3D printer buying guide | Finder

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Read our simple and straightforward tips on how to find the best 3D printer for home use.

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Best 3D Printer

Best Rated 3D Printer Brand: Flashforge

Australians scored Flashforge 3D printers highly for print speed, quality and ease of use.

Key facts about 3D printers:

  • A 3D printer can cost anywhere from $500 up to thousands of dollars or more.
  • 3D printers have become much cheaper and more widely available in recent years, opening up a wide range of printing applications and hobbies for everyday users.
  • However, if you're new to the world of 3D printing, making sense of the technical jargon that surrounds the technology is no easy task.
  • When comparing printers, consider the type of printer, its ease of use and your budget.

What is a 3D printer?

A 3D printer is a device that allows you to create a three-dimensional object. It uses a digital model to make a physical object, building that 3D item by printing one layer at a time.

While 3D printers have many applications in manufacturing and a range of other fields, in this guide, we're focusing on 3D printers for home hobbyists. For example, you might like to use a 3D printer to make personalised gifts for friends, create models for tabletop gaming or reproduce scale models to decorate your home.

What types are available?

There are more than 10 different 3D printing technologies available today, many of them identified by a confusing range of acronyms. But if you're a hobbyist looking for a 3D printer for home use, there are a couple of main options you need to be aware of.

  • Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM). Also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), this is the most commonly-used printing technology in 3D printers for home hobbyists. This technique uses spools of plastic filament, with the filament heated and then extruded to create a 3D object.
  • Stereolithography (SLA). Designed for printing finer resolutions, SLA 3D printers use bottles of liquid resin, with the resin converted into plastic using a laser and a process known as photopolymerisation. Digital light processing (DLP) is a similar technology that also relies on resin. SLA and DLP printers sit at a higher price point than FDM models, but they have become much more affordable in recent years.

How to compare 3D printers

Choosing a 3D printer is a confusing and sometimes overwhelming task. Here are a few key factors you should consider when comparing your options.

Type of printer

The type of printer you choose will be determined by the style of printing you want to do, how often you'll print and your budget. Most affordable 3D printers for home use are FDM printers, but people who want to print in higher resolutions and who aren't constrained by a tight budget may want to opt for an SLA printer.

Ease of use

If you're just starting out in the world of 3D printing, look for a model that requires minimal set-up and no expert knowledge. Some models are ready to print basically straight out of the box and include features like colour touchscreens, self-cleaning functions and auto-bed levelling to help make them more user-friendly.

Speed

Check the print speed (measured in millimetres per second) to get an idea of a printer's output. However, remember that printing resolution will affect the speed with which you can create an item.

Build area size

Check the specs sheet to find out the maximum object size a 3D printer is capable of creating. Will this be suitable for your needs? As a rough guide, most desktop 3D printers won't create anything larger than 25 x 25 x 25cm, with many having smaller build areas than this.

Resolution

Next, check the resolution of the printer, which essentially refers to the height of each printed layer and is measured in microns or mm. A smaller number means a higher resolution; however, higher-resolution printers cost more and usually offer longer print times.

Colours

If you want to print items in multiple colours rather than painting them later, look for a printer with more than one extruder.

Image upload options

Check what options are available for uploading your digital 3D model to the printer. Wi-Fi, cloud connectivity, SD card and USB ports are all commonly included. Some models also come with their own internal memory, while others include a built-in scanner so you can scan items from around your home.

Safety features

If you're concerned about curious kids or your own hands coming into contact with hot printing materials or equipment, look for an enclosed 3D printer. This will also help reduce odours. Other safety features like automatic nozzle cooling and automatic locking doors are useful too, so check the list of product features closely.

Software

The software that comes with the printer should be user-friendly and make it easy for you to manage your print jobs.

Heated print bed

A heated print bed is another useful feature for a 3D printer. This helps prevent the bottom of the object from warping while it is being created.

Warranty

Check the length of the manufacturer’s warranty that comes with a 3D printer and exactly what it covers.

Customer support

If you're new to the world of 3D printing, a steep learning curve awaits. It's worth checking how you can contact the manufacturer's support team and whether they actually offer useful after-sales support before you buy.

Reviews

Read independent reviews from other users to find out how the 3D printer performs. Expert tech reviewers can offer useful insight into the printer's features and functions, while reviews from previous buyers will help you learn how a printer stands up to real-world use.

Price

In recent years, 3D printers have become much cheaper than was once the case. You'll now find plenty of entry-level 3D printers available for less than $500, with prices for high-end home-use models running into the thousands.

As well as the upfront cost, you'll also need to think about the ongoing cost of printing materials. Filament for FDM printers is generally cheaper and more widely available than resin for SLA and DLP 3D printers.

Three things to consider

There are a few other important factors you should consider before buying a 3D printer:

  1. Do you really need a 3D printer? If you only need to print an item occasionally, you may be better off using a professional 3D printing service. This allows you to leave your print in the hands of experts and not have to worry about setting up and maintaining your own printer.
  2. Printing takes time. If you’re the type of person who seeks instant gratification, 3D printing may not be the hobby for you. The printing resolution, the size of your object and its complexity can all affect printing speed, but we’re talking in terms of minutes and even hours here.
  3. Think about what you want to print. If you're looking for something to introduce your kids to the world of 3D printing or to make items like cosplay props, there's a good chance an FDM printer will do everything you need. But if you're looking for a model capable of accurately printing intricate details, an SLA model may be a better choice.

If you’re ready to start shopping for 3D printers, here’s where you can buy 3D printers online.

Best rated 3D Printer brand award breakdown

Total Score Overall rating Value for Money Ease of use Print quality Print speed
LulzBot* 8.80 5.00 4.60 4.80 4.60 4.80
SprintRay* 8.35 4.75 4.50 4.50 4.63 3.63
Flashforge 8.03 4.42 4.25 4.50 4.33 4.42
Dremel Digilab 7.95 4.30 4.50 4.30 4.60 4.00
Ultimaker 7.88 4.29 4.29 4.50 4.21 4.29
TierTime 7.45 4.18 3.64 4.18 4.00 4.18
XYZ Printing 7.35 4.11 3.89 4.00 4.00 3.67
Formbot 7.32 4.17 3.67 4.17 3.92 3.83
MakerBot 7.22 3.73 4.20 4.00 4.27 3.80
Robo 7.21 4.00 4.00 4.27 4.09 4.18
Konica Minolta 7.18 4.06 4.17 3.89 3.83 4.11
Other 6.90 3.80 3.60 4.00 3.60 3.40
Formlabs 6.45 3.50 3.69 3.63 3.56 3.38
*Brand did not meet the sample threshold to qualify for the award
Data: Finder Retail Brand Survey, 2020, Kantar. Metric out of 5 stars unless indicated. Methodology and more info. Kantar logo

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