While 3D printing may be reserved in your mind as something that only exists in the future, you may be surprised to know that these printers are currently used in many different industries (home-use has become much more common in recent years as well). An additive process is carried out, which sets in a motion an intricate operation that allows the production of functional objects with digital data and files as the source (blueprint). The extruders found on these 3D printing machines take on many sizes and forms, and can be used for different shapes and designs in a variety of situations.
3D printing is accomplished in what can be broken down to a few basic steps, regardless of the specific printer being used or the skill level of the operator. The operator (digital designer) first needs to create a blueprint for the project at hand, which is what the 3D printer will base its design on. The 3D machine pushes a melted form of plastic through a heated print head (similar to a glue-gun), an extruder, which forms each layer individually – together these layers begin to take the shape of the digital blueprint until the finished prototype has been fully formed and can be removed from the build plate (think of it like a slinky being built from the bottom-up).
For a 3D printer to determine shape and size characteristics for its prints, CAD (computer-aided design) software is needed. The 3D digital file that has been made goes through what you can consider to be as a slicing process, which digitally “cuts” the entire model into a number of printable layers. Layers are necessary as this is how the printer can determine exactly where the material needs to go on the prototype, and how much material it will need to extrude to complete. This entire process is sometimes referred to as the additive-build model (adding one layer at a time), and it is one of the most frequently used types of 3D printing currently. Stereolithography, which is becoming more popular (and produces similar results), utilizes a light-sensitive material to melt and solidify each individual layer at a time, until completion.
Not all 3D printers are the same, and vary in many ways including how fast the building process is. Print speed can take minutes, or many hours regardless of the type of 3D printer. The size, density and complexity of the printed object play significant roles in how long the project will take. Depending on the 3D printing software that is used, a honeycomb pattern may be utilized on the inside of the print (this increases the overall print speed by reducing the amount of filament that needs to be melted and shaped). The thickness of the printed layers can often be adjusted based on user preference (thicker layers usually print faster than thinner layers but the overall quality of the finished print may be negatively affected and result in a block-type look). Thin layers result in a much more detailed and streamlined print, but often take substantially longer to complete.
While industrial printers can extrude a wide array of materials, including wood, copper, nylon, wax, plastics, or sinter metal powder (ex: 3D metal printer), most home-use and consumer 3D printers utilize ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PLA (polylactide) – both are kinds of plastic filament. These are high-quality plastics that can be used to make prints will high levels of detail. Plastic filament replacement can be purchase online on Amazon or directly from the manufacturer. In recent years, 3D bioprinting has made great strides in the scientific community, progressing to the printing of biological tissues. The huge variety of working materials is one of many reasons 3D printing is gaining popularity for industries that need highly-specialized machine component replacements, working prototype models, short-run development, or simple and advanced manufacturing.
In this complete guide for the best 3D printer, we outline some of the important features to look for, and then proceed to give you in-depth 3D printer reviews. This is a one-stop-shop for all your 3D printer buying needs.
Best 3D Printer Complete Guide
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic hardens into a solid yet flexible material, which is exactly what you’d need to print a three-dimensional object. When heated, a pungent and noticeably unpleasant small may result. ABS plastic filament is also recyclable. One of the most notable characteristics of ABS is that it reacts to acetone – a quick bath of acetone can remove a substantial amount of the ridges from the surface of a finished print. A small amount of acetone can also be used to bind pieces of ABS plastic together. One disadvantage to ABS is that it often warps when extruded onto an unheated build plate (something to keep in mind). There are different grades, for example PA-747 is commonly used for consumer-grade printing, while MG94 is for specialty products and used by premium-grade printers. ABS is oil-based.
Polylactide similarly dries into a durable, solid form. The material itself is not a threat to the environment as it is biodegradable (eco-friendly). Unlike ABS, there is no threat of warping when used on an unheated build plate. Another noticeable advantage is the lack of unpleasant smell that can be found with ABS. Advanced operators often put blue tape onto the build plates to create a flat base, allowing the material to remain in the correct form until the whole piece dries. PLA can also be reused – simply grind up the PLA material from your old prints and save a bit of cash on material goods. PLA does not respond to acetone, and it wont easily attach itself to other pieces. PLA is plant-based.
As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Many of the best 3D printers can utilize both types of filament (and many others), depending on the project. Regardless, before you print with ABS you should check for a heated build plate. Other 3D printing materials include nylon, wood, copper, wax, and other experimental filaments, though these are newer and less commonly used (though compatibility is growing). Some manufacturers require the use of proprietary filaments that were specifically designed for their own 3D printers. In cases such as these, you are restricted to using the manufacturer-made 3D printer cartridge, as the chassis is designed to only be compatible with them. In some cases, these proprietary filaments may actually be cheaper than generic cartridges, but others not so much. Other 3D printers are compatible with generic cartridges that come in a variety of colors. The number of extruders the printer is equipped with also varies. With one extruder, you can print only one color for each project. Some of the best 3D printers come dual-extruder (two colors) or triple-extruder (three colors) compatible, and others allow you to upgrade after purchase.
Print materials come in filament cartridges (similar in a way to your inkjet or laser printer) that vary in size, quality, quantity, color, and brand. A 3D printer filament cartridge replacement generally costs between $15 and $50 for roughly 2 pounds of filament material. Depending on the printer and the printing software used, you could print 200-300 chess-piece sized models (which equates to a cost of roughly 1-13 cents each). An object the size of a small mixing bowl (4 x 4 x 3 inches) with relatively thin structural walls would take anywhere from 5-9 hours to print (and would cost up to $2.00 in filament). By messing with the infill settings, and limiting the size of the object and choosing the cheapest type of filament, you can limit the overall costs of use.
3D Printing: Misconceptions
Novices often fail to realize that 3D printing is not as easy as pressing a big “print” button. Successful printing of three-dimensional objects takes planning and requires a certain level of skill. Newcomers need to recognize that 3D printers employ an additive process, and complex structures often require the incorporation of lattices and rafts (support structures that can be removed from the print after it has finished). While these structural supports are useless once the build completes, they are essential for a successful 3D print.
Another common misconception is that a finished print is going to look identical to what was originally envisioned. In many cases, prints will demand additional time and energy once they are taken off of the build plate. If support structures (lattices and rafts) were used, they must be carefully removed. Sanding may be required to smooth out the surface where the supports once were. If thicker layers were used, sanding may also be needed to achieve the desired smooth finish – the thinnest layers require less, if any, sanding. There is a trade-off between print speed and how much work you are likely to be putting in after build completion.
