A great device for enhancing STEAM education, a 3D printer for school can be a powerful tool. Here's a collection of the best, from safe and reliable machines to those backed with an arsenal of supplementary classroom resources.
Sparking creativity in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) subjects in ways not possible before, the 3D printer is fast becoming the progressive teacher’s secret weapon.
Add to this the experience it offers students in a relatively new technology with far-reaching industrial implications as time moves on, then the benefits of introducing 3D printers into certain curriculums become clear.
That is, of course, if the application is right. It’s easy to get swept along in the buzzwordery of 3D printing without actually adding value to students’ development, not to mention material overheads to wrangle and the physical demand of serving wave after wave of youngsters. Choosing the right 3D printer for school and other educational spaces can be a challenge.
Some manufacturers make it easier, offering extensive supporting materials for educators, including lesson plans and ideas to inspire classroom fun alongside structured development goals. Others just build great machines with all the features you’d want in a classroom printer.
And then there are the differences in the machines themselves — what works for elementary students in need of safety features and durability needn’t be the best thing for a university lab tasked with high quality output. The field is huge.
With that in mind, we’re here to help. Sorting the wheat from the chaff, we’ve picked out 3D printers we feel tick some (or all) of the boxes for the educational professional looking to introduce 3D printing to their classroom, lab, workshop and beyond.
We focus on those that are backed with educational resources for students and educators, plus the 3D printers we feel are also worthy of attention despite lacking the well-developed ecosystems of their peers.
And we’re acutely aware of the potential costs equipping a classroom with enough 3D printers to serve the whole class can be a costly thing, so for good measure we also flag educational discounts and take a look at grants and funding opportunities to help fund your school’s new machinery. Additionally, we’ve compiled a list of useful resources to get acquainted with 3D printing, and inspiration for lessons and projects for once you have one.
|3D Printer||Technology||Print Area (mm)||Heated Plaftorm||Suitability||Educational Resources||Market Price|
|Makerbot Replicator+||FDM||295 x 195 x 165||No||High School, College, Makerspace, Lab/Research||Yes||$2,499|
|Flashforge Finder||FDM||140 x 140 x 140||No||Elementary, High School||-||$349|
|XYZPrinting da Vinci Jr. Pro 1.0||FDM||150 x 150 x 150||No||High School, College||Yes||$349.95|
|Sculpto+||FDM||Ø200 x 160||No||Elementary, High School||-||€415|
|Printrbot Play V2||FDM||150 x 200 x 150||No||Elementary, High School||Yes||$499.99|
|Tiertime Up Mini 2 ES||FDM||120 x 120 x 120mm||Yes||Elementary, High School||-||$699|
|Robo C2||FDM||127 x 127 x 152||No||Elementary, High School||Yes||$799.99|
|Ultimaker Original+||FDM||210 x 210 x 205||Yes||Elementary, High School||Yes||$995|
|CraftBot PLUS||FDM||250 x 200 x 200||Yes||Elementary, High School, College, Makerspace, Lab||-||$1,249|
|Sindoh 3DWOX1||FDM||210 x 200 x 195||Yes||High School, College, Makerspace, Lab||-||$1,499|
|Lulzbot Mini 2||FDM||152 x 152 x 174||Yes||High School, College, Makerspace, Lab||Yes||$1,500|
|Dremel Digilab 3D45 Idea Builder||FDM||255 x 153 x 170||Yes||Elementary, High School||Yes||$1,799|
|Formlabs Form 2||SLA||145 x 145 x 175||Yes (heated resin vat)||College, Makerspace, Lab||Yes||$3,350 (basic package)|
|Leapfrog Bolt Pro||FDM||330 x 320 x 205 (single extruder) 300 x 320 x 205 (dual extruder)||Yes||High School, College, Makerspace, Lab||Yes||$8,900|
If we had to recommend one over the others, right now this very moment, then thehas it for one very good reason: its ecosystem.
