Calibration/leveling is fairly easy with built-in checks and balances to make sure you're doing it right. Easily controlled with touchscreen. Build plate manipulates well. Some filament is included, but you'll likely want to buy your own. Good tech support. Has WiFi, USB, and flash drive connectivity.
A few durability concerns have been reported by owners at the one-year mark.
Comes with the latest version of CHITUBOX Slicing Software and boasts 1-minute printing to slice 30Mb .stl model files. Arrives semi-assembled so you can start printing within minutes of opening the box. Has 3.5-inch touchscreen that offers a seamless user experience.
Some components are subpar, and users often replace or upgrade them.
Upgraded design fixes quirks of the previous model, such as an improved extruder. Quick heat-up time. If the power goes out, it can pick up where it left off ("resume print") later on. Some filament is included, but you'll want to buy your own as well. Price is low.
Several hours of assembly are required.
Printer is easy to assemble and comes with plenty of parts and accessories to get started. Designed for high-precision and noiseless operation thanks to a well-placed mounting head. Extrude is designed to combat clogged nozzles. Rapid-heating allows printer to reach optimal temperature in 5 minutes or less.
Requires some tinkering to fix Z-axis alignments for more accurate printing.
Full touchscreen that displays real-time status updates. Equipped with small-angle UV/LED matrix for better light uniformity and improved curing. Metal resin tank is accessible and easy to clean. Convenient touchscreen controls and plenty of support through a community Facebook group.
Doesn't come with any resin. Instructions could be more user-friendly for beginners.
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.
3D printing feels a lot like magic. With a set of plans downloaded from the internet, you can use a 3D printer to create practically anything you want in no time flat. Thousands of users around the world experiment with 3D printers every day, creating everything from custom furniture and smartphone accessories to action figures and plant holders. The phenomenon is definitely in its infancy, but it’s growing fast.
Until recently, 3D printers were prohibitively expensive for most people. But that’s changed, and now it’s easy to find a reliable, easy-to-use home 3D printer for less than $500. While that’s still not cheap by any means, it puts 3D printers within reach of a lot more consumers.
If you’ve been on the fence about whether to get into 3D printing, now’s the time. 3D printers are more affordable than ever, and more importantly, there are models that are easy enough for anyone to use — no experience is necessary to start printing right away. Here’s everything you need to know to find the right affordable 3D printer.
Picking the perfect 3D printer means finding one that fits your lifestyle. Consider these questions before you begin comparing models.
What 3D printing software do you want to use? You’ll need to use software to create printing plans or send existing plans to your 3D printer. Every 3D printer comes with its own software. Sometimes, that’s a proprietary app; other times, it’s an open-source app. Spend time watching demo videos and video reviews of the different applications to get a sense of which would be best for you.
How much available space do you have for a 3D printer? 3D printers range in size from slightly bigger than a breadbox to the size of a mini-fridge. Don’t assume that any 3D printer you buy would fit on your desk. Measure your available space ahead of time and shop accordingly.
Will you mostly be using plans you download from the internet, or will you be experimenting with making your own plans? You don’t have to make your own plans to enjoy a 3D printer, and in fact, you can save some money if you choose a model geared toward casual users. If you’re going to be creating unique objects or modifying existing designs, you’ll need a 3D printer that provides more granular control and the flexibility to adjust detailed options; this will cost a little more.
If your 3D printer is jostled or put on an uneven surface during printing, it could ruin your output. Place your 3D printer on a stable surface before using it.
If you’re not sure what to print with your 3D printer, spend some time searching the web for example projects. You’ll find 3D printing examples for every situation, and you may even find inspiration to create your own.
You’ll find a wide variety of 3D printers under $500, some of which are more capable than others. Watch for these key features as you shop.
Wireless connectivity: You’ll need to load your 3D printing plans to your 3D printer, and it’s easier to do that wirelessly than it is using an SD card or thumb drive. Look for 3D printers that support WiFi; you’ll save yourself time and headache.
Filament compatibility: 3D printers create objects out of filament. There are different kinds of filament, and price tags vary. Most 3D printers use polylactic acid (PLA) filament, which is composed of renewable resources. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a few models, check to see what types of filament these printers work with and whether you can find filament made by third-party manufacturers.
Touchscreens: Many 3D printers feature touchscreen interfaces, so you can interact with them much like you would a copy machine. These setups are perfect for demonstrating the process or for children who want to learn the basics of 3D printing.
