You want to build a prototype of a component and test it before going in for mass production. However, you might end up paying a considerable sum if you follow the traditional route and get the part prepared by an engineering firm who will complete the job using a lathe and other machines. Imagine the flexibility you would have if you could design the prototype at your place of work. This is where three-dimensional printers come to your rescue. Such a device created parts by building up the objects one layer at a time. These printers use raw materials such as polycarbonates, photopolymers, stereolithography materials, glass-filled polyamide, nylon polyamide, PLA, and ABS plastic to create a three-dimensional object. No doubt, not all printers can handle so many materials. Therefore, this is one aspect that you have to check before purchasing a three-dimensional printer. You also need to check the speed and accuracy of the equipment. However, bear in mind that high sped printers can dent your wallet. However, thanks to competition and the number of companies manufacturing such devices, their prices have dropped drastically over the past few years. Find below details of Top Cheap 3D Printers under $500.
1. Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer V2 – Black
A couple of years ago, Monoprice took the 3D printing world by storm when it launched a model costing less than $200, which had all the bells and whistles one could expect. It has come out with version two of the same device. Let us take it for a spin and see how it performs. The company has added some minor, but important updates. They included an all-metal hot end that prevents clogging as well as improves heating. They have also included a heated/insulated printing bed that prevents warping and boosts print adhesion. The surface of this printer boasts a unique pad material that promotes adhesion and makes it easy to remove parts after they have finished. I was pleasantly surprised by the internal cooling fan, which prevents heating. The printer’s resolution, at 100 microns, is quite average but is acceptable considering the price of the equipment. It is easy to use different types of filaments, thanks to the devices’ maximum temperature of 230 degrees. Input is via a direct USB connection, Micro SD card, or even via WiFi using the company’s new mobile app. Only Windows and Apple operating systems supported.
• Ease of operation
• Works with standard filament and any slicer
• Sturdy design
• Faulty power brick
• Hotend temperature inconsistent
• Unprotected build plate
• Tricky to calibrate
• No open source
2. Comgrow Creality Ender 3 3D Printer Aluminum
Comgrow is among the few companies that heed the feedbacks of its customers and uses this input to improve the quality of their printer. Although this model was launched quite some time ago, the manufacturer has incorporated few tweaks for the better. This is a fused deposit modeling triple dimension printer that ships with a 0.4mm nozzle and can extrude a variety of 1.75mm plastic filament. Considering the low price of this device, I was pleasantly surprised with its print area of 220mm x 220mm x 250mm, permitting me to make substantial objects. However, I was slightly disappointed with the speed of this device. The resolution of the printer is 100 microns, allowing me to print some detailed models. The equipment accepts input via Micro SD card and USB. The device ships with its important parts assembled. However, I had to complete the electronics cabling, mount the Y-axis, as well as add the PSU. This was not a tough task, thanks to the large colored instruction sheet. You can complete the setup process in under 45 minutes. The set comes with a comprehensive toolkit and an 8GB MicroSD card.
• Affordable price
• Compact design
• Constant up-gradation
• Open source
• Easy to assemble
• Uneven base causes wobble
• Adhesion requires occasionally
• Relevelling of flimsy bed
• Manual calibration required
3. FlashForge Finder 3D Printers with Cloud
This is the ideal equipment for those searching for an entry-level and user-friendly three-dimension printer. Apart from being extremely compact, the unit boasts of a clean design with cables concealed within the plastic alloy body. The manufacturer, for safety purposes, has protected the heated elements so that the user cannot touch them. This 3D printer uses non-toxic PLA material. The package includes power cable, filament guide tube, USB Stick, glass sheet pre-installed with a sheet of platform sticker. A quick start guide, and a roll of 60g PLA filament. The resolution of the equipment is 140mm x 140mm x 140mm, and it can print on materials of 100 to 500 microns. The print speed is from 40 to 200 millimeters per second. The proprietary filament storage informs whether the filament is extruding or not, providing you the ability to stop or start the printing process. I loved the auto-leveling feature that allowed me to calibrate the printer’s bed effortlessly. A beeper sounds once you have correctly aligned the print bed. Has support for third-party filaments.
