Monoprice Maker Architect 3D Printer Review [2021]: Good Budget Pick?

Monoprice has made a name for themselves in the 3D printing world by finding their own niche within the industry. They often reproduce open-source systems and sell them for a fraction of the cost of the real 3D printer. With the low price though, you often still get top-notch quality, at least for some of their models.

Monoprice Maker Architect is a “workhorse” for a fraction of the cost. We put workhorse in quotes as this model has been the middle of a lot of controversies. Some users report amazing reviews of an awesome machine for dirt cheap, while others report a machine that barely stands on its own. It had all the promise of being a break-through.

Unfortunately, cutting costs in this situation did not work out. One of the biggest sales of the Maker architect is it is modeled after the Flash Forge Pro and MakerBot Replicator, which each run well over $1,500. You could find the Maker Architect for about $300.

Of course, this is a budget 3D printer, so it does have its limitations. It does not have a heated bed, nor is there an auto-leveling feature. You can upgrade it, but Monoprice no longer supports this machine, so you are on your own with this. But, if you can get past the limitations, this is a decent 3D printer for very few dollars.

Core Features of the Monoprice Maker Architect:

  • Wooden Frame: Put the Monoprice Maker Architect right next to the MakerBot Replicator, and you will have a hard time saying which is which. The Maker Architect uses an extremely similar wooden mostly enclosed design. The top of the machine is open where the wiring and cable run. Other than that, the walls are clear plastic windows framed by thin wood walls. I do really like the design, even if it is borrowed from another printer.
  • FlashForge Mighty Board: As I previously mentioned, Monoprice is known for using open source 3D printers as the basis for their models. They took it as far as installing the FlashForge Mighty Board in the Maker Architect. This is the main control board for 3D printers. So you were essentially getting a FlashForge 3D printer brain inside of a MakerBot Replicator frame. Find one online where they sell for under $300, that’s a steal.

Key Specifications

Here are the key specs of the Monoprice Maker Architect 3D printer:

Build Area 8.9″ x 5.7″ x 5.9″
Filament Types PLA
Extruders 1
Nozzle Diameter 0.4 mm
Open/Closed System Open
Warranty None
Price Discontinued

Pros:

Some of the “nice to have things” on the Monoprice Maker 3D Printer:

  • Upgradable (somewhat): depending on who you talk to you will get different results when it comes to successfully upgrading the Maker Architect 3D printer. Some users have reported not being able to upgrade their machines at all. While others have upgraded it without any issues, however, if you can upgrade, they are awesome. You can get yourself a heated build plate to be print with more filaments. Also, you can set up the Maker Architect with dual extruders. Multiple filaments, colors, prints, and quicker printing is always a good thing.
  • Price: Monoprice’s claim to fame is using open-source designs and finding ways to cut costs, which trickles down to the consumer. They have created some amazing, high-performing 3D printers for a fraction of the cost of the original. The Maker Architect is no different. You can save yourself about $1,000 by going with Monoprice. If you just need a cheap addition to your collection or need to get into the game without breaking the bank, the Monoprice Maker 3D Printer is a great option for that. Monoprice Maker 3D Printer

Cons:

Some of “not so nice to have things” with the Monoprice Maker Architect:

  • Unheated build plate: This means limited choices with a filament. It is mostly suited for printing with PLA, but there are a few other filaments you can use as well.
  • Limited connectivity: You can use either a USB connection or print files stored on an SD card, but there is no WiFi capability. Well, this isn’t terrible, it does take away some functionality and you will need to have a computer nearby if that is how you plan to transfer models to the printer.
  • Discontinued: Unfortunately, the Monoprice website no longer provides support for this 3D printer, so buyer beware. You can still find it on Amazon and a few other sites, but you will have to dig through websites and forums for any troubleshooting help. If you enjoy a tough problem and are good at finding solutions, then this shouldn’t be an issue for you.

Final Take: A controversial 3D Printer that is Best Left in the Past

When Monoprice supported the Maker Architect, it was a great 3D printer. It is a duplicate of one of the best workhorse 3D printers we have ever seen. It was very similar to its popular open-source, still manufactured, models it is based off. With many similar parts and components, the Monoprice machine ran almost identical to its counterparts. As well Monoprice is known for making high quality, budget-friendly 3D printers. But there is a reason the company decided to stop supporting the Maker Architect.

There have been too many issues surrounding this 3D printer to advise anyone to pursue it. From miss-marketing of an upgradeable machine to failing parts, it is not worth the headaches. There are a lot of other duplicates that perform just as well and even better than the Maker Architect, and their respective companies still support them. Don’t let this one scare you from Monoprice. They are still a great and reliable 3D printer company and offer many other great machines.

Further Read

Anycubic i3 Mega Review: Is It Worth Buying in 2021?

The first step in your 3D printing journey is finding the right unit. There are a ton out there, but don’t worry, we’re here to help you sort through all the hype and find the best equipment for your needs.

Anycubic has been making 3D printers since 2015. It’s based in Shenzhen, in the province of Guangdong, China. Its i3 Mega is part of its growing line of 3D printers designed for non-industrial users. You can order it from any of their 20 warehouses in Europe, Australia, or the United States, and when you join their website as a member, you get new member discounts you can apply to future purchases.

They started manufacturing the i3 Mega in 2018, and it’s since grabbed “best 3D printer under $400” across a variety of technology review blogs.

Now that your curiosity is piqued, we’ll give you the bottom line: the i3 Mega is a great printer for desktop users. It gives you a lot of awesome for your buck. Let’s get into the specifics of how.

Why go with the Anycubic i3 Mega?

Compact, affordable and reliable, the i3 Mega represents one of the best VALUE picks of the 3D printers we've tested. It's flexible enough for most small projects, while being popular enough to be well supported and resourced.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Technical Specifications (and Why They Matter)

Measurements and other tech specs sound boring when you read them straight off a list, but they’re crucial. A 3D printer’s specs will dictate the space, time, and money you need to sink into making your imagination come to life. So here’s why the Anycubic i3 Mega will help you realize those dreams:

Size

The printer itself is 405mm tall by 410mm wide by 453mm deep, or about 16 inches by 16 inches by 18 inches, and weighs in at about 11kg, or 24 ¼ pounds. This makes it an ideal size for desktop storage and use.

