Budget 3D Printers Review
How to Choose a Budget 3D Printer
The top performers in our review are XYZprinting da Vinci Pro, the Gold Award winner; Dremel Idea Builder, the Silver Award winner; and Robo 3D R1 +Plus, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a budget 3D printer to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Budget 3D printers are changing the landscape of at-home 3D printing. Instead of printing costly prototypes or special ordering expensive parts, you can find free public domain 3D files and use inexpensive filament to save money on all your projects. Our budget 3D printer comparison focuses on machines that cost less than $1,000 but offer the same robust features as more expensive units. These easy-to-use budget printers are a great way to discover 3D printing for the first time and can be used for college courses, start-up projects or to teach young children about engineering fundamentals.
We chose to review preassembled 3D printers that are ready to print right from the box as opposed to DIY 3D printers that require extra assembly. If you're looking for a robust machine with more features and a larger print size, check out our regular 3D printer comparison site. These printers range from $1,000 to $4,000 and are equipped to handle larger models, higher resolutions and multicolor prints. Industrial 3D printers are also available for businesses and companies looking to create highly professional prints for manufacturing projects. If you want project inspiration, to learn more about the world of 3D printing technology or just to find out how 3D printing works, check out our 3D printing articles for helpful resources.
All of the printers we chose for our lineup are FFF printers, or printers that print with plastics. FFF stands for Fused Filament Fabrication and is sometimes referred to as FDM, Fused Deposition Modeling, by select companies. FFF printers take strands of plastic filament and push them through a heated print head that looks like the tip of a large ball point pen. In the print head, the filament is melted down before it's pushed out and extruded onto a print platform. This glue-gun-like method is the most popular and cost-effective 3D printing process available on the market today.
3D printers know where to place the filament in layers on the print plate because your 3D models are first sliced or cut into hundreds or thousands of layers in 3D printing software. The file tells the printer how to lay each layer like a slinky on the platform until the model is built from bottom to top.
Two main types of filament are compatible with the affordable 3D printers on our lineup: ABS and PLA. ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a very strong plastic that is great for tools, car accessories and other heavy-duty projects. ABS can warp or shrink when it cools, so a heated print bed and enclosure is best for ABS printing. A burning plastic type smell also accompanies ABS when it melts, so make sure to always print in a ventilated area.
PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is biodegradable and better for the environment than ABS. PLA can't withstand the high temperatures ABS can, so it's less durable and melts much easier. You don't need a heated print bed to print with it, and PLA has a lovely sweet smell when it's heated. PLA is the preferred choice for most 3D printing projects because it’s a bit cheaper and easier to use. ABS, however, is best when you want to create long-lasting, professional and durable parts. When selecting the best budget 3D printer for you, make sure to check the filament compatibility, as some only print with one type of filament.
In addition to the initial purchase price of your low-cost 3D printer, be prepared for the cost of future filament cartridges. These raw materials need to be replenished just like ink cartridges in your inkjet printer. Filament cartridges range in size, cost, quality, color and brand. Typically, a 3D printer filament cartridge costs between $20 and $40 and provides you with a little over 2 pounds of filament.
With 2 pounds of filament, you can print 200 to 300 chess pieces for about $0.1 or $0.13 each, depending on your software. If you were to print a container about the size of a small cereal bowl (5 x 5 x 2 inches) with very thin walls, it would take roughly six to eight hours to print and cost you between $1 and $2 in filament. By controlling object size, infill amount, software and filament type, you can also curb the cost of your 3D printed items. Some 3D printing manufacturers require you purchase proprietary filament that can be costlier than generic retail cartridges accepted by other machines. Keep cartridge compatibility in mind when selecting your budget 3D printer so you can control future filament costs.
Budget 3D Printers: What We Tested, What We Found
As we tested and evaluated inexpensive 3D printers, we sought to rank them based on performance and quality, ease of use, and machine design. The quality of the models we printed relied on the printer's configurations, software and slicing, model design, and user contributions. We tested each printer with default settings and used the provided proprietary software, selected well-designed CAD models and correctly configured each printer before testing.
Accuracy Test: Straight Corners & Pointy Spires are Hard to Come By
For the accuracy test, we printed the same model of the Empire State Building on each printer. We evaluated the printed models based on the quality of their finished print surfaces, XY and Z accuracies, if there was a noticeable zipper, and how consistently each model printed.
XY accuracies refer to how well the printer prints from left to right. Layers are smoother if the printer prints on the same X and Y coordinates for each layer. Z accuracies refer to how well the printer prints up and down, from layer to layer. If print layers are too far or too close to each other, the Z accuracy if very low. The zipper is the visible crooked line that sometimes appears on the finished surface if each layer is not sliced correctly. The zipper is best described as a scar on the surface layer.
The most common problems our review group found were wobbly spires and uneven surface edges. However, some of the best 3D printers like the Dremel Idea Builder and the UP mini made models with smooth, uniform surfaces and straight corners. Other printers like the Micro 3D couldn’t achieve accurate beginning layers, so the rest of the print was uneven and not very sharp.
Stress Test: What Went Wrong, What Went Right?
During the stress test, we evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of each printer by printing a small but complex 3D model. Our stress test featured elements that replicated thin and thick walls, columns, wells, boxes, stairs, bridges, arches, pyramids, crop circles, cylinders and more. These elements helped us evaluate each printer's ability to print accurate beginning layers without warping, a smooth and complete print surface, straight corners and sharp points, rounded cylinders, nondrooping bridges, and arches.