• Easy to use
• Clear touchscreen
• Tiny print bed
• Manual bed leveling
• Only prints PLA
• Bed not heated, leading to occasional warping
4. Comgrow Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer with Removable Build Surface Plate
Considering the price tag, the Ender 3 Pro is an excellent printer; However, it is by no means a professional machine. It is targeted at hobbyists, individuals using such a device for the first time, and even those who have used such equipment before. It is capable of delivering astonishing quality prints, which is better than prints by higher-priced models if you are willing to spend some time with it. It boasts of features that I did not find in more expensive models such as the magnetic bed, the build volume of 220mm x 220mm x 250mm, together with a tight filament pathway, which makes it easier to work with flexible materials. While using the equipment I found the magnetic bed quite flimsy, as it does not snap into a predetermined area, adhering where it lands instead. I have had to adjust the sheet manually several times. A misaligned bed will scrape on the Z-axis, ruining your print. The flaws apart, this is an excellent printer, and you will love to spend time with it. Maximum print speed is 180mm per second.
• Highly affordable
• Hackable and upgradeable
• High-quality prints
• Easy to assemble
• Some flaws of the previous version were not addressed
• Magnetic bed not so good
• Print bed leveling is tricky
5. ANYCUBIC Photon UV LCD 3D Printer Assembled Innovation
Anycubic has a reputation for offering low-cost printers that have some of the most appealing options. They also have a reputation for building reliable three-dimensional printers. This model has a dimension of 5.53″ x 2.56″ x 6.1.” Setting up the device was an easy task, thanks to the excellent instruction manual provided. The included software is easy to use. Its high resolution means that you can easily create tiny parts with accuracy, which are smoother in quality and detail than the FDM printer. I was pleased with the perfect satin finish of all sides. Multiple models on a build plate did not add to the build time, and I was able to make six miniatures in 2-3 hours. The equipment ships with a 2k LCD screen, user manual, AC adapter. The manufacturer offers a 45 days money-back guarantee as well.
• Affordable price
• Anodized aluminum resin vat and build plate
• Great build quality
• Easy to setup
• Primitive slicing software
• Releases toxic fumes
• Post-processing is too involved
6. da Vinci 1.0 Pro. Wireless 3D Printer
This budgetary range printer does a lot of stuff. Setting it up is an easy task and should not take more than 40 minutes, which includes the time taken to download and install its software using the WiFi connection of the device. No doubt, the included colored installation manual helped me a lot. There was no need to calibrate it as the factory calibration was spot on. However, in case one is not satisfied with the calibration, they can redo it by following the on-screen instructions on the colored LCD monitor. The protective housing ensures that nobody can touch the hot parts of the printer or the cables inside it. I found the adjusting screws under the bed turn a touch too easily. Loading the cartridge spool too was an effortless task. The printer can deduce which material is being used, based on the cartridge, and sets the extruder head and bed to the requisite temperature automatically. However, I did not like the included rendering software. ABS filament included. Capable of printing with non-proprietary filaments too.
• Clean printing
• Safe casing
• Unsatisfactory rendering software
• Software giving wrong information about installed filament
7. ADIMLab Gantry 3D Printer 90% Assembled
This equipment comes with a tall frame of aluminum extrusions surrounding a large 300 mm+ bed and a corded control box with power supply. It has a 310mm x 310mm x 410mm bed. I wish the manufacturer included a Bowden style drive extruder instead of a direct one. Doing so will provide precision in retractions as well as better handling of the flexible elements. It is perhaps, the only equipment in this review that boasts of a nozzle light and filament detector. The dual rail system, driven by a stepper motor at the rear of the printer’s frame, provides stability for the Y-axis of the bed. The dual Z-axis stepper motors lighten the load and provide greater stability. On the flip side it could cause desynchronizing of the motors. Since it ships semi-assembled, it should not take more than 10 minutes to assemble. The vibration dampers on the stepper motors result in quiet operation. Compatible filaments include composite filaments, PC, HIPS, ABS, and PLA. Supports third party filaments too.
• Easy to assemble
• Solid build
• Quiet operation
• Supports Linux
• Power supply problems on some models
• No glue stick
8. Monoprice Mini Delta 3D Printer
This entry-level printer gets full marks because of its ease of use, versatility, as well as low price. I would have no hesitation using the specifications of this equipment for evaluating the other top cheap 3D printers under $500. This is a Delta printer whose identifying characteristics are the suspended extruder held by three triangular arms above the print bed and the circular print bed. Such models are built for speed, but their structure limits their printing capacity. The build size is on the small side (only 110mm x 120mm). No wasting time in installing this machine as it is ready to print the moment you take it out of its box and plug in the power cord to a power outlet. You can carry this printer with you and use it wherever a power socket is available. The manufacturers have thoughtfully included a carrying handle. It also provides auto-calibration and leveling. The maximum print speed is 150mm per second, and the layer resolution is 50 microns. Filament materials bronze fill, steel fill, copper fill, wood fill, PLA, and ABS.