The Makerbot Replicator+ itself is a competent 3D printer packing many quality of life features that make it an admirable choice for setting up in the classroom. For one, it utilizes a removable, unheated and flexible print bed, which means efficient and safe removal of finished prints.
Additionally the Makerbot Replicator+ benefits from Makerbot Print apps and My Makerbot browser-based integration. Through the computer-based version of MakerBot Print (which can be as simple or feature rich as you desire) piping prints to the Replicator+ via WiFi is a doddle.
And then there’s the app, which allows you to browse Thingiverse (the leading 3D model file repository, owned by MakerBot) and send print jobs from your smartphone via the cloud.
Then, for the classroom, a browser-based system in My Makerbot allows students to tap into the networked printers at their disposal from any browser. This is also directly connected to Tinkercad, meaning 3D modeling projects can be channeled to the Replicator+ entirely in-browser.
In all it’s an elegant system that works well.
But that’s not the main reason we rate the Makerbot Replicator+. Here, the printer is more a gateway to access Makerbot’s remarkably comprehensive set of resources and training schemes for educators.
To begin with, there is the Makerbot Educators Guidebook, (a free digital download for educational professionals) which serves up a smattering of lessons — complete with step-by-step instructions and print settings — utilizing 3D printing as an educational aid. The aim is to equip educators with the knowhow to confidently use the company’s machines in the classroom.
Beyond this, the company also nurtures an area of Thingiverse dedicated solely to educators developing and sharing lesson plans that incorporate 3D printing. Called Thingiverse Education, it is open for contributions from and for the wider community.
And (oh yes there’s more), the company also invites educators themselves to collaborate with the company in developing the company’s educational initiatives via the Makerbot Educators Program. Open to educators in the US that have sucessfully published two projects on the Thingiverse Education platform and use the company’s printers (that are registered), this community is the beating heart of the MakerBot’s educational efforts.
And lastly, there is the Makerbot Certification Program, which validates educator’s expertise in 3D printing, giving them the confidence in teaching and constructing plans around 3D pritning, all while gaining professional development credits at the same time.
Like we said. Comprehensive.
Simple setup, easy to use with impressive networking options, plus a staggering wealth of education resources directly from the MakerBot itself.
A mainstay of beginners looking to dip their toes in 3D printing for some years now, theis a go-to for its ease of use, low price point and reliability.
In addition, its packing a couple of features you wouldn’t ordinarily find on printers as inexpensive as this. A removable print plate makes turning over finished prints a quick and painless experience, and Wifi connectivity adds to its networkability.
Those seeking to tightly manage the filament usage benefit from automatic filament detection via a cartridge loading system. Ordinarily this would mean using proprietary “chipped” filament which cost more, but the Finder bucks the trend by making any 3rd party filament work with its filament detection system — the only caveat is that the spool needs to fit.
Another plus for Flashforge is that the company also offers discounts to qualified schools and colleges via its Flashforge Education Program.
Feature rich for its price point, combined with near-effortless setup and educational discounts direct from the manufacturer.
Touted as beginner-friendly and simple to use, the company’s da Vinci line of 3D printers typically retail in the budget-friendlier end of the triple digit spectrum. The most affordable is the da Vinci miniMaker, a diminutive primary-color hued machine that gives every appearance of being child friendly (though in our experience, it’s complicated).
A few notches up the range is the, a 3D printer that ticks a good few of the boxes we’d consider essential for a classroom friendly machine, and for very little more money.
Boasting a fully enclosed print chamber to keep wandering hands at bay, the da Vinci Jr. Pro 1.0 is also compatible with 3rd-party filament compatible — a must for keeping the overhead of filament down — and features automatic bed leveling for hands-off set up and printing.
For the particular demands of K-12, we’d say those features are three of the most important, and all in an inexpensive package with tailored lesson plans in tow.
As with MakerBot above, XYZprinting has also embarked upon an extensive program of positioning its printers for the classroom, with its own curated curriculum of lessons, projects and resources.
