The best 3D printers of 2018

Slowly but surely, 3D printers are getting cheaper, better, and drastically more accessible. In the early days, there were only a few models on the market, and most of them were clunky, tricky to use, and prohibitively expensive — but that’s no longer the case. Today, there are 3D printers available in every size, shape, and configuration you could ever want — and they’re getting more affordable with each passing month. But with so many 3D printers on the market, finding a good one can be a daunting task. So to help you make the right decision, we put together this no-nonsense rundown of the best 3D printers available right now. Enjoy!

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Formlabs Form 2 Best 3D printer overall 4.5 out of 5
Lulzbot Mini Best for beginners Not yet rated
Monoprice Mini Delta Best cheap 3D printer (FDM) 3.5 out of 5
Anycubic Photon Best cheap 3D printer (SLA/DLP) 4 out of 5
Monoprice Maker Select Plus Best printer under $500 4.5 out of 5
Prusa i3 MK2 Best build-it-yourself 3D printer Not yet rated

Formlabs Form 2

The best

FormLabs Form 2 review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy it: It makes incredibly accurate parts and it’s a breeze to operate.

The best

Our Score

FormLabs Form 2

The Form 2 is the most accurate 3D printer we've ever used, and it's ridiculously easy to operate.

Who it’s for: Product designers, engineers, anyone who wants high-quality printed parts

What you’ll pay for it: $3,500

Why we picked Formlabs Form 2:

Yes, it is very expensive, but using the Form 2 is like moving from an old tube TV to 4K UHD. The quality of its prints dwarf other printers on this list.

At the end of the day, you wont find a consumer-level 3D printer that makes more detailed, dimensionally accurate, structurally robust models than this one does. But that’s not the only reason we picked it. It’s also far more user friendly than other printers in its class, and despite being extremely advanced, its interface is so simple that even beginners should have no trouble using it.

It’s worth noting that the Form 2 isn’t cut from the same cloth as your average FDM printer. It’s a different breed entirely. Instead of heating up plastic filament and squirting it through a nozzle to build objects layer by layer, the Form 2 uses a laser projection system to “grow” objects out of a pool of UV-curable resin. As the laser flashes over the resin tray, it causes a thin layer to solidify on the build plate, which is slowly drawn upward as each new layer is made.

Now to be clear, the Form 2 isn’t the only 3D printer that uses this method — but it’s definitely the easiest to use of the bunch. Formlabs stuffed it with a boatload of great features that make resin-based printing less of a hassle — like an auto-filling resin tray, and an ingenious print feature that makes objects easier to remove from the build plate. There’s even a web app that lets you check the status of your print when you’re nowhere near the machine.

Read our full Formlabs Form 2 review

Lulzbot Mini

The best for beginners

lulzbot-mini_1

Why you should buy it: It’s simple to use, but provides plenty of room for learning and progression

Best printer for beginners

Lulzbot-Mini

The Lulzbot Mini isn't just a great starting point for newcomers -- it's also one of the most reliable printers we've ever used.

Who it’s for: beginners and intermediate users who want a super reliable, super versatile printer

What you’ll pay for it: $1,250

Why we picked the Lulzbot Mini

There are a lot of printers on the market that cater to beginners, but very few of them do it correctly. One thing that’s become increasingly common among “beginner friendly” printers is to strip away the user’s available choices in favor of a watered-down, over-simplified UI. Oftentimes, you’ll only be able to choose from three different resolution options (high, medium, or low), and have zero access or control over “confusing” settings like extrusion speed, infill density, or hotend temperature. This lack of access makes the machine more straightforward to operate, but it also limits what you can do with your 3D printer in a big way. It’s basically the lazy way to make a printer “user friendly.”

Lulzbot does not take this lazy approach. Instead of stripping away advanced options, Lulzbot’s software lets you choose your level of complexity and control. There is a Basic interface for when you only need to adjust simple settings (temp, speed, layer height, etc), but also an Advanced tab that gives you more granular control over the printing parameters. This is great for beginners because it’s simple and straightforward when you’re still learning things, yet it also doesn’t prevent you from going deeper, increasing your knowledge, and getting more out of your 3D printer.

In addition to its excellent UI, Lulzbot Mini is also one of the most reliable and consistent FDM printers that’s ever passed through DT’s testing room. Sure, it doesn’t have an enormous build envelope or create ridiculously high resolution prints, but virtually everything else about this printer is fantastic. It has a heated bed, a Hexagon hot end that allows you to print with tons of different materials, and self-leveling software that makes it a breeze to maintain. It’s also highly upgradable, so if you ever feel like tricking out your setup, you totally can. We really, really like this printer!

Monoprice Mini Delta

The best cheap printer (FDM)

Monoprice Mini Delta review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy it: Despite being dirt cheap, it has an auto-leveling heated bed, LCD screen, and variable temp hot end.

