The days of prohibitive 3D printer costs are long gone. With a goal of putting a 3D printer in every home, the industry democratized, driving price points down while raising product quality — it’s prime time for getting into rapid prototyping. This will give you an idea of how much a 3D printer costs no matter what your budget is, from cheap entry-level printers to expensive industrial 3D printers.
Entry Level — $599 and Under
Entry-level 3D printers are designed for the curious beginner — folks who have a fundamental knowledge of 3D printing and want to explore but aren’t yet ready to make a major investment.
XYZprinter da Vinci Mini
XYZprinting made affordability and ease-of-use first priority when designing the da Vinci Mini ($289.95). Practically ready to go out of the box, this printer can print over a Wi-Fi or USB connection and works with PLA 3D printer filaments.
The open-frame Flashforge Finder ($499) has a build area of 140 by 140 by 140 mm and comes fully assembled. It also offers flash-drive connectivity in addition to USB cable and Wi-Fi. The Finder comes fully assembled, but you must level the non-heated build plate using thumb screws before use. The Finder requires PLA filament.
TierTime Up Mini 2
TierTimes’ Up Mini 2 ($599) sits at the top of the entry-level players. The Mini 2 offers a sleek chassis, heated build platform and integrated HEPA filter to minimize the plastic smell during printing. You can use both PLA and ABS 3D printer filaments with the Mini 2.
Consumer Grade — $599 to $1,999
Consumer-grade printers fit the needs of users with a proficient knowledge of rapid prototyping and students just starting out in the design field. Calibration is key to getting the most out of a consumer-grade printer.
Flashforge Creator Pro
Flashforge’s Creator Pro ($899; ships 02/22/17) features a 225 x 145 x 150 mm build area and dual extruders that allow continuous printing and color switching without switching spools. The Creator Pro requires little maintenance over time and prints consistently and with respectable detailing. The Pro works with both PLA and ABS 3D printer filaments.
A simple, straightforward build, reliability and open-source hardware and software make the LulzBot Mini ($1,250) a favorite of beginner- and hobbyist-level rapid prototypers. In addition to support for PLA, ABS and HIPS 3D printer filaments, the Bundled Cure software includes build profiles for printing with T-glase, polycarbonate and filaments that resemble bronze, wood and copper.
MakerGear’s M2 ($1,825) with fused-deposition modeling (FDM) technology prints layer heights as thin as 20 microns and provides a build area of 200 x 254 x 203 mm. The M2 officially only prints with ABS and PLA filaments, but with slight modifications it can handle other formulations, such as PETG, PTFE, polycarbonate and PVA.
The Zortrax M200 ($1,990) produces ultra high-quality prints at an exceptional price point — you’d be hard pressed to find a more advanced printer for under $2,000. Zortrax introduced the M200 in a Kickstarter campaign and Dell, upon purchasing 5,000 units, pushed it to the forefront of consumer-grade machines.
Prosumer Grade — $1,999 to $4,999
Prosumer-grade printers give design pros, small businesses and diehard rapid prototypers the build quality needed to fabricate expert products every time.
FormLabs Form 2
The FormLabs Form 2 ($3,499) uses both a laser system and unique photosensitive resin to fabricate projects — a laser “draws” the shape on a resin-dipped print platform then the platform slightly extends. After repeating the process until the platform emerges, the laser starts adhering successive layers until the object forms.
Designed for semi-pro and professional users, the CubePro 3D printer ($4,490) rocks iPhone-esque aesthetics that belies its complexity. With a 285.4 x 270.4 x 230 mm build space, three color/three filament simultaneous printing and self-regulated build plate, the CubePro completes just about any project short of industrial applications.
The Fusion3 F400 ($4,499) boasts performance that rivals expensive industrial printers. It has a massive 355 x 355 x 320 mm build plate, print speeds up to 250 mm/sec, layer resolution as low as 20 microns, and is certified to work with a variety of materials out-of-the-box. The F400 is available in two models: the standard F400-S and the F400-HFR, which stands for “high flow rate” and advertises print speeds up to 500 mm/sec.
Industrial — $5,000 and Up
Industrial printers deliver the precision engineering needed to fabricate advanced designs in volume. These printers include technology such as work-fused deposition modeling (FDM), PolyJets and selective laser sintering (SLS). They work with enterprise-level design software and cost well into six figures or more.
The uPrint SE by Stratysys ($20,000 to $50,000) prints in eight colors — perfect for differentiating between printed components for product depictions — has a 203 x 203 x 152 mm build area and two resolution settings (0.254 mm and 0.330 mm) for multiple print options.
ProJet 3500 HDMax
The ProJet 3500 HDMax (starting at $70,000), produced by 3D Systems in South Carolina, uses MultiJet technology to print layers of UV-curable liquid plastic ranging from 16 microns to 32 microns and creates wax supports to brace the product during fabrication. The 3500 HDMax is commonly used in healthcare, transportation, energy, education and consumer-product verticals.
Stratysys Objet1000 Plus
Stratysys’ Objet1000 Plus (starting at $600,000) allows you to print 1:1-scale prototype pieces virtually identical to the finished product, combines up to 14 materials in a single fabrication and has an ultra-high throughput rate for large-scale production. The Objet1000 Plus also allows for shading and texture variation to minimize the need for finishing techniques.
Whatever your budget or proficiency, there’s a 3D printer that fits. Before you buy, research printer reviews from trustworthy sources, learn your favorite models’ capabilities and limitations and don’t hesitate to ask to try before you buy. Brick-and-mortar stores almost always allow you a test run, and online shops will send you a print sample free of charge.