3D printing is also assumed to be the best solution when it comes to mass-market manufacturing. Despite the fact that 3D printing has grown exponentially over the last few years, large-scale 3D printing is probably not very cost-effective currently (especially if consumer units are only available). Large-scale commercial manufacturing is probably best left to traditional manufacturing techniques. While Desktop and commercial 3D printers may be ideal for prototyping, or short-run production to get things moving, the cost to print (filament replacements) may be more than you bargained for. The fail rate during production can make or break your business. Remember, 3D printers aren’t perfect, and many desktop 3D printers produce imperfect pieces that not only cost money, but result in wasted time.
Regardless of whether you want a top-quality professional-grade 3D printer for your business, a 3D desktop printer for the office, or a consumer model for personal enjoyment, there are some key characteristics that should be considered.
Print quality is not only determined by the thickness of the layers you decide to use, but also is influenced by the extruder itself. Producing an accurate physical representation of the 3D design file requires your printer to identify and interpret what exactly it is you are trying to build. The best 3D printers should accept standard 3D files, but some slicing programs work better for different machines and so you may need to take some time to play with each and see which one works the best for your specific printer. The choice of filament you use will play a role as well, and may require you to have a heated build plate to prevent distortion and warping of susceptible plastic materials. Printers that allow for smaller layer thickness settings often produce objects that have an overall smoother and more detailed appearance, compared to those restricted to thick layers only. Be weary of the 3D printers that claim to be “super fast” as speed often brings with it imperfection – this is not always the case, but with 3D printing, precision should always come before speed. The software used during the printing process can also have drastic effects on the overall quality of the finished print. Decent proprietary programs should allow you to change temperatures, modify 3D files, and have other specialized controls that can be used depending on the printer and the task at hand – if not, check out the open-source program Cura, as we have found it to be better than most.
Maximum Build Size
The larger the build plate and the greater max height of the extruder on the printer, the better. The more space that is available for building, the larger your projects can be. Excessively small build plates will substantially limit the maximum size of any given print. If you need to build something larger than the build-space that is available, you will be forced to print individual fragments of the 3D object, which you will then have to bind together later on. In most cases, this can negatively affect the quality of the final version of your build. A larger 3D printer will allow you to print the entire object together to avoid the downsides of additional seams. Still, for a hobbyist, a small build-space is not the worst thing in the world. If your unit utilizes ABS filament, a small dash of acetone on each piece should help bind them together with little effort. If PLA filament is used, a few drops of glue or other adhesive should do the trick.
Generally speaking, most consumer 3D printers come either in 1.75-millimeter or 3-millimeter sizes (measured in diameter). Forming each layer requires the 3D printer to heat the filament from the spool, which will then be utilized and passed through the extruder. The diameter of the filament varies based on the requirements of the 3D printer itself. Filament melts, and so this is not directly associated with layer thickness. Each extruder is designed to work with one size and not the other. Some printers that use proprietary filament also use a proprietary diameter. An advantage to proprietary filament is the decreased occurrence of extruder clogging, compared to the filament that was not specifically made to be used by that printer. While this is not as important in determining which printer you should go for, it is something you need to take note of for when you have to replace print supplies.
Most of the 3D printers we have reviewed in this guide are preassembled, meaning you can pretty much unpack, plug in, and print right away. In other words, very little setup or knowledge is required, and they are specifically built and easily used by beginners. Many manufacturers have a plethora of online resources as well, to help beginners start, or to gives some tips and tricks for the more advanced individuals. Many experienced builders upload video footage that can be valuable as a newcomer and these resources should be exploited. Many printers (even those that are preassembled) may be packaged with a few parts detached to cut down on shipping cost. The more assembly that was required for each printer in our reviews, the lower they scored in this regard – though having to insert the print plate, calibrate the machine, or tighten a few screws are basic assembly procedures that pretty much anyone can do within a few minutes.
The materials used to build the printer, and the features that are included play a role in overall ease of use and the quality of finished build. While a heavier printer (ex: metal 3D printer) is probably harder to transport or move around than a portable 3D printer, it makes up for it as a you end up with a sturdier foundation that is less likely to wobble when in use (resulting in more accurate layering of the plastic). Some units are equipped with an LCD screen for simple on-board navigation, while others require a direct connection to a mac or PC to properly function. Ports for SD memory cards may also be built-in so you can forgo the use of a computer entirely (usually this would require an LCD display for navigation). Many of the best 3D printers have on-board Wi-Fi and allow for wireless connection if you have a router to access print files. Having a variety of options gives you more opportunity to work without changing your current setup. The interface that is used to control the printer, whether it be through an LCD screen or on a virtual control application on your computer, should be easy to use after a short learning curve, and should have a number of features to help make your printing easier (e.g. print bed height adjustments, temperature controls, start/stop). 3D printing machines with easily accessible internal parts, changeable print heads, and easy to reach print plates (for cleaning), are generally of better quality and easier to maintain and repair. Most will include tools for basic maintenance (e.g. scrapers, prying tools, extruder nozzle cleaners, putty knives) so you don’t need to make an additional aftermarket purchase.
When evaluating the total 3D printer cost, you need to consider not only the price of the machine, but also for future materials. Entry-level, low-budget 3D printers are changing the entire market landscape for 3D printing at home. Finding a great-quality 3D printer for under $1000 or even $500 is now possible. The cheapest 3D printer probably won’t cut it in terms of overall quality even for beginners. Many of the machines in our comparison are packed with powerful, and highly useful features you’d find on the more expensive products out there, yet still come in at a very reasonable price. There is no need to print excessively expensive prototypes, or to be forced into buying costly replacement parts – with the best cheap 3D printer you can utilize free public-domain 3D files for projects, and utilize cheaper filament replacements. Whether you are taking a college course, are teaching yourself about some of the fundamental principles of engineering, or are just looking to discover what 3D printing is all about, you’ve found the right place. In this guide, you’ll find some of the best 3D printers for any budget. Pretty much every printer on this list are referred to as FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) or FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printers – in other words, 3D printing is made possible with the use of plastics.
