So you want to buy a 3D printer? Check out our 3D printer buying guide before you go shopping to find out what's the best 3D printer for your needs and your budget.
You’ve heard so many great things about 3D printers and what you can do with them. There are so many wonderful machines that can make your building dreams come true. But if you want to buy a 3D printer, what model should you choose? How much should you spend? And where’s the best place to buy a 3D printer? Here’s a guide to the most pressing questions when buying a 3D printer.
Before you start shopping, first think about what and how often you want to 3D print. Here’s our experience in a nutshell:
So, if we can rule out these exceptions, you are a candidate to buy a 3D printer.
Currently, there are 10 major 3D printing technologies. As you probably don‘t want to buy a $100,000 metal 3D printer, there are just two types of consumer 3D printers which are relevant. They are called FDM 3D printers and resin 3D printers.
FDM is the most common 3D printing method used in desktop 3D printing. A thermoplastic filament is heated and extruded through an extrusion head that deposits the molten plastic in X and Y coordinates, while the build table lowers the object layer by layer in the Z direction.
This type of 3D printers is a cost-effective means for product development and rapid prototyping in small business and education sectors since it’s capable of fabricating robust parts reliably and quickly. They use a variety of interesting materials.
If you buy an FDM 3D printer, you can choose from a variety of brands, there are at least 50 great companies to choose from. You can find the best FDM 3D printers here, their prices range from $150 to $6,000.
Resin 3D printers use stereolithography technology, short SLA. It works by exposing a layer of photosensitive liquid resin to a UV-laser beam so that the resin hardens and becomes solid. Once the laser has swept a layer of resin in the desired pattern and it begins to harden, the model-building platform in the liquid tank of the printer steps down the thickness of a single layer, and the laser begins to form the next layer. Each layer is built on top of the preceding one.
Like the FDM technology, objects with overhangs 3D printed with this type of 3D printer will require support structures. And after printing has completed, the object must be rinsed with a solvent. Sometimes it’s also baked in a UV oven to finish processing.
SLA creates smooth surfaced objects with extreme detail, and it’s increasingly popular in industries like jewelry and cosmetic dentistry for creating castable molds.
In general, resin 3D printers are harder to handle the FDM 3D printers. That’s why we would recommend you to buy a resin 3D printer only if you have good reasons to do that.
The price range for resin 3D printers is between $250 and $10,000. You can find the best resin 3D printer models here.
If you want to buy a 3D printer today, there are three main sources to choose from: Amazon, Chinese online stores and established regional online stores. Let’s take a closer look at them and outline the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Reputation: Amazon is a great source for buying 3D printers. They offer lightning-fast delivery, have most items in stock, and you can count on their reliability and obligingness.
Prices: The printers Amazon tends to carry are the lower-priced ones. Its prices are decent — they’re not overpriced, but not super cheap either — but, unlike the Chinese online stores, they do not offer the same kinds of sales. Lastly, there are no hidden fees and not a lot of price fluctuation.
Ease of Use: Most people are already quite familiar with how Amazon works. It’s a relatively straightforward website with an added perk of being able to buy anything else that comes to mind while placing your 3D printer order.
Special: Some Chinese 3D printers, like the popular Creality Ender 3, are sold on Amazon using additional ‘brands’ like Comgrow, SainSmart, CCTREE, Luxnwatts,Nidouillet and ENOMAKER, which can be quite confusing. But you can buy, for example, a Comgrow Creality Ender 3 worry-free because all of them are original 3D printers from Creality.
Return Policy: Amazon has the best return policy. They generally offer a 30-days for all new and unopened items.
Selection: At the moment, Amazon carries the most popular brands like Creality, Anycubic and only a few others. They don’t offer the variety which is comparable to the Chinese stores. Like all other stores, Amazon doesn’t carry Prusa 3D printers, since they can only be purchased directly through the manufacturer.
