Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro designing large-scale models, the things you can create with the best 3D printers are virtually limitless. 3D printing is an innovative technology that eliminates the need for traditional molding, forging, and sculpting techniques by using a process called additive manufacturing. Instead, 3D models are constructed very similarly to how an inkjet printer works by building up one two-dimensional, cross-sectional layer at a time, starting from the bottom and working upward. This method is known as fused depositional modeling, which can build models at approximately 10 times the speed and a fifth of the cost.
But rather than traditional ink, which could never create thick enough layers for a model, 3D printers use molten plastics or resins to create the layers, which are fused together with adhesives or ultraviolet light. The small plastic pellets or filament materials are fed through tiny nozzles that precision-print each layer, wait for it to dry, and then print the next layer on top.
These types of plastics are typically chosen because they stay solid at room temperature and won’t melt from, say, being exposed to the sun. Yet, they have a low enough melting threshold at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit that they can melt inside the printer without exuding too much heat, which makes 3D printers relatively safe for personal and home use. Though the technology has been around for decades, these machines have been available for retail sale only recently. So if you’ve been intrigued by 3D printing, you’ll want to check out these picks with a range of budgets and features to get started.
Best Overall: Dremel DigiLab 3D45 3D Printer
Best for Beginners: Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer
Best for Miniatures: ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro Mono MSLA 3D Printer
Best Resin: ANYCUBIC Photon Mono X 3D Printer
Best for Home: FlashForge Adventurer 3 3D Printer
How We Picked the Best 3D Printers
Let’s face it, with prices that can quickly exceed hundreds or even thousands of dollars, a 3D printer is not a purchase you should take lightly. As with many relatively new consumer products that have suddenly become the rage, looking for a 3D printer that will deliver precision models time and time again can seem like an exhausting endeavor—especially when you consider the hundreds of products on the market. So we scrutinized dozens of the top-rated models for this guide before deciding on the handful that made the cut.
For example, 3D printers essentially operate by extruding molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that moves around under precision control to print each layer, wait for it to dry, and then print the next layer on top. So depending on the printer quality, your finished piece may resemble a stunning 3D model or simply a bunch of plastic 2D lines sitting awkwardly on top of one another, resembling a slightly askew deck of cards.
Customer service was another critical factor to consider because of the delicacy of operation and that even the best models tend to occasionally malfunction. However, all of the products we ultimately selected had positive customer reviews regarding customer service, specifically, so if purchasing any of these products, you can rest assured that any malfunctioning parts or issues will be swiftly replaced or troubleshot.
The Best 3D Printers: Reviews and Recommendations
Best 3D Printer Overall: Dremel DigiLab 3D45 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: Go from unboxing to your first print in under 15 minutes using the printer’s large full-color touch screen with intuitive icons for easy setup and operation.
-Build volume: 7 inches L x 10 inches H x 6 inches W
-Weight: 42.8 pounds
-Compatible materials: ECO ABS, Nylon, PETG, and PLA filament
-Extra-large build volume
-Built-in HD camera for remote monitoring
-Five-inch full-color touch screen
-Doesn’t work well with aftermarket filament
-Pause button causes the entire printing process to stop
For perfect 3D printed models every time, there’s a reason the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 3D Printer regularly tops editor’s pick lists as best 3D printer overall. The five-inch, full-color touch screen makes for simple setup and operation—within 15 minutes, even right out of the box! And not only does the fully enclosed sturdy plastic design and large build volume provide better prints and optimal safety, but it also ensures a quiet operation. You could even have this 3D printer running while teaching a lab class because it runs so silently and smoothly.
Other features include Wi-Fi connectivity with a built-in HD camera and included remote printing software so that you can print and monitor the progress from anywhere. In addition, the removable glass heated build plate heats up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit so you can print with a variety of plastic materials, including PLA, PETG, ECO-ABS, and nylon—as well as ensuring easy removal and cleaning. This device also features an automated nine-point leveling sensor that detects any variation in the print bed and automatically accounts for it.
One of the few gripes some users have is that the printer was designed primarily to use proprietary Dremel filaments, which come in a limited selection of colors and tend to be pricier than aftermarket filaments. To use off-brand filaments, you may have to buy a spool stand or make adapters to pipe through larger rolls. A handful of users also noted a Firmware bug which renders the pause button kind of useless, as you can’t simply pause and resume without the machine coming to a complete stop.
