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A 3D printer enables users to create various objects, design concepts, replacement parts, and even tools in a relatively easy and inexpensive manner. Entry-level models offer a great gateway into the engineering realm for kids and students, while more advanced offerings can speed up the development process of products you want to create by easily churning out prototypes and parts.
Most 3D printers come with their own software for creating and uploading models. There are also plenty of sources online with model files, so it's easy to get started.
There are several important bits to consider when shopping for a 3D printer — the most important are build volume, filament options, and layer resolution. Build volume typically measures in inches or cubic inches, so the larger it is, the bigger objects you can create.
There are two major types of filament options for 3D printers — PLA and ABS. The former is essentially biodegradable plastic, so it's more commonly used. ABS filament is made of much tougher plastic that's more widely used in manufacturing processes. Most printers in this roundup only work with various PLA filaments.
Layer resolution is typically measured in microns, with lower micron numbers resulting in higher layer resolution.
Now that you know the basics, you can shop the best 3D printers on the market today.
The MakerBot Replicator Mini+ is a high-end 3D printer with a build volume of 4 by 5 by 5 inches and layer resolution that ranges between 100 and 400 microns. The device features a built-in camera and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to keep an eye on your projects while you're away. The 3D printer works with the manufacturer's own 1.75-millimeter PLA filament, which you can buy here.
Best for Beginners
The bright-colored XYZprinting da Vinci mini 3D printer delivers an excellent balance between value and features. A great option for students and newbies to the field, the printer has build volume of 6 by 6 by 6 inches, auto-calibration, and auto-loading PLA filament system. XYZ offers a free 3D maker software, as well as a gallery of projects alongside the da Vinci mini.
Best Budget Buy
The Select Mini 3D V2 from Monoprice has a budget-friendly price that makes it an excellent option for those who are new to the world of 3D printing. For around $200 you get a fully assembled printer that's ready to use right out of the box. It features a heated print bed, Wi-Fi connectivity, and an SD card slot, and it supports both ABS and PLA filaments — a rarity among budget 3D printers.
The Flashforge Creator Pro is a highly versatile 3D printer that supports not only PLA filament, but also the more durable ABS type as well. It has a build volume of 8.9 by 5.8 by 5.9 inches, an SD card slot, USB support, and an enclosed chamber that reduces external interference on your projects.
The Robo R1+ is a versatile 3D printer that can work with multiple types of PLA filament, including wood, stainless steel, and carbon fiber, among others. The printer comes with its own 3D printing software, as well as access to Autodesk Fusion 360. Key specs of the Robo 3D Plus include a build volume of 10 by 9 by 8 inches, a heated build plate, and automatic leveling. Robo R1+ also offers 24/7 phone support, which will give new users some added peace of mind.
As its name suggests, the 3Doodler Start 3D pen allows you or your child to add a whole new dimension to sketches. It extrudes low-heat plastic that hardens almost instantly so you can draw out of thin air. Fun and intuitive to use, the pen doesn't have any hot spots where you could get burned, either. The kit comes with 48 strands of filament.
The LulzBot TAZ 6 is an advanced 3D printer with a massive build volume of 11 by 11 by 9.8 inches, as well as the ability to reach temperatures of 572 degrees Fahrenheit. The printer supports a vast, constantly growing number of filaments, and it has an adjustable layer thickness that ranges between 50 and 500 microns. The printer comes bundled with software that makes it easier to load and edit model files.
One of MakerBot's best offerings, the Replicator+ 3D printer is seriously fast and jam-packed with features. They include a build volume of 11.6 by 7.6 by 6.5 inches, native support for CAD files, touchscreen interface and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as the ability to arrange multiple build plates. The Replicator+ works with an ultra tough PLA filament, so it's well-suited for creating prototypes.
The LulzBot Mini 2 is an excellent desktop 3D printer with automatic bed leveling and nozzle cleaning, a heated print surface, and support for multiple PLA filament options. The device has a build volume of 6.3 by 6.3 by 7.9 inches, as well as excellent customer support.
In case you don't have any space or budgetary restrictions, consider the MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D printer. It has a gigantic build volume of 12 by 12 by 18 inches, heated build chamber with built-in camera for monitoring progress, and support for multiple filaments. Overall, an excellent option for more advanced users.