Three best 3D printers

Jaime Vazquez

Just like their inkjet and laserjet cousins, 3D printers use printing material that needs to be periodically refilled. As you’re comparing different printers, make sure to compare the costs of replacement filament. A “bargain” 3D printer could be more expensive over time with the cost of new filament factored in.

No other invention says "the future is officially here" more than the 3D printer. These printers are straight out of science fiction: large machines that can take printing plans and create complex three-dimensional objects from plastic material (typically called filament). In Star Trek, they called them "replicators," and they could reproduce anything. In real life, while they can't copy everything, 3D printers can print small- to medium-size objects easily and reliably, which has benefits across countless applications.

Whether you're an experienced 3D printer user looking to upgrade or a 3D printing novice looking to learn more, there are solid, consumer-friendly choices out there. Here is your guide to the best of them.

Considerations when choosing 3D printers

What do 3D printers do?

These printers are designed to create small solid objects, so if it's smaller than a breadbox, chances are you can 3D print it. The most common applications of 3D printers include the following:

Small parts manufacturing: Whether it's a long-lost accessory for your favorite action figure or a rare, expensive car part that your engine needs to keep running, 3D printing is perfect for creating low-cost to solutions to any problem that involves a missing piece.

Medical prosthetics: 3D printing is on its way to revolutionizing healthcare. 3D printed objects are much lighter than metal or wood, which makes them a great solution for different types of prosthetics like artificial hands or feet, and they also have applications as post-surgical implants like stents.

Fashion: Whether you want to print your own rings at home or the latest 3D printed shoes from Nike, 3D printed clothes are slowly catching on.

Lifestyle and home organization: Most home 3D printers are used to make objects that make everyday life better -- whether that's a customized phone stand, toothpaste tube squeezer, or even a card deck shuffler, a 3D printer can be a gateway to endless life hacks.

3D printer features

When it comes to buying your own 3D printer, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the jargon and terminology. Skip the marketing speak and look for the most important features.

Software compatibility: Most 3D printers are compatible with open-source software and file formats, so it's easy to download plans from the internet, but some only work with proprietary software and others require Windows-only software. Before you start shopping, do some research and figure out which software you want to use. The software really determines the user experience when working with your 3D printer, so it's worthwhile investigating ahead of time. Once you've picked an application, you can limit your search to 3D printers supported by that software.

Filament compatibility: There are different types of filament -- the material that 3D printers use to create objects. Many 3D printers work with universal types like polylactic acid (PLA), but others require proprietary material from the manufacturer. When comparing different printers, pay close attention to the type of material it uses, and make sure the one you buy works with as many different materials as possible to give you the most flexibility with your creations.

Connectivity options: Some 3D printers need to be connected to a computer via USB cable, while others have onboard WiFi and compatible apps so you can control them with your smartphone. Consider where you'll place your 3D printer (remember that some are quite large) and determine how you'll connect to it as you consider various connectivity options.

3D printer prices: There's a pretty big divide between consumer-grade and commercial-grade 3D printers. If you're buying a printer for home use and expect to use it intermittently, you'll spend between $250 and $800. In this price range, you'll see some outstanding values, but be wary of the cheapest options -- they're usually more trouble than they're worth. We recommend looking in the $300 to $500 range. If you're buying a 3D printer for commercial purposes, you'll need to spend between $900 and $6,000. Commercial-grade 3D printers can typically make larger objects and print in higher resolution, meaning they can create objects with more detail.

3D printers we recommend

Best of the best: LulzBot TAZ 6 3D Printer 

Our take: The TAZ 6 is the Rolls Royce of 3D printers. It's fairly straightforward to use, works with all different types of filaments and has built-in self-maintenance, but it's also priced accordingly.

What we like: The huge build volume on the TAZ 6 means it can print objects up to 11" x 11" x 10". LulzBot takes customer service seriously, so it's easy to get help if you get stuck.

What we dislike: While it's worth every penny, the TAZ 6 is still incredibly expensive.

Best bang for your buck: XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 

Our take: The da Vinci 1.0 is perfect as a starter kit or for anyone looking to build expertise in 3D printing. It's got features typically only found on much more expensive printers.

What we like: It's incredibly affordable. The setup process is super simple, so it's easy to start printing right away. While XYZprinting says the da Vinci 1.0 only works with their proprietary filament, multiple users have reported that it works with filament from AmazonBasics.

What we dislike: The build volume is roughly 8" x 8" x 8", which is a little small. No auto-leveling capabilities, so it must be done manually.

Choice 3: Monoprice Maker Select 3D Printer v2 

Our take: This 3D Printer is about as barebones as they come, but it's also one of the most affordable options on the market. It's perfect if you want to get started with 3D printing without making a big investment.

What we like: It's inexpensive, and it includes a micro SD card preloaded with designs so you can start printing right away.

What we dislike: Manufacturing quality can be inconsistent. While some users have a great experience, many report major problems within the first few months.  

Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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