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What 3D Printer Should I Buy?
The most common question people ask me is which 3D printer they should buy.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single or simple answer to that question, as it depends on a few factors.
The easiest way I can summarize it is to say that the more you pay for a 3D printer, the less tinkering you will have to do. Below a certain price point, most of your time will be spent tinkering with your printer rather than actually printing things.
3D printing is still a relatively new technology – that’s what makes it exciting as we are pioneers!
When you start 3D printing, you find that it’s a learning process. You will hit problems that need solving and you will discover ways to improve your prints that may involve just changing settings or upgrading parts.
What this means is that buying a 3D printer is not as simple as buying a household appliance like a toaster. You don’t just look at the list of specs or choose one that will look nice in your home.
You need to think about what type of person you are, and what you want from your 3D printer.
So in this guide, I’ve come up with suggestions of which 3D printer to buy for three different groups of people. I’m sure you’ll identify with one of these groups which will help you decide which 3D printer to buy.
If you are still stuck after reading this article, feel free to ask me directly for advice on my ask me page.
You’ll be happy putting up with some failures knowing you have the ability and mindset to do some research, ask for help, and apply fixes.
If you think like an engineer or love a bit of DIY then you may relish the chance to start with a 3D printer that is a bit rough around the edges and gradually improve it with add-ons and settings tweaks until it’s performing as well as a ‘better’ machine costing thousands more.
In fact, to many people that is the fun part about 3D printing!
If you’re this type of person then the good news is you can save some money and buy a cheaper 3D printer.
But please don’t rush out and buy the cheapest one you can find, nor the most popular.
There are a few 3D printer models out there that are heavily marketed but unfortunately not worth even their low selling price. Some are in fact downright dangerous with multiple reports of overheating.
Fortunately, there are plenty of fantastic budget models around, many of which have huge support communities who will be only too willing to help you fix common problems and get the most from your 3D printer.
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The 3D printer I recommend for you is the Ender 3. This model has become massively popular in the 3D printing community as it offers so much for its low price.
The vast majority of people get good prints from the Ender 3 out of the box, but if you do run into any problems you are very likely to find an easy solution on youtube or one of the many Ender 3 communities on Reddit or Facebook.
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If you’re willing to spend a little more I suggest going for the latest Ender 3 Pro model, as this adds a more reliable power supply and slightly more sturdy construction. Both things that you might have wanted to upgrade to at a later point if you bought the cheaper model.
The Creator or Artist
You want your 3D printer to be a functional tool that does what you ask of it without needing to be cuddled first.
On the flip side of the coin, some people don’t want to spend countless hours just getting their 3D printer to output high-quality parts.
You may be far more interested in designing cool D&D minis, Henry Moore sculptures, scale models of your dream Ferrari, or crazy art projects.
For you, 3D printing is about the creativity, the design, and the skills needed to turn your bare prints into works of art.
Much like the cheaper models, even at a higher price point, there are still good and bad models. So be sure to read on to my recommendations so you don’t end up paying over the odds for an overpriced printer.
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For someone like you that wants an out of the box reliable solution, I recommend the Sindoh 3DWOX 1.
Sindoh 3D printers are as close as you can get to a home appliance 3D printer. There’s no faffing with bolts and wires when you unbox it, and even loading filament is as simple as loading a cartridge.
You will stop at nothing to get the highest quality prints the world has ever seen! Your reason for being is to seek ever-smaller layer lines until the entire 3D printing community bow down at your feet and chant ‘he is among us’.
If you love the technology of 3D printing and want to do all you can to improve it, then you can spend a bit more money on a high-quality 3D printer but make sure you choose one that has the option to continue to improve it.
Many more expensive 3D printers are difficult to upgrade. They perform at a high level with excellent reliability, but they are what they are and there’s no way to improve them.
If you want to start from a solid base of quality, reliable printing and build on it, then you need to choose your 3D printer carefully.
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For you, I recommend the LulzBot Mini 2. LuzBot is very highly regarded in the 3D printing community. They have stuck fast to their open-source principles, releasing a range of 3D printers that offer quality and reliability but within a completely upgradeable package.