Software compatibility: Some 3D printers work with proprietary software from the manufacturer, some work with open-source software options, and some work with both. As you compare models, pay attention to what software each one runs and whether you could use different software with it. Ultimately, the software is the part you’ll be interacting with, so it’s important to get a model with interfaces that make sense to you.
Close to perfect
The FlashForge Finder is one of the best home 3D printers available. It easily beats out competitors that cost twice as much. With the Finder, creating new 3D objects is as simple as using a microwave: you enter raw materials, use the built-in touchscreen to specify what you need, and let it do the rest. It’s quiet, it’s pretty enough to be a conversation piece, and it’s reliable. We’re not sure there’s such thing as a perfect 3D printer, but if there were, this could be it.
Basic 3D printers typically cost between $150 and $300. Models in this range are bare-bones with small build plates that limit the size of what you can print. If you’re looking for an entry-level 3D printer or plan to print objects no larger than a Funko Pop, you don’t need to spend more than $300.
Better 3D printers can be had for between $300 and $500. The models in this range represent the best value across the entire 3D printer market. They’ve got moderately sized build plates and worthwhile features like WiFi and a smartphone app, and they make it easy for anyone to start printing in minutes. If you want the most straightforward, capable 3D printer under $500, this is the price range to aim for.
Most 3D printers can only print objects in a single color, so make sure you’ve loaded the correct color filament before you start printing. If you want a 3D printer that can print multicolored objects, you may need to spend more than $500.
Before you buy a 3D printer, explore different manufacturer support forums to get a sense of how active and helpful other owners typically are — or aren’t. It’s likely that at some point, you’ll need to find help. Perform your research ahead of time, and you’ll know how and where to ask for help when you need it.
Look for third-party filament options to keep long-term costs down. If you print often, you’re going to need replacement filament. Look around ahead of time to see which 3D printers work with third-party filament. It’s also worth checking out bulk deals; you may be able to save money by buying several spools of filament at once. Spend time calculating which 3D printers are best in terms of long-term expenses, and buy one that will stay within your budget over time.
Be patient with yourself as you learn. 3D printing is an art form, and it can take practice to get it right. Whether it’s learning to use the software or figuring out how to correct issues during printing, you’re bound to experience a few setbacks. That’s normal. Consider 3D printing a skill that you need to practice, and give yourself time to get good at it.
Monoprice has created a niche for itself by producing bare-bones versions of expensive devices and selling them at rock-bottom prices. The Select Mini 3D printer is no exception: it looks like it belongs in a chemistry lab, but it’s one of the most affordable 3D printers available, and it can keep up with pricier competitors. It’s not going to win any beauty contests, but it offers the budget-conscious an opportunity to get into the world of 3D printing.
If you want to make large objects — specifically taller ones — check out the ADIMLab 3D Printer. It’s got a giant print bed and a three-inch LCD display, and it comes with multiple preloaded designs. Don’t sweat it if you’re a newbie: this 3D printer is powerful enough for pros but accessible enough for non-technical users.
For smaller jobs, we love XYZprinting’s da Vinci Mini Wireless 3D Printer. It’s about the size of a coffee maker and can print anything from a smartphone case to an action figure or even bookends. It’s also got auto-leveling and built-in WiFi, which are hard to find on other models at this price.
Q. How much tech background will I need to use a 3D printer?
A. It depends on the 3D printer, but in most cases, you don’t need to be super technical to use one. You’ll need to be able to download 3D printing plans from the web, load them into your 3D printing software, and send them to be printed, much like you would send a document to a traditional printer. If you’re worried the process will be too challenging, get a 3D printer with a touchscreen. These printers are simpler to interact with, so you spend less time planning and more time enjoying the objects you print.
Q. What do PLA and ABS mean in 3D printing?
A. Both PLA and ABS are different types of filament, or plastic, used by 3D printers to create objects. Each costs roughly the same as the other. ABS is more durable and flexible, but it requires more heat to work during the printing process, and it generates an unpleasant odor. PLA can be used in a 3D printer at a much lower temperature, and it creates a sugar-like odor during printing. Most 3D printers for home use are designed to work with PLA filament.
Q. How expensive is replacement filament, and how long does it last?
A. Replacement rolls of filament vary in price from $15 to $30 for a 1kg spool, which will have enough plastic to make roughly 100 standard-size chess pieces. Filament doesn’t go bad or expire, so you can keep a single spool until it’s empty.
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