NASA’s working on bringing 3D printers to space that are capable of printing pizza. We’ll let that sink in for a minute. You know what else you can do with a 3D printer? How about print a battery that can power your phone or laptop? Or how about 3D-printing a racecar, a pair of athletic shoes, or a variety of smartphone cases? The 3D printing craze is in full swing as people scramble to create the next best piece of 3D printing history and business-savvy people turn plastic into profits.
The good news is, many companies are now offering 3D printers to the public. You don’t have to be a scientist working in a lab to use one of these things. In fact, many of them are small enough to sit right on top of your desk. There are a number of companies with their own desktop 3D printers, and the amount of choices can be overwhelming. We’ve done the legwork and have rounded up some of the best machines available. Here are five solid 3D printers that you can get your hands on right now.
MakerBot Replicator 2 ($2,200)
MakerBot is one of the bigger names in 3D printing, and the company touts its MakerBot Replicator 2 as being not only its best 3D printer, but “the best desktop 3D printer on the market.” According to MakerBot, the Replicator 2 has the capacity to print at 100 microns, which is about as thin as a standard sheet of copy paper. This gives you the ability to create incredibly detailed objects with smooth surfaces. The Replicator 2 provides a lot of workspace too. You’ll have 410 cubic inches of printer space, allowing you to print bigger and better objects. This is a 37 percent increase in size, compared to the company’s original Replicator device.
The Replicator 2 works exclusively with MakerBot 1.75/1.8 mm PLA filament. The “ink” is a renewable bio-plastic that ensures there’s practically no peeling, shrinking, curling, or sliding, when printing. The use of PLA filament consumes 32 percent less energy than working with ABS plastics. The filament comes in a variety of colors, and a one-pound spool can be had from the MakerBot website for $48. The device itself will set you back around $2,200, but at least it comes with one free spool of PLA filament. You can also add a MakerCare service plan for $350 that will ensure quick and easy service on your device should it ever break down.
FlashForge 3D Printer ($1,200)
Maybe you’re looking for something a little less expensive than the MakerBot Replicator 2? The FlashForge 3D Creator is a larger 3D printer that features a much lower price. This printer makes use of a dual extruder, which allows for printing of objects with two colors instead of just one. You can load a filament in each printing head and then combine them on one object, and you can even print with two separate filament types (ABS and PVA for example). The FlashForge also makes use of open source technology, allowing the FlashForge 3D to increase heating speed and stability when printing.
You can grab your own FlashForge 3D Printer from the company’s website for $1,200 (and free shipping). Just remember that this price does not include any filament. However, unlike the nearly $50 MakerBot filaments, the FlashForge’s are a little less expensive, costing only $21 per spool.
3D Systems’ Cube ($1,300)
If you’re looking for something that’ll take up as little desk space as possible, and just plan to print small trinkets and models, the Cube might be your best bet. Built with simplicity in mind, the Cube touts a plug and play attitude. It was even rated by MAKE Magazine as the “Easiest to Use,” and “Most Reliable” printer on the market. This makes it an ideal 3D-printing tool for both children and adults. The Cube allows you to print in either ABS or PLA. The company even offers 16 different filament colors, ranging from dark to light to metallic. The Cube itself also comes in different colors, including silver, white, magenta, blue, or green.
One of the neatest features of the Cube might be its ability to connect via Wi-Fi, allowing you to simply send projects to the printer without having to be connected directly. 3D Systems also packaged this device with simple software, and each Cube includes 25 pre-created designs (crafted by talented artists) that you can use as test prints. The Cube starts at $1,300 and financing is available through Cubify.com.
Afinia H-Series ($1,600)
Another downsized option is the Afinia H-Series. With a 5-inch cubed printing space, and weighing only 11 pounds, it’s definitely one of the smaller printers on the market. Like the Cube, the Afinia H-Series also boasts easy out-of-box operation.
The Afinia has a very small footprint compared to other 3D printers, and features an uncomplicated design. The H-Series’ easy-to-use 3D software allows you to design 3D concepts or download them directly from a community of shared designs.
Another neat feature is “standalone mode,” which lets you to send a project to the printer and then disconnect your PC. The printer fully downloads the schematic you wish to be printed and then works on it, allowing you the freedom to walk away with your device and come back later when it’s finished. The Afinia uses ABS filament, which can be purchased for $32 per pound. The filament comes in six colors, including green, black, yellow, blue, red, or natural. You can grab the Afinia from the company’s website for $1,600.
Solidoodle 2nd Generation ($500)
Let’s face it; 3D printing isn’t cheap. If you don’t have the funds, it can seem like an unattainable hobby. However, there’s at least one option out there that lowers the price enough to make things more affordable to those on a budget. The 2nd-generation Solidoodle features a durable metal frame, and although it has a larger footprint of 11.5 x 11.75 x 11.75 inches, it only has a printing area of 6 x 6 x 6 inches. It also features an “open design,” meaning it has not sides or doors. It isn’t nearly as polished-looking as other printers, in terms of design aesthetic, but it gets the job done.
Solidoodle recommends that you use ABS with the 2nd-gen printer, but PLA filament is also an option. The kicker with the Solidoodle is the price. It truly is affordable, compared to other 3D printers. You can have a base model for only $500. In comparison, the Replicator 2 is more than four times the price. The Solidoodle gen-2 may not have as many bells and whistles, but it’s perfect for those of you who want to get their feet wet in the world of 3D printing.
What do you think of our list? Do you have another desktop 3D printer you use at home? Let us know in the comments below.