So, you have finally given in and are interested in joining the ever-expanding world of 3D printing professionals and hobbyists. However, the world of 3D printing can be overwhelming and unnecessarily expensive if you are jumping into this world blindly.
There are a million questions flying around like: "What is an FDM printer? Or should I get an SLA printer? Do I need a semi-professional printer for my small business? What is a good 3D printer to use in the classroom? What exactly is a filament? How do I maximize my print quality?"
Today, we will answer these questions and much more to help you get started on your 3D printing journey.
3D printing has been one of the most groundbreaking technologies of the decade, making its way into just about every industry, including food production, medicine, robotics, and the automotive industry. Acumen Research and Consulting has predicted that the 3D printing market is expected to reach $41 billion by 2026.
One of the primary drivers of the rapidly expanding 3D printing industry is the growing community of hobbyists and small business owners. 3D printing costs have quickly declined over the past decade, making the technology accessible to just about everyone.
What is 3D printing?
In 3D printing — sometimes also called additive manufacturing — a three-dimensional object is manufactured by depositing material layer by layer in accordance with the object's 3D digital model. People can 3D print model prototypes, product figurines, functioning samples, and full-on working parts at a fraction of the cost of some of the more traditional manufacturing methods. In short, 3D printing is predominantly used for product development and on-demand manufacturing. Determining what you will be using your 3D printer for will help you narrow down on the ocean of options out there.
At its core, additive manufacturing is not as complicated as you think. It all starts off with a 3D model, usually created in a Computer-Aided Design Software.
You just send this file to your printer, adjust the parameters to your liking, and wait for your print to be completed. Depending on your printer and the type of printing technology and the printed object, this can take anywhere from an hour to a full day.
There are three common types of 3D printing
There are three types of 3D printing technology out there: Stereolithography (SLA), Selective laser sintering (SLS), and Fused filament fabrication (FFF or FDM). FFF is the most common form of 3D printing. Probably, the 3D printer that your friend has on his desktop is of this type. In this method, the filament or thermoplastic is heated through a nozzle, then deposited on the build plate below.
Printers in this category can range in price, with some starting at a few hundred dollars and jumping up to the thousands. Though there'll always be exceptions, a higher price usually translates to an easier and better printing experience as well as a higher print quality.
The second one is SLA printing. This is the original 3D printing technology. This additive process uses a stereolithography apparatus to transform liquid material into a solid printed object. Printers here tend to be a little pricier, but you are guaranteed to get higher quality prints and a better experience.
SLA printing is excellent if you have already jumped into the world of 3D printing and want to try something new. It is important to mention that this type of rapid prototyping tends to involve post-processing as the printing material used here is a liquid resin. SLA printers tend to be used for more complex designs, ideas that might not be possible on FFF.
SLS is a powerful 3D printing technique that is similar to stereolithography but uses powdered material. SLS printers tend to be the priciest of them all. Printing with SLS printers requires more involvement, as post-processing is crucial to the entire process. Yet, the quality of prints you can get out of this printer is unmatched, allowing you to print details that are impossible with most desktop devices. SLS printers are best used for studios and businesses. We do not think you need an SLS printer at home as a hobbyist.
So, what printer should you get?
Original Prusa i3 MK3S: 3D printing for hobbyists and professionals
If you know anything about the 3D printing world, you have probably come across the name Joseph Prusa. The Czech innovator's 3D printers are renowned around the world for their ease of use, impressive print quality, price, and build size. This printer is perfect for people just starting 3D printing and people who have a few years under their belt. For a little over $900, the printer can rival printers 2-3 times its cost. Inbuilt calibration, error detection, and a large community will help you get the exact print that you want.
Artillery Sidewinder X1 V4: Budget-friendly fun
People who purchase 3D printers for the first time are always a little shocked by how loud these devices can be. You should also consider the noise aspect. If you are looking for a printer to simply create tools around the house that work, Artillery Sidewinder X1 V4 is a quiet and well-designed option. What it lacks in user interface it makes up for in build size and quality. If you are not afraid of a little tinkering or a DIY project, be sure to check out this printer.
Creality Ender 3 V2: The king of budget-friendly printers
Ender is a veteran in the game, and a prime choice for many people starting their 3D printing journey. The printer offers users a price well under $500, high-quality prints, a tremendous and dedicated community, and a 32-bit board with TMC2208 drivers. Just like previous Enders, the build quality of this printer is 8.6x8.6x9.8 inches (220x220x250 mm). The FFF printer can print typical consumer filaments like PLA and PETG. Currently, Ender 3 holds the title for the best budget-friendly printer on the market.
Anycubic i3 Mega: A printer for the everyman
Another brand favorite among the 3D printing community, the Anycubic i3 Mega, is another great hassle-free, well priced 3D printer for your desktop. At $300, this is one of those rare gems that offer users reliability and good quality prints. The printer prints PLA and PET-G without any hiccups, and it is great if you plan to design most of your projects in these materials. It is good to mention that you do have to assemble the printer once it arrives, and the filament sensor is not the best. Nevertheless, it is another strong candidate for your desktop.