• Low cost
• Decent print quality
• Simple controls
• Unreliable USB connection
• Unreliable high-quality print mode
• User must configure software
9. ELEGOO Mars UV Photocuring LCD 3D Printer
I was pleasantly surprised by the build quality of this 3D printer. It slides around easily, and believe me, you will need to move it quite a lot, given the poor location of the USB port, which is at the rear of the equipment. Otherwise, this printer offers a rewarding 3-dimension printing experience at a relatively low price. This is the only masked stereolithography 3D printer in this review; therefore be prepared to expect top quality printing. This model allows you to lift the entire lid to gain access to the resin tank. The print volume of this device is 120mm x 68mm x 155mm. At its price tag, it is the cheapest LCD printers available on the market. Setting up the device is a simple task. Loosen the ball-jointed print plate by loosening the two grub screws, lower the plate to the bottom of the vat, and press firmly as per instructions provided to ensure a level surface and tighten the screws.
• Excellent print quality
• Affordable price
• Simple but effective
• Minimal setup
• USB in an awkward position
• Prolonged use can trip up the firmware
• The fan is quite noisy
10. TEVO Nereus 3D Printer, WiFi Version 2019 New Model
This model includes some features that are found in most new desktop 3D printers such as resume printing function and filament run-out detection. One unique feature is the touchscreen that is apparently mounted on the side of the base of the printer. According to the manufacturer, this device comes with automatic bed leveling, allowing users to set up and start using this gadget in a few minutes. However, this gadget allegedly boasts of two features that make it stand apart from the rest. The manufacturer claims that this unit will support dual-color 3D printing. However, I did not find this feature in the model I reviewed. WiFi connectivity is another new feature, which allows users to use a proprietary mobile app to start prints and monitor their progress. The build volume is 320mm x 320mm x 400mm and the maximum print speed is 150mm per second. It supports materials like wood, flexible, HIPS, PLA, and ABS.
• Open source
• Excellent speed
• Resume printing function
• Low noise
• No software included
• Only one extruder (you have to purchase the second separately)
Affordable 3D Printer Selection Tips
1. Ask yourself why you are buying this product.
Before making a purchase, write the reasons why you need a 3D printer. What would you like to achieve? Some are just trying this for fun while others have long-term term plans. What skill level are you at? Do you have specific projects in mind? Each person has to buy a unit according to his own requirements. Since 3D printing has gotten popular, manufacturers are offering a variety of models to suit different needs. Some are suitable for beginners with their affordable price tag and ease of use. Others are better for advanced users due to cost and complexity. Choose accordingly.
2. Determine your budget for this device.
Selecting an affordable 3D printer can be tricky. Be honest with yourself regarding the budget. It is not advisable to spend on impulse unless you have a lot of money to spare. Most would benefit from a personal study of their current finances to know how much they can afford to spend. You will be able to find something suitable whether this is less than $100, more than $1,400, or anything in between. For example, you might have a maximum limit of $300. Focus on products that fit your budget and ignore the rest.
3. Learn as much as you can about the 3D printing process.
Do not be swayed by empty marketing talk. Learn the basics so that you can evaluate options on their merits. Know which features to hunt for and which to disregard, depending on your priorities. For example, you should understand how different speeds and temperatures can affect the filament, or why alignment is a major concern. You should also know the common difficulties faced by creators, as well as the features that could solve these. It is all about making informed decisions.
4. Find the best source of the machine.
Buy your machine from a reliable source. For example, there are many online stores but not all of them are able to deliver promptly. Some can be trusted to provide refunds if you encounter problems while others can’t. Find a store that you can rely on since you won’t be able to test the product before paying for it. Read the reviews for both the product and the store. Steer clear of unrated sources as you will be taking a big risk. Of course, you should also shop around to look for the best prices on the market. Multiple shops may carry the same products but one is on sale while the others are not.
5. Discover real-world performance from user reviews.
Thanks to 3D’s growth in popularity, there are enough product reviewers to guide potential buyers. Reviews are great since they can confirm or disprove the claims made by the manufacturer. You will know whether these promises are true or pure sales talk. You will also be able to discover issues specific to the model, as well as potential fixes. You can decide whether or not to take a chance on a machine based on what owners are saying about its reliability. In some sites, you can even ask direct questions to the seller and to the reviewers for clarification.