Print size maxes out at 210mm by 210mm by 205mm, or about 8 ¼ inches by 8 ¼ inches by 8 inches. Not the largest finished products in the world, but definitely a good fit for action figures, jewelry, or parts to snap together as a whole.

Construction

The printer’s frame is sheet metal, which gives it the needed rigidity for frequent use. This won’t crack or warp on you after six months of cranking out your new line of plastic space army men or interchangeable watch straps.

Its printing bed is made of a patented composite from Anycube that heats quickly and evenly during printing and cools fast so you are able to snap off your product with no issues when you’re done.

This does come semi-constructed, which means you will need to put together its frame and printing bed with eight screws and three wires (provided in the shipment) before your first print. Keep that in mind, and make sure you have a few basic tools on hand.

Anycubic i3 Mega Review

Temperature

The ambient operating temperature is between 8 and 40 degrees Centigrade, which is about 46 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The maximum temperature for the extruder when it’s operating is 260 degrees Centigrade, or 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and the maximum temperature during operation for the printer bed is 110 degrees Centigrade, or 230 degrees Fahrenheit.

These temperatures are ideal for standard printing filaments such as PLA or ABS but may not reach a maximum needed for more specialized materials.

Printing

The layer resolution of this printer is 0.05 – 0.3 mm, which gives you an idea of the level of detail you can get. Layer resolution is the thickness of each layer the printer builds while constructing your product.

The thinner that each layer is, the more detail the final product will have, because variations of the levels is what builds the features of your printed object. The i3 Mega’s range is well below the standard size of 0.4mm, so you’ll get crazy good details even if you choose the thickest setting.

The positioning accuracy of the nozzle is 0.0125mm on the x and y axes, which are the up and down  and side to side parts of your design, and 0.002mm on the z axis, which represents the depth of your project.

The nozzle takes either 0.4mm or 1.75mm filaments, which means it takes either of the standard sizes. Its travel speed tops out at 100mm per second, and its print speed ranges from 20 – 100 mm per second. The recommended speed is 60 mm per second for optimal work.

The printing uses fused deposition modeling. This is the standard way that filaments are fused together in the printing process, so if you are familiar with 3D printing at all, you will be familiar with this printer’s process.

Electrical

The working voltage, or how much voltage is safe to pass through the wires during operating, is 12V DC. Its input rating is 110V/220V AC, 50/60HZ.

Software. This printer uses Cura for its slicer software, which is the program that translates your design into layers for the printer. Any 3D drafting program that produces .STL, .OBJ, .DAE, or .AMF is compatible for input, and the software output format is GCode. The company recommends an SD card for connectivity. Using a USB port is possible but recommended for experts only.

Why go with the Anycubic i3 Mega?

Compact, affordable and reliable, the i3 Mega represents one of the best VALUE picks of the 3D printers we've tested. It's flexible enough for most small projects, while being popular enough to be well supported and resourced.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

The Good

We’ll mention the best thing first: the price. You can find the Anycubic i3 Mega for under $300 dollars at a variety of reputable sellers, and that makes it one of the best desktop 3D printing deals out there. You can get a further deal if you’ve never bought from this company before.

Buying through their website as a registered first-time customer lowers the purchase price to $239. (That doesn’t include shipping costs, but since they have warehouses in twenty countries including the United States, you shouldn’t see more added on than you would buying from a US-based supplier.)

Both the slicer AND the output software is free and open source, which means a wide range of accessibility and customizable options. That keeps your operating costs low and your software easy to find. (That also means it doesn’t have regular bug fixing upgrades, though, so make sure you see examples before you use any specific modulations.)

The filament detection and resume functions work together to give you better control of the printing process. Filament detection lets you know when you are running low on a filament, and with the resume process, you can pause your job to reload the filament and then continue printing without a hitch.

And of course the resume function is great for all kinds of other reasons as well. The company’s site advertises it as a guard against power outages, which is great for unexpected interruptions, but you can also use it deliberately to better plan your printing around your life.

If you have to go to work or school or somewhere else in the middle of a process that produces a lot of heat and moving parts, and you don’t want to accidentally burn down your house or office, you can pause it and start right back up as soon as you get back. It’s a great convenience and safety feature rolled into one.

As a side note, you can put both of these functions to creative use by switching filament colors or types when the previous filament runs out. This is a great way to work around the single-nozzle extruder limits without having to buy a more expensive dual extruder model.

The printer’s TFT (thin-screen transistor) touch screen is easy to use and labeled intuitively. Its buttons are big enough for comfortable manipulation, and are a bright blue that stands out well against the white background without searing your retinas. The commands are simple and take you through your processes step by step without making you backtrack or circle around.

The nozzle is a “hot end” with straight through design, which means that the temperature stays consistently hot enough for the filament to flow through easily, for easier cleanup and less of a chance for the nozzle to clog while in use.

Anycubic i3 mega

Anycubic packs this printer with a number of thoughtful accessories. Along with spare parts, you get miniature tools such as tweezers meant to ease not only the setup process but also your continuous use.

A nice touch is a pair of plastic gloves for you to use while assembling to keep the surfaces clean and the joints free of debris that comes from working on small-scale mechanics. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference, and it adds to the credibility of the i3 Mega as a great starter printer by providing things you may not know you need yet if you’re just starting out.

And above and beyond the basics, Anycubic gives you two significant goodies: a spare hotend assembly and a full spool of 1.75mm filament. Both of these extras are a major bargain to get free within this printer’s price range. (Beware that the quality of filament seems to vary across different shipments, however.)

Assembly consists of bolting the frame to the rest of the printer. That’s it. All bolts (plus spares!) included, as is a tiny Phillip’s head screwdriver that you may ignore for your own or use with confidence, depending on your own tool situation.

