, some free and some at a cost, and these often give you far greater control of your printer’s capabilities.
Q. How much experience do I need to operate a 3D printer?
A. 3D printers have a wide range of features that will give you as much or as little help as you want with the printing process. For novices, 3D printers exist that will guide you through the entire process. For those who like more hands-on control, other 3D printers will let you handle as much of the process as you want.
Q. What kind of maintenance do 3D printers require?
A. Regular maintenance will keep your 3D printer working longer and more successfully. Monthly maintenance tasks include ensuring the belts are tight, and lubricating the moving parts. You should also ensure that screws are tight a few times per year, both on the printer’s frame and on the motor.
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