A mixture of free and paid class plans, the company’s STEAM curriculum caters to, well… just that. K-12 STEAM subjects. While overviews of the lessons can be viewed by anyone, it appears that the functionality of downloading the necessary files is locked behind a membership login.
For those struggling with the budget, XYZprinting also features a small section on its site giving tips on setting up a Donorschoose.org project to gather funding for 3D printers. Nice.
Highly affordable and featuring a number of classroom (and budget) friendly features like an enclosed print area and 3rd party filament compatibility, manufacturer XYZprinting also offers a wide-ranging curriculum of STEAM-based lessons.
Portable and compact, the eponymous 3D printer of Danish company Sculpto boasts a user-friendly design with emphasis placed heavily on ease of use.
Wifi connectivity lets educators and students tap into the Sculpto+ via the Sculpto app and browser-based control page, which handles the preparation aspect of printing with its inbuilt slicing engine. What this means for students is the simplest of workflows, from selecting a model (if not self-designed, then the Sculpto app integrates MakerBot’s Thingiverse model library) and pushing it to the printer with minimal input regarding settings.
The Sculpto+ uses polar coordinate system to print, which results in a form of locomotion to its printing that’s particularly mesmerizing to watch, so there’s something guaranteed to engage even the most skeptical of students. But beyond the flashy visual show (enhanced further with status notifications from inbuilt color LEDs), the core experience of the Sculpto is accessibility for even the most inexperienced user.
Cheap and cheerful, the Sculpto+ is highly portable (ideal for sharing between classrooms) and features one of the slickest Wifi-only UI experiences we’ve ever encountered on a 3D printer.
Arguably one of the original desktop 3D printers to make its way into the classroom, Printrbot’s Play was a respectable machine with looks that belied its high-end characteristics.
Much like its predecessor, the Printrbot Play V2 looks minimal in what’s there, but features automatic bed-leveling and high-spec mechanical parts like linear rails, all within a rock solid all-metal machine. Available both as a kit or (for $100 more) fully-assembled, there’s the opportunity to incorporate the building of this 3D printer into the class itself.
There’s little out of the box to assist in networking the Printrbot Play V2 into the classroom, but a space int he frame allows for the addition of a Raspberry Pi computer which could be set up to add wireless connectivity and control. Again, something that could be incorporated into a class, with the configuration of the RaspPi and physically adding it to the printer.
Built like a tank (so hardy enough for the rowdiest of students), the Play V2 includes auto bed-leveling, making for a frustration free start to prints where time might be at a premium. Educational discounts, and that it comes as a kit means there’s extra room to learn as they build.
A new upgrade over the well regarded Up Mini 2 (we like it), the ES adds safety and quality of life improvements to make this a serious contender for those looking for a fuss-free and simple to operate printer with quality results.
Carrying over from its predecessor is the HEPA air filtration system — making it better for enclosed spaces without good ventilation — and enclosed frame style and umbilically attached filament storage system. Improved networking capability comes in the addition of an Ethernet port plus, plus full USB port for printing from memory stick.
For a middling price point it’s an attractive 3D printer that ticks a great number of boxes we imagine are high on the educator’s mind when considering a printer: fully enclosed design, simple set up and operation, connectability, works with 3rd party filaments, air filtration system.
The Up Mini 2 made printing ABS a pleasant experience, with a print bed that never failed to stick and HEPA filter, it was a great beginners 3D printer. The Up Mini 2 ES will bring better connectivity options, making it a good choice for setting on a benchtop and letting students churn through print after print.
With a retro-futuristic design that certainly draws the eye, it’s whats inside thethat counts here.
Wide connectivity options make it a piece of cake to tap into the printer, with a mobile app and Octoprint-powered browser-based operation a top-line feature. But perhaps best of all is the Robo C2’s personal hotspot feature for printing in internet dead zones.
Schools and makerspaces with a spotty Wifi network or unreliable cabled networking infrastructure can skirt around such issues with the Robo C2 serving as the host. Further still, the printer’s on-board brains mean students can concentrate on designing models and sling the files directly to the printer itself for print preparation.