Earlier in 2018, Anycubic put out another version of this printer with an upgraded printer bed. Called the Ultrabase, it has a texture coating on the Borosilicate glass bed. This lets your designs stick to the bed without needing any outside adhesives, and its 7 Mohl’s hardness rating means you can clean it with blades without worrying about scratching it up.

The Bad

This company does not offer warranties. That is super crucial to keep in mind if you don’t have access to a way to fix things when they break, or new parts if those take a dive.

And contacting Anycubic for customer support may be tricky because of their international base, so make sure to have all your information on hand when getting in touch with them about a problem so you can get everything settled at once.

This is a single-extruder printer, so you won’t be able to combine colors or types of filaments in your creations. This may also affect the creation of scaffolding for protruding bits of your prints; if you are planning on printing a lot of overhang, you may want to consider another printer that has dual extruders, or at least another model that has a bigger printer base.

With this printer, you will be limited to the type of printing filament you can use. It can handle PLA, ABS, HIP, and wood composite. This is a great selection for the majority of 3D printing, especially for those just learning about the process, but keep this in mind if you are planning on printing with other types of filaments. Also consider if you’ll be able to vent any heat or material fumes from your work area.

Its layer resolution range means great detail work – but it also means a slower print time for things that don’t have variations in their surfaces. However, the convenient size of this printer and the ability to go into a markedly thinner layer resolution than is common more than makes up for any lag in printing time.

Overall Take: Anycubic i3 Mega Review

The Anycubic i3 Mega is an excellent introduction to 3D printing. Its ease of use, quality construction, and thoughtful details are perfect for those who want to get into this type of DIY but don’t have the cash or extensive know-how to make other models work.

Its use of open source software connects it to a wonderful source of knowledge – fellow 3D printing geeks! – that will keep its workings fresh without the bother and expense of proprietary software updates.

Although the size may be a limiting factor for more projects of more industrial dimensions, it goes beyond the basics for personal and beginner to intermediate needs. And the Ultra Base gives you the perfect balance between adhesive during printing and easy to pull away once cooled.

Bottom Line: highly recommended for anyone who needs a reliable desktop model or is looking to upgrade from a less reliable experience. Pick it up directly from Anycubic right here.

Why go with the Anycubic i3 Mega?

Compact, affordable and reliable, the i3 Mega represents one of the best VALUE picks of the 3D printers we've tested. It's flexible enough for most small projects, while being popular enough to be well supported and resourced.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Further Reading:

A Guide to the Top 20 3D Printed Gift Ideas for a Any Season

The stress of shopping for gifts can really take the fun out of the holidays. You hate the crowds and the cut-throat capitalism that starts way before Black Friday, and you’re trying to think of something more personal (and easier!) to give the people you love.

No worries – your 3D printer is here to help. With hardware becoming more accessible and affordable every year, hobbyists and professionals alike offer an explosion of DIY ideas for all the folks on your list, as homemade as the macaroni portraits still hanging on your mom’s fridge and as useful as her favorite coffee mug. Here’s our handy guide to get your ideas flowing.

1. Jewelry

You don’t have to know anything about carats to give jewelry for the holidays. 3D printers are great for small individual items such as rings, earrings, bracelets, etc. Plus it lets you think outside the Tiffany’s box to make something that’s completely personalized – not just by engravings, either.

If it’s a shape that can be worn and material that can be melted into a filament, you can print it. Check out Cult’s pattern archives to get you started.

2. Containers (including for food)

Depending on where you are in life, containers are either the most boring OR the most useful thing on the planet. But 3D printers will make everyone on your list excited to get new ways to store their stuff. You can go as minimal or elaborate as you want, which is a running theme in this list.

Hollow boxes are some of the easiest ways to get started with 3D printing: the plans are basic, the shapes are in line, and several types of filaments are rated safe enough to use as food storage. (Double check which ones before you buy!)

Already over plain ol’ cubes? Just like with anything you can 3D print, you can add as much elaboration as your CAD can handle. Raised monograms in the font of your choice, motifs from favorite fandoms, handles and locks – get some great ideas here.

3. Phone stands/accessories

As phones have grown more elaborate, they’ve also grown more indispensable. And expensive. Now we can’t imagine how to live without them, or how to replace them when they break. That’s where your 3D printing skills save the day.

Your abilities to produce stands that fit the exact dimensions of your loved one’s phone, or a cover that hides the exact spot they cracked the screen last month, will earn you respect that will last well beyond the holiday season. Bonus points if you throw in a bag of rice (just in case).

4. Picture frames

For those on your list who insist that technology will never take the place of good old-fashion human connection, show them extra love with a frame built (or at least designed) with your own two hands. Sneak in a photo that reminds them of their favorite times, or an original piece of art they can admire wherever they choose.

They’ll think of you much more often than if they had to buy their own frames, and you can take the opportunity to personalize their view even more. Practical AND touching! Learn how with a few designs here.

5. Figurines

If you’ve had your 3D printer for any length of time, you’ve stumbled across some dedicated fans of all kinds showing off their plastic menagerie building skills. Why not harness their passions for your own gift-giving prowess? 3D printers are great for figurines and other character-based collectables.

You can replace someone’s long-lost favorite statuette, or replicate one they’ve never been able to quite get their hands on, or create an entirely new version of beloved character. There may be a learning curve for getting the details just right, but lean on the work of others if you’re unsure where to get started or where you’ve gone wrong. Learn how to get started here.

6. Customized puzzles

If you’ve given up finding jigsaw puzzles that can last more than ten minutes against your world-champion family get-togethers, or if you like the challenge but hate the pictures you find in stores, make your own! 3D printing means 3D pieces, and printing your own means embellishing however you want.

Copy something from the internet like these, or make your holiday gatherings a test of wits personalized for the intellects that will be gathered together. Plus, printing your own means you can make a gift you know will be just the right amount of pieces for whoever you give it to.

7. Pens (printed BY 3D and also 3D printing pens)

Good ink pens are one of the finer things in life and an excellent gift for someone you’d like to honor but don’t know well. Unfortunately, impressing someone like this gets expensive, especially when you get into the realm of personalizing.

