Not that long ago, a typical consumer 3D printer would ship as a kit comprised of dozens of parts, and a bunch of haikus for the assembly instructions. That’s not the case anymore. Though most models still come in a partially-disassembled state, manufacturers have gone great lengths to make them user-friendly. That becomes apparent once you start looking at the top 3D printers available on the market today. In this article we will take a look at the 10 best 3d printers for 2020.
1. Comgrow Creality Ender 3
Here is the thing: no other 3D printer on the market fuses quality and value quite like the Creality Ender 3 does. There are better and more capable devices, but those generally go for twice the Ender 3’s price. Little wonder that it still enjoys a cult following close to a couple of years since it was released.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Creality Ender 3 is an FDM-type printer with a 0.4 mm nozzle and a build volume of 220 x 220 x 250mm. It was among the first models to ship as a set of pre-assembled modules (rather than a completely knocked down kit). That, in addition to its low price tag, have made it the printer of choice in the low-budget segment.
In terms of features, the Ender 3 compares rather well to more expensive models (even Creality’s own). Take a look at what you get:
• Heated print bed with a BuildTak-like surface for enhanced adhesion
• V-slot with POM wheels for smooth, noiseless operation
• Safety-protected power supply unit
• Resume print function
• Touch-based bed leveling probe
At $229, the Ender 3 provides an ideal ticket to get into the world of 3D printing. It is good enough for seasoned tinkerers, however; the open-source architecture will be a boon for those looking to experiment. The print quality will be markedly poor. But what can you expect from a printer that costs about as much as 4 spools of filament?
• Fairly straightforward assembly
• Highly adaptable, thanks to the open source design.
• Works with a wide range of filament sizes.
• Sturdy frame
• Customer support is readily available.
• Requires manual calibration
2. FlashForge Finder 3D Printer with Cloud
The FlashForge Finder seems to dispel the notion that ‘3D printing’ and ‘classroom-friendly’ don’t belong in the same sentence. A plastic alloy body encloses the print area to shield the hot elements and keep noise down to a minimum. It also prints exclusively with non-toxic PLA filament for safer indoor operation. Not to mention that the device ships fully assembled.
Combining the now ubiquitous FFF technology and XYZ Cartesian configuration, the Finder offers a print area measuring 140mm in all 3 directions. While it’s smaller than average, the build volume should be enough for novices cutting their teeth. The $229 price tag is also agreeable, given the features you get:
• A 3.5-inch color touchscreen
• Slide-in build plate for easier removal of prints
• Wi-fi connectivity for wireless printing
• 4 GB onboard memory
Despite the lack of an auto-leveling mechanism, the FlashForge Finder is relatively easy to calibrate. The assisted leveling system will help you set the screws in place and tighten them accordingly, all while correcting for slight imperfections. You will then load the provided filament spool to complete the setup; instructions are provided via the touchscreen for that part.
• Easy to set up and use
• Quiet operation
• Has an overhead light to illuminate the print bed
• Print level is better than expected for an entry-level model
• Unheated print bed can cause warping
• Cannot handle large filament spools
3. Comgrow Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer
Few manufacturers would be willing to update a product based on customer feedback. But Creality went ahead and did just that. The Ender 3 Pro aims to address the original’s shortcomings without changing the recipe too much.
How so? The Pro Version offers the same functionality and build volume as the original Ender 3, but with some notable improvements on the design. The Y-base plate now comes with a larger, sturdier aluminum extrusion to minimize wobble on the printing surface. Stability has further improved thanks to the addition of a magnetic printing bed with textured top.
Elsewhere, the Ender 3 Pro has switched to a branded power supply unit for enhanced reliability. The board fan has moved to the bottom to shield it from tiny bits of filament. As you would expect, all these improvements command a higher price tag ($259 to be specific).
• Improved setup time and performance over the original model.
• Capable of handling more demanding materials, including ABS and PET-G
• Quieter operation, thanks to the stabler base plate.
• Bed leveling is still as fiddly as it was on the original.
