Starting out with 3d printing can be daunting. If you watch YouTube videos, like I did, to get started, you’ll find that the presenters tend to flaunt their familiarity with technical terms and gloss over the process of actually printing, and go straight to the excellent models they’ve produced. It’s certainly inspiring, but what printers should you be looking at to start your 3d printing journey?
Excellent starter printers for 3d printing:
|Printer||Technology||Printer Build Volume||Sample Pricing|
|Ender 3||FDM filament printer||220mm x 220mm x 250mm||$249.00USD|
|Artillery Sidewinder X1||FDM filament printer||300mm x 300mm x 400mm||$420.00USD|
|Prusa I3 Mk3S||FDM filament printer||250mm x 210mm x 200mm||$999.00USD|
|AnyCubic Photon||DLP resin printer||115mm x 65mm x 155mm||$249.00USD|
|Elegoo Mars||DLP resin printer||120mm x 68mm x 155mm||$249.00USD|
Any of these printers would be an excellent choice for starting 3d printing. Compare prices, and build volumes to determine which is best for you.
Let’s have a look at each one of these recommended printers to see if one fits your needs. This is my list, and I’m sure others have their own that they’ve had success with. I’m still a beginner so the little experience that I do have is on these printers. That’s how I know that they’re good for starting out.
Ender 3 FDM Filament Printer
The Ender 3 is a very basic printer. It uses filament to make a 3d object. It can use PLA and ABS filament, as well as wood filament and flexible TPU filament. There are more choices, but these are the main filaments used. The print volume of the Ender 3 is 220mm x 220mm x 250mm. That’s enough for most beginner projects. I use mine for printing model buildings for my tabletop games. It seems well suited for that. A single 1:100 scale house will take from seven to 10 hours to print.
It has a z-axis resolution of 0.1mm (in other words, how thick the layers are) which is small enough that you can see the layer lines but they’re small. It comes with a 0.4mm nozzle and you use 1.75mm filament with the printer. The bed is heated, and there is a micro-SD slot on the front of the machine to load programs to print. It comes with an adapter to put the supplied micro-SD card in that will allow it to be loaded into a computer’s USB slot. This is how you transfer files from your computer to the printer.
The feeder motor will take the filament and push it through a tube that connects to the hot end of the printer. The pressure that the motor puts on the filament pushes it through the heated end, and extrudes it out the nozzle. Essentially, that’s the same for all FDM filament printers. The hot end is mounted on a gantry that can go left and right, up and down, but not back and forth. The bed itself goes back and forth, so you have movement in the x, y and z axes.
The reason Ender 3 is on this list is that this printer is cheap, but fully serviceable. It doesn’t have the nice-to-haves that the higher end printers have, and the price reflects this. It does not come with an automated bed leveling system, nor a filament sensor to pause the print when you run out of filament mid-print. You’ll have to do these activities manually.
Most users upgrade their Ender 3 with 3d printed add-ons and off-the-shelf purchased items. I replaced the rough sticker on the print bed with a magnetic sticker, and a metal print bed that the magnet holds in place. It has a coating that makes PLA stick to it really well. I have a 3d printed cover for the cooling fan on the control box. It’s directly below the print bed and, at times, the printer can drop tiny bits of plastic into it. The cover covers the fan intake and redirects it to the front, so plastic doesn’t get in. Other than that, my Ender 3 is stock.
There is a large user community on Facebook, YouTube and other social media. This is a great resource to you as you figure out the Ender 3. I have found great recommendations for print settings and suggestions on how to get my prints to stick to the bed. I learned a good technique for leveling the bed and the suggestion to replace the print bed with a removable metal one. This completely solved my problems and I’ve not looked back!
Artillery Sidewinder X1 FDM Filament Printer
This printer is roughly double the cost of an Ender 3 printer, but what it gives you is excellent! The build area is 300mm x 300mm x 400mm (so slightly taller than a cubic foot of build space). The printer is great for larger prints but priced well for a beginner machine.
It comes with some features missing on the Ender 3. It has thermal runaway protection (so in case of the motherboard failing, your heated bed does not overheat and catch fire!) It has a sensor to detect when the filament runs out. Combined with the ability to pause, resume and recover from a power failure, you can run your filament right to the end and then add more, so no partial spools of filament left over at the end.