With a 3D printer and an ink cartridge fit for your specifications, you can make a pen with more personal attention and way less cost. If you really want to get fancy but stay on theme, there are also 3D printing pens, which are handheld, freeform 3D printers that you wield like a drawing utensil to print out whatever your imagination commands! Here’s a few to get you started.

8. Utensils

You won’t be able to replace Grandma’s fine china with a 3D printer (yet), but you can help out the campers and new parents in your life. The internet is full of blueprints for big, simple eating utensils that have safer and more rugged shapes than traditional tableware.

Pair those with food-safe filament types, and you’ve got a way for outdoorsy folks to carry specialty items they wouldn’t otherwise want to get dirty. Add on bright colors and you’ll save new parents the headaches of looking for baby-safe pointy things that will stand out in the dishwasher and drawer alike.

9. Everyday fixes

If you’ve got someone on your list who says they don’t want anything, respect that. But don’t despair. You’ve got a great multipurpose tool at your disposal with a 3D printer, so ask if they have anything that needs fixing and offer your help.

You’ll both be surprised how much you can repair with a 3D printer and Google: everything from replacement cup handles to mechanical limbs have instructions somewhere out there. Don’t be afraid to share your maker abilities to make the world a better place for your loved ones!

10. Buttons/pins/patches

3D printing is all about marrying the practical with the fantastic. Harness that duality to help your gift list wear their fixes on their sleeves. An exact match for a button that went missing on a favorite coat would make a great present to show your attention to the details of someone’s life; 3D printed pins with favorite
symbols or slogans will make a receiver feel understood. You can print anyone’s point of view for them to proudly display.

11. Ornaments

If you’re in a festive mood this year, check out patterns for 3D printed ornaments. These make great early gifts for those you’ll see before all the official holiday hoopla gets started, or for those on your list who love decorations they can re-use every year. 3D printing materials are sturdier than traditional materials like tinsel and glass, so you’ll be able to give the gift of celebration for years to come.

12. Specialized grooming equipment

Bodies are weird, and so are the ways we keep them in tip-top shape. Take advantage of how customizable your 3D printing is and put it to work on a mustache comb, backscratcher – anything that helps the receiver take care of themselves exactly the way they want. Make sure you won’t get any weird looks when they open it; other than that, go nuts!

13. Placemats

At a certain stage of life, everyone realizes they need placemats without knowing the least bit how to decide on what kind. Take the guesswork away for new homeowners, newlyweds, new grads, or new parents (or old parents with a new table) by printing a set for them.

Another easy shape to design, 3D printed placemats also have the advantage of being easy to clean on the spot without having to get to a washing machine. The small but present porousness of the weave lets the mats breathe and drain of moisture while catching spills before they hit the table. They may not sound glamorous, but the right person will love you for them.

14.Hobby accessories (loom frames, knitting needles, easels)

Getting a new hobby usually means spending more than just time, so help someone discover a new passion this holiday by printing accessories that match their interests.

Plans for weaving looms, knitting needles, art easels, paint trays – anything above a certain level of precision will help them hone their skills without getting in the way of their developing style. This is one present that’s better to spoiler alert ahead of time so you can get the specifics from the source and make sure you’re not guessing at their needs.

15. Pet accessories (Scratching post for cat, chew toy for dogs, play tubes for small rodents)

Our animal babies deserve love too, and it’s easy to give it to them with your 3D printer. Use tough filaments with some give for felines who need a place to scratch their claws, and use a tight weave for canines who see the world as their chew toy.

Assess the level of playful destruction you’re willing to put up with and
that will be safe for your buddy’s play style, and print your best playtime ever! And don’t leave the more unconventional pets out of the fun, either. 3D printing makes for great rodent runs, crates, snake basking rocks, and bird perches.

16. Car accessories (floor mats, mini trash can, custom license plate frame)

When you can’t afford to imitate those yearly car commercials with big bows on a new Lexus, treat your friends and family to things that make their current wheels better.

3D printed car floor mats have the same advantages of place mats: easier cleanup, more solid construction, slower wear for something that’s
constantly under foot. Mini trashcans are a great thing to have sprinkled throughout a vehicle, and a homemade one will avoid the “I bought this because you’re a slob” vibe of something mass-produced.

Anyone proud of their school, sorority, state, pet charity, anything that says “them” will love the street-legal customization of a personalized license plate frame that fits their car and their life perfectly.

17. Key hook/keychain

The best gift I ever got was the last ten minutes back from my morning routine. I got them back in the form of a key hook hung right next to the door, where I can know they’re hanging for me to scoop up on my way out without having to dig through the seven million other places they could have been before.

Give someone on your list the same peace of mind by printing them a place to keep their going-out necessities where they don’t have to think twice about it. And if you’re feeling extra helpful, printing a matching key chain will keep their keys noticeable as they move through the rest of their day too.

18. Building blocks

If the star baby of the family has already been showered with everything their parents could think of, give them a simple yet effective playtime set of building blocks. Like puzzles and figurines, these blocks can be as elaborate or as simple as you feel is best.

You can round the edges for someone prone to teething, you can recreate parts of a castle for an aspiring dragon-slayer, you can build words and letters into the side for preschool readiness – whatever works! And best of all, you can replace anything that gets broken, lost, or just plain disappears without worrying about finding another exact match or buying a whole new set.

19. Tea pot

Cold weather always brings the tea people out of the woodwork, and if you have anyone like that you need a gift for, 3D printing a teapot would be perfect. It’s the pinnacle of the practical/thoughtful combination that makes the best presents, while being general enough for several different types of use if you’re not 100% sure which one the recipient likes best. If you don’t feel like you’re up to designing your own, the internet has you covered.

20. Bobby pins/hair pins

Anyone who uses these can always use more, especially if you round off the ends of yours for more comfortable wear than traditional straight-edged hairpins. Find a pattern that matches what your recipient wears, then print as many as you can.

This is great for college friends while you’re still in school, or for anyone, you know who is living in a dorm or bathroom-sharing situation. Couple them with a matching container and they’ll appreciate them even more.