Welcome quality-of-life features like automatic bed-leveling and a non-heated removable print bed make it a well-rounded option, and possibly most versatile printer on this list.
When we first started working on this piece, Robo hosted a few resources for educators, including lesson inspiration for K-8 classes, a newsletter sign-up for information about grants for K-12 and Universities, plus the option to join the company’s Edu panel to help shape how the company assists the community.
Just as we were wrapping it up the company then came out with the news that it had acquired MyStemKits, possibly the world’s largest library of NGSS and CCSS-standard STEM curriculums. A huge coup, and one that Robo aims to leverage on its printers with the ability to stream lessons and printable parts directly from MyStemKits onto the Robo 3D printers.
A number of young student-friendly features, such as partially enclosed printing and a removable (but non-heated) print bed are great, but it’s the wide connectivity options that makes the C2 one of our go-tos.
If you’re familiar with Ultimaker’s modish 3D printers, then thewill seem a blast from the past. Eschewing the white acrylic body panels of it’s brethren, this laser-cut plywood 3D printer still features the same high specifications the company is renowned for, albeit with one difference. You have to build it yourself.
Indeed, coming as a completely stripped back kit, the Ultimaker Original+ comes as a box of bits to build following an online build guide.
This may seem a tall order, but the process of building a printer is straightforward enough, with errors and issues easily fixable after the fact.
It’s a novel opportunity to incorporate the building of the 3D printer into the class itself.
Beyond the industry leading printers though, Ultimaker also provides a comprehensive set of resources for educators. Beginning with the basics of 3D printer operation and maintenance, through to organizational tips and advice, plus dozens of lessons and Ultimaker Core Lessons: STEAM Set (a program of 8 lessons equipping students with the competencies for designing for and printing with its printers).
High quality print results from a well documented kit that in itself is a project for students — and not forgetting Ultimaker’s absurdly rich set of online resources for educators — gets the Original+ our seal of approval.
CraftUnique, a relatively new 3D printer manufacturer based out of Hungary, has quickly found its CraftBot Plus 3D printer reach the top of the pile, ranking as 2018’s number one Plug ‘n’ Play 3D printer according to 3D Hubs.
This means the CraftBot Plus is a 3D printer that tests well for reliability, with a simple set up process and minimal fuss required to take it out the box and start printing. Additional factors for 3D Hubs’ Plug ‘n’ Play category is great customer service.
The printer itself features a 250 x 200 x 200mm print volume and removable print bed.
Unique among its 3D printer offerings, CraftUnique offers a CraftBot PLUS Education Pack, which adds a full enclose with lockable door and HEPA + carbon air filter.
CraftUnique also goes to some effort in developing educational partnerships, running a design competition in its native Hungary and dedicating an area of its site to giving an overview of implementing 3D printing in the classroom.
Compared to some of the companies mentioned above, these resources are a little thin, but partially useful nonetheless.
Reputable ease of setup for the standard CraftBot PLUS caught our attention, but it’s the additional full enclosure and HEPA air filter for removing harmful VOCs that pushes our recommendation.
The fourth 3d printer to come from South Korean printer manufacturer Sindoh, the which we liked, but felt was hampered by some of its systems).adds a raft of quality of life and ease of use features to the template stamped out by its 3DWOX DP200 (
Building upon the reliable DP200, which itself features an entirely closed frame style, hands-off filament loading system, removable print bed and wireless connectivity, the 3DWOX1 adds 3rd party filament compatibility (a main criticism of the DP200), a flexible sheet bed (for easy print removal) and HEPA air filtration.
Overall the 3DWOX1 could fit as a reliable workhorse in any environment, and for a middling price point, to boot.
Sindoh’s 3DWOX 1 gets our recommendation for its laundry list of features isolating folks from the potential pitfalls of printing (HEPA filter, closed chamber, flexible bed) while opening up the machine to 3rd party filaments.