4. Dremel Digilab 3D20
The Dremel Digilab 3D20 has a lot in common with the FlashForge Finder we saw earlier; it’s an FDM model with a fully enclosed design. The build plate isn’t heated, which means you’ll be limited to PLA-only printing. On the plus side, the printer comes as a plug-and-play unit.
As such, you will only need to load the filament and level the bed to get going. The latter might prove a little tricky, though, since the 3D20 doesn’t even have an assist mechanism. Still, feedback from users suggests that you’ll be fine with the accompanying user manual.
The Digilab 3D20 does have a unique selling point over the Finder, just in case you’re wondering. The print bed is significantly larger, measuring 255 by 155 by 170 mm. More significantly, purchasing the 3D20 provides access to Dremel’s learning resources, including tutorials and models. That sounds like a good deal for a price of $600.
• Comes ready to print right out of the box
• Enclosed design eliminates noise and safety hazards. It also maintains an even temperature within the print area for better quality.
• Manufacturer provides great customer support and a 1-year warranty.
• Closed architecture doesn’t provide any room for upgrades.
• Bed leveling is completely manual, which is disappointing for a $500+ model.
5. ADIMLab Gantry 3D Printer 90% Assembled
If you’re looking to get the most build volume without scorching your wallet, the ADIMLab Gantry might just be the answer. An FDM model with a Cartesian-XZ-Head configuration, it has a heated glass print bed measuring 310 x 310mm and a 410mm ceiling. The extruded aluminum frame running along all 3 axes will help keep the device stable as you let your creativity run loose.
And the best part? It comes 90% pre-assembled. The package includes all the tools you’ll need for the other 10%, which is just a matter of putting up the frame and connecting wires. The manuals provided will then take you through the post-assembly adjustments, including calibration.
This printer is decently equipped for a budget-range model. It features dual Z-axis stepper motors as standard, but with a direct drive extruder for improved handling of flexible materials. Other notable features include the filament light and vibration dampers to ensure quiet operation of the motors. The ADIMLab Gantry is available for $369.
• Easy setup, and all tools needed for the assembly are provided.
• Yields impressive prints out of the box
• Large print bed
• Live customer support provided via Skype.
• Doesn’t come with independent fans for filament cooling.
• Print bed can be difficult to level, due to the short leveling screws.
6. Monoprice Mini Delta
Who said you cannot get a decent 3D printer for less than $200? The Monoprice Mini Delta is available for just $159.99. While the price tag screams dirt-cheap, the Mini Delta will give you a lot of bang for your back, as you can tell from its features:
• All-metal frame combining a steel core and an anodized aluminum shell.
• Heated print bed with automatic leveling functionality
• Wi-fi connectivity
• 50-micron resolution and a print speed of 150mm/s
It’s worth highlighting that this belongs in the delta family of 3D printers, as indicated by the name. The unique functionality shouldn’t be much of a concern. Well, unless you’re a beginner — the MP Delta Mini will present quite the hefty learning curve.
That’s due to the combination of a circular print bed and 3-arm extruder mechanism. These two are also to blame for the printer’s minuscule build volume — consider looking elsewhere if you want more. But if you know your way around 3D printers and don’t mind the lack of room, the Miniprice Delta Mini is your best bet.
• Comes pre-assembled
• Works with third-party filaments
• Sturdy construction
• Great value for money
• Noisy operation
• Stock print bed can be difficult to work with
7. LulzBot TAZ 6
The name might sound a little goofy, but the LulzBot TAZ 6 is as serious a workhorse as you can get for a 3D printer. The 280 x 280 x 250 mm build area makes the machine ideal for workshops and labs et al. Interestingly, though, the TAZ 6 has perhaps the most straightforward setup of all the devices on the list.
Although the package ships with a set of tools (pliers, tweezers, needle nose etc), the printer itself comes pre-assembled and calibrated. The hot end is compatible with over 30 filament materials, making this the only workhorse you will ever need. Automatic bed leveling and self-cleaning capabilities will ensure it always functions as it should. As you’d expect from a $2,300 printer, the TAZ 6 features an open build design. Along with the documentation provided, that will provide plenty of scope for upgrades.