Best 3D Printers Reviews
1. Ultimaker 2 Review
The Ultimaker 2 is designed for both beginner and experienced users, its interface is easy and fun to use, it creates exceptional 3D prints, and is big enough to create sizable builds. Home-use 3D printers tend to be much smaller than mid or upper-tier commercial-grade 3D printers and are often restricted to printing small objects. The Ultimaker is sufficient for both home or office use, and can print in sizes that are well above the average for most of the 3D printers you’ll find on this list (up to 9 x 9 x 8 inches – about the size of a typical toaster). The Ultimaker 2 easily takes first place as the best pre-assembled 3D printer for most people. If you’re looking for a more hands-on printer building experience, this is probably not it as very little assembly is required after unpacking (simply read the included instructions and you’re well on your way).
The Ultimaker 2 is what you’d refer to as an FFF (fused-filament fabrication) 3D printer, which melts plastic filaments that are then deposited in layers on a glass build-plate in an additive process. When making comparisons between affordable 3D printers, speed and print quality are important characteristics to consider. With the Ultimaker 2, speed can be adjusted within a range of 30-300 millimeters per second (the slower you go, the better-quality the final print will be). Smooth and well-defined prints are accomplished with the resolution of roughly 0.02 millimeters (close to the width of a sheet of cardstock paper) per print layer.
Another cool feature is the ability to adjust settings after the printing has already started – if you notice an issue in quality, you can make the necessary changes to correct the problem without having to completely restart. Not only will this save you time, but also in material costs. The LCD menu screen is intuitive and controlled with a wheel for navigation (not a touch screen – certainly not a deal breaker), giving you access to the adjustment of modes and models, or changing settings. Also, LEDs can be customized and adjusted based on lighting preference (we had no issues observing the print in a dark room).
While there are many different 3D printing materials, plastic continues to be the most popular printing filament for consumer-grade 3D printing machines. The Ultimaker 2 is compatible with the two most popular plastic printing filaments (PLA and ABS). The ability to choose depending on the circumstance gives you the freedom to pick the best one as each has its own advantages and disadvantages. This device uses 0.3mm universal printing cartridges, though Ultimaker brand-made filament is the only kind that is guaranteed to keep the 3D printer running as it should. Filament from Ultimaker is competitively priced, and comes in a number of different color options. When using ABS filaments for printing, the platform can be heated to ensure warping of your 3D object is not an issue. The Ultimater is equipped with a quiet, stable, and well-designed chassis made from glass and aluminum materials. In fact, the machine is one of the quietest (49 dB) while printing – no vibrating or obnoxious sounds.
Establishing a connection with the Ultimater 2 can be accomplished with the included USB cable (included Cura software is compatible with Mac OS, Linux, Windows, XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows Vista). A slot for SD cards is also available. We recommend you have a look at Ultimaker’s Youmagine website if you’re looking for some cool 3D models that can be downloaded, printed, shared, or modified for your own personal use. Save the G-code 3D models to your SD card or access them through the Cura software that is included and you’re all set. Also included with purchase are many of the much needed parts and accessories that other lower-quality competitors fails to provide, including a USB cable, SD card, the power supply, a beginner PLA filament cartridge to get you started, and a few maintenance tools. The Cura software is an open-source program tailored to both novice and advance 3D printers. If you’re already familiar with CAD software, Cura has also made available some of the more advanced features for more complex model designs. Slicing and altering 3D models can be confusing for newcomers, but the Cura software simplifies things. Cura is one of the most intuitive and best-quality printing programs we have encountered.
For the 3D printing newbies, the Ultimaker 2 is easy to set up and use, and can produce big, stunning prints, and it can easily be connected to your home or office computer with the included USB cable. For the more advanced designers, the Cura software can be easily modified, and the printer itself is equipped with some of the more advanced customization options that are needed for complex builds. If you have the money to invest in a quality product, the Ultimaker 2 is a great 3D printer in pretty much every aspect.
2. LulzBot Mini 2 Review
The Lulzbot TAZ 5 is capable of producing high-quality, large prints and and is rather easy to use. The aluminum and steel construction is sturdy, well-built, and is compatible with a variety of filament types. The TAZ 5 actually beats out our first pick in print capacity, capable of producing models with a maximum print capacity of 9.8 x 10.8 x 11.7 (in inches) – this is one of the largest in our guide (a tad bit larger than a soccer ball). Not only is it more convenient being able to print entire 3D files all in one go, but you can end up with a better print overall because you wont have to bond many different pieces together (seams are often noticeable and unsightly). Overall, the TAZ 5 is one of the best desktop 3D printers.
Print resolution can be configured within a range of 0.075-0.35 mm depending on whether you want the highest-quality print or are just looking for a quick print and don’t mind the lower-quality resolution. Similar to the typical photo printer, 3D print quality can be affected by the speed of the print – faster usually means less quality, while slower speeds tend to produce a more-detailed, better quality model which is less likely to have errors. When using the 3D printing software, you’ll be able to adjust the resolution and speed of your printing, saving you valuable time and potentially expensive filament (depending on the size of your object). For very quick prototype drafts, the printer is capable of printing up to 200 mm/s, which should cut print time nearly in half.
The printer itself weighs a hefty 24 pounds (likely due to the steel and aluminum construction), and never shakes or vibrates while printing – the result is a highly accurate printer and noticeably detailed prints. The onboard screen allows you to change settings and select or print 3D designs. The platform is heated, and works nicely with materials prone to warping, including ABS and HIPS (high-impact polystyrene). The print platform is made of glass and coated in PEI (Polyetherimide; making clean up and removing finished printed objects much easier). Another advantage to PEI is that the application of glue or blue tape to the platform is no longer necessary to get the first couple layers of filament to stick to the surface correctly..
Before each print, the print head on the Lulzbot TAZ 5 readjusts itself to auto-level with the print platform to ensure precision is accomplished during the print. While the TAZ 5 doesn’t allow for a large number of manual user calibration settings for the advanced designers out there, it does its own basic calibrations pretty well – making this 3D printer very beginner-friendly. Extruder clogging is a thing of the past (mostly) – the print head is equipped with a wiper function to clear away any excess filament and this should cut down on leaking or sticking to the build platform.
The Lulzbot TAZ 5 is not only compatible with the traditional plastic filaments like ABS and PLA, but can also use nylon, HIPS, a variety of flexible filaments, and others. For this reason, universal filament cartridges are not recommended, but the Lulzbot brand offers a variety of colors and filament options to fit the 3 mm slots. If you’re looking for more variety in 3D printing materials, the TAZ 5 should keep you busy for a while. Out of the box, it is a single head 3D machine, though an upgrade to dual-head printing is available for future reference.
