Updated: May 23, 2015

3D Printer Reviews:

Not too long ago we heard about 3D printing capabilities but they were always something that seemed off in the future somehwere. Well, the future has arrived as the newest 3D printers are becoming mainstays in businesses around the world. 3D printing, commonly referred to as additive manufacturing, is seen in industries like construction, automotive, medical, manufacturing, and even architectural design. In our engineering office we use the latest FlashForge machine and the results have been astounding. The process is fairly basic - take a digital model of a particular shape or object and have the machine produce a 3D replica. Modeling software or CAD (computer aided design) is required but by using rapid prototyping, the 3D printer is capable of turning out geometric shapes and objects. The machine uses materials like metal, paper, powder, or liquids creating layers that are fused together through the additive process thereby giving you the end result - your object appears through the nozzle. Printer filament is an important part of the process giving you a smooth extrusion. How much are the new 3D Printers? Where is the best place to purhcase a 3d printer? We answer all those questions plus more in our buying guide section below.
3d printer

Choosing a 3D Printer

- The top 3D printer machines are produced by FlashForge, MakerBot, PrintBot, Afinia, Cubify, and UP!. Many come with a design software or CAD. You will also need handling tools and printer filament. Look for 3d printers with power supply cables and USB cables. Some are offered with a dual extruder like the FlashForge while others only have a single extruder. The difference between the two types is that the dual extruder will have two spools of filaments vs juse one. Extruder performance is based around the temperature settings - adjust as necessary (read instructions on this per your machine). All the 3D printers will have their unique specs for layer thickness, build volume and nozzle diameter. These determine size and volume capability. The FlashForge has a 5 liter build volume and layer thickness of between .1mm and .3mm. The multi-directional control pad and LCD display screen should be intuitive and easy to use. We researched the FlashForge, MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer, Cubify Cube 3D Printer, UP! Plus 2 3D Desktop Printer, and the Afinia 3D Printer H-Series. MakerBot is almost twice as expensive as the FlashForge although reviews don't show it performing any better. You do get a 410 cubic inch build volume with the Replicator 2 compared to 300+ cubic inches on the FlashForge. The MakerBot comes with the Autodesk 123D faceplate and buildplate so creating 3D printable designs is easy. ReplicatorG is on the FlashForge and is compatible with OSX, Windows, and Linux. One important note, at the time of this article, we saw that MakerBot has merged with Stratasys and that is a good thing as they are a very reputable 3D printer company. The Cubify Cube 3D Printer gets mediocre reviews at best. Several owners mention that the machine does not print ABS well and the cartidge filament system is way overpriced. Others say the 2nd generation printer is not reliable and build quality is susceptible. The Afinia is priced between the FlashForge and MakerBot at about $1600. It gets awards for ease of setup and use and the list of accessories is huge (nozzle wrench, hex wrench, usb cable, power cable, power supply, etc.). We recently heard great things about the Type A Machines printer ($1700), but never got a chance to try it out before we purchased the FlashForge. The The Type A Machines series 1 3D printer comes fully assembled and features vertical resolution from 50 to 300 microns. If our office to buy another 3d printer, we may consider the Type A Machines as expert reviews and owner feedback show it's a winner. You can browse the best selling 3D printers here.

Best 3D Printer:

RECOMMENDED - The top rated and #1 seller on several websites and stores is the FlashForge 3D printer. Priced at $1200 it's much cheaper than the MakerBot, Afinia, and Type A Machine. How does it hold up? Some people were wondering as it is manufactured in China. Take a look at the comments and reviews posted online at Amazon (80 out of 95 people rate it 5 stars and only 1 person gave it 1 star). For those that are new to 3D printing this is the one to consider. You will want to experiment, learn and do some prototyping and this system is perfect for that. Many say it's comparable to the MakerBot which is nearly twice as much. What comes with the FlashForge Creator? Dual extruder, 2x spool holders, 2 spools of filament, 2x filament guide tubes, feet, bolts, hex wrench kit, power supply cable and USB cable. Electronic features include FLashforge MightyBoard single-piece motherboard, 5 axis 1/16 micro stepping motor control, 4x20 LCD character display and multi-direction control pad, and a universal power supply. The software is the ReplicatorG and allows you to print from a SD card or over USB. Printing specs: build envelope 225 x 145 x 150mm, build volume of about 5 liters, layer thickness of .1-.3mm, nozzle diameter is .4mm, speed 40-150mm/s (adjustable), flow rate of approximately 24cc/hr. Desktop 3D printing has never been easier and our engineering crew appreciates the newfound capabilities they offer.

Additive Manufacturing:

RECOMMENDED - Ok, you want a more professional looking machine - go with the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer with Exclusive Autodesk 123D Face Plate and Build Plate. Professional quality models with a 100 micron layer heigh resolution and a 410 cubic inch build volume are totally possible with this machine. The Replicator 2 has been optimized for the renewable bio-plastic PLA. You get an active cooling which allows for bridges and overhangs. With improved technology and pricing that will hopefully continue to come down, we could see additive manufacturing become a common item in households across the world. Many of the reviews we found for these 3d printers were from ordinary people wanting the chance to experiment with 3d printing from their own home (non business related). That is good news for the industry as this will only make the manufacturers more eager to add new features and design capabilities.