• Fully open-source design, with lots of add-ons available to tailor and/or expand the TAZ 6’s functionality.
• Reliable and consistent performance
• Excellent build quality
• Doesn’t come with an Ethernet connection
• Noisy operation
8. Glowforge Plus 3D Laser Printer
A price tag of $3,995 should make it clear that this isn’t your average FDM printer. Rather, the Glowforge Plus is a laser cutter and engraver. It utilizes the onboard 45W laser tube and Passthrough slot to cut through material instead of building objects layer by layer.
A fully enclosed system, the Glowforge Plus is tailored for professionals and small businesses looking for a versatile laser cutter. The lens is self-adjusting, and the honeycombed baseplate allows for optimal transfer of heat to the material. The unit packs a closed loop water cooling system and an air compressor for safe operation. According to Glowforge, this is the only CDRH Class-1 cutter available on the market.
• Works with real-world materials, including wood, leather and anodized aluminum.
• Very user-friendly, even for individuals who’ve never encountered 3D printers before.
• Handles a wide range of design models, including hand-drawn sketches.
• Minuscule build volume for its price
9. Monoprice Voxel 3D Printer
An enclosed FFF 3D printer, the Monoprice Voxel makes a pretty good case as a beginner unit. It comes fully assembled and calibrated, leaving you with no setup on your side. So unlike other models that advertise themselves as ready-to-print-out-of-the-box, the Voxel actually walks the talk.
The casing has transparent panels on the top and left to allow for keep prints in view during the build process. The clear door on the front also helps with that, in addition to providing access to the build platform. Unusual for a closed-frame unit, the Voxel comes with a heated print bed that’s also bendable and removable. The high degree of flexibility will be of benefit to young learners and unseasoned hands.
Do note that the Voxel cannot accommodate regular 1-gram filament spools, in spite of the standard 1.75mm filament. So consider other options if you’re a serious tinkerer. Otherwise, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal for the unit’s price tag of $360.
• Straightforward setup and usage
• Quiet operation
• Supports ABS, PLA, as well as a number of composite filament types
• Can print from a USB drive, or even over Wi-Fi/Ethernet
• Design doesn’t allow for upgrades
• Camera function is only accessible via a web platform
10. ANYCUBIC Photon S
Some have opined that the ANYCUBIC Photon S isn’t a worthwhile upgrade over the original Photon. But that doesn’t make it any less good. It is still the only decent SLA printer you can get for less than $500.
For context, SLA operation yields thinner layers (and therefore more detail levels) than FDM, and this makes it suitable for delicate pieces like jewelry. The original Photon made its mark as a user-friendly printer that delivered excellent quality for a reasonable price tag. Like the Creality Ender 3 Pro, the Photon S is designed to iron out the winning formula with a few minor tucks.
Most notably, an activated-charcoal air filter has been added to quell the toxic stench of the liquid resin. A 10mm elongation on the Z-axis has bumped up the print volume, albeit by a tiny margin. Usability has also improved thanks to the redesigned UI. The ANYCUBIC Photon S is available for $469.
• Stellar print quality compared to FDM printers in its price range.
• Comes with additional film screens for the resin vat.
• Touchscreen is precise and responsive
• Bed leveling isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect from a $400+ unit.
Guide to Buying a 3D Printer
3D printing technology is here to stay. The industry around it is already estimated to double in size every 3 years and with the 3D printers becoming more affordable by day, it may not be long before they become household items such as a refrigerator, a microwave and so on.
Well, that may be so. However, as of now, operating a 3D printer requires somewhat more skill than operating your refrigerator! Technology is developing every day, the terminology is expanding and all of this may lead to a good deal of confusion in the mind of someone who is still trying to get his feet wet in the world of 3-dimennsional printing.
Am I to go for FDM or SLA? Dual or single extruder? What type of filament—ABS or PLA? What material—plastics, resin or metal? All these questions can crowd upon someone looking to get his first 3D printer.