These are just a few ways you can use your 3D printer to work for you this gift-giving season. Check out our project files for more ideas, and happy printing!

How to Find the Perfect CAD Software for Your 3D Printer

You’ve finally gotten the 3D printer of your dreams. Yay! Now here comes the hard part: figuring out what software makes it do exactly what you want it to.

There are a lot of options out there, but don’t get overwhelmed. After you figure out the answers to a few basic questions, you’ll find what’s right for you and be printing that sweet action figure or prosthetic leg in no time.

First, a mini crash course in CAD: computer-aided drafting. This is the type of software you’ll need to design what you want to print. It can be either vector-based, which uses traditional drafting shapes, or raster-shape based, which uses pixels on a dot matrix data structure to show a picture.

Confused? Basically, with CAD, you can either draw using shapes or draw using pixels. Which type you use depends on your personal preference and also a little bit on the projects you’re doing.

3D modelling in CAD comes in various levels of design nuance and manipulation. 3D wireframe software means you manually draw individual through lines to create a 3D picture from a 2D shape. The drawings don’t have any mass properties associated with them, and you can’t directly add any features to it; they have to be constructed as part of the through lines.

3D “dumb” solids start as basic 3D shapes such as cubes and spheres. You can manipulate them by adding or subtracting solid volumes. But you can’t see much (or any) motion between the components.

3D solid modelling has two variations that expand beyond the capabilities of “dumb” solids. Parametric modelling lets you manipulate parts of your design while keeping the geometric and functional relationships of the parts to each other and the whole. But keep in mind you have to change the parameters of the design for this instead of directly manipulating the shapes themselves.

That’s where direct or explicit modelling comes in. This variation lets you modify your design by directly interacting with the model’s geometry. It’s the closest you can get to moulding your design out of clay with your hands. Combine this with freeform surface modelling within your software, and you’ve got the whole package covered.

Getting Started with 3D Printing – Steps for Learning How to 3D Print

At this point, you’re either nodding along or pulling up Wikipedia. We’ve come to the first real step in your 3D software buying journey:

  • Be honest about your drafting skill level. It’s super important for you to know what you know before you choose what you want. The best part of 3D printing is how accessible it’s gotten for everybody who wants to join in. But that also means it’s easy to get in over your head. To keep your printer from becoming your most expensive paperweight, take into account how familiar you already are with CAD and how much you are willing to learn. There is software all along the spectrum of assistance, from basic models that are already made that let you choose your own finishing details, to completely blank slates that assume you do this for a living. Choose wisely, and you’ll be right in that sweet spot between being able to do what you want and continuously learning something new.

Once you figure out what skill level you need your software to be at, it’s time for another step of self-reflection: price.

  • Be honest about your budget. Another cool result of 3D printing becoming mainstream is the wide variety of 3D modeling CAD software prices out there. The rise in maker space culture has spawned free programs whose quality start at adequate and go to excellent. But as with all software, “free” doesn’t necessarily mean “perfect.” You may find that if you have the money for it, shelling out for a more professional version is worth it. Be careful as well to not equate price with assistance. If you’ve figured out that your skill level is lower than what you need for what you want to do, pricier programs may be tempting. Pay more, get more, right? While usually true, you can easily overwhelm yourself by getting something that has way too many features and a customer base assumed to have too much previous knowledge for its instructions to be useful to you.

Now it’s time to expand your planning beyond yourself:

  • Consider your whole user base. This is easy if you’re getting 3D software for your own amusement. No other users mean you get to decide everything based on your own parameters. But 3D printing has become ubiquitous as a way for the public to get in touch with their own DYI side. Plus it’s more fun! Collaboration means combining brain strength and producing stuff that you wouldn’t be able to on your own. So embrace it. If you are a part of the maker space movement, you’ll need to go through steps 1 and 2 above for all the potential users you may have. That doesn’t mean you have to figure out everybody’s individual 3D modeling or CAD credentials and income, but it does mean you need to consider the lower ranges of need in both areas and how to compromise those so the higher end folks won’t get bored.
  • This is especially applicable if you’re in charge of a 3D printing operation within a public institution like a school or a public library. Will the CAD software be used as a teaching tool, or for more freeform experimental access? Will it be for general use, as in anybody who is curious can experiment with it? Or will it be for groups that are already selected for interest and knowledge of it, such as a high school robotics club or a library engineering program? This will also determine practical details such as how many user licenses doe you need, how long do you need the software to stay relevant before you can upgrade, what other hardware (if any) you may need for optimum performance, how teachable is the software to multiple people at once, and what is the troubleshooting process for the person in charge (which, if you’re in charge of ordering the software, will more than likely be you). Any other factors you know about the population who will be using the CAD will be extremely helpful with pointing you in the right direction.

Once you’ve figured out what you need, check out the list below of our ten best CAD software packages for 3D printing. They’re labeled by price point, experience level, and user needs so you can hone in on exactly which one works best for you. Click the links and explore!

Tinkercad

  • Price: Free
  • Experience Level: Beginner

User Needs: This works well for anyone who needs a thorough introduction to 3D printing simple shapes. The software is network-based, so no installation or user licenses are necessary, making it a great option for those who need group access but don’t have the money for multiple software copies.

Its website provides real-time support as well as templates for those who want to use them. However, its interface does not stay intuitive when adding complexity to shapes, so if you will be printing complicated stuff on the regular, you should probably find something more robust.

Google Sketchup

  • Price: Free for basic/$119 annually for Shop/$695 flat fee (no renewal fee) for Pro
  • Experience Level: Intermediate

User Needs: Another program you can start using for free, Sketchup is great for users who already know a little bit of 3D modeling theory and want a program that will grow with their skills.

It hides some of its best features in plug-ins, and the premium-price updates, natch, but if you have a grasp on the basics you can go straight to the Shop version and upgrade whenever you feel ready. We definitely recommend getting the Warehouse plug-in, which lets you access designs of other users and is a great place for inspiration.