Best cheap 3D printer

Our Score

Monoprice Mini Delta

The Monoprice Mini Delta boasts features that are usually only available on printers that cost ten times as much.

Who it’s for: Budget buyers who don’t mind a small build envelope

What you’ll pay for it: $160

Why we picked it Monoprice Mini Delta

As far as we can tell, Monoprice’s Mini Delta is one of the cheapest 3D printers you can buy that’s not a kit — but that’s not the only reason we picked it. In addition to being fully assembled and ready to print straight out of the box, this machine also comes with a heated bed — something that we believe is a crucial feature for FDM printers. This helps prevent warping and drastically reduces your potential for misprints — and it’s usually only found on printers that cost over $1,000. This one costs $160, which is absolutely mind blowing.

In addition to the heated bed, the Mini Delta also has a variable temperature hot end, which allows you to adjust settings and print with a wide range of different materials — including basic filaments like ABS and PLA, to more advanced materials like conductive PLA, wood and metal composites, or dissolvable PVA. On top of that, the heated bed is also self-leveling, which means you’ll never have to calibrate the machine manually before initiating a print.

Monoprice certainly gives you a lot of bang for your buck here, but the Mini Delta definitely isn’t perfect. Novices should expect a fairly steep learning curve with this machine, and be prepared for some high-level troubleshooting that will likely be required when something inevitably goes wrong. Just because it’s cheap does not mean that it is a good for choice for beginners.

Read our full Monoprice Mini Delta review

Anycubic Photon

The best cheap printer (SLA/DLP)

anycubic photon 3d printer review 1
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy it: Because despite being so cheap, it can make incredibly high-detail objects.

Best cheap 3D printer

Our Score

Anycubic Photon 3D Printer

The Anycubic Photon outclasses most FDM printers when it comes to detail, but it's also more high-maintenance.

Who it’s for: Anyone looking to print small size, high-detail objects

What you’ll pay for it: $499

Why we picked the Anycubic Photon

Up until very recently, consumer-level stereolithography printers were essentially the unicorns of the 3D printing world. For years, there were only a few of them for sale to consumers, and they were typically far too expensive for most 3D printing enthusiasts to afford. The Anycubic Photon changes that.

Despite the fact that it costs under 500 bucks, this printer is capable of producing insanely high-detail objects. This is largely thanks to its SLA/DLP printing process, which allows the machine to print with extremely thin layers. We’re talking less than a tenth of the width of a human hair. Make no mistake — the Photon’s prints are even more detailed than those from the most high-end FDM printer we’ve ever tested.

Be warned, though. This detail does come at a price. Unfortunately the Photon also has a woefully tiny build envelope, so you can’t print anything over 4.5 x 2.5 x 6.1 inches (115 x 65 x 155 millimeters) on it. It’s also a huge pain in the ass to work with the printer’s sticky, stinky, and mildly toxic resin. You have to wear gloves to avoid touching it, and soak finished parts in isopropyl alcohol to remove any uncured goo. It’s not nearly as convenient or low-maintenance as the average FDM printer.

So while the Photon is a budget-friendly beast in terms of print performance, it’s also not for everyone.

Read our full Anycubic Photon review

Monoprice Maker Select Plus

The best 3D printer under $500

Monoprice Maker Select Plus

Why you should buy it: It has all the important features you need in a filament-based 3D printer, and it sells for well under $500.

Best 3D printer for under $1,000

Our Score

Monoprice Maker Select Plus

Monoprice's Maker Select Plus boasts a large build area, a heated bed, and a wide range of material options, all for just $399.

Who it’s for: Anyone looking to get the most bang for their buck.

What you’ll pay for it: $399

Why we picked Monoprice Maker Select Plus:

Up until Monoprice vaulted into the 3D printing arena, it was really, really hard to find a sub-$1,000 printer that had a large build area, a heated bed, a stable frame, and an extruder that could handle lots of different materials. Near impossible, honestly. But now, there are plenty of options in this price range — and the MP Maker Select Plus is arguably the best of the bunch — unless you’re willing to get a kit and build the printer yourself.

Most printers in the sub-$500 price range have build areas that are no larger than 6 inches in length/width/height — but the MSP boasts a spacious build envelope that’s 7.9 x 7.9 x 7.1 inches, which is nothing to scoff at. This means that not only can you print bigger parts — you can also fit more small parts on the build plate, which cuts down on production times.

This build plate is also heated, which helps prevents the extruded filament from cooling, contracting, and warping the shape of your printed object. This feature is crucial (especially if you’re printing with ABS), drastically reduces your chances of getting a misprint, and eliminates the need to print with a raft, which uses up additional filament.

Read our full Monoprice Maker Select Plus review

Prusa i3 MK2

The best build-it-yourself 3D printer kit

Why you should buy it: It’s a great printer for less than $700 — if you don’t mind building it yourself

Best build-it-yourself 3D Printer

Prusa i3 MK2 3D Printer

The Prusa i3 MK2 is an excellent printer kit that comes with a gigantic user community to fall back on if you run into trouble building.

