The Best 3D Printer 2017 


Imagine a future in which people create products, prototypes and art from the comfort of their laptop.  A future in which distribution of tangible goods means data delivered over the web.  A future in which inventory is eliminated and mass customization ushers in a third industrial revolution.  

3D printing is the future and the industry is growing at a rapid pace.​

Lulzbot Taz 6

Rarely has a technology become so suddenly and widely available, with the potential to change the way good are designed, manufactured and distributed.  3D printing brings with it the potential to empower the average person with unprecedented creative and manufacturing capability.

While much of the potential of this technology remains to be realized, the potential social and economic impact of this technology is both far reaching and profound.

Here we are going to break down: the different types of 3D printers, the top 3D printing brands in the market, go through a buying guide on what you need to look for when purchasing a 3D printer, a 3D printer comparison table to help you make a decision and finally the best 3D printer.   

Best 3D Printer Comparison Table

Product

Model

Build Volume (mm)

Price

Star Rating

200x200x185

$$

Lulzbot.Taz.6.90

288x288x250

$$$

Rostock Max v2

280x197x375

$

Form1+

125x125x165

$$$

Ultimaker-2-3D-Printer-0-0

223x223x205

$$$

carbon 3d printer

144x81x330

$$$$$

dremel 3D Idea Builder

229x150x140

$

Printrbot-Simple-3D-Printer

152x152x152

$

prusa i3

270x210x196

$

m3d micro

117x109x73

$

Different Types of 3D Printers

Not every 3D printer is going to meet your needs and its important to understand the different material, technique and uses of 3D printers to find the one that fits your needs.  There are 7 main types of 3D printing processes. 

1

Vat Photopolymerisation

Photopolymer resin is used in this technique.  A container filled with resin is used to create each layer, which is then hardened using a source of UV light.  This process makes use of SLA (sterolithography).  After each layer of liquid resin is laid down, the UV light travels across it and joins it to the preceding layers.  The platform that holds the object drops by a fraction of a millimeter to allow more room.  Then a blade sweeps another layer of the material across and that is joined.  This process continues until the 3D object has been made.  Once it is finished, any supporting structures used to hold the 3D object in place for the printing process must be manually removed. 

2

Material Jetting

Material jetting makes use of small nozzles to spray materials, similar to what you would see on an inkjet paper printer.  The material comes through the nozzle and is sprayed onto the building platform.  After each layer, UV light is used to harden the material to the layer before it.  

3

Binder Jetting

Binder jetting makes use of a liquid binder and a powder base material.  A blade is used to evenly spread the powder particles across the layers of the object.  The powder is sprayed and then the liquid binder follows, solidifying the powder layer to the previous layers.  When the object is finished, any remaining powder residue will need to be wiped away. 

4

Material Extrusion

The material extrusion process is completed using FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling).  It makes use of 3 main component; a nozzle that ejects plastic or another molten material, the already deposited material and a platform that is moved precisely during the manufacturing process.  The materials come out of a heated nozzle, which prevents it from hardening.  It is applied directly to the material that has already been deposited and then hardens instantly.  The platform moves around to position the pre-laid materials in conjunction with the nozzle.  

5

Powder Bed Fusion

This technique makes use of SLS, or Selective Laser Sintering, technology.  The powder of glass, metal, plastic or ceramic is fused using a high powered laser.  The laser scans the layer to see if it needs to be part of the final object and then fuses the layer on the powder bed.  The powder bed is lowered by one level after each section and new material is applied.  This process continues until the product is completed.  The advantage of this method is that the powder that remains makes up the support structure and you do not need any additional support.  

6

Sheet Lamination

The sheet lamination technique uses force to attach the layers that will make up the 3D object.  In most cases, polymer, metal or paper makes up the sheet that are bonded together.  The materials used to determine the next steps of the process.  For example, paper sheets are glued with adhesive and cut with precision blades to get the final product, while metal sheets are attached using ultrasonic welding before being CNC milled into the right shape.

7

Directed Energy Desposition

Directed energy desposition makes use of a multi-axis robotic arm and a 3D printing apparatus.  A nozzle deposits powder on the surface.  Followed by a plasma arc, electron beam or other energy source that melts the powder.  This forms the don that creates the resulting solid object. 

