It’s a well known fact that printer technology has evolved a lot in the past years. From the first ink jet printers, to laser printers and now, the stage belongs to the 3D printers. A new technology that is revolutionizing the way we look at printers, literally from a drawing on paper to a 3D object you can hold in your hand. A few years ago, 3D printers where just a concept, a thing we used to reed in science fiction navels, but nowadays, they are getting more and more attention.
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Because the prices for 3D printers have dropped, they can now be found even in some homes, not only in university science labs. They have bigger resolutions, so they can “print” more complicated designs with much more fidelity, putting them, for the first time in the shopping list of average consumers. Of course, they are still complicated pieces of equipment, and also bigger and slower than most ink jet printers, but on the other hand, they’re about the size of a big, laser printer. I’m sure that with time they will get smaller and smaller, and if the prices continue to drop, they will be a usual item on people’s desks.
Top 6 Cheap 3D Printers
But how do 3D printers actually work? It’s a question that I asked myself since the first time I’ve heard of such printers. 3D printers work by adding layer upon layer of material until they create a 3D object from a digital 3D file. There are other technologies, like DPL (digital light processing) that make 3D prints by shining laser lights in a plastic tub. When the light heats the molded material, it hardens. 3D printers are now getting smaller and smaller and soon we will be seeing them on everyone’s desk. But if you don’t want to wait until then, here are a few alternatives:
There are a ton of different Prusa i3 kits available and a bunch of different manufactures have started selling their own versions. The great thing about the Prusa i3 kits is the fact that, well… they are kits. For those of you who really want to jump into 3D printing, I highly recommend that you start out with a kit, because it will allow you to assemble your own 3D printer and learn the ins and outs of the technology.
One of the best Prusa i3 kits, in my opinion, is the HICTOP Prusa i3 kit on Amazon. For under $350 you get a 3D printer that has some features that you’d expect to find on $1,000+ machines, such as a heated build platform, a large print volume, and the ability to hit prints with resolutions as high as 100 microns.
Ultimately, at a little over $300, the HICTOP Prusa i3 has everything you need to get started with 3D printing and it won’t cost you a fortune, either.
Another good Prusa i3 option is the Alunar Prusa i3 kit on Amazon.
Another decent low cost 3D printer under $400 is the Printrbot Play 1505. It doesn’t have the build volume (~4” x 4” x 5”) or features (it doesn’t have a heated print bed and, therefore, can only print in PLA) of the Prusa i3 kits, but you won’t have to assemble it either.
Still, though, I highly recommend that you assemble your first 3D printer, just so you have a good idea of how they are put together. If you want to skip the assembly process, though, and you’re looking to spend under $400, the Printrbot Play 1505 is a decent option.
3. M3D Micro
The M3D Micro was one of the most successful 3D printer Kickstarter campaigns in history. And, while the Micro has one of the smallest frames on the market, it maximizes every inch of its design and is still able to deliver a respectable build volume (at least, for its size). It’s also pretty easy to use and it can be up and running in about a half an hour or so.
One downside though, is that like the Printrbot Play 1505, the M3D Micro does not come with a heated print bed and, thus, cannot print in ABS material. In the end, the M3D Micro is probably best suited for anyone who wants an easy-to-use lightweight 3D printer that won’t take up a lot of room on their desk.
The FlashForge Finder originally released at a price of $699 but has since fallen to just below $500. At this price, it’s almost a steal…
No, there is no heated print bed, which means you can only print with PLA filament. However, if you’re looking for one of the easiest and most reliable 3D printers to use under $500, the FlashForge Finder is your best bet.
It has a build volume of ~6” x 6” x 6” and can hit resolutions as high as 100 microns. And, since FlashForge has been making 3D printers for awhile, it’s a safe bet that you can count on their support team in the event that something goes wrong with your printer.
5. QIDI TECH I
In my opinion, the QIDI TECH I is the best 3D printer under $1,000. Technically, the TECH I is a knock-off of the FlashForge Creator Pro, which was a knock-off of the MakerBot Replicator 2. (I know, that’s a lot of knock-offs going on!)
But, just because it’s a knock-off doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. In fact, since the original MakerBot Replicator 2 was an open-source design, you can expect similar quality.
The only difference? The TECH I costs a fraction of what both the Replicator 2 and Creator Pro cost.
As far as specs go, the TECH I has a decent build volume at roughly ~9” x 6” x 6”, a heated print bed, and it also sports dual extruders, which is virtually unheard of for a 3D printer that costs under $700.
And, perhaps the biggest draw of the TECH I (aside from it’s amazing price point) is the fact that there is already a large community that has built up behind the Replicator 2 and Creator Pro and so there are already a ton of available upgrades and mods that will work with this printer.
Another great alternative to the QIDI TECH I is the ROBO 3D R1 Plus. The newer version of the R1 Plus (the R2) should be coming out soon, but if you can’t wait this one is still a great option.
The R1 Plus comes with a pretty hefty build volume at ~8” x 9” x 10”, as well as it features a heated print bed (and, thus, the ability to print in ABS and other materials) and the ability to hit resolutions as high as 100 microns. While the TECH I offers more potential, if you’re looking for an affordable 3D printer from a company based in the USA for support-related reasons, then the R1 Plus may be the better option for you.
It’s true, the market for 3D printing is not that wide yet. But it’s a technology still in development and in few short years you will be able to find them at your local computer dealership. And, to be honest, I sometimes doubt that 3D printing will reach to the wide audience because, if everybody will have to chance to make products at home, why bother and buy them. I am talking about small to medium objects that you could make using your printer buddy. And, why not, even make a business out of it? 3D printing and affordable 3D printers are the way to remodeling our society.
Update: This post was updated by Brent Hale, who runs 3DForged.com, where he reviews today’s top 3D printers, as well as offers 3D printing guides and covers the latest news from around the industry.