So, here’s our Bying Guide for a 3D Printer where we discuss some of the basic issues related to this relatively new technology and we hope the knowledge you gain herein will help you to make an informed decision on what type of machine to buy first time—one that will meet your present needs, desired applications as also your current 3D printing skills.
However, before we go on to our Tips section, let’s see what types of 3D printers are there, especially ones that are suitable for beginners or hobbyists.
Types of 3D Printers
At present, there are about 10 major 3D print technologies. Sounds pretty overwhelming, does it? Well, the good thing is, as a beginner, you really need not concern yourself with all that stuff. After all, you’re not planning to invest in a $10,000 (or more!) industry-grade metal 3D printer, presumably. So, for our purpose, it will suffice to know about two principal types of 3D printer models, namely FDM filament printers and SLA resin printers. These are also the two types that are overwhelmingly used by individuals, small businesses and by educational institutions.
[In the above list, all of the models we’ve discussed fall into one of these two categories.]
1. FDM Printers
When it comes to desktop 3D printing, FDM or the Fused Deposition Modeling is the most common method used for printing (or creating) objects. The method is also sometimes referred to as FFF or Fused Filament Fabrication. These models are basically Material Extrusion devices that you load with a spool of thermoplastic filament which is then fed into the printer nozzle located in the extrusion head. Once you start printing, the nozzle is heated to a specified temperature and this causes the filament to melt and the molten plastic is then deposited along the X and Y coordinates. As this happens, the machine starts to build the object on the build platform layer upon layer along the Z axis and finishes once the object is fully formed.
FDM printers are commonly used for rapid prototyping and product development since they are capable of creating robust parts quickly and reliably, and in a cost-effective manner. If you choose to go for a FDM 3D Print model, you’ll have a lot of options to choose from as there are a host of companies offering great models at affordable prices.
Price Range: $150- $6,000
2. SLA Printers
These are what are commonly known as Resin 3D printers. These models use SLA or stereolithography technology that works by exposing photosensitive liquid resin to an ultraviolet laser beam. The beam solidifies the resin once it sweeps a layer of it in the specified pattern and as the resin hardens, the laser starts on the next layer on top of the first one. And thus the object is completed again in a layer-by-layer method.
DLP or Digital Light Processing printers are another kind of resin printers that are almost similar to SLA printers and use the same kind of technology, the only difference being a DLP printer uses a digital light projector instead of a laser beam to shape the resin.
SLA printers are great when it comes to creating objects with smooth surfaces and containing intricate details and are popular in industries like cosmetic dentistry, jewelry, etc.
Generally speaking, a resin printer is harder to operate than a FDM printer and we recommend you buying one only when you’ve good reasons to do that.
Price Range: $250 – $10,000
3D Printer Selection Tips
Well, as we’ve already discussed in the preceding section, the only relevant 3D printing technologies for semi-professionals or beginners are FDM and SLA, though we highly recommend that you go for a FDM model (used extensively in the education sector and by small businesses) unless you have good reasons to choose a SLA or DLP Printer.
If you’re using an extrusion 3D printing device (FDMs), the two most common filaments are ABS and PLA. Both are thermoplastics materials which means that you can repeatedly heat and cool them until you obtain your desired shape.
ABS, made from fossil fuels, is strong, durable and offers greater resistance to high temperatures. As such, it is popular for mass manufacturing projects. However, it is non-biodegradable and gives off a strong, pungent smell like when you burn plastics.
PLA, on the other hand, is derived from renewable sources and is biodegradable. It is also the preferred choice for hobbyists and semi-professionals as the material is available in multiple colors and is able to print objects with sharp corners and thin layers.
Other choices include Resin, Nylon filament, Carbon Fiber, Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) and more. For beginners, however, we strongly recommend either PLA or ABS, but especially PLA. Or, if you’re using a SLA printer, Resin.
Single or Dual Extruder?
Dual extruders are simply FDM printers with two extruder heads instead of one. This gives you the opportunity to print with two colors or two materials. Normally, we would suggest that you go for a single extruder. However, if you are confident about your 3D printing skills, you may as well settle for a dual-extruder FDM model (also, if you really need it).
Assembled or a printer kit?