The Lulzbot TAZ 5 gives you options in how you connect with it as well as the 3D printer software you use. Cura for Lulzbot, Printrun, Slice3r, MatterControl, and other nonproprietary open-source software are compatible with the printer. While we enjoy using Printrun as well, our favorite is Cura in most circumstances, as it happens to be most intuitive, reliable, and includes access to a number of features.
Both novices and experts can use Cura for a variety of basic and complex designs. Automatic calibration, an easy-to-use onboard control screen, wireless 3D printing capability, the choice between high-quality and low-quality print resolution, a variety of compatible filament materials, and the ability to make future upgrades make the Lulzbot TAZ 5 one of the best home 3D printers for beginners and advanced designers alike. If you’re looking for large and high-quality prints, the TAZ 5 is a great pick.
3. MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen. Review
Highly-detailed resolution, an intuitive interface, availability to calibrate and make adjustments, camera monitoring, and a uniquely designed chassis, are just a few of the many reasons why we highly recommend the MakerBot Replicator. The Fifth Generation MakerBot Replicator has a print capacity of 6 x 8 x 10 inches, which is decent. With a 0.1 mm layer height (about the thickness of a single sheet of printer paper), you can expect some stunning prints. Settings like printer speed, temperature, and others can be user-calibrated to suit the project at hand. The included Makerbot Desktop program is easy to use and allows for plenty of customization.
The LCD screen is fully-colored and allows you to start and stop prints, chick filament levels, change temperature and preheat, and adjust a variety of calibration settings. The MakerBot Replicator Fifth Generation is equipped with a built-in camera that allows viewing of the printing surface so you can watch its progress and to know when the model is completed.
The MakerBot is only compatible with PLA filament and requires you to use the brand’s proprietary filament cartridges as they have been specifically designed to fit inside the filament compartment. Not only does a printer that utilizes proprietary filament seem to produce better prints and require less maintenance, but in this case you’ll actually save some cash (purchasing the PLA direct from MakerBot is actually cheaper than many of the universal cartridges available). The steel and aluminum printer weights roughly 35 pounds, but is compact enough to fit in some of the smallest spaces. The glass print plate can be moved and makes removing finished prints from the plate much easier.
A starter filament cartridge, USB cable, and a flash drive are included with the 3D printer at purchase. Unfortunately, maintenance tools are not provided, so you’ll have to shop around for them on Amazon or specialty 3D printer stores at some point. The MakerBot Replicator supports untethered Wi-Fi printing, allowing you access the camera feed or to information like printing time, through the free downloadable MakerBot app. Overall, the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen is an excellent 3D printer that can be used in the office, at home, or in the classroom, comes with an intuitive interface, and allows for easy connectivity – all while producing high-quality prints.
4. LulzBot Mini Review
The LulzBot Mini is more reasonably priced than some of the higher-tiered 3D printers above, yet provides many of the same features and has decent resolution allowing for high-quality prints. The build-plate is composed PEI (Polyetherimide) coated borosilicate glass, to make cleanup and removal of finished build, easier. It has a build area of 6 x 6 x 6.2 inches, which is a decent size for this price range. The print bed is positioned on moving, motorized carriages for in and out movement (Y-axis), as is the extruder for side-to-side (X-axis) and vertical (Z-axis) movement.
Aleph Objects is the Colorodo-based company responsible for developing the LulzBot 3D printing line, and has pledged itself to the Libre Innovation (hardware and software is free to be modified, copied, and converted by its users). Resolution on the Mini ranges from 500 to 50 microns (1 micron = 0.001 mm) for both faster and slower, high-quality prints. The LulzBot Mini has a black, steel-frame with measurements of 15.2 x 17.1 x 13.4 inches. There is no door, sides or top to the printer (meaning it is open-framed), so be careful not to touch the hot or moving parts during use.
A variety of filament materials can be used, including the typical ABS and PLA plastics, as well as HIPS, PVA (polyvinyl alcohol), Tritan polyester, PETT (polyethylene terephthalate), polycarbonate, nylon, PCTPE (plasticized copolyamide thermoplastic elastomer), PC-ABS (plasticized copolyamide acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), and wood, bronze or copper filled filaments. Although HIPS, PLA, and ABS are only listed on the menu, you can find various downloadable software settings on the LulzBot website, with information regarding print0bed temperatures and other extruder settings for the more exotic-type filaments. As you can see, this 3D printer is compatible with a wide range of filament materials to keep you interested. With purchase, Aleph Objects included a 1-meter test length of HIPS for personal use, though you can purchase its standard and exotic proprietary filaments online.
Setup is one of the easiest we’ve seen for a 3D printer. Simply unpack, remove the foam protection, download and install the included Cura LulzBot Edition printing software to your Mac or PC, and connect directly with the USB cable that is included. Upon first use of the program, you’ll see Rocktopus visible on the computer screen (a 3D test file that looks like an octopus with tentacles raised to make the piece-sign with attached fingers – kinda cool if you ask me). Next you’ll want to remove any old filament found protruding from the print head assembly (extruder). Press the Control button to heat up the temperature to loosen the filament material. According to the manual, 240°C is sufficient for initial setup. You’ll know when it reaches the set temperature as you’ll be able to remove the old filament and replace it with the new cartridge (compatible with 3 mm filament).
With the LulzBot Mini, careful planning to ensure the extruder is leveled and set at the proper height above the glass build plate is not needed – the Mini automatically levels the print bed and sets the extruder height before each and every print. You can see it in action – the extruder moves from corner to corner touching a metal disk as it descends, and the printer adjusts the corner height of the print bed where its needed. Objects printed both at Normal and High print quality settings were well-made and highly detailed. In fact, objects from the Normal setting were high-quality, and took much less time to print than when set to the best preset resolution (180 microns). While prints didn’t always come out 100% perfect, there was not one instance of a smudge, scuttle, or noticeable imperfection during testing.
5. Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer Review
The best 3D printing really can be boiled down to speed, and quality – and the Mbot Grid II+ has both. This machine can print at speeds ranging from 50-120 mm per second. Printing prototypes that don’t require the same detail or precision as some of the higher-quality prints, can be accomplished with the faster speeds. Layer height (3D print resolution) is adjustable from 0.1-0.3 mm (roughly equivalent to the thickness of a sheet of fax paper). The range in speed and the resolution settings are above average for an entry-level 3D printer at this price range, as is the 8 x 8 x 7 inch maximum print capacity. Out of the box, you’ll find the printer, maintenance tools, an SD card, and a USB cable.
