If you’re looking for a 3D printer and you’re new to 3D printing, this article is probably not for you. That’s not to say that a 3D printer from our list couldn’t work for you, it’s just that these printers are designed for makers who have some experience and are most likely interested in setting up their printers to get specific results.
If you’re looking for a 3D printer that is completely set up and ready to go with minimal user input, you need a beginner or entry-level printer.
With that in mind, here are some considerations you need to be mindful of when choosing a mid-level printer that doesn’t carry the hefty price associated with top-end 3D printers, but still gives you the features and performance you’re looking for.
3D Printer Type
All of the printers in our list are FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)/FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication)/PJP (Plastic Jet Printing) 3D printers which form objects by depositing successive layers of material to build-up the object.
How big are the objects you want to print? Our list includes printers with build volumes from 305 cu. in. (4,498 cm3) up to 1,238 cu. in. (20,287 cm3).
The higher the resolution, the more detail can be produced in an object and the less work is required post-printing to finish the object. Higher resolution is usually desirable, but it comes at a price. Some printers have fully adjustable resolution and some have single or multiple fixed settings. Most of the printers in our list have maximum resolutions of 100 microns while one, the LulzBot TAZ 5 Desktop 3D Printer, has a maximum resolution of 50 microns. There is no indication of how much work it is to get that higher resolution. For most, 100 microns should be sufficient.
Print speed is related to resolution in that the higher the resolution, the lower the print speed. With that in mind, resolution is typically more important to makers than small differences in print speed. Print speed can also be affected by the object itself with smooth surfaces printing faster than objects with many sharp angles.
Print Material Support
All of the printers in our list support PLA (polylactic acid) which is a popular thermoplastic used in FDM 3-D printing. The FlashForge 3d Printer Creator Pro also supports PLA along with ABS, another popular thermoplastic. The MakerGear M2 Desktop 3D Printer also supports PLA along with ABS, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) a polyester material, Flexible Plastic, and others. The LULZBOT TAZ 5 is capable of also supporting PLA in addition to ABS, HIPS, PET (T-glaze), Polycarbonate, Nylon, Wood-filled PLA, Metal-filled PLA, Tritan Co-Polyester, and NinjaFlex/SemiFlex TPU (with optional Flexystruder tool head)
DIY 3D Printer Kits vs. Assembled
None of the 3D printers in our list are kits. Several 3D printers are available as DIY kits and this may save you money and help understand the technology better.
Maker Community Support
Community support is important to makers because of the custom nature of 3D printers and the nature of 3D printing which could be argued is still much more art than science. MakerBot claims to have the largest 3D printing community in their Thingiverse although other large forums are also available to other 3D printers besides MakerBot.
Take a look at our list of top rated printers and see if one of them is the best 3D printer for your needs!
3D Printer: Top 4 Best Rated Semi-Pro 3D Printers
The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer’s claim to fame is that it started the 3D printing revolution by making 3D printing easier and more affordable. It’s designed mostly for creating high-resolution, real-time prototypes and for complex modeling which it supports with an adjustable maximum 100-micron layer resolution and a 6,717 cm3 build volume. It’s many iterations into its design and has a big following, so you can expect it to have many of the bugs worked out. Here’s what you need to know.
- Advanced slicing engine algorithm
- Adjustable layer resolution to maximum 100-microns that minimizes post-production work
- 6,717 cm3 build volume
- Uses PLA filament
- LCD panel
- On-board utilities for printer setup and object library access
- Supports modeling from prints of photos taken by the iPad camera including screen shots
- Largest online 3D printing community in Thingiverse with the largest 3D print library
The LulzBot TAZ 5 Desktop 3D Printer is an open source hardware printer that uses free collaboratively-developed 3D printing software. This can be a double-edged sword. In many industries open source software can represent frequent changes that may not provide the stability you need in a professional prototype development environment. On the other hand, problems may get corrected sooner and updates and improvements may come more often. With so many minds involved, changes may be more innovative and useful. With its open-spool filament system this 3 D printer has very flexible support for print materials. Here’s what you need to know.
