3D printing, Star Trek replicator is doing?), printing with a 3D printer at home is still considered outside a small enthusiast audience., is one of those technology things that always seems to be on the -- without ever quite crossing over. Even though we've seen the 3D print concept play out for years on TV and in movies (what do you think a
Last year, I started playing around with 3D printing, less commonly known as additive manufacturing, mostly to satisfy my own curiosity, with an unexpected result. I'm now completely addicted to 3D printing. Over the past several months, I've searched for the best 3D printer quality technology and tested several 3D printing models, from rock-bottom Monoprice printers to step-up resin printers that produce a truly professional-level print quality for prototyping.
Below are printers in the lower-cost price range. We tested these 3D printers in the CNET Labs and compare the close-ups of our test print, a bust of Abraham Lincoln. Every 3D print requires a little smoothing and filing with a hobby file to look their best quality (you can also prime and paint each print, fill gaps with filler compound and so on) -- but the Abes presented below are right off the print bed, no touch-ups after the printing.
One printer I have not tested yet, but hear a lot of good feedback about, is the Creality Ender 3, which currently costs an affordable $230 and has a large community of dedicated fans who claim it's the best quality printing 3D printer. Just note that some more assembly is required to print with this than with these other printers.
For what to print and how to start 3D printing, including quality materials with which to print (e.g., polylactic acid vs. ABS plastic) and 3D printing technology and software,. Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of products featured on this page.
Despite the low price, this is a pretty damn full-featured quality 3D printer, and a favorite affordable first step for testing the 3D print maker waters. Monoprice also sells a slightly less expensive, affordable entry-level design, called the Mini Delta (and the Monoprice Maker, which offers more volume), but this is superior quality for printing in just about every way -- and it's often on sale for $199, or even a little less.
But it's also a good deal harder to set up and use than some of the more expensive 3D printing models. One of the cons is that the print surface is exposed, so your printing is more vulnerable to the elements (or cats, or children), and it took much tweaking, calibrating and troubleshooting to get good print quality results. Despite the beginner price, it's not as beginner-friendly for printing as I'd like it to be. That said, it does come with a preloaded SD card, and we printed many a nice quality print from it, eventually.
Read more: The best VR headsets for 2020
This is my go-to printer for balancing price, ease of use and print quality. Flashforge is the manufacturer, and sells this as the Adventurer 3, while the Monoprice Voxel version is the same hardware, just sold under a different name (the Voxel screen even says "Adventurer 3" when you turn it on). It's not the fanciest of 3D printing, but it has a fully enclosed print area, a touchscreen interface and a flexible heated print bed that lets you pop off a quality print with ease.
The most important thing about this pair of printers (and I tested both versions) is that the setup was easy, and I was up and 3D printing in less than 30 minutes after opening the box and gathering materials. I did find the Wi-Fi connection on this 3D print maker could be finicky at times, but at least there's a USB port right on the front panel for importing your files to the machine via thumb drive. My other complaint is about the filament -- the enclosed filament housing only takes half-size 0.5 kg filament rolls, not the more common 1 kg filament rolls. See the Monoprice version here.
Read more: Best TVs for gaming with low input lag
The Inventor II is a step-up in quality from the Adventurer/Voxel, even though this 3D print maker is roughly the same size and close to the same build volume. The larger color touchscreen is a huge improvement, making it much easier to tap in Wi-Fi passwords before printing. The enclosed space means 3D printing will pause automatically if someone opens the door, and the removable heated print bed is hefty, with a clever flexible top surface that peels off magnetically.
The manufacturing speed was a little faster than the Adventurer's speed, with more calibration and fine-tuning options for 3D printing. But despite the faster 3D printing speed, it also gets the same knock, an enclosed filament housing that only fits smaller 0.5 kg filament spools, which are less economical and harder to find than other filament spools. In our Abe Lincoln test, it printed the cleanest, most detailed print quality of the filament-based printers with a resolution of 50 to 400 microns.
Read more: Best gaming chairs we've sat in for 2020
No matter how fine, a 3D print is still just a plastic design layered one drop at a time. That means layer lines when printing, surface imperfections and a look that's not as clean as professionally molded plastic. Resin printers are the next step up in rapid protoyping design technology when you want your print to look as high quality as anything assembled in a factory. Instead of 3D printing your object with a hot nozzle with high temperatures depositing bits of plastic filament, resin printers use UV light to cure liquid resin, one paper-thin layer at a time, on an upside down print bed that rises at a slow speed from a vat of semitoxic slime.
Yes, it's as unpleasant as it sounds. The resin smells bad and requires rubber gloves to handle (and a well-ventilated room for printing). You'll also need isopropyl alcohol to wash the print after it comes out, and a UV lamp to finish the curing process. It's a lot of work and mess. But the printed model we got from the Anycubic Photon was simply amazing and the best 3D printer for sharp details. (Resolution is 25-100 microns.) Cured resin feels almost like glass, and holds quality design detail. The print quality from the printing process is astounding -- just be prepared for what you're getting into when 3D printing.
Read more: Best gaming keyboards under $100 for 2020
Originally published earlier this year.