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The best 3D printers for beginners and professionals

Content
– What is 3D printing and how does it work?
– The best 3D printer models
– Applications for 3D printing
– Types and accuracy of 3D printing technologies

What is 3D printing and how does it work?

3D (three-dimensional) printing – also called additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping – is the process of fabricating a 3D object in a 3D printer. To do that, you need computer-aided design (CAD) software and printer hardware that responds to instructions from the software. Many of these digital file templates are available for free on websites like Thingiverse.
3D printing makes it possible to produce very complex shapes or geometries that would be otherwise impossible to construct by hand, including hollow parts.
3D printing can be done with materials such as plastics, powders, ceramics, metals and organic matter such as tissue cells or even food propelled through jets that extrude substances in layers and fuse them to form objects.
Check out this compilation of time lapse videos of 3D prints
3D printing has been used in industry since the 1980s, but it is only in the last 10 years or so, with the development of smaller and less expensive hardware, that the potential for 3D printing technologies has reach the consumer market.
We have compared and analyzed a dozen websites – from Amazon to Wirecutter – for their recommendations and ratings for desktop 3D printers and compiled the results into this guide for you.

The best 3D printer models

ProductDescriptionPrice
Low Budget
Monoprice MP Cadet 3D PrinterA beginner's printer. Start printing in under 30 seconds: The printer comes fully assembled and set up is quick and easy using the step-by-step online installation guide. A QR code for the MP Cadet's manual is on the printer itself so you'll never lose the manual.∼$160
Voxelab AquilaThe easy-to-setup kit comes partially assembled, enabling you to learn about the basic construction of 3D printers as you finish putting it together. Equipped with carbon crystal silicon glass plate and super quiet printing designing, the printing model will not easily become warped and the printing sounds is below 50 decibels.∼$170
Creality Ender 3 An extraordinary and highly popular 3D printer in this price class with a build volume of 22 x 22 x 25 cm (8.66 x 8.66 x 9.84 "). Easy and quick assembly (~2 hours). Only needs 5 minutes for hot bed to reach 110 °C. Ender 3 has a resume printing function after power outage or any other unexpected stoppage. . Upgraded extruder greatly reduces plugging risk and bad extrusion. V-shape with upgrade wheels make it move noiseless, smoothly and durable.∼$190
Mid-range budget
textPrusa MINI+ Semi-assembled A smart and compact 3D printing workhorse with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a market leader. It has a print volume of 18 cm (7”) cubed, removable spring steel sheets, ethernet and optional WiFi and it's based on Prusa's brand new custom-made 32-bit Buddy mainboard with silent 2209 Trinamic drivers.∼$555
Creality Ender 3 S1One of the best 3D printers under $500. Besides a dual motor-driven Z-axis, it features auto-bed leveling, a removable spring-steel print bed, and, perhaps most notable of all, a custom, compact direct extruder. 96% of the printer body is pre-installed, making assembling convenient with only 6 steps and the maintenance of the printer is simple and easy. Ender-3 S1 features the function of detecting filament runout or breakage/power loss and resume printing after recovery. By accurately recording the printing data at the time of power outage/filament runout or breakage, it helps to avoid the waste of filaments and time caused by accidents.∼$430
Anycubic VyperA great, beginner-friendly, first printer for someone serious about their 3D printing hobby. With auto-leveling feature and minimal assembly. Large build volume of 9.6"(L) x 9.6"(W) x 10.2"(H) / 24.5 x 24.5 x 26cm. A handy feature is the Intelligent Resume Printing Function that supports automatically resuming printing after power-off or filament end or breakage. Printing Technology: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).∼$430