6. Consider second-hand devices if short on money.
Those who are on a tight budget may want to consider alternatives such as renting a unit or buying second-hand devices. A lot of older models can still work well, especially those which have not been used as frequently as the past owner planned. The units may have been bought on a wave of enthusiasm but they have since been abandoned in favor of newer toys. These are great buys since they can work perfectly after a bit of cleaning and tweaking. Of course, there are also damaged units in the second-hand market so be sure to buy only from trusted sellers.
Types of Budget 3D Printers
1. 3D Printing Pens
If you just want to experience what this trend is about, then you really don’t need a big printer. Just get a 3D pen and print by hand. This might even be more enjoyable if you have an artistic side. Hold the pen like any other drawing tool and start with your creations. Many of the beginner models come with rolls of filament and stencils for project ideas. The cheapest ones can be acquired for around $30 while the better ones cost about $60 — quite affordable for masses. These are nice gifts for kids or even creative adults.
2. Home 3D Printers
Some people really need to use a printer because pens are severely limited in their ability and output quality. They are nice for quick sketches but you need a printing unit if you have intricate designs and low tolerances. You could go to a print shop if you are a casual hobbyist who only needs to do it occasionally. However, those who are producing multiple designs and prints a week should probably consider getting their own home unit. These desktop printers may be small but they can provide decent results.
3. Professional 3D Printers
Affordability is relative. If you are a regular person who wants to tinker with 3D, then an entry-level model is your best bet. However, if you are a professional designer who makes prototypes for a living, then you can spend much more. Your job depends on this, after all, so you can consider it an investment that will pay dividends in the future. Whether you are a freelancer or a small business owner, getting a good printer without breaking the bank is a crucial task. List down your priorities, then strike a balance between what you can spend and what you can get.
Top Affordable 3D Printer Brands
Ultimaker, Markforged, FormLabs, Dremel, and MakerBot are all well-known in the professional space. As for home printers, Prusa, LulzBot, and Creality are widely respected. You can’t go wrong with any of these brands. If you don’t mind buying generic models, then look for options from Monoprice. The electronics retailer often gets OEM Chinese products and rebrands them for the US market. It’s a hit or miss affair, so be sure to check the reviews to know what you are getting. They probably have the most affordable options in this product category.
Average 3D Printer Pricing
Home printers can be acquired for a little less than $200. These are often small and light – perfect for those who are working in a cramped space like their own bedroom. Some of them are also built to be portable units for travel. If that is indeed your intention, then find one with a sturdy frame and chassis. Spend a little more for better resolution, printing speed, and sensor reliability. About $300-$400 will result in a higher quality parts and advanced features. The LulzBot Mini 2 is considered as one of the best home printers in the market and it costs around $1,500.
Questions & Answers
What is the best 3D printer under $500?
If you have a small budget, then consider the Creality Ender 3 Pro. You can find it at $259 on Amazon. It has a bed dimension of 8.6 x 8.6 x 9.8 inches which is fairly large for a desktop printer. You will be able create large parts and imposing designs in one go. The surface plate is removable so cleaning is easy. The power supply is enough to heat up the filament fast. It also has protection against surges. PLA and ABS filaments are compatible.
Are 3D printers getting cheaper?
Yes. 3D printers are getting cheaper at a fast rate. These used to be extremely rare and expensive, but the enormous interest has led to incredible developments. What used to cost thousands of dollars now costs only hundreds. There are also many more options to choose from.
How much does a decent 3D printer cost?
If you would like an entry-level printer, then $150 will be enough for the cheapest models. If you want something better, then $250 would be a better budget. This is ample for some branded models with excellent features, including the Creality Mini 2 and the da Vinci W+.
Is a 3D printer worth it?
It depends on your goals and your budget. If you like to make prototypes and creative designs, then printers are definitely worth it. It is best for people who print lots of their work as it will prove to be cheaper than paying for printing service frequently. You will also learn a lot from tinkering with the settings and using various filaments.
Do 3D printers need ventilation?
The heated filaments give off VOCs and other harmful gasses. Ensure ventilation for the sake of the room occupants. While occasional exposure is not dangerous, repeated exposure can have negative health results. Printing in an open area is ideal if you are concerned about the fumes. If you need to print in an enclosed room, then using air purifiers and air extractors are useful in harm reduction.
Charles Stephenson received a Masters Degree in Engineering from MIT University. Charles has been working in the Industrial 3D Printing industry for over 5 years. Charles regularly contributes content to several 3D Printing websites including Pirate3D.com.