Navigation of the screen controls is easy and gives you access to print plate leveling, start and stop of printing, and progress and elapsed time indicators. The Mbot Grid II+ can print 3D designs for your USB connected computer or directly from the included SD card. If you choose to utilize the SD card for printing, your computer is not tethered and free to be moved about throughout the printing process. Mprint is a reliable software, and can be used to modify 3D models or print directly from the computer.
In testing, completed models were high quality with a solid construction – supports were not needed as bridging was very good. Magicfirm, the 3D printing company behind the Mbot recommends the use f their proprietary filament cartridges, though you can purchase 1.75 mm universal ABS and PLA filament if you choose. At purchase, the Mbot Grid II+ is equipped with a single extruder, though the printer is upgradeable to allow you print with 2 colors (dual extruder). Most of its competitors fail to include this option to upgrade.
The printer itself is heavy because of the metal it is built with – a solid and sturdy frame is desired to not only prevent vibrations but also to ensure accuracy and stability. The print platform is magnetic and can be easily cleaned. If you plan to use ABS filament, be warned that your design is susceptible to warping as the plate itself cannot be heated.
Despite the fact that the Mbot Grid II+ is much cheaper than the other 3D printing devices on this list, it is capable of producing both low and high-quality prints. For the ABS lovers, be warned as there is not heated print platform. If you prefer PLA anyway, then the Grid II+ is top-quality that is compatible with SD card printing and has a removable print plate making it very user-friendly.
6. MakerBot Z18 3D Printer Review
If you’re on a budget, the Cubify Cube 3 is your best option. The Cube 3 is easy to use, allows for Wi-Fi printing, is equipped with an intuitive calibration system, and is compatible with a wide range of filament colors to keep both beginner and advances hobbyists entertained. The high-quality resolution results in some stunning prints, making this the best cheap 3D printer around. Not only is the Cube 3 affordable for just about anyone, it happens to outperform many of its more expensive competitors. At the highest setting, layer thickness (resolution) can be set to 0.07 mm (less than the thickness of a sheet of copy paper), which is substantially better than many other 3D printers under $1000. The 6 x 6 x 6 inch maximum build size is around average, but the prints themselves are high quality. A flash drive, filament, and maintenance tools are included with purchase – pretty much everything you need to get started.
Accuracy is ensured with simple to access (even through the navigation screen), easy to use automatic calibration features. Practically no assembly is required to set up, and the Cubify Cube 3 is not only one of the best looking and best designed 3D printers out there, but also one of the lightest (weighing in at roughly 17 pounds). The printer itself is open in front and back, so you can see directly through to the build plate during the creation process. In certain inferior machines there is a rocking of the chassis that often results in imperfection and errors. The Cube 3’s metal chassis is well-built and very sturdy.
Installing filament cartridges is easy by simply feeding the filament into the print head on the side of the machine. With dual-extruders, you can print in multiple colors or with multiple materials (both PLA and ABS filament are compatible) at the same time. This is the only cheap 3D printer in this guide to come equipped with two print heads out of the box. Unfortunately, the print bed is not heated so ABS is susceptible to warping during the cooling process. Universal filament cartridges cannot be used, so you are restricted to purchasing Cubify filament cartridges (23 available color options). A filament cartridge is included to get you started, but after that runs out you’ll have to buy more from Cubify.
The Cube 3 makes connecting your 3D printer to your computer and even your phone possible. Both wireless printing and mobile printing can be accomplished through Wi-Fi (which is uncommon for a low-priced 3D printer). The Cubify mobile app can be found for free and works with both iOS and Android devices. Another option is to print directly from the included USB drive. The proprietary software (compatible with Mac and Windows) for this printer can be used to modify files, scale models, change resolution, and configure other printing settings.
Children of all ages can safely use the Cube 3 as it is very easy to use. If you’re new to all of this, there is quite a bit of useful information to aid in learning. This is the best budget-oriented 3D printer available as it comes standard with dual-extruders (two print heads come standard) for printing of two different colors or materials, has on-board navigation, and is capable of both mobile and Wi-Fi printing. What more could you ask for?
7. XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 Review
The da Vinci 1.0 is an excellent choice under $500 for first-time 3D printing as very little installation or calibration is needed to start printing beautiful designs. The XYZprinting da Vinci takes affordability and packs it with some must-have features – the result, a well-crafted youngster and novice friendly 3D printer capable of producing large, high-quality prints. As you probably already know, print quality is largely dependent on print speed and available resolution settings. The included print software allows you to adjust quality and speed settings (range from 0.1-0.4 mm/s). While the frame of the printer itself is much larger, the print area can house items roughly 8 x 8 x 8 inches (above average not only for budget 3D printers but some of its more expensive counterparts).
During tests, models printed efficiently without sacrificing on precision, accuracy or overall quality of the finished model. Auto-leveling is available, making printing easier without having to worry about whether the platform is level (you need a solid foundation for quality prints). While print quality overall just doesn’t compared to some of the higher-rated printers in our reviews, it is suitable for a variety of nonprofessional projects, including kids art projects, or mid-range prototypes.
The printer is fully enclosed, and this is ideal if you have small children or pets as you wont have to worry about them accidentally touching any moving parts or hot components during use. Access to finished models is granted through the front door. The lights turn on and off automatically based on use (changing filament cartridges, calibration, performing maintenance, or printing will activate the lights inside). The printer weights roughly 55 pounds, and set-up is easy. Everything comes pre-calibrated for you, though further adjustments can be made on the menu screen. The XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 comes equipped with a drip tray and print head cleaner, both of which can be found on the inside of the printer.
Printing is very quiet, and this is largely due to the fact that that the print area is enclosed, which helps muffle much of the typical sounds you would hear on an open-frame device. Heating up and cooling-down takes some time but a noticeable beeping sound can be heard when your masterpiece has finished or input is needed on the screen. An estimate of the time until project has finished is displayed on the screen, and happens to be pretty accurate.
Filament cartridges need to be purchases from the XYZprinting brand as they are fitted specifically for the printer. The cartridge compartment prevents tangling of the filament and is actually a convenient feature to have. A total of 13 color options are available in in either ABS or PLA materials. One notable feature is the heated platform, so you can print with either material and not have to worry about warping. With purchase you are given a full (600 grams) starter filament cartridge.
The CD included with purchase holds the free software that you’ll use for this 3D printer. Unfortunately, the only way to print is through USB cable as an SD card slot is not available and the printer is not Wi-Fi compatible. For this reason, be sure you have plenty of room near your computer for your 3D print station as it will have to remain tethered throughout the entire print process. Maintenance tools are included with the XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 so you can easily clean the machine and printer heads, or to help gently pry off the finished models from the print bed.
The XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 is self-calibrating and self-cleaning, making it one of the best 3D printers for any skill level. Models are high-quality and can be printed relatively fast. While wireless printing would be a great addition, there is more than enough in the da Vinci 1.0 to keep you happy at this low price.
8. AFINIA H800+ Review
High-quality home 3D printers like the Afinia H480 allow for the creation of stunning designs in the convenience of your own home. This H-Series 3D printing system has a maximum printing size of 5.5 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches, and can therefore print small objects using either PLA or ABS filament cartridges. No assembly is needed out of the box, simply connect with the included USB cable and you’re ready to go. The print speed cannot be adjusted and remains at a moderate 30 mm/s which is not the fastest nor is it the slowest we’ve seen, yet quality remains above average. Resolution (height of each print layer) can be adjusted anywhere from 0.15-0.4 mm.
There is only one print head on this machine, so don’t expect printing in multiple colors at once. 3D printing materials include 1.75 mm of PLA or ABS plastics. Generic filament cartridges can be used, though the Afinia brand recommends purchasing specifically calibrated cartridges directly from them.
The Afinia H480 is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with a frame made of polished steel and classy brown-red finish. Measuring only 10 inches long and weighing roughly 11 pounds, the H480 is portable enough to easily transport from house to office if needed. There is no safety enclosure (open-frame design), and when printing with ABS filament the build plate can get hot enough to burn if touched. Take a look at the safety instructions found in the manual, and be careful with small children or pets that might get curious and stick their hand in.
The Afinia H480 requires a direct connection via USB and is unable to connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi or through any other means. Partial untethering (printer must be connected at the start but can be unplugged from the computer and the process will continue normally) is supported though, which is better than nothing. Pliers, tweezers, an X-Acto knife, and a putty knife are some of the tools that are included with the printer that you will surely find many uses for, whether it be for cleaning, prying, or making adjustments or modifications to your printed pieces themselves.
The Afinia H480 is a quality, light-weight, entry-level 3D printer suitable for the home or office. It comes all the supplies you need for 3D printing, including the printing software, a USB cable, and various tools. There is no safety enclosure as it is an open-framed design, so be weary of moving and hot parts when in use. Print quality is very decent, and filament cartridges are relatively cheap. Enjoy.
9. Robo 3D R1 Plus Review
Many cheap 3D printers are stuck with a small build space, are compatible with only one filament material, and lack any alternative to tethered printing. The Robo 3D R1 Plus can be added to the list of exceptions – the print bed is larger than most at 8 x 9 x 10 inches, it is compatible with both PLA and ABS plastics, and can print via direct tethering with your computer or with use of the microSD card. For its intuitive use, excellent design, inexpensive filament options, and overall print quality, the R1 Plus has gained our liking. Setup requires very little effort, pretty much only involving the insertion of the filament into the print head.
Calibration is easy considering the multipoint auto-leveling functionality – excellent prints are made with very little preparation. With the included software, additional adjustments can be made. With perfect calibration you’re more likely to print higher-quality models. For the inexperienced designer, auto-leveling is more than sufficient. Resolution can be configured anywhere from 0.1-0.3 mm with the software. Cleanup was more than average (there seemed to be a lot of wispy strands of filament material on the printer and around the finished projects themselves), though not a deal breaker.
This budget-friendly 3D printer weights roughly 26 pounds, and has the shape of a hollowed out building or a bridge covered with a canopy. The top portion contains the wires and other small components as well as the print head. Extrusion requires extra room, in addition to the size of the printer itself, as the print bed moves past the chassis itself and often hangs outside of the printer’s frame. There is no onboard LCD navigation screen, so the tethered computer’s included software is the only way to configure prints or adjust settings.
ABS and PLA filament can be used with the Robo R1 Plus, and the glass print bed can be heated to reduce the likelihood of warping during the cooling phase. In the back of the machine you’ll find the filament cartridge holder, which can utilize proprietary or universal cartridges. For a reasonable price, you have your choice of 12 or so colors to choose from if you buy from the manufacturer.
MatterControl is the included 3D printing software, and allows you to resize, optimize, or modify 3D designs, start or stop prints, make calibrations or setting adjustments for the printer itself, or save 3D files directly to the microSD card. If you copy your files to the microSD card you can print untethered once you have made all the proper configurations from your computer. Simply plug the microSD card into the printer, choose the file you want from the card through the printing software, and start the print. At this point you can unplug the USB cord for the duration of the print process. A few basic maintenance tools, a USB cord for connection between computer and printer, and 300 grams of filament are provided at purchase.
Despite the lack of Wi-Fi printing or onboard navigation screen, the Robo 3D R1 Plus is still one of the best 3D printers for most people on a budget. The software is suitable for novices and advancers users, and adjustment and calibration of the printer are easily made. Large designs can be made with accuracy, and filament replacements are pretty cheap, even from the manufacturer.
10. QIDI Technology 3D Printer Review
Next up in our lineup is the Solidoodle SD-3DP-4, which has all the must-haves for printing moderately large sized designs with ABS or PLA filament (the manufacturer highly recommends using only ABS so we obliged during testing). With the SD-3DP-4, printing 3D objects up to 8 x 8 x 8 inches in size are made possible, which is a build size notably larger than many of its competitors. For drafts, you can choose 0.4 mm resolution, or for high-quality prototyping this can be brought to 0.1 mm or anywhere in between. Out of the box, a few calibrations need to be made to ensure the print bed is level and height (Z-axis) is correct. Any discrepancies or misconfiguration in this respect could result in a poorly made 3D model.
The Solidoodle SD-3DP-4 is equipped with a heated platform, and the dark black chassis is mostly intended for ABS filament building. The 3D printer comes fully assembled, and the print area is fully enclosed to prevent accidental burns from curious pets or small children. A door can be opened to gain access to your design once complete. Settings and calibration can only be made through the computer as there is no on-board navigation system. With only one print-head, don’t expect dual-color extrusion with this affordable 3D printer. You can purchase filament directly from the Solidoodle brand (6 color options), or you can buy the cheaper universal alternative in 1.75 mm sizes. Included with the printer is a filament cartridge (900 grams) to get you started immediately.
