Thinking of investing in one of the best 3D printers? We're not surprised. 3D printing has now moved beyond the initial geek’s plaything it once was, and is a truly useful device for all creatives.
Not only can they be used to make parts for all manner of design projects, but they also make printing useful parts around the house a possibility. Plus, the ability to print metal, rubber, or even biodegradable filaments means parts have resilience and longevity.
If you are a seasoned 3D artist or designer then you can really get the most out of your skills and printer. Check out our guides to the best 3D modelling software and the best laptops for 3D modelling to ensure you have the best tools for the job.
Keep in mind that not all of the best 3D printers work the same way. Some use spools of filament that get heated a bit like a glue gun, then laid out in a print bed. Quality can be good but often needs some manual finishing to eliminate layer lines. Different models use an LCD screen to expose light to a pool of resin, while others use a laser to cure the liquid resin. Because of this, we have separated the best 3D printers into various categories so you can choose which is most suited to your needs.
Don't fancy modelling your own design? A wealth of 3D model marketplaces means that you don’t need to understand 3D modelling to get good results. Thingiverse, CG Trader and many other sites offer all manner of .stl files you can print in just a few clicks, often for free.
Build volume: 245 x 245 x 260 mm
Layer thickness: 100 microns
+Self-leveling bed included +Excellent levels of detail +Good print speeds
-Some assembly needed
Anycubic's range of 3D printers are all good options but for a lower-cost FDM printer the Vyper is our pick of the bunch. It has features not found on my more costly options, produces prints with detail and clarity, doing so with minimum noise or fuss. The heated, self leveling print bed is a great feature but add to that the spring steel magnetic sheet that aids print removal and you are on to a winner. For more information see our AnyCubic Vyper review.
Price: From £3215/$$4080
Build volume: 230 x 190 x 200 mm
Layer thickness: 20-0600 microns
+Dual extruders make life easy +Excellent, heated, self-levelling build platform
-Not the cheapest option -Louder than some other printers
Ultimaker printers come in a range of sizes and capabilities but the Ultimaker 3 is the one we've chosen for our list of the best 3D printers. It has most of the features you want from its bigger siblings including the dual extruders and various nozzle sizes. This means you can print models that are otherwise problematic, using a PVA support print, that washes off in water. Genius! It also has a progress camera, a wonderful touch screen interface, and is solidly built. If you need a bigger build volume go for the extended version, which is only a little more expensive.
Build Volume: 129 x 80 x 160 mm
Layer thickness: 50 microns
+Excellent print quality for cost +Fast at 1-2 seconds per layer
-Small build volume -Fumes can be unpleasant
Elegoo is relatively new to the scene but the original Mars made a great impression on the 3D printing community. The Mars 2 Pro takes this success and runs with it, making it bigger and faster. The new 6-inch screen bakes a layer in under 2 seconds, without loss of clarity or blurring of layers, making it one of the fastest resin printers around. For quick prototypes you can’t beat it, so long as you don’t need larger objects, as the only real downside to the Mars is the smaller build volume and a hint of fumes, which is common with this type of printer.
Build volume: 295 X 195 X 165mm
Layer thickness: 100 microns
+Flexible build platform aids removal +Excellent connection option
-Larger footprint than much of the competition -Not a cheap option
Makerbot have been around for a long time and are probably the best known consumer 3D printers, even being seen used by Anna Kendrick in space in the film Stowaway. Makerbot’s experience has allowed them to retain a similar footprint but with enlarged build volume, reduced noise and a good number of connection options, including wifi. The Makerbot Replicator+ even has a camera so you can keep an eye on things remotely. Print results are good, with fine details, although being an fdm printer, some strata are visible from the print process. The Replicator + is a great option though, running quietly and reliably and suited to home office, school or workshop.
Build volume: 130 x 78 x 160 mm
Layer thickness: 100 microns
+Excellent levels of detail +Smooth surface finish
-Heady fumes can be overpowering -Resin isn't cheap
The Photo Mono SE , from Anycubic is a great choice if you are into custom toys, collectibles or wargames figures as the detail is fantastic and the surface quality is very good, too. Like other mono screened printers the Photo is also fast, at just a second or so per layer. The resin can be a bit stinky but you can always print yourself an extraction adapter and get a length of tumble dryer hose. It’s a small sacrifice for the output of the machine which is really quite something at this price point.
Build volume: 320 x 132 x 154mm
Layer thickness: 100 - 200 microns
+Strong, durable prints +All in one desktop enclosure
-Expensive -Filament spools are pricey
The Onyx One produces prints of metal strength but, in actual fact, the parts are carbon fibre. The main reason to opt for this is that, although powdered metal filaments are available, they destroy extruder nozzles in no time, making production of metal objects prohibitively expensive. Markforged counters this issue with a best in class desktop solution, so if you need hardwearing strong and reliable parts, this should be high on your list. Just remember that a spool of filament can set you back over a grand!
Build volume: 220 x 220 x 250
Layer thickness: 100 microns
+High quality components +Easy to work with
-Open chassis -Can be loud
The Ender line of 3D printers are known for their excellent performance for cost and the Ender 3 is a fine example of this. At a sub £200 price point you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s Black Friday all year round. Creality has somehow managed to get some top quality components into the Ender 3. They gnarly come in kit form too, which might be off putting for some but in reality gives you a solid understanding of how the printer works and can help with troubleshooting, if a niggle arises.
Build volume: 145 × 145 × 185 mm
Layer thickness: 15 microns
+Easy swapping of material cartridges +No layer visibility
-Expensive -Extra cost to get medical grade version
The Original Form and its successor, the Form 2 set the benchmark for SLA printers and the FormLabs Form 3 is the best yet. It’s not cheap but the quality of results speaks for itself, with invisible print layers and a support system that you can snap off without the need for cutters. Other than the undeniable print quality, the big selling point here is the ease of use. Swapping materials is as simple as replacing a cartridge, with minimal waste. Pay a little more and you get access to bio grade materials for use in dental and medical applications. Oh, and the PreForm prep software is simple and intuitive too.
Build volume: n/a
Layer thickness: n/a
+Take it anywhere +No build size restrictions
-Filament is expensive -Accuracy is dictated by eyesight
One of the biggest restrictions to 3D printing is the limited build volumes. The 3Doodler is a 3D printing pen, which counters this by opening up projects of any size. The price of refills might make that prohibitive if you’re trying to model a 1:1 scale car but it can be done. What’s more it is fantastic fun taking a pen from the surface of your table and drawing lines of plastic ink into the air. Filament comes in many colours too, so you could consider this to be a pretty exciting prospect, assuming you are happy with the less than precise accuracy as the extruder lies solely in your hands, not on rails. There are a few different options available, including the 3Doodler Start (for smaller people) and the Pro, too.
Build volume: 80 X 80 X 100 mm
Layer thickness: 100 - 400 microns
+Cheap entry point to 3D printing +Fun and safe for children
-Tiny build platform -Average print quality
It’s hard not to love the EasythreeD K5, with its appealing looks and simplicity. Costing not much more than a couple of weeks worth of takeaway coffee, this entry into our list of the best 3D printers is a palatable introduction to 3D printing, so can be forgiven for the tiny build area and lack of fine detail. It’s also simplicity itself to use so, combined with the fully enclosed print volume, it could make a fantastic introduction to 3D printing for kids, too.
Rob Redman is the editor of 3D World and has a background in animation, visual effects, and photography. As well as being a multi-instrumentalist, Rob is also an avid beard grower.
Rob Redman is the editor of 3D World and has a background in animation, visual effects, and photography.
As well as being a multi-instrumentalist, Rob is also an avid beard grower.