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Best 3D printers, scanners and laser cutters for makers and creators in 2020

Fire up the 3D printer and even print your own gifts, or give one to the creative person in your life.

Maker culture is alive and well, thanks to an army of creators who have a passion for making things by hand. My interest in 3D printing started back in 2018, when I got pretty deep in the weeds, creating everything from phone stands to tabletop game accessories to a sweet mini Millennium Falcon. Since then, I've doubled down, getting into 3D scanning and even laser cutting, which lets you sculpt real-world designs from wood and leather. 

And right now, 3D printing know-how is more in demand than ever, with everyday citizens designing and printing out PPE equipment to help the fight against COVID-19

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That can include headbands for plastic face shields, clips for surgical or home-made masks and even hands-free door handle add-ons. Bigger companies like HP and Formlabs are getting in on the act too, on a much larger scale. I've personally made a variety of fasteners for home-made cloth masks, face shield headbands and I designed a magnetic mask clasp from scratch that you can find here

Read more: Making 3D printed face shields, mask accessories and other coronavirus tools

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These creative tools, which range from affordable (under $300) to high-end (over $3,000), are awesome gifts for a creative person in your life -- or even better -- they're great for you to craft your own personalized designs.

Once you find the best 3D printer and you end up getting completely addicted to 3D printing, don't blame me. (But if you do, here's a handy 3D printing FAQ that should answer some of your questions.)

Entry-level 3D printers

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Despite the low price, this is a pretty damn full-featured 3D printer, and a favorite affordable first step for testing the 3D printing waters. Print quality and speed are excellent, but there will be a good amount of trial and error in your first few prints. Just be sure to purchase extra filament since you'll use up the included sample roll very quickly. 

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The ambitious da Vinci Jr. 1.0 A Pro is a step-up printer with a big 6.9-inch square build surface and optional add-ons for both laser engraving and using specialized material like carbon-fiber filament. It's $399 with just the standard equipment, or about $150 more with the extras. That said, the lack of built-in Wi-Fi is a major hassle, and for this price a nonheated bed is a serious omission. Some of the company's printers are locked to proprietary filament, but fortunately, this model is not (which is good, because the sample roll of PLA included in the box wasn't great). 

Despite some extra troubleshooting required during setup, I liked the modular nature of the printer, its big, easy to use buttons, and frankly, the cheerful bright orange color. 

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If you're set on a resin printer, this is the best 3D printer for you. Resin printers are the next step up in rapid prototyping design technology when you want your printing to look as high quality as anything assembled in a factory. Just be warned: The liquid resin is harder to work with, and it requires both good ventilation and a portable UV light to properly cue. This model is extremely popular with board game hobbyists who want to print pro-looking miniatures, and has fallen in price over the past year from around $250 to just under $200. 

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Midrange 3D printers

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This is my go-to best 3D printer for balancing price, easy use and print quality. Setup is easy, and I had it assembled and was ready to start printing in less than 30 minutes after opening the box and gathering materials. Flashforge made this 3D printer, but Monoprice sells its own version of the same hardware as the Voxel

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Recreate pretty much anything by putting it on this 3D scanner, where a rotating base and built-in camera create a 360-degree copy, which is then editable in any 3D program and printable on your 3D printer. Simply scan the object, import the scan into your slicing software for cleanup, and print. The included software alerts you of next steps in the printing process with either sound or texts. Scan quality and resolution are great, and setup is easy, although you might want to clean up your 3D model a bit in a 3D software app after. 

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A step up from the Adventurer model, this Flashforge is another of my long-time favorites. It's largely targeted at schools and education, so it's easy to use. It has a similar build volume as the Adventurer 3, but a much better touchscreen menu, and lots of extra features, like an onboard camera, the ability to pause prints when the door is opened, and some very good automatic calibration features. 

High-end and professional 3D printers

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I can't begin to tell you how much I love the Glowforge. Laser cutters can sculpt projects from wood, leather, lucite and other materials, making it an interesting creation alternative to filament-based 3D printers. Even better, what would take a 3D printer hours to do takes just minutes in the Glowforge.

With it, I've created laser-etched LED lights, birch wood tool caddies, and even a three-tier box for my Nespresso sleeves. There's a robust community of makers creating and sharing files, but pretty much any line drawing you can create in something like Adobe Illustrator can be turned into a project. 

The software is all cloud-based, which adds a layer of complication (you need internet service to use it), but the ability to create amazing gifts and more from simple 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch cheap plywood is pretty empowering. 

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A much smaller, desktop-sized version of its more industrial printers, the new model from BCN is a dual-extruder model, which means it can use two different spools of material at once. 

That lets you either print two copies of something at the same time, or use two different colors of material to create a multicolored object. The build volume is also huge, at least compared to the simpler models listed above. 

I've only just unpacked the Sigma D25, so I don't have a ton of hands-on time with it yet. The build quality, menu system and bundled custom version of Cura (a 3D slicing software) are all excellent. So far the instructions and documentation, at least in English, are thin, and the setup is nowhere near as plug-and-play as some of the simpler printers on this list. I'll update my impressions when I get more hands-on time with the D25. 

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