High-end budget
textPrusa i3 MK3S+ kitThis model offers the reliability and quality of a Prusa printer plus the largest print volume available. Updated with the new SuperPINDA probe for improved first layer calibration, added high-quality Misumi bearings and various useful design tweaks to make the printer easier to assemble and maintain. The MK3S+ includes all the proven features of the previous models, including the heatbed with removable PEI spring steel print sheets, automatic Mesh Bed Leveling, filament sensor, power loss recovery (power panic) and safety features. And it is still as silent as ever.∼$1000
Dremel DigiLab 3D45-EDU This feature packed, high-quality 3D printer brings the power of advanced FDM 3D printing to your desktop. High quality 3D builds a resolution up to 50 microns which is printed on a heated bed to avoid warping. Built-in RFID detects the filament type (PLA, Nylon, Eco-ABS, PETG) inserted and automatically changes printer settings accordingly. Wifi and USB connectivity, built-in HD camera and included Dremel DigiLab 3D slicing software to manage your prints remotely. With this EDU version, educators can access 20 unique Lesson Plans for Dremel DigiLab 3D printers, based on educational projects, aligned to educational standards (Common Core, NGSS, TEKS) and real-life tested by curriculum experts.∼$2200
QIDI i-FastEquipped with a heated chamber, which can be heated to 60 °C, it can print stronger manufacturing grade parts and industrial fixtures. Its dual Z-axis structure with all linear industrial guide rails achieves a printing speed double that of consumer DIY 3D printers. Qidi i-Fast can print almost all kinds of filaments suitable for FDM 3D printers on the market, such as PLA ,PLA+ ,ABS ,PETG, NYLON. In addition, metal filaments can be used to print metal parts, such as bafs 316 stainless steel filaments (sintering treatment is required in the post processing). FDM Technology; Normal dual extruder; High Temp dual extruder. Large printing size of 360x250x320mm∼$2500
Professional
Ultimaker S5The large build volume (33 x 24 x 30cm) S5 is designed for commercial/industrial prototyping. It offers robust dual-extrusion 3D printing with a growing library (200+) of engineering-grade materials including a Metal Expansion Kit that enables users to efficiently switch between printing plastics and metals on one machine and the capability for multi material prints. Included free software Ultimaker Cura (print preparation software) and Ultimaker Digital Factory (printer management software). ∼$6950
Raise3D Pro3 Plus The Raise3D Pro3 Plus is a professional dual extruder 3D printer with user-friendly features and a large build volume (30 x 30 x 60.5 cm / 11.8" × 11.8" × 23.8"), making it an excellent option for production and multi-sized rapid prototyping. The max. print nozzle temperature of 300 °C, allows a wide range of engineering-grade materials from Nylon to metal-filled filament. Includes enhanced features and an artificial intelligence assistant system known as EVE. The Pro3 Series dual extruder 3D printers connect with Raise3D’s 3D printing software ecosystem, that includes a 3D slicing program, ideaMaker, an open-software template called ideaMaker Library, and our cloud-based 3D printing software RaiseCloud. ∼$7600
Specialty 3-in-1 printer: 3D printing, laser engraving, CNC carving
Snapmaker A350T Dedicated 3D printing, CNC (computer numerical control) milling and engraving, and laser cutting and engraving tool heads give the Snapmaker a huge range of material compatibility to unlock your full creative potential. Although the 3D printing capability lags behind a dedicated printer of the same price range, it can mill wood and laser engrave other materials, too – just with a quick change of the tool head. A large build volume of 320x350x330mm. Custom 3-in-1 software: The free and open-source Snapmaker Luban CAM software with 5-inch touchscreen and intuitive user interface supports Power Loss Recovery, multi-object processing, customized profiles, various built-in cases and multiple languages. ∼$1800

