How do we rate the Best 3D Printers

3D printers used to be a commodity reserved for laboratories and industries. Experts used these printers to make 3-dimensional objects for the sake of manufacturing and research, among other purposes. Back then, 3D printing was an expensive and somewhat complex affair that was reserved for the big industries. That has completely changed, though. Today, 3D printing can take place virtually anywhere, and you don’t even need to have too many technical skills to operate these machines. Thanks to advancement in tech, 3D printers have become insanely compact yet so incredibly made to produce remarkable objects. As you can guess, this has increased enthusiasm for 3D printing not just for official functions but also as a hobby.

Here is the thing though, even though 3D printers have come a long way, to get the best experience and results in this exercise, you still need to splash a significant amount of cash. How significant you may wonder; well, the very best 3D printers in the market are going for over $3,000! Yes, you’ll need more than three grands to get the ultimate 3D printer capable of doing perhaps everything such a printer is supposed to do to perfection. But don’t let this scare you away if your budget is slim. The best part about the tech world is that in most cases, there is always something for everyone. In this case, for instance, some manufacturers have developed entry-level 3D printers that are retailing for as low as $200. The tradeoff, however, is that you’ll have to compromise on some features and you’ll also need to keep your expectation within reasonable levels.

3D Printers Buying Guide

How do you identify the best 3D printer? You can tell the best 3D printers from other rather disappointing machines by looking out for the following key factors:

Type of Printer

There are two types of 3D printers i.e., FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) also referred to as FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) and SLA (Stereo Lithography). FFF 3D printers produce models by melting a filament inside a printhead while SLA printers utilize UV laser to make models by solidifying a resin.

So, which of the two is the best option? Well, that will partly depend on what you are looking for and your budget. For instance, FFF printers are usually more affordable and very easy to use, which makes them a decent option for all starters. On the other hand, the process involved in using SLA printers is complicated, but the results are usually very impressive with excellent details.

Printing Material

3D printers come with different printing materials, and these will hugely affect your entire experience. For FFF printers, the most commonly used materials are filaments, such as PLA, ABS, TPE, HDPE, and nylon. PLA-which are biodegradable-and ABS (plastic) are the most popular, and this is partly because they are available in different colors, which enhances your creativity. It’s important to note that all filament materials can either be found in 3mm or 1.75mm, and these two cannot be interchanged.

As you can see, FFF printers give users quite a lot of options to choose from, and this is a huge plus as compared to the SLA printers which limit your options.

While looking at the printing material, it is vital to consider whether the materials are rigid or flexible. How useful will that material be in your specific projects?

We would also like to draw your attention to some of the printers that are designed to work with a specific type of material only. These printers are usually very luring with low prices, and that’s because the manufacturer knows that you’ll be trapped into using their printing materials forever. This basically denies you the privilege of having options, and that’s why we do not normally recommend them.

Quality

Whenever we are talking about the quality of models printed by 3D printers, we also have to bring in the aspect of speed. That’s simply because 3D printers can allow you to get high-quality objects, but then this will require you to be extremely patient because the models may take hours to print. Meanwhile, some printers can help you get the models you need pretty quickly, but then the details in the models will be very wanting.

Here is our recommendation to you; if you have a considerable budget spared for a 3D printer, go for the best ones that allow you to choose between different quality settings i.e., you should be able to select either high quality but slow speed or low quality but fast printing. This brings in some flexibility which you’ll find very useful.

Print Volume

Print volume refers to the size of models that a 3D printer can make. Once you know what you are expecting to use the printer for it becomes easier to determine the ideal size of a 3D printer that you should go for. Make sure that you look at the individual dimensions as this will determine how wide, tall, or deep your models will be.

Our Top Picks

1.FlashForge 3D Printer Creator Pro

The FlashForge Creator Pro is arguably the best budget-friendly 3D printer you can get at the moment. This printer packs all the features a professional would need in making a highly detailed model, yet it goes for just $800. We understand that $800 might be quite a stretch for some people, but if you need something that takes you as close to a professional 3D print as possible, then this is it.