Printing is easy, a direct connection to your Windows, Mac, or Linux-based operating system is required as there is no wireless functionality or SD card slot. Although the Solidoodle SD-3DP-4 is considered a consumer-grade home 3D printer, it has the capability of making some high-quality models, and for a fraction of the price of the higher-ranked 3D printers in this list of reviews. If you don’t mind the lack of mobile printing or Wi-Fi printing, the SD-3DP-4 is a great printer for the money.
11. XYZprinting Da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Review
If you’re looking for top-quality prints, the XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. 1.0 is a low-cost alternative to the higher-ranked printers in our guide. The Da Vinci Jr. 1.0 is only suitable for small to medium-sized prints with a build plate measuring in at 5.9 x 5.9 x 5.9 inches. The auto-leveling feature is nice to have and works as it should. Calibration can be achieved through the settings menu. The Da Vinci Jr. 1.0 is an excellent choice if you are looking to have some fun printing three-dimensional models that don’t require utmost precision or detail. While accurate masterpieces can be made, a smooth finished print surface is less likely to be had compared to some of the more expensive 3D printing machines.
Very little setup is required, and installation consists of making minor calibrations and inserting the filament cartridges. This plug-and-play 3D printer is a smaller version of the XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 and there are many similarities but some noticable differences, including automatic lighting, a glass print plate, and a vertically opening door (which doesn’t affect the print process so you can open the door to check progress). The onboard-navigation screen is another prized feature that is rarely seen on other inexpensive printers. Power, lighting, and start/stop of prints from the SD card can be accomplished directly from the printer itself.
The Da Vinci Jr. 1.0 can used PLA filament that can be directly purchased from the XYZprinting manufacturer. Proprietary cartridges are used to achieve the custom fit, and so generic filament cannot be used unless you decided to rewrap the already-used filament cartridges yourself. There are 12 different colors to choose from through XYZprinting, and they are reasonably priced – the time it would take you to recycle and rewrap is probably not worth any small differences in price. There is no heated print plate, but this is largely a non-issue as ABS should not be used with this printer. For beginners, instructions are conveniently placed on a sticker inside the machine, so changing out filament cartridges is easily done.
Maintenance tools, filament (600 grams), and printing software are included along with the printer at time of purchase. XYZWare is easy to use, and lets you save your 3D files to an SD card for future untethered printing. Platform tape is also included. While this inexpensive 3D printer might seem small, it has all the goodies you need to make some high-quality prints in a short amount of time. Onboard navigation and the print bed enclosure make this a top-notch printer for both young children, or the more experienced 3D-design hobbyist.
12. Dremel Idea Builder Review
Dremel’s 3D Idea Builder is reasonably priced, is capable of printing great quality, and relatively large PLA-based prints, and has all the must-have features. At only 19-pounds, this 3D printing machine is lightweight and portable enough for easy movement around the home, school, or office. Prints can be as large as 9 x 6 x 6 inches (better than most for budget 3D printers). Printing resolution can be adjusted from 0.1-0.3 mm with the included software. Models that are printed are decent quality, but don’t expect top-tier quality because this isn’t the audience Dremel is targeting with the Idea Builder. The onboard display screen can be used to perform calibrations (there is no auto-leveling so some degree of skill is needed).
Only PLA filament can be used with this printer. The frame is fully enclosed to protect from hot the hot internal glass print plate (which is removable). The Dremel 3D Idea Builder is only compatible with proprietary 3D printer cartridges made by the Dremel brand – universal cartridges are not an option. Ten colors are available to choose from, and replacement costs are comparable to the generics so nothing to worry about.
Maintenance tools, a USB cable, and a starter filament cartridge (500 grams) are included along with the printer and Dremel 3D software. There is an SD card slot (compatible up to 32GB) which allows for wireless printing. The Dremel 3D Idea Builder is not the cheapest, nor is it the most expensive device on this guide, rather it is a mid-tier home 3D printer. Little skill is required to print large designs with enough detail to and accuracy to suit your fancy.
13. Leapfrog Creatr Review
Those with limited available home space or small work areas can rejoice, as the UP! Mini Fully Assembled 3D Printer is compact, inexpensive, and prints decent quality models in an enclosed structure. This really is a small low-budget 3D printer, with many of the features you’d need to make 3D printing an enjoyable experience. While the small design is convenient for limited-space consumption, this also prevents any large models for being printed (only 4.7 x 4.7 x 4.7 inches max).
Print speed varies from 3-30 mm/s which is a tad below average as far as the best cheap printers go. The smallest layer height is 0.2 mm, so don’t expect any striking designs or excessively smooth curves directly after printing (you may have to put some extra time in after the print process to achieve desired look). While not the best resolution, never once were any of our test models malformed or unusable. A heated build platform can be found inside the housing enclosure. Damage due to environmental humidity or other factors can be controlled for with the enclosure. Hands and fingers are also less likely to be burned while watching. Unfortunately, progress can not be observed as the black plastic shielding prevents visibility of your design. The print plate itself is perf board, which has a number of small holes in it (which aids in filament adhesion). Unfortunately, perforated board is supposed to be replaced after a certain number of prints, which should be considered when pricing out maintenance costs.
Both ABS and PLA can be used with the UP! Mini, and generic replacement cartridges of 1.75 mm sizes can be used. Like most other budget 3D printers, the UP! Mini is only equipped with a single print head, meaning no dual-color printing with this machine. UP Software is only compatible with a select number of Windows and Mac operating systems, so be sure to verify compatibility before you purchase. Connection is accomplished via USB only, though once printing has started you can unplug it from the computer. Maintenance tools and a starter filament cartridge (680 grams) are included at purchase.
The enclosed design makes the UP! Mini Fully Assembled 3D printer one of the safest cheap 3D printers around. Prints are small, and you might be waiting for long periods of time, but the end result is a decent model that looks as you’d expect from a printer within this price range.
14. JGAURORA 3D Printer Review
If you’re looking for the best 3D printer under $500, it’s the New Matter MOD-t 3D Printer. Many top-quality features come with this device, and Wi-Fi compatibility and 0.1 mm resolution ensure convenient, high-quality printing can be achieved by just about anyone. The chassis is transparent (you can easily see-through the device to observe progression of printed models).
Wi-Fi capability at this price range is largely unheard of and highly desirable if you don’t want to potentially remain tethered to your 3D printer for hours. The MOD-t is perfectly capable of producing small items (6 x 5 x 4 inches) with a high degree of accuracy, precision, and reliability. Print layer height can be adjusted from 0.1-0.4 mm. Calibration can be done on your own, and automatic leveling is available for the build plate to ensure your 3D model has a solid foundation.