Applications for 3D printing

Industrial applications of additive manufacturing are now common in the aerospace and car and industries. For instance, Airbus says that its A350 XWB model includes over 1000 components manufactured by 3D printing. It even installed titanium 3D-printed parts into serial production aircraft.
Apart from the rapidly growing hobby market, 3D printing is finding more and more use in medicine, dentistry and biotechnology to produce customized prosthetics and implants, and to generate bio-matter for purposes such as skin grafts. For instance, 3D bioprinting is an advanced and sophisticated additive manufacturing technique that attempts to recapitulate the native architecture of tissues through precise deposition of cell-containing hydrogel bioinks.
3D printing technologies are used in the food industry, including fabricating food for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties and as part of novelty, decorative and gourmet food offerings. Numerous food products are candidates for 3D printing, such as crackers, pasta, pizza and chocolate. Novameat, a Spanish food-tech startup, 3D-prints vegan meat imitation from peas, rice, seaweed, and some other ingredients that were laid down criss-cross, imitating the intracellular proteins:
3D fabricated objects that are anatomical replicas of whole or parts of people’s bodies are used in medical and patient education and for planning surgery.
3D printing is employed by archaeologists cultural heritage practitioners and museums to fabricate replacements for ancient artifacts and create virtual experiences or mementos for visitors.

Types and accuracy of 3D printing technologies

Choosing a specific 3D printing processes depends on the intended purpose. For instance, prototypes are made with FDM printing and complex objects are made with selective laser sintering.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) creates objects by extruding thermoplastics through a heated nozzle. FDM is one of the most common 3D printing processes and is often used to produce quick prototypes or functional parts. Industrial FDM printing has a dimensional tolerance of ± 0.15% and a lower limit of ± 0.2 mm.
Stereolithography (SLA) utilities photopolymerization to create parts. This technology uses the correct light source to interact with the material in a selective manner to cure and solidify a cross section of the object in thin layers. SLA printing produces smooth, visually accurate parts made from cured resin. Industrial SLA printing has a dimensional tolerance of ± 0.15% and a lower limit of ± 0.01 mm.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) is a technology where the material is heated, but not to the point of melting, to create high resolution items. Metal powder is used for direct metal laser sintering while thermoplastic powders are used for selective laser sintering. SLS is often used to produce complex geometries. SLS printing has a dimensional tolerance of ± 0.3% and a lower limit of ± 0.3 mm.
Material jetting is the most accurate 3D printing process because heat is not used in the process and warping and shrinking are therefore not an issue. Material jetting has a dimensional tolerance of ± 0.1% and a lower limit of ± 0.05 mm.
Metal 3D printing works very similarly to other 3D printing processes – metal powders are heated and fused together into layers. Metal printing has a dimensional tolerance of ± 0.1 mm.
Of course, when 3D printing an object, you want to make sure that the final product is as accurate as possible. Dimensional accuracy – i.e. how well a printed object matches the size and specifications of the original file – depends on a number of critical parameters:
Machine accuracy – Manufacturers usually provide standard dimensional accuracies that can be achieved on a well-maintained machine.
Object size – In general, the larger a print objects gets, the more room for manufacturing errors exist.
Materials – Choosing the appropriate material has a big impact on printing accuracy, for instance, standard SLA resin has a high dimensional accuracy compared to flexible SLA resin.
Warping and shrinkage – Large expanses of material, flat surfaces, and unsupported structures can all warp and should be minimized in your final design. Proper cooling procedures are necessary to keep objects in the desired shape.
 

Check out these latest Nanowerk 3D Printing News:

 

New programmable 3D printed materials can sense their own movements

Engineers 3D print materials with networks of sensors directly incorporated.

3D printing of starch for personalised medicine development

For the purpose of personalised therapies, researchers have used 3D printing to develop tablets based on different types of starch, and has confirmed that drug release could be tailored by optimising the right starch type and tablet shape.

Novel 3D printing process is faster and more precise than conventional methods

Known as Multiplexed Fused Filament Fabrication, the technique could be a game changer for the 3D-printing industry.

4D composite printing can improve the wings of drones (w/video)

A new manufacturing technique could make small aircraft easier to build and more fuel efficient.

Sustainability in 3D printing: Researching components made of natural fibers

3D printing has been in use in architecture for a while, and now it is to become ecologically sustainable as well: Researchers are exploring how to produce individual building elements from natural fibers using additive manufacturing.

Check out more of the latest 3D Printing News here.