Maker culture is thriving and will only get bigger, thanks in large part to YouTube’s vast library of how-to videos that will teach you how to make just about anything under the sun. 3D printing is an ever-growing area as people discover just how game-changing they’ve become. Imagine the possibilities of being able to print fun as well as functional items right at home.
3D printing, , is one of those technologies that edges ever closer to mainstream every year. We’ve seen the 3D print concept play out for years on TV and in movies (what do you think a Star Trek replicator is doing?), and printing with a 3D printer at home is finally growing beyond a hobby for a small enthusiast audience.
Back in 2018, 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. 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.
These creative tools, with a price range of under $300 to 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 creations. Having researched and tested many low and mid-priced devices, from rock-bottom Monoprice printers to step-up resin printers that produce a truly professional-level print quality for prototyping, my recommendations for every price range are below.
Keep in mind that every 3D print requires a little smoothing and filing with a hobby file to look their best (you can also prime and paint each print, fill gaps with filler compound and so on) — but the sample Abe Lincoln busts presented below are right off the print bed, with 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. Just note that some manual assembly and tweaking is required.
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,.
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. It’s the best 3D printer on the cheap.
Best plug-and-play 3D printer
Flashforge Adventurer 3/Monoprice Voxel
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 to determine the best 3D printer for plug-and-play) 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.