The FlashForge Creator Pro uses FFF printing technology, which gives you quite a variety of options on the printing materials that you can use. Some of the materials compatible with this printer include ABS, ABS Pro, PLA, color change, Elastic, PVA, PETG, TPE, HIPS, and TPU. The printing chamber is perfectly enclosed to insulate your prints.

The printer is designed with a metal frame which offers excellent stability compared to the previous generation of printers from FlashForge. According to the manufacturer, the build volume of this printer is 8.9 by 5.8 by 5.9 inches. The filament diameter is 1.75mm or 0.069 inches. 

Meanwhile, the layer resolution varies from 100 to 500 microns.

This 3D printer is compatible with various software, including FlashPrint and ReplicatorG. You can also use it with Simplify3D, but you will have to pay for the software since it’s a third party product.

Specs

  • 5 liters build volume
  • Adjustable 0.1-0.3mm layer thickness
  • 0.4m nozzle diameter
  • Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Can print via a USB cable or from an SD card
  • Input file types supported: gcode, STL, x3g printing build envelope

2.ANYCUBIC Photon UV LCD 3D Printer

The ANYCUBIC Photon is another brilliant 3D printer that pays extra attention to your models, making sure that all the details are perfectly captured. It is, after all, an STL 3D which goes a long way to say just how perfect the printer will be in getting the details down to the micrometer.  Interestingly, the printer is retailing at less than $500, making it one of the most affordable STL 3D printers in the market at the moment.

This printer features a 2K LCD masking screen and thanks to the SLA/DLP printing processes; it will do an excellent job in expressing all the details in your 3D models.

As the name suggests, this particular printer comes with a colored touch screen with photon technology. This allows you to preview the models in your SD card, and it also supports real-time display printing. The photon system is also equipped with a computer board. With this board, you won’t need to rely on SD cards or other expensive hardware to print the models because you’ll be able to do it directly from a USB.

The ANYCUBIC Photon features a UV-LED that’s designed to deliver both uniformity and durability. The 80 x 80mm heat sink supports this.

We would like to highlight some downsides associated with this printer. One, the resin is mildly toxic, which means that you must always have your gloves on when handling it. It will also require a lot of washing to maintain it. Personally, I found the sticky nature of this resin very annoying too. The ANYCUBIC Photon is also quite small and incapable of making a model bigger than 4.5 by 2.5 by 6.1 inches.

Specs

  • LCD masking printing technology
  • 405nm photosensitive printing resin
  • Integrated computer board

3.LulzBot Mini Desktop 3D Printer

LulzBot Mini is one of the best 3D printers in the market today. The printer may look tiny and somewhat simple, but its features, performance, and output will completely change what you think about “user-friendly” 3D printers.

First of all, this printer gives the option of how complex you want it to be. You can go for a basic interface that handles all the standard stuff and then move all the way to advanced level which now brings you to the more pro features required for accurate and detailed 3D prints. This essentially makes the LulzBot Mini the ideal 3D printer for all students who are looking for “simple” equipment that will also remain useful once they’ve mastered the basics involved in 3D printing.

The LulzBot Mini is an FFF 3D printer that supports vast printing materials such as polyester filaments, nylon, polycarbonate, and ABS. You will also have quite a lot of printing software to work with. Some of these software includes MatterControl, Cura LulzBot Edition, BotQueue, Pritrun, OctoPrint, among many others.

The printer also packs several other features that will make your everyday use of this equipment a breeze. These include auto-nozzle cleaning, auto-bed leveling, PEI print surface, which is easy to maintain and a new easy-to-use Cura software.

Specs

  • Layer resolution: 50 – 500 micron
  • Print volume: 6 by 6 by 6.2 inches
  • Max temperature: 572 °F (300 °C) around the hot end and 248 °F (120 °C)
  • Top print speed: 275mm/sec at 0.18mm height
  • 50mm nozzle
  • Hexagon hot end with active cooling around the heatsinks