MakerBot Replicator+ 3D Printer
This printer is an award-winning one. The MakerBot Replciator+ provides easy, accessible 3D printing and, like its predecessors, includes an LCD display, an on-board camera, USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi connection. It was engineered and tested for more excellent reliability, compared to its predecessors, it prints 30% faster, and offers a 25% larger build volume.
Monoprice Mini: You want something to play with
Monoprice Mini is a bit old, and by no means is this most accurate printer, nor does it have the best printing bed. What it does have is an accessible price. This printer brings you a 4.7x4.7x4.7 inch (120x120x120 mm) heated print bed at only $199. You can even find it for cheaper. At this price, virtually anyone can get into the 3D printing realm.
This printer has a 1.75mm filament and comes ready to print right out of the box. As long as you don't expect it to have a high precision and accuracy, you will enjoy this machine. At $200, you won't feel bad about barely using your printer either. This printer is perfect for beginners or anyone who wants to get into the 3D printing realm casually.
Raise3D Pro2 Plus: Massive price but the massive build quality
There are some people out there that need big prints. However, getting a massive print done with your standard desktop printer is not an easy feat, and can be frustrating. If you are looking to create anything lifesized, you should take a hard look at the Raise3D. The printer offers strong software with a seamless and professional workflow, a fully enclosed space that is important for maintaining your prints' quality. The printer has an 11.8x11.8 inches (300x300 mm) print bed area, which is unheard of at this price point. However, expect to pay about $5,000 for this printer.
Ultimaker S5: The Rolls Royce of 3D Printers
Ultimaker has a good reputation. The 3D printing company produces some of the best, if not the best, desktop FFF printers on the markets. When using an Ultimaker 3D printer, expect two things: a seamless user experience, and high-quality prints in a wide range of industrial materials.
Ultimaker's S5 is the top of their line, offering users deep connectivity with print monitoring, remote connection, live viewing, and print job assignment to networked printers. Compared to other FFF printers on this list, the S5 comes with a dual extrusion system, allowing you to print different colors or complex materials on its large print bed. This is the printer that you get if you are starting a small business. Expect to pay a premium cost for these features.
Ultimaker 3: Another great high-end choice for businesses
If you don't have money for an S5, try the Ultimaker 3. The Ultimaker 3 is on everyone's list for a good reason. This pricey 3D printer is quite reliable and easy to use. Perfect for a classroom setting, the printer features dual extrusion, swappable "cores" for quick nozzle changes, wireless connectivity, and print cam for monitoring your prints, just to name a few features. The intuitive software allows you to easily upload projects in seconds, and never worry about them again. Artists, startups, and designers love this 3D printer for a reason.
Formlabs Form 3: The Best SLA printer on our list
As mentioned above, SLA printing is an excellent option for people who prefer or need high-quality prints. If Ultimaker had a direct rival, it would be Formlabs. Everything about Formlabs is fun and intuitive. Its stunning printing capabilities and one-click printing make it one of our favorite printers on the market. You can print everything from dental materials to jewelry molds with this printer. Again, this is another excellent choice for small businesses.
Phrozen Sonic Mini: Another great SLA option
The Phrozen is a ridiculously fast printer compared to the other printer on the list. The SLA printer is a great place to start if you are looking to get into SLA printing but do not need a Formlabs machine. Phrozen is only $350, making it perfect for people on a budget but still want great printing quality.
Sinterit: For those looking for an SLS printer
SLS printing would have set you back a few hundred thousand dollars years ago, but now you can get one for your desktop workshop. Sinterit is the place to go if you are on the market for an SLS printer. Their printers are both reliable and intuitive for those looking into this 3D printing technology. You can print functional parts straight from the printer. The Sinterit team has even demonstrated its capabilities by printing a book.
Picking the right printer
Cheap is not always better with 3D printers the same way high price does not guarantee high-quality prints. Another thing to consider is reliability and safety when buying a 3D printer. Cheaper printers like the Ender series are great for a young adult but not for a child in the classroom unless an adult is present.
Even more so, printers need to be used in a well-ventilated area, and if you are using an SLA printer, you need to be sure to wear the right hand and eye protection. Whether you are in the classroom or just starting, we recommend the lower end Ultimaker series and the Prusa printers. Formlabs 2 is also a great place to start. However, if you have got some money to spend or are starting a business, we recommend the higher-end S5 or Formlabs 3.
The 3D printing industry has experienced consistent and stable growth over the past decade, disrupting multiple industries. Innovators and the researchers in the footwear, fashion design, construction, automotive industry, and the aerospace industry to name a few have all embraced 3D printing to make better products.
You could be a part of this story, using 3D printing technology. What 3D printer do you use at home?