A couple or so years ago, 3D printer kits were decidedly less expensive than assembled models. However, since the gap has significantly narrowed in the meantime, our suggestion is you opt for an assembled model. Assembling a kit requires some basic knowledge on the part of the user and can prove to be quite a hassle at times. So, unless there is some definite advantage with a kit, a fully assembled model is, in our opinion, a better choice.
Build Volume and Printing Speed
A printer’s maximum print size is indicated by its build volume (commonly expressed in millimeters or inches). You can print bigger objects with devices that come with larger build volumes. Now, most budget or entry-level printers come with moderate build volumes and that somewhat restricts you in your choice of objects in terms of their size. That said, you can still bypass this limitation by printing an object in several parts and then assembling them together.
As for printing speed, keep in mind that normally speed is inversely proportional to a 3D printer model’s resolution. So, higher the resolution, slower the speed. Also, with extrusion-based models, the size of the nozzle plays an important part in determining the speed. For example, smaller nozzles deliver fine and detailed prints but at a slower speed while a larger extrusion head will work fast but will sacrifice the print quality to some extent.
Or, if we’re talking SLA printers, they usually work faster than FDMs, without however compromising the quality of the print.
n a final note, it is important that you understand your needs and desired applications well before you make your decision to purchase any particular model. Also, make sure not to overestimate your 3D printing skills. 3D printers come with a somewhat steep learning curve, so we strongly recommend that you visit a Makerspace or a Fablab near your location and familiarize yourself with the technology and get hold of some basic knowledge before you make your purchase.
3D Printer Brand
There are virtually scores of manufacturers offering decent entry to mid-level 3D printers. However, in terms of volume and choice of models and the price-to-performance ratio, we think the current top 6 brands are:
Average 3D Printer Pricing
Budget models: around $200
Decent Quality Entry-level models: $250 -$600
Mid-level/Intermediate/Semi-professional models: $700 – $4,000
Buying a 3D Printer: FAQs
What can you make with a 3d printer?
With some skill, you can make a variety of objects with a 3D printer. Most commonly, you can use a 3D printer to create a wide array of home décor pieces, plastic toys and 3D figurines, designer shoes and jewelry and even some intricate food treats. In fact, 3D printed foods are becoming increasingly popular. And with higher level skills, you can even produce your own 3D printed acoustic guitar (with a plastic body and not wood) or a camera lens. As long as you can strike upon some innovative ideas, the possibilities are endless!
Which 3d printer brand is best?
It is rather difficult to tag any single brand as the best one. However, for hobbyists and amateurs, we strongly recommend Comgrow and Monoprice chiefly due to the price-to-performance ratio of their models.
What is the best 3d printer for beginners?
There are many suitable models for beginners and one should pay heed to his own needs when choosing a model. Generally speaking though, you should look to settle for a FDM model under $200 that deliver good overall quality and decent surface finish. The idea is to get a model that will aid in your understanding of the general workflow of 3D printing and will also help you have a good idea of the material capabilities of the machine.
The Monoprice Mini Delta model from our list is a good choice as are any of the two Comgrow models.
Are enclosed 3d printers better?
Yes, there are several advantages that you can enjoy from using a fully enclosed 3D printer instead of an open-frame one. The former provide better protection for the machine parts; help with noise and heat reduction; and are safer to use since your hands cannot go anywhere near the moving parts.
An enclosure also offers a stable and more consistent output and this is especially important if you’re using specialty printing materials such as nylon filament and the like.
Can I make money with a 3d printer?
Yes, you can. Once you have acquired some skill in 3D printing, you can offer your printer as a commercial service both online and offline. 3D Hubs, for example, is one of the most popular websites offering commercial 3D printing services.
And of course, you can offer the items you make with your 3D printer directly for sell.
Is 3d printing expensive?
Well, it primarily depends on the material you’re using to create and object as also on the cost of the machine that is creating it. Metal and metal powders are extremely expensive for example. To give you an idea, ABS plastics cost about $50/kg but titanium powder will cost you 10 times that figure! Also, to state the obvious somewhat, the bigger the object, the more it costs you.