There’s an ever increasing number of small, cheap printers on the market, targeted at DIYers who need or want an inexpensive, easy source of custom parts and prints. Some printers are even starting to be offered for less than $100, but this is a relatively new development and the quality and functionality of such printers is questionable.
Printers in this price range are often sold as kits that the buyer must then assemble. These 3D printers can usually be extensively modified (and in many cases they need it) in order to improve and extend their functions, making them optimal for makers who are willing to put time and patience into upgrading a printer to a workable standard. Another thing to note is that these printers will require a decent bit of calibration, as they are unlikely to work straight out of the box. Expect to have to calibrate and repair printers in this range often, as component quality can be bad and customer service is often worse (with few exceptions).
The functionality of printers in this range is often limited in a number of ways. As they’re cheaper, few materials can be successfully printed without modifications. Additionally, print volumes are often quite small, only reaching sizes of about 200 x 200 x 280 mm³ on the largest and most expensive printers in this range. Furthermore, noise levels will be high, print speeds will be around 100 mm/s, and quality of the prints will be lower.
Printers in this range are often more reliable and capable, and as such are better suited for beginners and hobbyists alike. Print quality, speed, and volume are all factors that generally increase with the price of the printer, so the higher quality printers will be found at the upper limits of this range.
Compared to budget printers, entry level and hobbyist printers are better suited for frequent use, and good quality prints are to be expected on a regular basis. After initial calibration and assembly (if any), these printers usually require little in the ways of modification and repairs in order to function properly over a long life span.
Limits in printing capabilities begin to dwindle the higher you climb, as most of these printers can use a huge variety of materials without modification. The range covers everything from PLA, to PETG, to ABS, and even exotic materials such as flexibles and wood or metal infill plastic. (Read more about these materials in All3DP’s 2018 Filament Guide.) Build volumes soar in size, the largest being in the range of 500 mm³. Noise levels are generally in the range of 50 decibels, and printing speeds are quite high, even reaching an amazing 300 mm/s. Quality prints are normal on these printers, even with increasingly complex designs.
As we enter into four- and five-digit price points, the printers really get serious. These are the buff, tough, print-that-stuff sorts of printers that excel in precision manufacturing with all sorts of materials on a daily or even hourly basis. Here we encounter the renowned precision of SLA, the best of the best in FDM, and even multi-capable printers that double and triple as CNC or laser-engraving or -cutting machines.
Enclosures on these printers are the norm, print sizes become even bigger than before, precision is honed, and the list of available materials becomes even larger with the addition of the many types of resins for SLA printers. Manufacturers in this range start to focus on interface and ease of use, equipping these printers with better software and often even including touch-screens and WiFi capabilities. Most of these printers will come assembled and calibrated out of the box, or even auto-calibrate themselves once built and activated. One downfall to these printers is that they are difficult to self-modify, as often the only compatible modifications must be bought as aftermarket parts.
The quality of prints on these machines should be phenomenal, and defects are few and far between. Customer service is known to be reliable in case of a malfunction or breakage, but such problems are uncommon. With the addition of enclosures comes a reduction in noise, but some of these printers are still quite large and noise is to be expected. The noise level differs widely between types of printers. SLA and other laser-based printers are usually very quiet, while printers that rely on large mobile gantries, i.e. FDM printers, will be louder due to the increased number of moving parts.
One downside to SLA printers and larger performance printers is the cost of material. Often the printer will only accept materials from the original manufacturer, which can be quite expensive. In the case of SLA, the required resins are pricey regardless of the manufacturer.
Often costing as much as a brand-new 2017 Ford Focus, these printers are the highest grade and quality you can get. Intended for businesses and industrial applications, these are the sorts of printers you expect to find at a local factory churning out prototypes. In this range is found printers that can handle materials such as carbon fiber and metal, and the processes used for printing vary widely, including but not limited to FDM, SLA, SLS, Binder Jetting, etc. You can find out more about all of these methods in All3DP’s article on printing methods.
Industrial printers are often very large and many come as standalone units. Based on the method, some of the printers actually come in multiple large units, one for printing and another few for curing and sintering, among other processes. This sort of printer is primarily used for prototypes and functioning parts, and may even be included in the manufacturing process of many commercial items.
These printers are not a one-time cost and become even more expensive over time. Manufacturers will usually require you to have regular maintenance checks from a company representative, and you will almost always be required to use a very specific set of materials made by the manufacturer, which will often come with a premium price tag attached. This means that while industrial printers will have the highest quality prints possible, they are also among the most limited in function and materials. For these reasons, such printers are best for enterprises and industries that have the budget to continually upkeep the printer, and who only require a certain set of materials to be used in their parts.
You can read about some of the best industrial and commercial printers in this All3DP article.
License: The text of "3D Printer Price – How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost in 2018" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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