AutoCAD

  • Price: $1,575 annually
  • Experience Level: Beginning – Professional

User Needs: This is the universal design software across professional engineering and architectural projects. You don’t have to be a pro to grasp its intuitive controls, but it might help to justify the cost and computer power necessary for this program. If you want to make 3D printing part of your job – or already do – AutoCAD will have your back.

See some comparisons here:

Blender

  • Price: free
  • Experience Level: Beginner – Professional

User Needs: Great for those leaning more towards the creative side of 3D design and printing. This is not just a CAD software on its own but a suite of 3D modeling programs that work together to realize bigger projects such as game animation.

Of course it 3D prints your models, too, and you have license to use it for profit or not, free and clear. That makes it perfect for an area like a public makerspace, where anyone who wants can design something and put it to use whether that’s printing a bracelet or designing a movie monster. It does depend on donations, so if you use it and like it throw a few bucks at the creators to keep this software going strong.

SolidWorks

  • Price: $3,995 unlimited license/additional $1295 per year for subscription tech support and upgrades
  • Experience Level: Beginner – Intermediate

User Needs: Anyone who appreciates intuitive design will love SolidWorks’ interface. Its commands are straightforward and out in the open, which is great for those who are learning and gaining confidence in 3D CAD.

Although its renderings are not quite as detailed as other programs with its capability levels and it lacks advanced design testing capabilities that makes it impractical for certain professional purposes, its CAD and 3D printing functions are top notch.

See some SolidWorks comparisons:

Onshape

  • Price: free for non-commercial use/$125 per month per user for professional version
  • Experience Level: Intermediate – Professional

User Needs: Sharing is caring with Onshape, at least with the free version – your designs on that level become public property, so be careful if you are looking for a commercial use package.

But the controls are easy to grasp, and the program is cloud-based and so you can run it on any computer you can get to. Just make sure you have a good internet speed, and, if you’re paranoid, another backup saving method for any network hiccups that may come along.

See some Onshape comparisons here:

Fusion 360

  • Price: Intermediate
  • Experience Level: $60 monthly/$495 annually/$990 for two years

User Needs: Another CAD software with its head in the cloud, Fusion 360 is also specifically designed to work well on both Macs and Windows machines, which definitely justifies its price. (Especially since it’s a bargain in the first place.)

Although it may still be expensive for those who are small budgets or have to justify any price at all, it’s perfect for private consulting and personal use when you do not have to worry about external regulations on your designs.

See some comparisons here:

Inventor

  • Price: $55 per month for Inventor LT Suite/$465 per month for Inventor HSM Pro/$7,500 one-time fee for Inventor HSM
  • Experience Level: Advanced – Professional

User Needs: Perfect for users who know every detail of their design and want to tinker with each one. The amount of tinkering Inventor lets you do is exactly what certain levels of 3D modeling and printing need – however, the same amount that is great for experienced designers can overwhelm first-time users, so this software is best for professionals or soon-to-bes, whether on their own time or in an office that lets you control every aspect of your design.

See some comparisons here:

3DS Max

  • Price: $190 a month/$1,505 annually/$2,859.50 for two years/$4,063.50 for three years
  • Experience Level: Advanced

User Needs: Previous knowledge of 3D modeling is key to getting the most out of this software. It rewards experience designers with a vast array of features that allow you to build your model to exacting specifications and look good doing it.

It also has stellar animation capabilities if that’s up your alley, and it interfaces seamlessly with other design programs to take your drawings into whatever other realm you need them.

Whether you’re setting up a station for beginners or wanting to let your own professional imagination go wild, this list of 3D computer-aided drafting software can get you started on your own 3D printing journey. Enjoy!

Further read, The Best 3D Printing Software

Sculpteo vs Shapeways: Which 3D Printing Service is Right for You?

3D printing services are companies that will professionally print your 3D models for you. The companies use professional grade 3D printers to create multiple smaller objects for various customers at the same time.

These companies give you the power of professional 3D printers without the up-front costs. You can choose from many different materials, colors, and finishes for your part. You can easily upload the object you want printed through over 40 different file types. Also, you will never have to worry about the quality of the final product as it is hand inspected by a professional before shipping.

Another great aspect of using a 3D printing service is the companies help improve and optimize your design. This ensures your designs are fool-proof for a 3D printer. They will analyze your prints by measuring thickness, overhangs, and various other features, the services make sure your object will come out exactly the way you want it to look.

I am going to compare two of the more popular 3D printing service companies, Sculpteo and Shapeways. While they are very similar, they also differ just enough that you may prefer one over the other.

Besides printing your models, both Sculpteo and Shapeways allow you to manage a virtual store. Here, customers from around the world can browse your 3D models, purchase them from you, for a price you set, and have the company print them out.

This also means if you don’t have a 3D model you want printed, you can easily search through the stores and marketplaces until you find one you like. If you can’t find exactly what you want, chose one you like and quickly customize it to make it your very own.

You may be asking, how does a 3D printing service work? It’s a fairly straight forward process. First, you create an object using the program of your choice and upload that object through the website of the 3Dpritning service. Next, your 3D file is analyzed to verify structural design, format, and size. You will get notified of any errors or sections of a model that will cause a 3D printer trouble.

Once you have resolved the issues and submitted an updated file, the model will be sent to a queue for the next available batch at the 3D printer it needs. Then, your object is printed, removed, and inspected. Now, any secondary processes will take place such as plating, painting, coating etc. Finally, the object will be shipped to the address of your choice. Pretty simple, right?

Now let’s dive into the specifics of Sculpteo and Shapeways.

Core Features of Sculpteo

Sculpteo is headquartered in France and has manufacturing in Paris and San Francisco. The company has been in business since 2009. Their 3D printing services are based on quick-turn processing. You can receive your part the next day after you place your order if you wish. Sculpteo ships worldwide, which is great for their customer base and your customer base if you choose to setup a virtual store.

Capabilities:

Instant quotes: The website offers an instant quote function, which gives you actual pricing as soon as your model is uploaded. The pricing will update as you modify your model. Pricing will vary from model to model. It is typical based around three parameters, total volume (material used), object size, and bounding box.