The Lulzbot Mini is a firm favorite of the All3DP office, serving as our go-to printer for when you just needed to print something with the least amount of hassle. The reliability of the machine is proven.
And where the Mini relied upon a constant computer connection via USB to operate, the brand newimproves upon the machines flexibility with the addition of an SD card slot for “offline” printing.
A novel automatic bed leveling system makes it a dream to operate, and an incredibly sturdy frame and mechanics make it tough enough for the rigors of classroom use. With that said, we’d say the openness of its frame and exposed mechanics of the print head perhaps make it less suited to younger or more handsy students.
Evolving an already great machine, the Mini 2 gives great versatility in printing, paired to high production quality and a fantastic auto bed-leveling system.
Educators looking for a system that takes care of itself with the minimum of setup would do well to consider the. The fourth desktop 3D printer to come from popular rotary tool maker, it boasts top line features that you’re more likely to see on printers that cost multiples of the 3D45.
In addition to an integrated camera for viewing print progress remotely, the 3D45 features automatic filament detection and print setting adjustment, automatic bed-leveling and carbon air filter for capturing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted during the printing process.
A large color touchscreen interface paired to straightforward networking cloud compatibility make it an attractive proposition for a set-and-forget position.
Beyond the machine itself, Dremel has some chops in integrating its 3D printers in the classroom with a modest collection of prepared lesson plans available through its website. Crafted around the various stages of K-12 education, the classes promote research based learning with quick and simple 3D prints helping students tackle real world problems with tangible solutions.
Perhaps the more interesting aspect of Dremel’s offerings is certification in using the company’s 3D printers. Through a self-paced online course, Dremel schools educators in the integration of 3D design and printing software, plus the 3D printing hardware itself. The end result, besides being a Dremel Certified Instructor, is the confidence to design one’s own models for 3D printing — a skill that gives flexibility beyond the company’s pre-prepared lesson plans.
Another printer on this list to feature classroom friendly features in a HEPA filter and closed print chamber, the 3D45 also impresses with its connectivity and extra touches like print monitoring camera large easy to navigate touchscreen. That, and Dremel’s raft of resources for educators.
Understandably tailored toward university and research level, theis the industry-leading desktop stereolithography apparatus (SLA) 3D printer.
It works by tracing the model to be printed with a laser through a vat of photosensitive resin, hardening layer by layer as is it pulled upwards through the liquid. The benefits of the technology is high precision and superior surface finish right out of the printer.
However, such printing technology comes with one downside — working with noxious, messy liquid plastics. Formlabs does an admirable job making the process of cleaning this resin off completed prints and curing them straightforward and simple.
This means investing in the company’s own ecosystem of accessories and cleaning stations, which are not included as standard with the Form 2. We’d argue these are essentials with a first machine (but perhaps not as necessary for a small bank of Form 2’s sharing the facilities).
For loading an unloading the material, the Form 2 makes use of an automated cartridge system. These cartridges are read by the Form 2, too, meaning all print settings and adjustments are automatically applied on cartridge change.
Thanks to Wifi connectivity, browser-based printer management keeps you updated on print and machine status anywhere.
Also worth noting is the sophisticated software packages with the Form 2, which automatically handles print support generation — often a major headache when printing with desktop SLA tech.
A wide range of engineering, medical and “standard” resins gives the Form 2 the edge for small-part requirements that specialize and require specific properties. Paired to the precision on offer and more involved post-print process makes it a strong choice for specialized applications in research.
And not forgetting that Formlabs itself provides a wide range of webinars, lesson plans and other resources to inspire academic institutions on the potential uses of the machine in their fields.
The company also holds a rolling research grant that awards a Form 2 basic package to a research team every quarter.
Definitely one for higher education, given the intensive post-processing required — the Form 2 is the ideal machine for exacting detail and surface finish in prints, plus specialist resins make it a versatile research tool for medical, arts and engineering applications.
