3D printing is an amazing technology. Watching an object emerge layer by layer is something that was the stuff of science fiction just a short time ago but today you can get started with it for less than $200.
While we’re sure you’re excited to look at the printers and maybe even buy one for your home 3D printing adventures, let’s dig into a few relevant terms before we get into our top picks so that you can make an informed decision on your first 3D printer purchase.
Consumer 3D printers use one of two technologies. SLA Resin printers, which use a liquid plastic resin that is hardened with ultraviolet light, are messy, smelly, and generally not the best choice for a beginner. The other technology, Fused Filament Fabrication, or FFF, uses a thin filament of plastic that is melted by a heated extruder head and deposited layer by layer on the printer’s build platform. This extruder head is moved in three dimensions while the plastic is being laid down, building up the object.
Some of the lower-end FFF printers are aimed specifically at younger users, though all of the printers shown here are appropriate for beginners. If the printer you choose does not have a heated build platform, you will be restricted to printing with biodegradable PLA. Those printers with a heated build platform can also print using ABS filament. That’s because ABS shrinks when cooling, and without a heated bed, layers will shrink at different rates leading to the print warping and pulling off of the build platform during printing. Keep in mind that all of these printers have heated and moving parts, so be sure to keep your (or children’s) hands away from these areas when using the printer.
Finally, none of the following 3D printers are kits models—you get everything you need right in the box with little to no extensive assembly or sourcing additional parts required.
Monoprice Mini Delta ($160)
One of the best bargains in 3D printers, the Delta Mini is the lowest priced fully assembled model coming from a major vendor. With an all-metal construction, it looks different from most other 3D printers because of its delta three-arm extruder movement mechanism. While it looks and operates somewhat differently from many other printers, the end result is the same—a good quality 3D print on the 4.3 x 4.7 build platform.
For the price, the Delta Mini has a lot of features. The heated build platform means you can use all kinds of standard 1.75mm filament including PLA, ABD, and Filled Filament (Wood, Copper, Steel, and Bronze). And, unlike some other low-cost beginner’s 3D printers, there’s no need to use proprietary filament, you can buy filament from numerous places. The Delta Mini uses the open source CURA slicing software, so there’s lots of help online if you need it. Connecting to the Delta Mini is easy—it supports USB, Wi-Fi, and microSD cards, and a free microSD card is included containing models so you can get started printing right away. And the printer features auto calibration, which makes it very easy to use. A color LCD screen makes it simple to control the print process if you are printing from the microSD card.