- Free software and open-source hardware
- LulzBot Hexagon all-metal hot end capable of printing at 300 degrees C with fast heat-up and stable print temps
- Active cooling on heatsinks means accurate temperature control
- 50-micron maximum layer resolution
- Open-spool filament system provides flexible support for a variety of 3mm print materials including, but not limited to, PLA, ABS, HIPS, PET (T-glaze), glow-n-the-dark PLAs, polycarbonate, nylon, stone particles, wood-filled PLA, metal-filled PLA, Tritan co-polyester, and NinjaFlex/SemiFlex TPU (with optional Flexystruder tool head)
- Easily swap from the standard tool head to optional specialized tool heads thanks to its modular carriage design
- Optional Flexystruder tool head prints rubber-like Thermo-Plastic Elastomers like NinjaFlex and SemiFlex
- Optional Flexy Dually tool head can combine the properties of flexible and hard plastics in a single print
- Advanced heated PEI print surface heats to 120 degrees C to reduce bed adhesion releasing objects without solvents or glues
- Cura LulzBot Edition printing software makes it easy to load, scale, orient, slice, and print objects yet allows you to take advantage of new materials and tool heads using built-in expert settings
- 1-Year limited warranty with 1-Year of free phone and email technical support
- Graphical LCD control panel with SD card support tetherless printing
- Modula toolhead design for easy upgrading
- Large 298 x 275 x 250mm (11.7 x 10.8 x 9.8 inches) printing areas supports larger objects or multiple part printing
- 0.5mm nozzle produces fast and reliable printing
- Igus polymer bearings for quiet, smooth low-maintenance operation
- Made in USA
- SD card with source files
- 9-piece toolkit with storage bag
- Sample 1-meter of 3mm ABS filament
- Layer resolution of 50 microns
FlashForge has updated their popular Creator X to the all-new FlashForge 3D Printer Creator Pro adding some new features like a metal frame, transparent cover, an integrated LCD screen, and a warp-resistant aluminum build platform among others. Here’s what you need to know.
- Stable, sturdy, durable powder-coated steel frame
- Versatile dual extruder
- Optimized, warp-resistant 6.3mm aviation-grade aluminum build platform handles high heat without warping
- 3-point leveling mechanism supports fast leveling
- Heat-resistant metal platform supports
- Spacious build area is 9W x 6D x 5.7H inches (large enough to accommodate three 12-oz beverage cans with room to spare at the top)
- Heavy-duty 10mm z-axis guide rod provides steady and precise movement
- Transparent acrylic cover seals chamber from outside interference to protect ABS prints
- Build envelope of 225 x 145 x 150 mm
- Build volume of approximately 5 liters
- Adjustable build layer thickness between 0.1-0.3 mm
- Nozzle diameter of 0.4 mm
- Can print from SD card or over USB cable
- 3D printer software includes ReplicatorG and MakeWare
- Works well with 1.75 mm ABS, PLA and supports nylon, dissolvable filament, and composite materials like wood and metal
- Integrated LCD screen
- Button board
- 1 – Dual extruder
- 2 – Spool holders
- 2 – 1-Kg filament spools
- 2 – Filament guide tubes
- 1 – Accessories bag with nuts, screws, and hex wrench kit
- 1 – Spare end stop switch cable
- 1 – Acrylic cover kit
- 1 – 4GB SD card with software, test sample files
In its 3rd generation, the MakerGear M2 Desktop 3D Printer features a good looking, durable, black powder-coated rigid steel frame with precision x and y linear rails and precision ground and polished steel shafting for quality prints every time. This unit is all about high-quality, precision parts that make creating precision printings reliably time and again. There is no doubt that this is one of the highest-rated and possibly the best 3D printers out there. Here’s what you need to know about this metal 3D printer.
- Black powder-coated rigid steel frame
- CNC-machined black anodized aluminum axes mounts
- Carriage contains circulating ball bearings that provide reliable, accurate, and durable linear motion
- Large 8 x 10 x 8-inch build area
- User-selectable layer thickness from 0.1 to 0.25 mm
- Precision x and y linear rails
- Precision ground and polished steel shafting
- Platform heater keeps printings from adhering to build platform
- 4 – start lead screw with integrated NEMA 17 stepper
- MakerGear 1.75 mm Stepper Plastruder supports ABS and PLA
- Open-source electronics and firmware
- 6-month limited warranty
- Made in USA
- 1 – M2 tools package
- 1 – M2 miscellaneous package
- 1 – Spool holder with screws
- 1 – Sample 1K spool of 1.75 mm PLA plastic filament
- 1 – Set sample prints
- 1 – Printed parts package
- 1 – Hardware package
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