If you have a very specific use for your 3D printer, this can make choosing a model easier. Some applications will mean you will need your 3D printer to have specific attributes, like an ability to print a special material.
Printing in ABS
If you have an application that requires a specific material this may strongly dictate which machine you need to buy.
ABS is the second most popular 3D printed material. Many cheap 3D printers specify that they can print ABS, however, this is not usually actually the case.
ABS requires a constant warm environment to prevent it from cooling and therefore shrinking as it is being printed. This means to print ABS with any degree of reliability or accuracy you will have to buy a 3D printer with an enclosure.
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For printing ABS I recommend the QIDI Tech X-Pro. This is a fully enclosed 3D printer, heavily based on the legendary FlashForge Creator Pro.
It has a fantastic reputation for reliability and ease of use, and as it is a dual extruder 3D printer you can take full advantage of the benefits of printing in ABS with a dissolvable support structure.
Printing in Flexibles
Similarly, if you want to print using flexible filaments like TPU and TPE, you may just about get away with printing them on some of the budget 3D printers.
But for the best and most reliable results, you are much better off buying a 3D printer that has the slightly more expensive direct-drive method of feeding filament to the extruder.
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For printing in flexible materials, I recommend the Solvol SV-01. This 3D printer is based on the Ender 3 Pro chassis but adds a few niceties including a direct drive extruder mechanism which is perfect for feeding flexible filaments.
Large Print Volume
Similarly, if you have a specific size requirement for the objects you want to print, this may dictate which model you buy. Most 3D printers have a print bed of around 250mm square, some smaller. If you want to print objects that are much larger than this you may want to buy a 3D printer with a larger print volume.
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I’ll give you two choices for a large 3D printer. The budget option is the Creality CR-10S. It comes in a few different size options, the largest of which gives you nearly 20 inches in each direction.
The CR-10 falls firmly into the needing to be tweaked camp. The CR-10 family has a huge online following and you will find hundreds of upgrade paths for you to build on the solid foundation the CR-10S gives you.
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If you want to spend more the QIDI Tech X-Max will give you a 12” x 10” x 12” print volume and out of the box reliability and accuracy. Qidi came from nowhere just a few years ago but their consistently impressive model range and customer service as quickly gained them a deserved positive reputation. The enclosed design of the X-Max will also allow you to print using ABS.
If you can’t make up your mind please go to my personal recommendations page where you can ask me for advice based on your individual circumstances, budget, and requirements. I can then give you a more bespoke recommendation.
What I Don’t Recommend
You may notice a few types of 3D printer not included in my guide. Let me address those here.
Resin 3D printers are fantastic and generally offer better resolution than the FDM printers above. If you want to print very small, detailed parts like miniatures or jewelry then they are your best bet.
However, I don’t recommend you make your first 3D printer a resin printer. This is because resin 3D printing is messy, harder to troubleshoot, and potentially toxic.
You will find it much easier to start with a budget FDM 3D printer, learn how to use it, and how to design for 3D printing before progressing to a resin machine.
If your first 3D printer is a resin type, there’s a good chance you will meet obstacles that put you off 3D printing for good, and we wouldn’t want that!
Acrylic Framed 3D Printers
I won’t bad mouth any brands, but there is a certain style of 3D printer that uses a plastic acrylic frame and is usually available at a very cheap price, sometimes even under $100.
You may see people online showing off the great prints they got from these machines. What they are not showing you is the pile of failed prints it took to get to the successes. They are not showing you the additional $200 and 100 hours worth of upgrades they carried out to make it work!
Most importantly of all, many of the acrylic framed 3D printers have been known to overheat and catch fire due to faulty electronics.
Honestly, it’s not worth trying to save $100 on one of these machines.
I really hope my guide has helped you make a decision and you will now start your 3D printing journey!
No matter why you are interested in 3D printing, it’s a genuinely rewarding hobby that helps develop your creativity and lateral thinking as you work your way around obstacles and come out the other side with something to be proud of.
If you have any questions, shoot me a message and I will do my best to help!