Best 3D Printer for Beginners: Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer
-Build volume: 8.7 inches L x 8.7 inches W x 9.8 inches H
-Weight: 19 pounds
-Compatible materials: ABS plastic, metal
-Semi-assembled kit for simple setup
-Rapid heating within just five minutes
-Magnetic bed surface for easy model removal
-Printing bed can become off-leveled
-Instructions may be difficult to follow
For those looking to dip their toe into the world of 3D printing, the Ender 3 Pro 3D makes the best 3D printer for beginners. With just 20 screws, the printer can be installed in about 10 minutes. (Though some find YouTube tutorials helpful to get started if the instructions seem too complicated.) Once set up, the machine can be ready to start printing immediately, with rapid heating that allows the heated bed to reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit in five minutes.
The new and improved Ender 3 Pro model has an upgraded magnetic build surface and a MeanWell power supply. The magnetic surface is also designed to be removable to easily take out models with no spatula or razor necessary.
However, as some customers have pointed out, having a removable bed means that you’ll also need to occasionally check on the level after a few prints. Some users have upgraded with a Polypropolyne or glass bed insert to rectify this issue and make sure the printing surface is completely flat. Others report that they could achieve levelness by adjusting the Z-axis sensor, so that’s something to keep in mind for those who may not be quite as tech-savvy.
Best 3D Printer for Miniatures: ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro Mono MSLA 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: This 3D printer’s compact yet surprisingly spacious build volume is ideal for printing anything from board game miniatures and jewelry to small industrial parts.
-Build volume: 5.1 inches L x 3.1 inches H x 6.3 inches W
-Weight: 13.67 pounds
-Compatible materials: Resin, plastic
-Monochrome LCD screen with 2K HD resolution
-UV LED light source
-LCD screen does not have protective glass
-Resin tray may leak or spill
Significantly enhance your 3D printing efficiency with the best 3D printer for miniatures, the ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro Mono MSLA 3D Printer, which takes just two seconds per layer exposure to cure resin so you can watch your miniature creations come to life even faster. With a lifespan up to four times longer than comparable printers, you can also expect an overall more stable performance and less maintenance. In other words, leveling will be the least of your problems with this model.
Constructed of CNC-machined aluminum from the build platform to the resin vat, this printer boasts high durability and solid quality that reliably gets the job done. Likewise, the COB UV LED light source provides optimal heat dissipation with a high luminous maintenance rate and uniform light emission to ensure an even print every time.
As a few customer reviews have noted, however, you have to be really careful with the resin vat to avoid spills or leaks, leading to resin getting into your machine and corroding the parts. In addition, though the monochrome LCD screen is a nice touch, some users felt that it would have been better with a protective glass covering in the event of resin splashes.
Best Resin 3D Printer: ANYCUBIC Photon Mono X 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: This high-volume 3D printer can crank out flawless resin models at three times the speed, with impressive 3840-by-2400 pixel resolution.
-Build volume: 7.55 inches L x 4.7 inches W x 9.6 inches H
-Weight: 24.25 pounds
-Compatible materials: Resin
-Highly detailed resolution
-Power adjustment function
-Brushed aluminum platform
-Touchscreen could have better responsiveness
-Resin can be messy to work with
If you’ve tried filament 3D printers and get frustrated with clogged nozzles and stuck filaments, then ANYCUBIC Photon Mono X 3D Printer, the best resin 3D printer, might be just the trick. With printing that’s three times faster than traditional 3D printers, a single layer only takes one to two seconds for exposure—even when you factor in the large capacity print volume—for an impressively high resolution of 3840 by 2400 pixels.
Other valuable features include a power adjustment function, which can adjust between 30 percent and 100 percent exposure, making it compatible with special resins such as dentistry and high temperature. Likewise, the brushed aluminum platform significantly enhances the adhesion between the platform and printers. Finally, the high precision, high transmittance UV light uses quartz lamp beads to ensure a more uniform light source.
