If you’ve found yourself venturing into the wide world of 3D printing, there’s never been a better time. This large and growing hobby isn’t as hard to get into as many think, and there are now plenty of great affordable 3D printers on the market along with a plethora of websites and forums eager to welcome newbies. So whether you’ve yet to dive into this burgeoning community and you’re shopping for your first printer, or you’re already a salty veteran looking to take your prints to the next level, our roundup of the best 3D printer deals is sure to have something to please.
Three-dimensional printers cover a huge range of sizes and prices, with some industrial models capable of printing houses. Such equipment is naturally beyond the needs or means of most people, however, and the vast majority of consumer-grade units are designed to fit on a tabletop. Even these run the gamut when it comes to cost, so it’s worth it to spend some time to track down a budget-friendly 3D printer (or at least a worthy 3D printer deal on a more expensive unit) that can meet your budget while also satisfying your needs.
Modern 3D printers employ one of two manufacturing technologies: Fused deposition modeling (FDM) or stereolithography (SLA). FDM printers are more popular and use a printing medium known as filament. This filament is heated to its melting point and then extruded through one or more printing heads, which move along three axes to create an object layer-by-layer from the bottom up on a heat-dispersing build plate.
FDM printers tend to be the most user-friendly and the filaments they use are also very common and quite affordable, making these 3D printers good for household items and other common projects. Items made with an FDM 3D printer usually have a noticeably striated appearance due to this layer-by-layer building method, but filaments and the printers that use them are improving and growing more capable of handling complex tasks as this technology continues to mature. Most 3D printers you’ll find will be of this design.
Stereolithography, while actually a decades-old technology, is less common due to the greater cost of SLA printers and their proprietary resins (there are a few 3D printers that use resin, but they tend to be on the smaller side). Instead of filament as a printing substrate, SLA printers start with a resin liquid that is hardened via UV radiation as it is molded into the desired shape within the printing chamber. The UV laser is reflected off of mirrors to selectively target the resin that is to be hardened; this is also done layer-by-layer, but in a much different manner than in fused deposition modeling.
Resin-based SLA printers are therefore capable of creating smoother, more detailed, and higher-resolution objects than FDM printers. These resin objects also tend to be considerably more durable. The trade-off here is that SLA 3D printers (and the resins) tend to be more expensive than FDM units, and the proprietary resins are less flexible and messier to work with.
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