3D Printers are not cheap, but more and more people are looking for the get their hands on one to try it out. Fortunately, prices are finally coming down to earth after the initial phase of excitement. The cheapest 3D printer is not always the best one, but we thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of the 5 most affordable options for folks on a budget. The following is our top 5 recommendations for affordable desktop 3D printers:
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XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0
The Da Vinci 1.0 was the winner of the prestigious CES Editor’s Choice Award for the most affordable 3D printer. And for good reason! This machine is the industry leader in price while also delivering solid features and functionality. It provides a great low cost entry point while maintaining relative performance and precision.
The 7.8″ x 7.8″ x 7.8″ printable area is more substantial than the machine initially looks to provide. It terms of “build area” it actually features the most volume of any 3D printer under $1000 on the market today.
In terms of performance, the Da Vinci 1.0 is cable of printing at a respectable 150mm per second and at a level of detail up to 100 microns. This is generally a bit better than industry average.
Printable material will be the standard ABS or PLA, both of which print comparably to other printers in the price range.
Overall, you’ll find that the Da Vinci 1.0 is by far the best value in the category at less than $500.
UP! Mini Desktop Printer
The UP! Mini is another great option to consider as an affordable desktop 3D printer. It’s compact and polished, perfect for someone looking for plug-and-play functionality without a lengthy learning curve. Overall, it’s another solid affordable option to consider.
Set-up is relatively easy, although the printed manual has some “translation” issues. However, online and phone support is top notch. There are also plenty of instructional videos to help guide you along, should you run into problems.
The UP! Mini has 10 different color combinations out of the box. This should be ample for most projects. Like the Da Vinci, it can handle both ABS or PLA printing material without any issues.
When compared with the Da Vinci, you are looking at a significantly smaller print area of 4.75″ x 4.75″ x 4.75″. This is great for smaller projects, but this is one of the smallest build areas currently on the market, so take note before you start designing. Similarly, the layer resolution (level of detail) is not as robust as the Da Vinci, coming in at around 200 microns at best.
In an effort to compete with the Da Vinci, the UP! Mini has recently reduced the pricing on these models. Expect to pay just under $600 as the market currently stands. See below for updated real-time pricing.
RepRap Prusa Mendel
For the more adventurous out there, the RepRap Prusa Mendel is an affordable option if you are willing to roll up the sleeves! This is one of the better DIY 3D printer kits currently available. It’s certainly not a viable option for everyone, but you can definitely save money while getting a fully featured 3D printer once fully assembled.
The build area for the Prusa Mendel is a relatively standard 7″ x 7″ x 5″. This is more than adequate for most common 3D printing tasks, but check you project specs before investing in this kit.
The big selling point for all RepRap’s include the Prusa Mendel is the complete control over customization. Don’t like your nozzle diameter? You can change it! Looking for a better software system? You can choose from a range of open source solutions to fit your needs. The flip side is that – as you might imagine – this involves more skill, patience, and tools than your average “closed” system like the UP! Mini or Da Vinci. As a disclaimer, make sure you are up for the learning curve before you buy.
The open architecture is ideal for tinkerers and the technically inclined. There is a great community around the various RepRap models and plenty of resources available. You may have to dig a little to find what you are looking for, but it is out there. Attractively priced at just under $600, the Prusa Mendel is an excellent option for DIYer’s on a budget.
XYZprinting Da Vinci 2.0
The Da Vinci 2.0 is the next evolution of XYZprinting’s initial basic offering. It offers some of the higher end features that are attractive to people looking for added functionality. Still, it keeps the overall price tag manageable at less than $650 per unit. Overall, this is a good “next step up” option if the Da Vinci 1.0 or UP! Mini is not quite up to the task.
As you might imagine, the 2.0 is very similar in most ways to the Da Vinci 1.0. You can expect the same plug-and-play functionality out of the box and other nice bonus features like automatic software updates/upgrades. The 2.0 is again built with ease of use in mind.
Where the 2.0 differs most importantly is that it features dual extruders (print nozzles). This allows for more intricate 3D prints. For example, you an load different colors into the separate extruders for multi-colored printing projects. Another new feature is the “automatic nozzle cleaning” functionality. This improvement is actually quite useful, as the 1.0 model would require manual cleaning after extended use.
One drawback is that XYZprinting inexplicably decreased the build area to a mediocre 5.9″ x 7.8″ x 7.5″ volume. It’s a relatively minor reduction, but for some projects every inch counts. Overall, you are trading off build area for the added benefit of dual extruders and automatic cleaning. It’s a trade-off that will work for some people, but not for others. Either way, the Da Vinci 2.0 is still a good budget printer.
The Solidoodle is another popular entry in the budget 3D printing arena. It definitely has it’s supporters and detractors, but it doesn’t try to be a state of the art 3D printer. What it does is provide a simple interface for aspiring printers to learn the ropes and get a handle on how 3D printing works in practice. I wouldn’t recommend this to an advanced printer as you could easily become frustrated with the limitations. Rather, it is perfect for small projects with clear goals and simple designs.