However, while avoiding the issues with filament 3D printing, resin can be a challenging material to work with. Everything must be thoroughly cleaned with alcohol, and changing the resin bath can be very expensive, as the brand uses only its proprietary sheets. Another minor gripe among some users is that the touchscreen is outdated and not tremendously responsive, using bubble-style buttons instead of a digital display.
Best Home 3D Printer: FlashForge Adventurer 3 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: With features such as an auto-leveling platform, filament detection function, and a detachable nozzle for easy cleaning, this 3D printer is super easy to use.
-Build volume: 5.9 inches L x 5.9 inches H x 5.9 inches W
-Weight: 22 pounds
-Compatible materials: PETG, PLA, and ABS plastics
-Auto leveling platform eliminates guesswork
-Filament detection function
-Detachable nozzles for easy cleaning
-Can only hold .5kg filament spools
-Bed cannot be manually adjusted
If you’re on the market for the best home 3D printer but getting overwhelmed by the endless options and features, then look no further than the FlashForge Adventurer 3 3D Printer. It’s designed with a number of basic “plug and play” features such as auto-leveling, so any size model can easily adhere to the printing platform and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out this machine.
For easy cleaning, a detachable nozzle removes from the extruder just in one push. Another great feature is the filament detection function that automatically detects one to know when to start loading after a filament has been inserted into the intake. Likewise, printing will be suspended automatically until the materials are replaced when the filament is broken or used up.
Unfortunately, while the auto-leveling feature is excellent for beginners, some folks lament that the printing bed cannot be manually adjusted if the area becomes uneven. In addition, FlashForge spools are slightly larger than standard spools, though it’s apparently easy enough to re-spool with average wear and tear.
Things to Consider Before Buying 3D Printers
There are a few primary considerations you should examine when shopping for a 3D printer. First, ask yourself how you plan to use the printer. Are you a basic hobbyist or a professional looking to do some large-scale modeling? One of the most significant features that differentiate 3D printers is the print volume area, which determines how large your models can be. To create large-scale industrial parts, you’ll probably want a more high-capacity print bed than someone looking only to model small figurines or trinkets.
Another major consideration is what types of materials you’re planning to print. Although some commercial 3D printers can now even print with metals or foods like chocolate, most home models for purchase print using either plastic filaments or resin—the latter of which tends to be slightly softer than filament and is typically used on a smaller scale.
So, if you plan to make massive 3D-printed models or you want to finish your prints with paint or other coatings, then a filament printer is probably the best choice. On the other hand, if the production quality is your priority or you want to print small models with a high level of detail, then a resin printer is probably the best option. When it comes to printing materials, it’s also a good idea to research which types of materials various 3D printers can accept. Many brands use proprietary filaments or spools, which can quickly add up without a compatible aftermarket or generic option.
Q: Can a 3D printer print anything?
The short answer is that yes, a 3D printer can print virtually anything. The only practical limitations are the build volumes, which is essentially the maximum space in which a printer can print. So, in other words, the sky is the limit—as well as your imagination, of course.
Q: Do you need a good computer for a 3D printer?
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need any special computer or software, necessarily, to use a 3D printer. These types of printers use data called STL files that tell the machine what to print. Most STL files tend to be smaller and are recommended to be below 15MB, so almost any functioning computer can handle the files. That said, while most models are simple, some high-resolution models can have much larger files.
Q: Can you use a 3D printer with a phone?
Depending on what features your 3D printer has, you can likely use it even with your smartphone. There are plenty of 3D-printing apps that are compatible with the best Android and iOS devices. And some of these apps don’t even require a download! You can view files or print progress remotely, design from anywhere, convert images files, and more using these apps.
Final Thoughts on the Best 3D Printers
If we had to choose our ultimate dream 3D printer, the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 would be our number-one pick. The extra-large print volume, ease of use, and next-level features such as Wi-Fi connectivity and the high definition camera take this printer above and beyond the competition. However, with a hefty price tag, the Dremel DigiLab may not fit into everyone’s budgets, which is why our second pick is the Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer. Not only is the Ender 3 Pro affordable for most households, but it’s also an excellent choice for beginners looking for a 3D printer that’s easy to use with a fantastic output.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
Care about supporting clean energy adoption? Find out how much money (and planet!) you could save by switching to solar power at UnderstandSolar.com. By signing up through this link, Futurism.com may receive a small commission.