Expedited orders: Sculpteo is built for turning out your objects as quickly as you need them. You are able to get your object printed and shipped to you in typically 2 – 3 days after your order. As I previously mentioned, this can be expedited to a 1-day turnaround for a fee.

Of course, this service isn’t available for all prints. Only one of their plastic materials, white, unpolished Nylon PA12, is capable of the quickest turnaround time. However, you can add secondary processes to this material which will only add 1-2 extra days before you will receive the product. No matter what material and finish you choose, Sculpteo tries to get it finished as soon as possible. They are still very fast with their other materials, just not 1 day fast.

Automated mesh integrity: Not all 3D models are printable models. The 3D printer must be able to read and understand your 3D model in order to create it. Sculpteo makes this process a breeze with their automated analysis of your models.

Their program quickly analyzes the model for you once it is uploaded. Then it will show you where your model needs repairs. For repairs, you get three options: automatic, semi-automatic, or manual fixes. This enables all users, no matter experience, to prepare their models like a professional.

Materials and Finishes:

Sculpteo offers just about every material or finish you could want for a 3D object. You can choose from over 75 different combinations of the materials and finishes. As well, you can easily compare the pros and cons of the different materials Sculpteo offers on their website.

The materials include:

  • Plastics: nylons, flexibles, aluminium, glass, carbon
  • Resins: polyjet, acrylate, polyurethane, flexibles
  • Multi-color/Full color: composite multi-color
  • Metal: aluminum, titanium, stainless steel
  • Wax: brass, sterling silver, steel, bronze

The type of material will determine how your object is printed, which includes:

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS),
  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Binder Jetting
  • Casting

Core Features of Shapeways

Based out of New York with offices around the world, Shapeways aims to give the best quality objects for the lowest prices for their customers. This is accomplished with industrial printers and the best materials. Shapeways also ships worldwide. Shapeways has been in business since 2007. They aim to build a strong community to continue the growth of the 3D printing industry.

Capabilities

Instant quotes: Shapeways offers instant quoting just like Sculpteo. You will receive pricing as soon as your model is uploaded into the system. As well, the pricing will update as you make changes to your model. Price is determined by the type and amount of material used. You will not be charged for more intricate or highly detailed parts.

Auto and manual check mesh integrity: The auto check provides instant feedback to the designers on what they can do better next time they create a model. Once the model is approved by the auto check, it then gets passed to an engineer for a manual check.

The engineer will look at bounding box size, wall thickness, holes, interlocking parts, and fine details. This process ensures all models will be printed to exact specifications of the user.

A better looking, higher quality object will be the end result. While the two-check system is a slower process, Shapeways stands by it as they want to ensure the best quality for the end user.

Resources: Shapeways is full of great resources to assist users of all experience levels. They offer pre-print checklist to ensure your model will be ready to go and help push it through the integrity checks.

They have guides to show you how to convert your 3D model files to types that will upload into their systems. Also, they will give you tips on how to design to save money.

They show you how to design differently so that in the end you use less total material. Shapeways is trying to make it easier for everyone to get involved with 3D printing.

Materials

Shapeways lets you pick from over 60 materials and finishes to bring your 3D models to life. Hope on their website to see the full list. As well, you can see pricing, estimated shipping and suggestions of which materials to use depending on your models.

The materials include:

  • Plastics: strong, flexibles, nylons, frosted-detail, metallic, elastic
  • Metals: steel, silver, aluminum, gold platinum, brass, bronze
  • Plating: various plated metals
  • Ceramics: porcelain
  • Sandstone
  • Wax

As well you can choose from a variety of printing types:

  • SLS
  • Binder Jet Steel
  • Wax Casting

Sculpteo vs. Shapeways

Now that we have gotten through the details of each, you’re probably wondering which is a better 3D printing service. Both Sculpteo and Shapeways offer great 3D printing solutions for those of us who can’t afford or don’t want to invest in our own 3D printer.

Their online marketplaces are useful and effective. Thousands of people frequent them every day. There are thousands of different models you can choose from or browse through for inspiration on the virtual stores.

Sculpteo offers a few more printing types than Shapeways. However, Shapeways has some more exotic material than Sculpteo. You will get pricing instantly from both. As well, they each ship all around the world.

What I think it boils down to is what you are looking for in your 3D printing service. Are you looking for a super-fast service that will give you finished products in just a matter of days? Or is time not a factor for you and you don’t mind waiting a little longer before you get your parts?

Also, you need to factor in the pricing. For the exact same model, made from the same material, Sculpteo comes back near double what Shapeways quotes. This is typically a major factor in someone’s decision.

Can you afford the price for a 3 day turnaround? The nice thing is, you can always compare the two websites with your model and see where the pricing is for each. Once you have pricing, then you can decide on how quickly you need to receive the parts.

In the end, it’s tough to pick one or the other. Each service excels in some areas and lacks, to say the least, in others. No matter which one you choose, Sculpteo and Shapeways will provide quality 3D printed objects right to your door. Let your imagination run wild and start creating.

Recommended Reads

The Markforged Mark Two 3D Printer Review That You’ll Love

3D printing has been around for a long time. A lot longer than most people realize. The idea was first introduced back in the 90s, but, it is only just recently popped into the mainstream. It’s quite the mystery why this technology took so long to catch on. I believe a major factor in its slow growth was the lacking ability to 3D print more than just plastics. Just like the rest of the 3D industry, this lacking ability is quickly disappearing.

Markforged is a company changing the game when it comes to printing stronger, more durable parts. The founders come from the auto-sport industry where they saw a need to be able to create working prototypes and production parts quickly and cheaply.

They bring their high-precision background to the world of 3D printing. Markforged didn’t want to create just another desktop printer though. They wanted to create something that could be brought manufacturing businesses and be used by some of the top engineers and designers in the world.

Markforged knew their market from the beginning. Their plan was to create an attractive, top-of-the-line, compact 3D printer that can produce metallic prototypes and production parts. The Mark One created quite the stir in the industry a few years ago.

It was the first carbon fiber 3D printer in the world. This time they give us an even better printer. With more precision, power, and functionality, the Mark Two is sure to catch the eye of engineers and designers.