A solid choice for the upper range of K-12, higher education and professionals, Leapfrog’s Bolt is a feature rich desktop 3D printer that outputs professional results. Packing a sturdy, fully enclosed design, the Bolt also boasts HEPA and carbon air filtration systems for removing VOCs and odors emitted from its prints.
It’s independent dual extrusion system gives greater flexibility with the option to create prints from multiple materials, or mirror prints to double output. A removable print bed also allows for high throughput if you have multiple beds on the go.
A neat feature designed to aid educators in the classroom is the addition of user profiles Classroom friendly UI that makes use of profiles (with or without admin rights), meaning educators can retain control and students can concentrate on the job at hand.
With Wifi connectivity, the Bolt Pro can also be accessed remotely via any web browser. On-board storage for 3D models can by synchronized with DropBox and Microsoft OneDrive, giving an additional networking tool aiding print management.
Additionally Leapfrog offers a accompanying curriculum incorporating it’s Bolt Pro 3D printer, including lesson plans, projects and testing materials for primary education and high schools, covering the basics through to professional applications of 3D printing.
Custom user profiles stands out to us as indicative of a machine designed for the shared environment of the classroom. Offering such control for educators, alongside such top-line features as independent dual extrusion and a HEPA air filter make the Bolt Pro solid choice for the school workshop or lab.
As the list shows, for the most part desktop 3D printers can cost a significant amount of money. And that’s the machine itself — when additional costs like materials, accessories and spare parts are added in, it can become a daunting investment to manage.
In addition to the manufacturers above that offer educational discounts, there are also myriad grants and programs that award funds for 3D printers. Here’s a list of some resources that could help you fund your next machines.
A private entity dedicated to the furtherance and adoption of STEM-based learning, PITSCO Education offers a wealth of resources to help educators get up to speed and inspired in the classroom, in addition to awarding monthly grants and highlighting funding sources.
Something of a search engine for grants, it’s possible to filter by grade, subject, focus areas and skills, generating information on grants that cater to said specified criteria.
A little less refined than GetEdFunding, GrantsAlert allows you to search by state and grant type. More digging may be required to find one that will cover such hardware purchases, but it’s possible.
Mixing small business in with nonprofit, for-profit, Federal, state, foundation, corporate giving and local grants into one pool, GrantWatch lets you filter through some 3,600 grants, with the option to hone in on those specifically for teachers.
Operated by home improvement store Lowe’s, Toolbox for Education is the company’s mechanism for donating $5-million to K-12 schools and parent-teacher groups, with a focus on STEM programs and facility improvement.
Awarding a variety of grants, McCarthey Dressman’s Academic Enrichment Grants can amount up to $10,000 a year for three years, funding project ideas that supplement regular classroom curriculum.
Created by Congress to promote the progress of science in the interests of national health, prosperity and welfare, the foundation funded almost 25% of “federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities” in 2016.
CNC mill maker Shop Bots has compiled it’s own list of funding sources.
Providing up to $10,000 in funds to individuals and AAUW organizations, with special consideration given to K-12 projects and community college girls’ and women’s achievements in science, tech, engineering and math.
A company that features prominently on our shortlist, Formlabs offers a quarterly grant awarding basic Form 2 3D printer packages to research institutions.
In 2018 GE Additive Education Program will award 3D printing packages (including the Dremel 3D45 printer mentioned above) to more than 600 primary and secondary schools around the world. 2018’s round is closed, but stay tuned to All3DP and GE Additive for the opening of 2019’s application round.
Think of DonorsChoose as the Kickstarter of education, except that instead of early-bird specials on vaporous products, the public can pitch in donations to help educators fund special projects and supplies for their classes. XYZprinting, who we cover above in our list — created a short guide on filling out a profile to pitch for funds on the platform.
Diving head first into 3D printing can be a daunting experience, especially so when confidence and proficiency are needed to successfully bring it to the classroom. Here are some links to online course, guides, explainers and other tidbits to help get you up to speed.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll consider it for a future update!
License: The text of "14 Best 3D Printers for Schools & Education of Summer 2018" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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