Like Amazon, the following major Chinese online retailers are proven, reputable vendors. Their pricing fluctuates a lot, so it’s a good idea to compare between them and see if anyone has a significantly better offer than another. Be warned though — the cost of a printer can vary from one day to the next!
Please keep in mind that depending on where the 3D printers are being delivered from, they could get stuck at customs and you may have to pay customs fees on them.
Check the warehouses these vendors are using. If you’re looking to get your purchase quickly and avoid the risk of customs, try ordering it from a warehouse that’s in your region. Just be aware that it will probably cost a little bit more. If saving money is more important, order from a Chinese warehouse. The shipping time can be very long and there could be customs fees, but it will likely be cheaper. Just be aware that this will make returns more difficult/expensive!
Reputation: AliExpress is a very popular online retailer with a well-rounded 3D printer offering. Because it is a marketplace, with a collection of sellers, it has a mixed reputation. Be very careful about which seller you buy from and be aware of their shipping and return policies before making a purchase.
Prices: The prices can often be lower than on Amazon or other sites, but, as mentioned above, they fluctuate a lot. Depending on the seller, you can get free shipping.
Ease of Use: Though AliExpress offers a vast range of items, it’s not the easiest online retailer to navigate. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess. You should also be 100% positive that the item you’re purchasing is the exact one you want because sometimes AliExpress carries many very similar items and their product names can seem like a jumble of conflicting keywords.
Return Policy: AliExpress’ return policy lets you request a refund up to 15 days after your order has been completed. But when it comes to footing the return shipping bill, that varies based on the seller. In many cases, you may be liable for it. Sometimes, the cost of return shipping can be more than the product itself, so think twice about ordering from them if you think there’s a possibility of returning it.
Selection: AliExpress offers a wide range of printers and, depending on what you buy, ships items out from different locations to reduce the shipping time. They often offer free shipping, but the amount of time it takes an item to get shipped to you really varies and is something to be mindful of.
Reputation: Relatively solid in terms of its reputation, BangGood, sells a range of products and ships internationally. Between all the Chinese online retailers, it’s the most similar to Amazon.
Prices: They often have deals on printers, so they’re worth checking out to make sure you’re getting the lowest price for your machine. The shipping fees vary.
Ease of Use: BangGood is relatively simple to use. Sometimes, the product descriptions can be confusing, especially in other languages than English, but unlike Aliexpress, the products cannot be confused. Lastly, the shipping time for products can range from anywhere between five days to 50 days, depending on the warehouse.
Return Policy: They don’t offer the most generous return policy, but they have been accommodating in the past. You have three days after the delivery date to make your return. You’ll also be on the hook for the shipping costs.
Selection: BangGood offers a decent range of printers, so they’re worth checking out, especially if you’re hunting for a deal. Act fast though — the prices tend to bounce around.
Reputation: Though GearBest is a site that specializes in selling electronics, according to voices on forums, its customer care can sometimes leave a bit to be desired. Keep this in mind when making a purchase.
Prices: Like the above stores, the prices fluctuate a lot, however, GearBest does have frequent sales and discounts. Be aware that some items may ship from the GearBest Chinese warehouse, where shipping will take longer and there could be customs fees.
Ease of Use: This site is generally quite easy to use. On average shipping can take from a few days to more than 20 days, depending on where you and the warehouse are located.
Return Policy: They offer a 30-day return policy, but do require you to pay shipping fees for both ways if you’re sending back a fully functional item. If the item is defective you don’t have to pay return shipping. As mentioned above though, their customer care is not the best and this could make the return process a headache.
Selection: They offer a broad range of printers.
The Chinese online retailers and Amazon normally don’t have a wide selection of professional printers, and they lack specialized support to help you with your 3D printer. So if you’re looking for a professional machine, check out an online store that exclusively sells printers and 3D printing-related items.
Please be aware that not all 3D printer manufacturers sell their printers through these retailers.
