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, ABS, 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.
Finally, the printer weighs only 10.2 pounds and has a handle on the top of the printer that makes the Delta Mini fairly easy to move from place to place. But the Delta Mini doesn’t have any protection around the parts of the printer that get hot, so you need to watch your hands and supervise younger children.
XYZprinting da Vinci Nano ($170)
While all of the printers in this round-up are suitable for beginners, the da Vinci Nano is the one most directly targeted towards children. With its completely enclosed design, it helps keep curious fingers away from hot surfaces. The Nano weighs only 10 pounds, so it’s easy to take somewhere else, and measuring only 14.9 x 11 x 14, it’s small enough to fit pretty much anywhere. Even though the Nano is small, the build surface is a generous 4.7 x 4.7, so there are lots of models that can be constructed on it. Software for creating 3D models and printing them is included, and fairly simple to use. Connection to a PC or Mac is by using a standard USB printer cable and the Nano features an auto-leveling print bed, so there’s no difficult calibration needed to start using the printer.
The Nano doesn’t have a heated build platform, so you are limited a bit in what filaments you can use. ABS is out, but you can use PLA, Tough PLA, and PETG. Keep in mind that like all XYZPRINTING printers, the Nano uses spools of filament that have an RFID chip in the spool, so it can’t print with filament you get from another vendor. Filament prices are just a bit higher than elsewhere, but there are lots of colors to choose from. Surprisingly, though the build platform isn’t heated, it is removable. This makes stubborn objects easier to remove.
Finally, the da Vinci Nano is just plain cute. It’s hard not to imagine any kid not being thrilled to have it. Just be prepared to spring big bucks for filament for all the printing your child and its friends will be doing.
Monoprice Mini Select V2 ($190)
Monoprice claims that the Mini Select V2 is the best-selling 3D FFF printer in the world. We can’t verify that, but the printer is popular enough to have its own wiki and many users are doing heavy-duty upgrades and modifications to the printer—so it’s certainly a believable claim. The current model is the second iteration of the printer. The Mini Select is available in Black or White if this is important to you.
It’s ready to use right out-of-the-box as Monoprice calibrates the printer at the factory—you should have to recalibrate it unless the printer was handled really roughly in shipping. The printer comes with a microSD card already loaded with models, and uses the popular open-source CURA slicer which is included on the card. The Mini Select comes with a spool of 1.75mm PLA filament so you’re ready to start printing the minute you unbox the printer and plug it in. No USB interface is included, but you can slice a model onto the microSD card and print from that or connect the printer to a PC or Mac via Wi-Fi.
The Mini Select not only provides an easily accessible metal print bed, but that print bed is heated so you can use all sorts of filaments beyond PLA such as ABS and advanced materials such as conductive PLA and wood and metal-filled filaments. The spools are standard without an RFID chip, so you can purchase new filament from dozens of sellers.
While it’s an affordable printer to get you started in 3D printing, the Mini Select is versatile enough to be useful even after you have the basics down. A 3.7-inch color panel gives you control over the print process even if you’re not connected to a PC but are printing from the microSD card.
XYZprinting mini w+ ($180)
XYZprinting was one of the first vendors to bring an affordable FFF printer to market—the da Vinci 1.0, which is still being sold. The da Vinci mini w+ is much smaller and doesn’t look imposing, but at 5.9 x 5.9 inches it offers the largest print area of all the printers in this roundup. The mini w+ is larger than the da Vinci Nano, measuring 15.4 x 13.2 x 14.2 and weighing a bit over 15 pounds. It needs some room in operation, but can easily be moved around if you want it out of the way when not in use.
As with most other da Vinci printers, the mini w+ uses chipped spools rather than standard generic filament, but while XYZprinting charges a small premium for them, it’s not an outrageous amount. The metal print bed is not heated so you may experience warping with filaments other than PLA. An optional hardened steel extruder is available which lets you print using carbon fiber filament, the only printer in this roundup which can do so (though it will cost you an additional eighty dollars). The mini w+’s print bed is auto-leveling, so you don’t have to worry about leveling the bed before printing.
As with all of the XYZprinting models, the mini w+ comes with the vendor’s own modeling and slicing software, the XYZmaker Suite. Both Windows and the Mac operating systems are supported, and you can connect the mini w+ using Wi-Fi or a USB cable.