The printing space is not fully enclosed, and its easily viewable through a transparent cover (which offers decent protection from hot internal elements). Weighing in at roughly 11 pounds, this plastic printer can easily be moved from place to place. There is no heated print plate or onboard navigation system on the MOD-t, though you can’t really complain for something this inexpensive. Any printing or settings changing to be done requires a connection to the computer via USB or Wi-Fi.
This PLA-only 3D printer is compatible with any proprietary or generic 1.75 mm filament cartridges. Traditional printing software is not needed with the MOD-t, instead you log into the website and are granted access to the controls, which can then be relayed to the printer from the cloud via Wi-Fi connection. Maintenance tools, a USB cord, and starter filament (500 grams) are included with purchase.
Overall, the New Matter MOD-t 3D Printer is the best you’ll find for less than $500. It is compatible with generic filament, has a decent range of resolution settings, and has Wi-Fi capabilities. For something this inexpensive, the functionality and quality of three-dimensional prints you can get from this machine is a bargain.
The Experts Weigh In
As requested by our readers, we went ahead and asked for the opinions of some industry experts: What kinds of advancement can we expect in both the near, and distant future regarding 3D printing? (consumer-grade, healthcare, architecture, mass-manufacturing)?
Dilanka from Astroprint, a leading cloud platform for 3D printing, had this to say:
“Near future (2-3 years): Consumer level desktop 3D Printers will dramatically drop in price and become very affordable for the average, non technical consumer. This means that they’ll be able to literally print and manufacture any type of physical object imaginable. Now, is it possible that every American household would have a 3D Printer (like a 2D printer)? Well, there’s a lot of big challenges we need to overcome before we get to that point.”
He also sent as an informative article that was written on the Astroprint blog, and we thought it was worth sharing with our readers – feel free to check out The Ultimate 3D Printing Cheat Sheet.
Chris Fox from Tormach had this to say:
“3D printing will continue to grow in the engineering and industrial sectors – places where higher cost of better resolutions and speed matter less. At-home 3D printing, like the rep-rap printers and other consumer-grade machines has peaked. What’s really interesting is the culture that low-cost 3D printing has helped usher in. More people are making things while simultaneously realizing the necessity of more robust manufacturing methods.”
Dr. Steven Hausman, a consultant on emerging technologies (including 3D printing), gave us a comprehensive response:
“We are at the dawn of the 3D printing revolution that will change most
aspects of our lives, from manufacturing to medical care to education. Most
people are familiar with plastics as construction materials, but this is far
from what can be done. Almost any material can be used including live
cells, food, titanium, molten glass and concrete.
- Digital manufacturing will change the global manufacturing paradigm.
Within the next 10 years we will have 3D printing in our homes to make
common household items, food and toys for the kids.
- A low gravity 3D printer that is able to operate in space has been
created. This will permit the crew of the International Space Station to
create replacement parts when needed without the necessity of awaiting a
resupply mission from earth. Similarly the ability to manufacture parts on
demand has clear utility in military ships at sea.
- Companies are using 3D-printed parts for jet and rocket engines. Buildings have already been fabricated using 3D printing with concrete as the construction material.
- Very shortly we will move from the traditional layer-by-layer 3D printing methods to a continuous process that will be orders of magnitude faster than presently available.
- Electronics will be able to be printed so cheaply that electronic circuits could even be added to packaging and clothing to monitor health.
- 3D printers have already been used with biological cells as the
construction material. This will lead the way to the practical printing of
organs, blood vessels and other tissues.
- In the near future surgeons will print a replica of the organ, such as
hearts and brains, on which they propose to operate and practice their
technique before attempting the actual surgery.
- Patients have already received 3D-printed jaws, ribs, sternum, teeth,
tracheas and skulls. There will be no part of the body that will not be
duplicated in the future ranging from inexpensive customized prosthetics to
bioprinted organs using the patients own stem cells so that tissue
rejection will not be an issue. In August, 2015 the FDA approved the first
3D-printed prescription drug – no doubt to be the first of many.
- The cosmetic company L’Oréal is using 3D printing to create human skin
for cosmetic testing.
- Students will grow up using 3D printers in their classrooms to design
fully functional machines. Teachers will be able to create teaching
materials (molecular models, for example) customized to their lessons. “
James Goodnow, who was named one of “America’s Techiest Lawyers” by the ABA Journal, offered us an intriguing perspective:
“We have the ability to deploy 3D printing technology, for which we’ve found a lot of practical applications. In product liability cases, one of the main questions is whether a product was properly designed.
We’ve used 3D printing in the pre-litigation phase of products liability and premises liability cases to show the opposing party how a product functions or how it should have been designed.
For example, we used the MakerBot 3D printer with our experts on a product liability case where the design of certain mechanical parts was at issue. With the help of the experts and 3D designers we retained prior to filing suit, we showed the decision makers on the other side—the insurance adjustor and the attorney—how the parts could have been made in a better way.
In premises liability cases with quasi-product liability issues, say perhaps an issue related to the failure of a safety harness and how it could have been better designed, 3D printing can be very compelling. It’s one thing to tell a decision-maker or opposing lawyer how the product should have been designed. Now imagine showing them and letting them actually see and hold a 3D-printed prototype. It makes it so much easier to sell your idea.
Although we are among the first in this space, I’m sure you’ll begin to see more attorneys make use of 3D printers in all types of legal matters.”
Les Johnson took things a step further with a response that could be seen as borderline science fiction – nevertheless, not too far out of the realm of possibility:
“I am a physicist and serve as the Technical Assistant to NASA’s Advanced Concepts Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I am the Principal Investigator for the NASA Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, a Co-Investigator for the European InflateSail solar sail demonstration mission, and was the Principal Investigator of NASA’s ProSEDS space tether experiment. I am also the author of several popular science books…
3D printing figures prominently in my science fiction novels and it is in that capacity that I am responding. I would NOT be commenting in my official capacity as a NASA employee.
Preliminary Thoughts:When the history of the first off-Earth, self-sustaining space colony is written, the authors will cite two enabling technologies: 1) rockets and 2) 3D printing. Though it is in its relative infancy today, 3D printing has the potential to cut the umbilical cord with Earth for future space explorers and settlers. In the mid-term, it will reduce the spare parts count required for deep space exploration, reducing mission costs and simplifying logistics. In the longer-term, it will be enabling. The simplistic 3D printers now being flown in space on the International Space Station are important precursors for what may be possible in the future. “
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