Lastly, many sites say they ship internationally, but they don’t have warehouses on different continents. This is important to know because if you buy from a shop that is far from where you are, you will likely have longer shipping times and high shipping fees. The following sites are separated by where they are best equipped to ship to.
Reputation: The US-based company MatterHackers supplies everything for 3D printing – from the 3D printers themselves to filament, software and accessories. This expertise has given them a very solid reputation.
Prices: The company sometimes has deals and sales you can take advantage of, including their version of Black Friday, called Blue Friday.
Ease of Use: MatterHackers offers free shipping within the U.S., a huge perk if that’s where you’re based.
Return Policy: Their return policy gives you 30 days, but they do charge a 15% restocking fee if the item isn’t defective, so take the time to make sure what you’re buying is exactly what you want.
Selection: Since MatterHacker’s expertise is 3D printing, they offer a good selection of 3D printers.
Reputation: Dynamism enjoys a stellar reputation thanks to its impeccable customer service. Customers receive a “technology concierge” to personally support them via phone and email before and after a sale.
Prices: Unlike many other sites, Dynamism is not a great source to find exceptional deals or discounts.
Ease of Use: The site is easy to navigate and making an informed purchase is simple through its exceptional customer service.
Return Policy: Their return policy is quite strict, so try to avoid it! They offer returns within five days of receiving the order, but you will be liable for the shipping costs and will also have to pay a minimum 15% restocking fee.
Selection: They offer a great selection of professional 3D printers including Ultimaker and Formlabs.
Though sites like Amazon let you stock up on toiletries, clothes and random kitchen implements while also buying a 3D printer, they don’t always carry everything you need.
Reputation: Prusa 3D printers are very beloved due to their reliability and their completely open source design. In fact, they’ve won several awards, including one for the Best 3D Printer. No other 3D printer manufacturer enjoys the acclaim and loyalty of Prusa.
Prices: The 3D printers are sold exclusively by the manufacturer. Unless you plan on buying a used Prusa 3D printer (and there’s more on that below), purchasing directly from the manufacturer is the only way to get your hands on one of these. Unfortunately, they don’t really have sales or discounts.
Ease of Use: If you’re after a Prusa, the good news is its site is easy to navigate. That being said, it often has items out of stock due to sheer demand and an inability to keep up with orders.
Return Policy: If you need to send back a defective or damaged printer, contact their support team.
Selection: As mentioned, this is the place to go for all Prusa products, but its popularity means some items are occasionally out of stock.
Languages: English, Czech, German, Italian, Polish, French, Spanish, Japanese
If you don’t have a ton of money on your hands, you still can buy a great 3D printer. Here’s a list of the best affordable 3D printers:
Of course, you can always buy a second-hand 3D printer. Here‘s what you have to consider:
It doesn’t stop there. If you have some experience in building things, you can also buy a 3D printer kit. You’ll have to assemble the printer yourself, but that’s probably the best way of learning the most about your 3D printer. However, unlike a couple of years ago when kits were extremely popular, they are no longer a very good deal and can add a lot of hassle. Since the price of printers has gone down so much, many fully assembled printers, like Creality ones, for example, cost the same as an Anet printer, which you’d have to assemble.
If you’re still keen on putting one together, or think it will be a great way to learn and understand the technology better, you can find the best models here.
Quite frankly: If you’re just entering the wild and wonderful world of 3D printing, it’s better to refrain from backing a great looking, dead cheap 3D printer at Kickstarter or Indiegogo. First, you won’t get instant gratification and will have to wait several months (if not years) until the printer arrives. Second, there are risks in buying a 3D printer through crowdfunding. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, fraud being one of them.
All3DP has an in-depth resource to help you answer the question “Should You Buy a Kickstarter 3D Printer?”
If you know what you‘re doing, however, a Kickstarter 3D printer can be a great way of getting a cutting-edge 3D printer. Also, many great 3D printing companies get their start on Kickstarter.
License: The text of "2019 3D Printer Buying Guide: How to Buy a 3D Printer" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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