For the most part, all the printers printed accurate, consistent models with very little warping. The best 3D printers stood apart from the mediocre when it came to finished print surface, XY and Z accuracy, and bridging. Bridging refers to how well the 3D printer can print filament across and open air space on the model without collapse. Successful bridges printed on the Robo R1 +Plus, XYZ da Vinci 1.0, XYZ da Vinci Jr and the Printrbot Simple. No cleanup was needed on any of these parts, as no excess filament was left slumped under the arches like on other prints. XY and Z accuracy were best on the UP mini and the Dremel Idea Builder. These printers had straight corners and no wisps or leftover strings of incorrectly placed filament.
Overall, the best affordable 3D printers perform just as well quality-wise as their more expensive counterparts. The XYZprinting da Vinci Pro and the Dremel Idea Builder stand out with the best print surfaces and the most accurate models. The UP mini and the Printrbot Simple require more attention than the basic configurations to achieve the best models. Any of our top 10 budget 3D printers can produce high-quality 3D prints with a little time and attention at a very affordable price point.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison on loan from the companies. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication. Each of the 3D models we printed were obtained from open-source 3D files and free for public use.
What Else Is Important In Selecting A Budget 3D Printer?
When you choose a budget 3D printer over a more expensive machine, you don’t have to sacrifice features. Many of the best budget 3D printers offer the same functionality, print quality and ease of use as costlier versions. Features such as printing performance, printer design, filament options and connectivity compatibility are all important to consider before you pick the best printer for your 3D projects.
Printing Performance: Resolution & Speed Matter
Many factors contribute to building the best 3D models. The most important factor is a correctly calibrated 3D printer. Some of the printers on our lineup allow you to adjust or automatically level the print bed and adjust the Z-height, which is the space between the extruder and the surface of the print bed. With a correctly leveled print plate, you can print accurate models.
Similar to an inkjet printer, speed and resolution (layer thickness) are inversely related in 3D printing. A faster speed and lower resolution results in draft prints, while a slower speed and higher resolution results in more professional prints.
Also, size matters when it comes to print plates. If your printer can only print objects smaller than 5 inches, you'll probably end up having to print your model in pieces for assembly later. A print capacity of 8 inches or more for XY and Z is best for printing a wide variety of objects.
Printer Design: A Better Design Equals Better Prints
If your foundation isn’t sturdy, nothing you build will be successful. Heavier printers are less convenient to move around than portable 3D printers, but printer frames made with metal rock and sway less than those made with plastic, resulting in more accurate prints. If you're planning on printing with ABS filament, make sure to choose a printer with a heated print plate so you can avoid warping.
Filament & Cartridges: How to Plan for Long-Term Costs
Most of the future expenses for your cheap 3D printer revolve around filament cartridges. Proprietary filament cartridges from manufacturers and universal retail filament typically range from $20 to $50 for a 1 kilogram spool, which is about 2.2 pounds or 1000 grams. With proprietary filament, your extruder is less likely to clog, as the filament in specifically engineered for your printer. With universal filament, however, you can shop around for better prices and color choices from any retailer.
The Robo 3D R1 +Plus requires the most-expensive filament on our lineup, and both the Printrbot printers have the least-expensive filament. If you purchase five cartridges a year for the next five years, you'll spend about $700 to print with the Robo 3D R1 +Plus or about $240 to print the same amount with Printrbot Play or Printrbot Simple.
Connectivity: Simplify With Software & Wireless Printing
Fortunately, all the budget 3D printers on our lineup provide free proprietary or recommend open-source software for use with your printer, but some programs are easier to use than others. Most proprietary programs and the open-source program Cura have specialized controls and allow you to change temperature, modify files and perform other tasks according to the connected printer's specifications.
Wireless printing also is a major convenience when connecting your printer to your computer. Wi-Fi 3D printers are few and far between, so it's rare that the New Matter Mod-t, Dremel Idea Builder and XYZprinting da Vinci Pro all support Wi-Fi. Other budget 3D printers on our lineup support SD card or partial tethered printing. With partial tethering, your printer must be connected to your computer via USB cable only until the printer begins extruding the first layers of your model, at which point you can disconnect.
Budget 3D Printers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Best for your money and best for quality prints, the XYZprinting da Vinci Pro is our Gold Award winner and the best inexpensive 3D printer. The da Vinci Pro has features found on more expensive printers, such as Wi-Fi printing, PLA and ABS compatibility, an onboard screen, and a heated platform, but for a much more affordable price. Since you have plenty of filament options with this 3D printer, you can keep costs low without compromising quality.
Our Silver Award winner is the Dremel Idea Builder, and it earns this honor because of its excellent print quality, easy-to-use interface and wireless printing. Although you can’t print with ABS, we found that the models printed with the Dremel had the best quality in our tests. The onboard screen and choice between Wi-Fi, removable device or USB tethered printing make the Dremel perfect for any workspace, classroom and skill level.
The 3D R1 +Plus is our Bronze Award winner for its unique design and topnotch print quality. With a very large print capacity and high-quality standard, this machine is a great choice for any type of project. While it may require more maintenance than other machines, its glass print plate is easy to clean. Easy software, microSD card printing and auto leveling make this budget option one of the best.
If you're looking for an even more budget-friendly 3D printer, the XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. is a smaller, more affordable choice. The extremely low price point coupled with very inexpensive filament cartridges helps ease you into 3D printing at home, school or work.
Don't let high prices keep you from getting into 3D printing technology. All of the printers on our lineup are inexpensive, easy to use and pay for themselves with the hundreds of custom models you can create.