One of the nicest improvements is the color touch screen on the front of the printer. It’s easy to see and simple to navigate. I think this adds to the simplicity for new users to get going on the printer. The bed is glass, so there’s no need to upgrade for superior first-layer adhesion. The glass bed will already achieve this.
And it’s quiet. It’s at least as quiet as the Ender 3 (which is quite quiet too). The manufacturer claims that you can print at a higher speed due to superior end stops on the axes, but I always print slowly as I find it generates better prints. I’m rarely printing above 40mm/second.
The Artillery Sidewinder X1 does not come with automatic bed leveling, so you’ll have to do this manually. Once you’ve got the basics down for how to do this, you can accomplish this in a few minutes. I’ve only needed to re-level my bed when I added filament or moved the gantry by hand (like when I moved the printer from downstairs to upstairs, or when I added filament and moved the z-axis down). In five minutes, I can be up and printing again.
If you’ve got a little more cash to spend on a starting printer, this is an excellent choice. Many times the manufacturer will have specials on their own website that make it cheaper than Amazon.Com, but shop around. Look for the latest version to take advantage of any improvements the company has to offer.
Prusa i3 Mk3S FDM Filament Printer
The Prusa I3 Mk3S printer is, to me, the gold standard of FDM filament printers. It has everything that you’d want. It has a fast heated bed, a filament runout sensor, pause and recover from power failure capability, thermal runaway protection and an automatic bed leveling system. It’s build volume of 250mm x 210mm x 200mm is right in line with Ender 3.
The price of the Prusa is much higher. You can only purchase these new directly from the company. You can buy it assembled, or you can save $200.00USD if you buy the kit and assemble it yourself. I highly recommend that if you’re going to buy this printer, you buy the assembled version. I helped my friend assemble his, and all it took was one part out of the huge bunches of parts to be misaligned for us to hit the proverbial brick wall. It took us quite a while to figure out what the issue was, but Prusa online customer support was excellent.
We decided eventually to send it off to a third party repair shop (see my article on how to repair your printer at https://home3dprints.com/how-do-I-get-my-3d-printer-fixed). It came back within two weeks. Here’s where Prusa printers shine: my friend turned on the power, ran the auto bed leveling routine, then started a print. He’s been printing ever since with no issues whatsoever. That’s a good printer! No FDM printer is foolproof, but this one is as solid as I’ve seen for 3d FDM filament printers.
Prusa has a new version of the I3 Mk3 called the Mini. If you don’t need the larger print bed, you get everything that’s excellent about the full-sized I3 Mk3S, but it’s a smaller print volume at 180mm x 180mm x 180mm, but for many use cases, that’s enough. If it is for you, then this printer is a great choice, being roughly half the price of the full sized I3 Mk3S.
AnyCubic Photon DLP Resin Printer
DLP resin printers work differently than FDM filament printers. Instead of pushing plastic through an extruder and depositing it onto a print bed, the DLP resin printer shines UV light up into a clear-bottomed vat of liquid photosensitive resin. There’s a computer screen between the UV light source and the bottom of the vat, and the pattern on it determines where the light will shine up into the vat. This means that it can shine a complex pattern that corresponds to a layer of the model being printed. The print bed will then lift and return, but at a height one layer up from the last layer. The process is repeated until the model is finished.
The print volume on the AnyCubic Photon is a lot smaller than you’ll find on FDM filament printers. The biggest your model can be is 115mm x 65mm x 155mm. That’s a little bigger in footprint to a larger smart phone. I’m printing scale model vehicles for use in tabletop games, so this size is just fine for what I’m printing.
It’s nowhere near as satisfying to watch a DLP resin printer work as it is to watch an FDM filament printer work. The print is made upside down, with the build plate lowering into the liquid resin and the layer is formed at the bottom of the vat. So there’s nothing to see. Not only is the build plate in the way (the print is printing under it), the resin is opaque, so you can’t see what’s going on. For larger prints, you can see some of the model after you’ve printed two or three inches, and the model is still printing. That can be several hours into the print.
What this means is that if something has gone wrong, you won’t know about it for several hours. Still, it’s easy to get things right with a DLP resin printer, and in many ways, it’s far easier to operate than a FDM filament printer. Leveling the bed takes under five minutes, and then you’re off to print! I use the excellent ChiTuBox slicer software, as opposed to the included AnyCubic slicer, but you can use either. The ChiTuBox slicer comes with the AnyCubic Photon and a few other printers as defaults, so loading the correct profile is easy.
