What you need to know before you spring for a 3-D printer.
So you want to buy a 3D printer.
The appeals are obvious: Manufacture anything you want out of plastic, right on your desktop. There's no cause to go to the store to buy something that was made in China, put on a boat, loaded onto a truck, and placed on a shelf.
3D printers can make nearly any object you can dream up by laying down small layers of plastic on top of each other. People around the world use them to make everything from artwork to practical everyday items.
3D print a fork. 3D print a whistle. You're limited only by your imagination, and you can get started by printing innumerable things people have already designed and uploaded for you to experiment with.
But before you can do any of that, you need to figure out which printer is right for you.
New Matter MOD-t — $279
Easily the most affordable 3D printer for consumers out there, the MOD-t features a reimagined design to reduce the number of parts it needs to function. The company behind it, New Matter, ran its pre-orders through IndieGogo, and those who got in at the ground floor were able to scoop them up at a surprisingly low $200.
Pre-orders have since ended, so you'll have to spend a little more money to get your hands on one, but this printer is perfect for those who want to dip their toes in the 3D printing pond without breaking the bank. It performs at a level comparable to much pricier 3D printers.
MakerBot Replicator —$2,899
MakerBot is easily credited with being one of the first companies to mainstream the idea of consumer 3D printing. It's made a number of 3D printers available over the years and its Replicator is from the company's fifth generation of products, so you know it's been tweaked and refined many times over.
The MakerBot community is especially strong — users frequently upload and share the digital files necessary for others to create 3D models at home on their own devices by way of a site called Thingiverse. (And you don't even necessarily need to own a MakerBot product to take advantage of it!)
Printrbot Simple — $349
You'll have to put it together from parts, but that's why this one's so affordable (and is arguably why it's appealing to those who want to get their hands dirty and learn their printer from the inside out).
Considering its low price point and the fact that you have to assemble it yourself, this might just be the perfect printer for someone who wants to know everything about 3D printing.
Printrbot Simple Metal — $599
Maybe you just want to get printing right away. Consider the Printrbot Simple Metal, effectively playing big brother to Printrbot Simple.
Its auto-leveling build platform (the part where it actually creates what you want it to create) means you have far less calibration to do before manufacturing your own objects, and it arrives already assembled.
Cube 3D — $999
The Cube is perhaps the best balance of price and user-friendliness. It will let you print from the Cube app running on your smartphone, and supports two-color objects.
Its footprint is 13" x 13" and it has a Wi-Fi connection for wireless prints from your computer or phone. It's also one of the cutest printers out there!
CEL Robox — $1,416
With support for printing with a variety of plastics, this device is a lot like having a miniature assembly line on your desk for cranking out a number of different things in a number of different materials.
You can pause and resume prints in mid-fabrication and you don't need to assemble a thing before putting it to use. If you want a more-than-capable, no-nonsense printer, this one's a good buy.
Mini Kossel — $800
Another one for the build-it-yourself tech fiend or anyone who wants a 3D printer on the cheap, the Mini Kossel is a "delta" printer whose print head is steered by three arms that let it build much more cylindrical objects than other printers. Its build volume can handle objects 170 millimeters wide and 240 millimeters tall.
Ultimaker 2 — $2,535
Despite its small footprint (just over one square foot), the Ultimaker 2 can fabricate objects up to roughly 9 cubic inches at a high resolution, filling in details as small as .02 millimeters.
It runs quickly and quietly, registering only 49 decibels when in operation. Outside of that, it's got a clean, cool design. Who couldn't love it?
DittoPro — $1,899
The DittoPro is an elegant-looking printer machined out of aluminum that boasts "a massive build volume, ultra-fine resolution, [and] blazing fast speed."
If you'd rather not have to deal with assembling a 3D printer from scratch, rejoice — the DittoPro arrives fully assembled.
Formlabs Form 1 — $3,299
The Form 1 works in a way rather different from the other printers described here. Instead of laying down layers of hot plastic, it fires lasers at a liquid resin to shape it into the object you want to create. The benefits here are that there are no temperature dangers, and it can print at a surprisingly high resolution.
Formlabs launched its product off as a Kickstarter project and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It's a good bit pricier than the other printers we've covered, but you get what you pay for, and so on.