The best 3D printer for beginners and budget creators in 2021

Maker culture is alive and well, thanks to an army of creators who are passionate about handmade goods, which is why 3D printers are truly taking off right now. I started being interested in 3D printing a few years ago, when I started making everything from tabletop game accessories to phone stands to a sweet mini Millennium Falcon.

3D-printing technology has come a long way since then, and I’ve doubled down by getting into 3D scanning and even laser cutting, which lets you sculpt real-world designs from leather and wood. 3D-printing know-how has been more in demand than ever in the last year, with everyday citizens designing and printing out PPE equipment to help the fight against COVID-19.

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That can include headbands for plastic face shields, clips for surgical or home-made masks and even hands-free door handle add-ons. Bigger companies like HP and Formlabs have gotten in on the act too, on a much larger scale. I’ve personally made a variety of fasteners for home-made cloth masks, face shield headbands and I designed a magnetic mask clasp from scratch that you can find here

Read more: Making 3D-printed face shields, mask accessories and more PPE


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These creative tools, which range from affordable (under $300) to high-end (over $3,000), are awesome gifts for a creative person or 3D-printing enthusiast in your life — or even better — they’re great for you to craft your own personalized designs. Also, 3D-printing technology is getting better and better, meaning the print quality of whatever it is you’re making is starting to look like it was made by a professional 3D-printing service. Like I said, it’s a really, really cool hobby.

I’ve taken a deep dive into the 3D printers available today and have chosen several options for people who want to start printing 3D objects and people who want to update their existing 3D-printing setup with a pro 3D printer. I’ve included both small and large 3D printers on this list. I’ve also taken other factors into consideration, such as the size of the build plate, the cost of PLA filament and more. Once you find the best 3D printer and you end up getting completely addicted to 3D printing and additive manufacturing, don’t blame me. (But if you do, here’s a handy 3D printing FAQ that should answer some of your questions.)

Entry-level 3D printers

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Despite the low price, this is a pretty damn full-featured 3D printer, and a favorite affordable first step for testing the 3D-printing waters. Print quality and printing speed are excellent, but there will be a good amount of trial and error in your first few prints. Just be sure to purchase extra filament since you’ll use up the included sample roll very quickly. 

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The ambitious da Vinci Jr. 1.0 A Pro is a step-up printer with a big 6.9-inch square build surface and optional add-ons for both laser engraving and using specialized material like carbon-fiber filament. It’s currently $450 on Amazon. That said, the lack of built-in Wi-Fi is a major hassle, and for this price a nonheated print bed is a serious omission. Some of the company’s printers are locked to proprietary filament, but fortunately, this model is not (which is good, because the sample roll of PLA filament included in the box wasn’t great). 

Despite some extra troubleshooting required during setup, I liked the modular nature of the printer, its big, easy to use buttons, and frankly, the cheerful bright orange color. 

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If you’re set on a resin printer, this is the best 3D printer for you. Resin printers are the next step up in rapid prototyping design technology when you want your printing to look as high quality as anything assembled in a factory. Just be warned: The liquid resin is harder to work with, and it requires both good ventilation and a portable UV light to properly cue. This model is extremely popular with board game hobbyists who want to print pro-looking miniatures, and sometimes you’ll see it fall in price from around $250 to just under $200. It’s currently listed at $260 on Amazon, but you can apply a $20 coupon at checkout that brings the price down to $240.

Midrange 3D printers

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Recreate pretty much anything by putting it on this 3D scanner, where a rotating base and built-in camera create a 360-degree copy, which is then editable in any 3D program and printable on your 3D printer. Simply scan the object, import the scan into your slicing software for cleanup, and print. The included software alerts you of next steps in the printing process with either sound or texts. Scan quality and print resolution are great, and setup is easy, although you might want to clean up your 3D model a bit in a 3D software app after. 

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A step up from the Adventurer model, this Flashforge is another of my long-time favorites. It’s largely targeted at schools and education, so it’s easy to use. It has a similar build volume as the Adventurer 3, but a much better touchscreen menu, and lots of extra features, like an onboard camera, the ability to pause prints when the door is opened, and some very good automatic calibration features. 

High-end and professional 3D printers

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I can’t begin to tell you how much I love the Glowforge professional 3D printer. Laser cutters can sculpt projects from wood, leather, lucite and other materials, making it an interesting creation alternative to filament-based 3D printers. Even better, what would take a 3D printer hours to do takes just minutes in the Glowforge.

With it, I’ve created laser-etched LED lights, birch wood tool caddies, and even a three-tier box for my Nespresso sleeves. There’s a robust community of makers creating and sharing files, but pretty much any line drawing you can create in something like Adobe Illustrator can be turned into a project. 

The software is all cloud-based, which adds a layer of complication (you need internet service to use it), but the ability to create amazing gifts and more from simple 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch cheap plywood is pretty empowering. 

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A smaller, desktop-sized version of its more industrial large-format 3D printers, this recent model from BCN is a dual extruder printer, which means it can use two different spools of material at once. 

That lets you either 3D print two copies of something at the same time, or use two different colors of material to create a multicolored 3D object. The build volume is also huge, at least compared to the simpler models listed above, at 420mm x 300mm x 200mm. 

The build quality, menu system and bundled custom version of Cura (a 3D slicing software) are all excellent. But the instructions and documentation, at least in English, are thin, and the setup is nowhere near as plug-and-play as some of the simpler printers on this list. 

Printing is fast and the built-in settings option go far beyond what normal consumer printers offer. The automated calibration tools are also much more precise than other printers I’ve tested. You can go far beyond the standard 1.75mm PLA filament most consumer 3D printers use, and it’s set up out of the box for 3mm filament of various materials. 

Note this leans more towards the industrial side than the consumer side, but if you need bigger volume, more speed or an easy easy way to create multi-material or multicolor objects, it’s something that could easily fit in your workshop, makers lab or garage. 

More creative recommendations 

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