The AnyCubic Photon has a USB port next to the power switch on the side of the machine. That’s how you load .Photon files (the sliced models, ready to print). Select the model to print from the touch screen on the front of the model and off it goes. Come back when it’s completed.
What makes DLP resin printers daunting is the fact that the resin is both poisonous and caustic. You have to (HAVE TO) wear nitrile rubber gloves to work with this stuff in liquid form (like pouring it into the vat, or removing a fresh print from the build plate). Once a print is removed from the build plate, it needs to be washed in a cleaner to remove any excess liquid resin. I use Mean Green household cleaner (undiluted) but many people use isopropyl alcohol. I don’t like the smell or the fact that it’s flammable, so Mean Green wins out for me.
Once you’ve cleaned your model, and rinsed it in water, it’s safe to handle. At this point, I snip off the supports, but the model still is soft and a little slimy. You have to cure the model in UV light, either in a UV chamber or in direct sunlight. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we get a lot of sunshine, but I instead use a clean paint can lined with UV strip lights to create a curing chamber. An hour in the chamber will cure any sized model. Once cured, it’s ready to be handled, sanded, filed and/or painted. Good to go!
The AnyCubic Photon was my first 3d printer. It seemed daunting at first, due to the dangerous nature of the resin and the complex cleaning up of the printed model. But I would do it again. I think this model produces fantastic results, and it’s easy to use. Putting on nitrile gloves is no big deal, and I go through a lot of paper towel to cover my work table so liquid resin drips are captured. I can now go from a finished print to a finished, cleaned print in under 10 minutes, and curing takes around an hour.
My models are crisp and highly detailed. I only print at a z-axis layer height of 0.025mm (or 25 microns). It’s the finest that the printer will go. There are no adjustments for the X or Y axes, as the entire layer is printed in one go. Nothing moves left or right, back or forward. The only movement is up and down on the z-axis. It makes the machine simple, and easy to operate. Compare a layer height of 0.025mm to my Ender 3, where I print at 0.200mm. I print different things, but you can see that you could get significant improvements in detail with a DLP resin printer.
If detailed, smaller models is your goal, then this or the Elegoo Mars are definitely your choice for a starting printer.
Elegoo Mars DLP Resin Printer
The Elegoo Mars is another excellent DLP resin printer. It has a build volume of 120mm x 68mm x 155mm and is similarly priced with the AnyCubic Photon. There’s not much that sets these two printers apart. They’re both capable of 0.025mm (or 25 micron) resolution on the z-axis layer height, and the build volumes are near identical. The Elegoo Mars has a stronger UV light source, which means that it can print a faster rate than an AnyCubic Photon, but not a lot faster. A print that would take seven hours on an AnyCubic Photon may only take six on the Elegoo Mars.
There are some minor differences, like the power button and USB port are on the back of the machine, rather than the side on the AnyCubic Photon. But there are more similarities between the two then there are differences. They both use the identical resin vats and UV screens, and control boards. The nice advantage of this is that you can use parts for one in the other. Not all the parts, but quite a few.
This is equally a good choice for a starter printer. It will do an excellent job printing small objects with high detail.
Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K Mono
This is a new printer that’s turning out to be a game-changer for the resin 3d printer world. It’s a resin DLP 3d printer that has roughly the same size of print area as the other offerings above.
What it improves is that the X/Y resolution (which comes from the LCD screen resolution) is 4K rather than 2K on the printers listed above. That, and the screen is a monochrome one, rather than a color one. This reduces heat, so you don’t have to replace it nearly as often. Those are huge improvements and you can see it in the finished models. Their quality is outstanding!
What is the best 3d printer for beginners?
For FDM filament printers, the best beginner 3d printer is the Ender 3. It is the best combination of good abilities and cheap price. It is easy to understand and repair, and replacement parts are cheap for the machine. Best of all, there are more YouTube videos and internet blog posts to help you with an Ender 3 printer than any other printer on the market. Learn this printer, then move to a more sophisticated printer after you have mastered the basics here.
Can you make money with a 3d printer?
You can make some money with a 3d printer, but you can’t make enough to replace a full-time income with simply printing with a 3d printer. If you use it to supplement an existing business, then it can be an income multiplier. For example, using a 3d printer in a ring making or jewelry making business will enhance the business and make it better. Simply taking orders and printing can make some good additional income.