Who it’s for: Tech-savvy DIY types looking to save some money by assembling the printer themselves

What you’ll pay for it: $700 or less

Why we picked the Prusa i3 MK2:

There are a lot of 3D printer kits out there, but none are as tried-and-true as the Prusa i3 MK2. Born out of the open-source RepRap project, the printer’s design was developed over years and years of testing, tuning, and perfecting from thousands of different 3D printing enthusiasts — so it’s a pretty solid little machine.

In terms of standout specs and features, this guy boasts a spacious 9.84″ by 8.3″ by 8″ build envelope, a variable temp hot end that can handle a huge range of materials, and some awesome bed-leveling software that compensates for skewed axes. Basically, this means that even if you screw up the build somehow and it’s not perfectly aligned, it’ll still print reliably for you.

The Prusa i3’s biggest asset, however, is its massive user base. Because this has long been one of the most popular RepRap builds, there are more people using the i3 than nearly any other 3D printer — so if you ever run into a problem or need to ask a question, you’re practically guaranteed to find a solution on the i3’s many user forums.

How we test

To test the various 3D printers we get in for review, we print a carefully-selected set of objects. This suite includes 3DBenchy, the ctrlV v3, a warp test, and a few others. Together, these objects have just about everything that printers generally struggle with: low-slope surfaces, overhangs, unsupported spans, fine details, and a bunch more. If a printer isn’t good at something, these shapes will highlight it.

After that, we generally print at least half a dozen more objects just for good measure. These are usually pretty random (just stuff that DT staffers want/need printed here at the office), which helps us avoid becoming formulaic in our testing and ensure that printers are subjected to a wide range of different tasks before we assess them.

When it’s all said and done, we grab a handful of our test prints and snap a few high-res pictures, so you can see for yourself how they turned out. We also measure certain parts of the print with a micrometer to see how accurate the physical model is in comparison to the digital one.

But of course, resolution and accuracy aren’t everything. After we’re done printing stuff, we also assess the machine’s relative level of repairability and upgradability. Can it easily be taken apart and tinkered with if something goes wrong? Can you upgrade the printer’s components when newer, better ones become available? Will it be obsolete in a few years? We get under the hood and figure everything out for you.

Helpful terms to know

  • FDM: Filament Deposition Modeling. Also known as FFF or fused filament fabrication. It’s the most common style of 3D printing, and works by melting a thermoplastic filament, squirting it through a nozzle, and then depositing it layer by layer to form an object.
  • SLA: Shorthand for stereolithography. It’s a style of 3D printing that uses a laser projection system to “grow” objects out of a pool of UV curable resin.
  • Hot end: The heated nozzle that plastic filament is extruded through in a FDM printer.
  • Heated bed: This refers to a build plate that is heated, which prevents the first few layers of extruded plastic from cooling and warping. If your project warps, it often leads to misprints.
  • ABS: It stands for Acylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. An oil-based plastic that’s commonly used as 3D printing filament. It’s a strong, sturdy material that’s commonly used for constructing things such as plastic car parts, musical instruments, and the ever-popular Lego building blocks. ABS has a high melting point, and can experience warping if cooled while printing. Because of this, ABS objects must be printed on a heated surface, which is something many at-home printers do not have.
  • PLA: Poly Lactic Acid is made from organic material — specifically corn starch and sugarcane. This makes the material easier and safer to use, while giving it a smoother and shinier appearance that’s more aesthetically pleasing. However, while PLA might seem like a better overall choice at first glance, it features a far lower melting point than ABS. This means that using PLA printed parts for mechanical operations, or even storing them in high-temperature locations, can result in the part warping, cracking, or melting.
Giveaways

Print your heart’s desire: Enter our giveaway to win a free Monoprice 3D printer

We’re giving away a $400 Monoprice MP Voxel 3D Printer. It's easy to use, especially for beginners, with its simple menu system and touchscreen display. It comes fully assembled so you can spend more time printing instead of setting up.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Emerging Tech

Makerbot is back with a new 3D printer that’s faster and more precise than ever

MakerBot's new Method 3D printer aims to bridge the gap between home 3D printers and more industrial 3D printing tech. Here are a few of the tantalizing things you can expect from it.
Emerging Tech

Warm ski beanie instantly hardens into a head-protecting helmet upon impact

Wool hats are way more comfortable than hard helmets. You know what they're not? Safer. That could soon change, thanks to an innovative new ski beanie which instantly hardens upon impact.
Deals

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

This cryptocurrency wallet for kids isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds

So you’ve taught your 6-year-old child to read, write, and play nice with others. What’s next? Give them a base understanding of cryptocurrency, of course. This Kickstarter aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic’s latest test flight takes it to the edge of space

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully carried out its fourth powered flight in Mojave, California. It was the company's most ambitious test flight yet -- and bodes well for the future.