What is Composite Material 3D Printing?

Before we get into the specs and features of the Mark Two, we must first understand it’s technology. Let me give you a brief, high-level explanation of what it means to print with composite material.

Never heard of a composite material? No worries, it’s fairly simple to understand. They are two or more independent materials that have different characteristics, either physical or chemical. But when these materials are combined they form a new material with new characteristics.

Some of the common benefits of composite materials are the strength and weight compared to other materials. As well, they are significantly cheaper to produce to reach these levels of strength and weight.

The Mark Two combines both the nylon filament with the composite material filament to construction your 3D prints. By using the nylon as a base layer, which is known as the inlay. From here, you apply the composite material to the inlay of nylon. The composite material is then smooshed, or almost ironed, onto your print. This creates a stronger and more durable model.

Now that we know how the Mark Two works, I’ll fill you in on all the other aspects and features of this great machine.

Cores Features of Mark Two

Dual extruders: I previously mentioned that the Mark Two utilizes two extruders. One for the Onyx nylon (Markforged specialty nylon), and the other nozzle for the fiber filament. The dual extruder setup is a crucial aspect of the Mark Two as it enables the entire process to work.

Both nozzles are made of stainless steel. This ensures the durability and longevity of the nozzles, especially when using abrasive fiber filaments. The stainless steel lasts much longer than traditional brass nozzles would last

Design and functionality: Overall looks, the Mark Two takes home the gold every time. It is an absolute piece of eye-candy when speaking in terms of 3D printers. Markforged took a minimalist approach to creating the Mark Two.

The minimalism is a proven hit in the tech world, think Apple, and Markforged hit the nail on the head with this machine. The Mark Two will be front and center in your shop or office for all to see. The minimalism is carried into the software of the machine as well.

Markforged offers the user just enough ability to tweak the printer settings. The majority of the heavy-lifting of optimizing each print is done by the software and the machine itself.

But the users still have just enough control to customize the prints and make sure each comes out to their exact specifications. Each customization is done within the simplistic cloud-based software, Eiger, or from the easy-to-use touch-screen display.

Eiger software: Markforged’s very own software is a great piece of software. It is cloud-based and runs on Chrome. I just mentioned the preset standards that will assist in optimizing your print to increase strength and functionality.

Eiger allows you to pause the print at certain layers. The benefit of this feature is the ability to add parts to your print and resume printing around the new parts. Think fasteners, inserts, bearings, etc.

The fact that its cloud-based means multiple users can load multiple prints from anywhere. Your team and operations will become more streamlined and efficient using the Eiger software.

Continuous Fiber: This is where Markforged sets themselves apart from other fiber 3D printers in the industry. Previous technology only allowed for very short, scattered fibers to pass through the nozzle and hot end. Markforged developed a method to print layers of continuous fiber strands.

Ultimately this greatly increases the strength of the printed parts. The mechanical properties of continuous fiber parts can match those of traditional manufacturing methods.

Key Specifications

Here are the key specs of the Anet A6 3D printer:

Build Area  12.6” x 5.2” x 6.1” 
Print Speed  100 mm/s 
Filament Types  Nylon + Carbon Fiber, Fiberglass, Kevlar, HSHT Fiberglass (High-strength, High-temperature Fiberglass) 
Layer Resolution  100 microns 
Extruders  2 
Nozzle Diameter  0.4 mm 
Open/Closed System  Closed 
Warranty  N/A 
Our Score  9.2/10 
Price  $13,499.00 

Pros of the Mark Two

Here are a few of the best parts of the Mark two.

Build volume: A large build area makes this 3D printer ideal for creating your fully functional prototypes. As well, if your parts are the right size and you organize them correctly you’ll be able to maximize the use of the build area. Using the Eiger software, you can have the Mark two produce multiple parts at the same.

Bed leveling system: The build plate is a solid piece of aluminum with a special coating. The coating allows for better coordination with the machine. This is important as the machine uses a three-point magnetic location sensor to hold the plate in position throughout the printing process. You will use a couple of small thumb screws to level the bed. However, the magnetic system makes removing the plate and builds a breeze.

Pelican Case: The Mark Two will come with a Pelican case, which is your Plastic Dry Box. This will hold your Onyx nylon filament and protect it from the elements. The nylon filament is prone to humid conditions as it tends to absorb moisture from the air.

This will change how the filament reacts to heat and ultimately lead to more clogs and broken prints. Luckily, the Pelican case will protect it and ensure it lasts much longer than it would without the case.

Value: To the hobbyist printer the price tag will probably be far out of your reach. But we must remember, the Mark Two is not meant for a hobbyist but rather for business, manufacturers, and machine shops.

This is meant to be a tool, a piece of equipment that improves someone’s product and processes. The ability to create high strength, long last, and fully functional parts at a fraction of the cost makes this machine well worth the asking price.

Cons of the Mark Two

Can there really be anything wrong with this 3D printer?

Closed Source – I know this isn’t much of a “con” as it is a business decision, but to the rest of the industry and those fanatics of 3D printing it sure doesn’t help us. Given the company was originally based on the open-source 3D printer you would think some aspects of this machine would be available to the public.

Just imagine how quickly the industry would advance if others could borrow the science behind this. But for now, we will just have to hold out and wait for someone else to figure this out.

Besides the system being closed-source, there isn’t anything negative I have to say about this machine. Like it, love it, go get your business one and start creating.

Final Take – Mark Two for the Win!

This is an aesthetically pleasing, higher performing machine. It is an investment, but it is a very wise investment as the cost-savings it provides will quickly make up for the price. Also, when compared to other composite 3D printers on the market, there are none like this. To get anything relatively comparable you will be needing to spend at least two to three times as much as the Mark Two.

The revolutionary continuous fiber technology, the large build area, and Eiger software all combine to make this 3D printer one of the best machines available. It produces high-quality parts relatively quickly. The software is user-friendly and improves your designs.

This is truly one of the finest 3D printers available. If you are looking for a new tool or you have some extra cash to splurge, I highly recommend looking into the Mark two from Markforged.