Although technology is advancing everyday to create consumer desktop versions of all the above applications, the two main process that encompass the vast majority of consumer desktop 3D printers are; Material Extrusion and Vat Photopolymerisation.  

Excerpts from 3D Printing Dummies Projects: Everything you need to know were used to create this section. 

Best 3D Printer Brands 

As the 3D printing industry has grown hundreds of 3D printers have come to market in the last decade along with dozens of 3D printing brands.  Way too many to list them all, but I will briefly talk about a few of the companies who have grown large enough to become publicly traded.  

  • Stratasys (SSYS)
  • 3D Systems (DDD)
  • Autodesk (adsk)
  • Hewlet-Packard (HPE)

Hewlett-Packard was founded in 1939 and is incorporated in Delaware.  

Hewlett-Packard is a leading global provider of products, technologies, software, solutions and services to individual consumers, small-and-medium sized businesses and larges enterprises, including customers in the government, health and education sectors.  HP has recently jumped into the 3D printing space and manufacturers 3D printers. 

In addition to Hewlet-Packard, fortunate 500 companies like GE, Apple and Google have all thrown their hats into the 3D printing ring and have announced plans to pursue the industry in the future.

The 10 Best 3D Printers

Top print quality, large build volume, builtin screen, plug-and-play with low maintenance makes the M200 the best 3D printer of the year.  If you're looking to purchase a 3D printer that just simply works every time, is reliable easy to use with high print quality this is your starting point.  The Zortrax software does not allow for user temperature control and is built for printing in ABS only.  

LulzBot TAZ 5

Taz6 is designed by engineers for engineers....or hobbyist, or makers, or newbies, or artists....or anyone.  LulzBot has created an open-source 3D printer with a large build platform, heated glass, supports a large number of the slicing and control software options and numerous materials.  You will spend a little bit more than the Zortrax M200 but you get a larger build volume with almost limitless material and design options.      

Rostock offers a unique design that veers from the traditional box-like 3D printers.  This design feature allows the Rostock to operating at far higher printing speeds and positioning accuracy than other machines.  Which results in smoother curves on finished prints.  The best personal 3D printer for your money and you will be blown away by the quality of prints.  

form2

The Form 1+ is the first SLA resin 3D printer to make the Top 10 list.  This 3D printer draws each slice of the model into liquid resin with a laser to harden it.  As the build platform moves up, a solid model appears out of the liquid.  The prints that come off the Form 1+ are going to be more detailed and capable of smaller layer heights than their FDM counterparts making this the best 3D printer for jewelry on our list.  

Ultimaker-2-3D-Printer

Heated glass build platform, illuminated build area, onboard controls two PLA cooling fans, with a functional and attractive frame highlight the Ultimaker 2.  If you're on a really tight budget this may not be a perfect fit but it's really hard to beat the combination of high-quality, hassle-free printing with easy-to-use software that comes with the Ultimaker 2. 

Carbon3D

Traditional approaches to 3D printing can make trade-offs between surface finish and mechanical properties.  Despite industry advances, no process delivers the combination of the two needed for end-use parts.  CLIP - Continuous Liquid Interface Production - is a protochemical process that makes it possible to produce parts with excellent mechanical properties, resolution, and surface finish.  The new M1 with CLIP technology from Carbon 3D is revolutionary to the 3D printing industry and comes in as our best industrial 3D printer on the list. Unfortunately, at a subscription cost of $40,000/year it puts it out or reach for many consumers.  

dremel

The Idea Builder is Dremel's entrance into the 3D printing industry and it makes a strong statement.  Builtin color touch-screen interface that makes leveling the bed, loading filament and selecting files simple.  The Dremel 3D software displays a 3D rendering of the build volume with options to move, rotate and scale parts.  There is no heated platform so this is a PLA only printer.  

printrbot simple

The PrintrBot simple enters our list as the best overall value 3D printer.  Open hardware, open software, the basic features you expect out of a 3D printing kit now with auto-leveling beds and available upgrades like a heated bed.  This 3D printer is a  throwback to a simpler time but that doesn't mean it can't handle a workload and consistently spin out quality prints.  The only thing keeping PrintrBot Simple down the list is the smaller print area. 

prusa i3

Prusa i3 is a different take on the DIY 3D printing kits and it's produced by the pioneer of the DIY 3D printing kits, RepRap.  The Prusa i3 is fully open-sourced and comes with a heated bed.  There are a lot of different upgrades available, but the print quality is good out of the box.  This kit build is on the more difficult side and you have to install the software.  Recommended for makers and tinkerers with a little bit of experience. 