One of the leading features of this Solidoodle 4 model is the industry leading (for it’s price grouping) build area of 8″ x 8″ x 8″. That’s slightly better than even the acclaimed Da Vinci 1.0 and is an ample size for experimenting with different types of builds.
Like the other competitors, it can handle either PLA or ABS material for printing. The layer resolution can get up to 100 microns, which is pretty good for a budget 3D printer. It’s also compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux (nice for Linux users).
One gripe is that the system can get out of calibration after around 100 runs or so, requiring you to go in and re-calibrate (instructions included). This can be a bit of an annoyance, especially for heavy usage. However, the support team is very helpful and responsive which makes troubleshooting a much less stressful process.
Printrbot is not one of the largest players, but they do have a presence in the 3D printing space. Their Printrbot Simple (review here) was one of the early favorites for open concept DIY 3D printers. The Printrbot Play is very different, however.
Targeting the lower end of the 3D printing price spectrum, you will only need to spend about $400 (see this listing for lower price). This is among the cheapest I’ve seen.
Best of all, it’s not a cheap knock off and has lots of happy fans. It’s not without drawbacks. It’s a small printer with a 4″ x “4” x 5″ build area. But it’s this small and lighter weight design that makes the Play extremely portable as well. It’s be rated one of the best 3D printers for school aged children, but you will find it ideal for beginners to intermediates of all ages. Note: The “untethered” printing ability is particularly interesting to experiment with.
This isn’t the fastest 3D printer (only 50mm/sec), not does it offer the best resolution (50 microns), but it was the most fun for me to “play” with (literally). It’s a printer that truly matches it’s name. Your kids will love it, but so will you. That’s a pretty cool feat.
Cheap 3D Printers to Avoid
The five printers mentioned above are all solid value for the price. We are very comfortable recommending them to readers as we have used them ourselves! However, there are some other cheap 3D printer options that you should steer clear of. In our experience, these 3D printers are inexpensive for a reason and you will be more frustrated with your investment in the long run. Some of these companies are just going through “growing pains” so it is entirely possible that later iterations will be much better. As it stands now, stay away from the following models:
Cubify Cube 3D Printer (2nd Gen): We were pretty excited when this printer was released as it had the appearance of polished machine. What you get – however – is a printer that looks nice as a paperweight, but is barely functional as a 3D printer. The complaints are many and varied.
1) First, it has a very difficult time printing with ABS material. ABS and PLA are the two industry standards for printable material. Almost every printer can use both effectively. The worst part is that the machine advertises that it does – in fact – print ABS, when this is clearly not the case.
2) Secondly, the replacement cartridges are vastly overpriced. I’m assuming this is part of the business model, much like what HP does with traditional “authorized” ink replacement. This might be acceptable if the rest of the 3D printing industry behaved this way. The truth is that many of the open systems and even some of the closed systems offer flexible cartridge fulfillment from various affordable suppliers.
3) Lastly, the machine is built on simplicity. Normally this would be a nice thing as an introductory model for beginners. However, the machine is simple and stupid! It is needlessly slow – slower than many of its competitors – while also being marginally reliable in terms of production quality. Even the WiFi capability is tricky to configure. All in all, this is a poorly executed product.
It’s a shame that the core product is so poor because we found the customer support to be very helpful and courteous, as much as they could be given the circumstances. Just to reiterate, we do NOT recommend trying to save a few bucks with this 3D printer. You will be much better served by selecting a model from the table below.
Affordable 3D Printer Comparison Table
The table below details the best budget 3D printers. If you are looking for a broader overview of the different best 3D printers by categories, check out this page.
|Brand/Model||Build Area||Max Print Speed||Filament Types||Layer Resolution||Extruders||Nozzle Diameter||Open/Closed System||Warranty||Price|
|XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0||7.8" x 7.8" x 7.8"||150mm/sec||ABS or PLA||100-400 microns||Single||0.4mm||Closed||12 month||About $499 here|
|UP! Mini||4.75" x 4.75" x 4.75"||100mm/sec||ABS or PLA||200-400 microns||Single||0.4mm||Closed||12 month||About $599 here|
|RepRap Prusa Mendel||7" x 7" x 5"||customizable||customizable||customizable||customizable||customizable||Open||3 month||About $599 here|
|XYZprinting Da Vinci 2.0 Duo||6" X 7" X 7.8"||150mm/sec||ABS or PLA||100-400 microns||Dual||0.4mm||Closed||3 month||About $649 here|
|Solidoodle SD-3DP-4||8" x 8" x 8"||200mm/sec||ABS or PLA||100-400 microns||Single||0.4mm||Closed||2 month||About $680 here|
|Printrbot Play||4" x 4" x 5"||80mm/sec||PLA||50 microns||Single||0.4mm||Closed||2 month||About $399 here|