While looking for the best 3D printer in a variety of areas we decided only to look at top 3D printers that were fairly open source. That is - you can use any filament type and use a variety of software interfaces to create your 3D printed model. This immediately knocked some 3D printers, like the DaVinci series, off our list.
We also wanted to find the best 3D printer for families to use. This might be different from the best 3D printer in general. Since we cater to kids science, it only made sense to look for printers that even kids could figure out how to use (although, to be fair, I think kids can figure out how to use any 3D printer).
How much does a 3D printer cost?
This is a loaded question since there is such a wide variety of prices. The printers on this list cost between $150-$650 depending on sales, and where you find them. I wouldn't go cheaper than the Monoprice Mini as you would be really cutting into the quality and ability at that point. Conversly, I wouldn't go much higher than the QIDI unless you are insanely serious about it. The QIDI boasts an impressive resume that will get to about 90% of what the best of the best can do.
What to look for in the best 3D printers
Use of any filament
Steer clear of any 3D printers that force you to purchase proprietary filament. Often the printers themselves will be fairly cheap, but their filament will be significantly more costly, which will add up over time. In addition, if you can only use a specific manufacturer of filament, you could be closing the door to specialty filaments like glow in the dark, synthetic wood, fluorescent, or even your favorite color. If you are starting up, you will want to use PLA filament, which is far more convenient than ABS. PLA sticks to the print bed better, is less brittle, and doesn’t have the awful smells that printing with ABS can bring about.
The Monoprice Mini is a great budget 3d printer. It also has a smaller build size than the other two printers in our roundup. Ultimately I didn’t switch away from the Monoprice Mini for any reason other than I wanted to print bigger items. For certain types of items you can get around this by printing in blocks and assembling the pieces after. I wanted to allow kids I teach to draw cookie cutters and print them in our science of cooking class – so that didn’t seem feasible.
3D printers are pretty safe if you don’t have kids bumbling about trying to touch everything. If your kids like to touch, however, there is always the possibility of them brushing the print nozzle, which is often at 200 or more degrees F (think of it as a super hot glue gun). Both our budget 3D printer and our desktop 3D printer lack something that our luxury pick has – sides. The addition of these acrylic sides can not only prevent wandering hands, but also helps keep cool air out, optimizing the quality of your print. Of course, that comes at a cost. If you love one of the other two suggested printers you can always make your own acrylic case for the same benefits (and a lot less money).
The Monoprice Mini comes in at just over $150 and is what I consider to be the best budget 3D printer on the market. There is minimal work needed to be done to put the printer itself together, and it comes with some big advantages that other budget 3D printers might not have – like a heated build plate. The heated build plate comes standard in all of the higher up 3D printers because it is essential to helping your print stick to the plate. You can even hook this printer up to run wirelessly from your phone, which can be really nice if you don’t want to always be looking for an SD card. While you can print straight from the computer via a USB cord, I found that there is a pause at the same location during the print when using this option, which ultimately messes up the print.
You can check out our detailed review of the Monoprice Mini, but ultimately, I think you will come to the same conclusion. This is the best budget 3D printer with the most bang for the buck.
The Comgrow Creality is my pick for the best desktop 3D printer. The Comgrow Creality Ender 3 has a heated build plate, runs ultra quiet, can resume prints (if necessary), and has a larger build area than our budget 3D printer, the Monoprice Mini. Building the Comgrow Creality Ender 3 takes more time than the other two printers, but the print quality is high, and from what I have read (since I haven’t had to use it myself), the customer service is on point. Since this printer is not fully encased its footprint is a bit smaller, and it takes up less visual space, allowing it to become my top pick for a desktop 3D printer. You can learn more in my in-depth review.
The QIDI Dual Extruder is a beast of a 3D printer. To be honest, if you are 3D printing with your kids, this printer is massive overkill. You can get just as much out of the Comgrow Creality for far less pain in your bank account. BUT, if you are looking for a high-end printer that can print multiple colors, prints reliably well, and has great customer service, this is the one for you. That is, of course, offset by cost and the amount of time it takes to set this baby up. You will also be giving up more desk space, as the footprint is a bit larger. WIth that larger footprint comes an enclosed bed, however, so if you want to have your printer in an area that kids can easily access and also want to baby proof it, this could be the one.