M3D 3D Printer

Last but certainly not least in our Best 3D Printers list is a truly affordable desktop 3D printer.  The M3D Micro is a minimalist design that utilizes the build area really well.  The software is very intuitive and user friendly for a truly plug and play experience.  Don't purchase this expecting to print new furniture as this is by far the smallest 3D printer on our list but the Micro can produce consistent quality results right on your desk.  It won't take up much room either!

THE BEST 3D PRINTER UNDER $1,000

Find the best 3D printers under $1,000 with ratings and reviews

3D Printer Buying Guide

Buying a 3D printer is an investment.  Even the cheap ones are hundreds of dollars and it's important you take the time and due diligence to understand the different aspects of 3D printing.  Here I'm going to break down some of the main features of 3D printing, giving you a range of parameters to make an informed decision.  

  • Print Area and Volume - refers to the largest size at which an object can be printed.  For desktop 3D printers, the range can be from the 4.4"X4.3"X4.6' Micro 3D printer to the BigRep ONE 40"X40"X40".   
  • Print Speed - refers to the speed at which a 3D printer can print an object.  An average desktop FDM printer can print anywhere from 0.3 to 1.7 inches per hour.  These are average speeds for consumer desktop printers.  To give you an example of what's possible, 3D printer manufacturer Carbon 3D utilizes CLIP technology which can produce an object roughly 2 inches in less than 10 minutes.  

Print speed is also affected by the type of material filament used, the quality of your 3D printer and the quality setting on your 3D print.  Which leads us into print quality. 

  • Print Quality - In the early days of 3D printing print quality was measured in terms of layer height.  While this is still an important factor because a smaller layer height can indicate reduced visible defects.  There is much more that goes into print quality than just layer height you will see printers compared based on resolution micron layer thickness ranges.  These ranges can range from 0.1mm to 0.025.      
  • Print Surface - when discussing 3D printer surface there are two main options.  Heated bed or unheated bed.  In the 3D printing process you're heating up material filament to layer the material into an object.  Heated objects placed on room temperature beds can cause defects and objects sticking to the print bed.  Heated beds help to reduce these problems. 
  • Filament - what you get out of a 3D printer is limited by what you put into it.  In the case of 3D printing the input is 3D printing materials or filament.  In a world of exciting and rapidly developing technology, 3D filament is evolving at the fastest pace.  There is a wide variety of material types that come in many different states, sizes, colors, density, flexibility and even tastes.  I will briefly touch on the three main filaments; PLA, ABS and Ceramics but I cover 3D printing materials extensively over on our 3D Printing Materials page.  
      • Polylatic acid or PLA is a low-cost, biodegradable and has minimal shrinkage.  PLA is great for producing quick prototypes for testing form and fit.  Strong, flexible plastic with a slight porous surface.  Very popular material, prints are constructed by a fine grain of powder fussed together layer after layer.  
      • ABS is the most common 3D printing plastic.  The material is thermoplastic with crystallization properties.  A plastic wire is softened by passing through a heated extrusion nozzle.  As soon as the plastic is deposited on the 3D printer plat it hardens. 

As you can see there is a lot to think about when looking to purchase a 3D printer.  Once you have narrowed down which type of printer fits your needs you can further narrow down your decision by brand, size, quality, speed and filament material.  

Fortunately, 3D printers have come a long way in terms of quality and affordability over the years.  You couldn't have picked a better time in history to jump into 3D printing.  I hope you enjoy using this resources page and it leads you to a great 3D printer.  Enjoy and revolutionize the world one print at a time. 

Product Images Sourced From Amazon.com