With 3D printing becoming the latest craze, the devices have gone beyond an expensive fad to an affordable must-have. 3D printers can make up a surprising part of your daily life, once you get used to having one. Need a custom dinnerware set before your in-laws come over? Print up dishes, bowls, cups, and even utensils and impress them with your unique, matched designs. Broke a plastic part on your eyeglasses? Print a new one and save the trip to the ophthalmologist.

3D printers can be tons of fun, but they have the potential to take an essential part in our lives. So if you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, let’s take a look at a few of the things you should consider when shopping online.

Where to Start

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Like almost anything you need in this day and age, if you want to find a variety of a particular item from different brands, for different purposes, or for different budgets, the first place to start is Amazon. Amazon lets you compare prices and features, searching by brand name, size, and numerous other factors to narrow down what you want. With free same-day shipping on many items for Prime members, it’s a good place to get started shopping for your first 3D printer.

Understanding How 3D Printers Work

Most personal use 3D printers use a technique called fused deposition modeling. The 3D printer is fed a coil of thermoplastic material, which it heats until it becomes molten and deposits in a thin layer on a build plate. It then deposits another layer atop that one, slowly building upward and adjusting the shape of the layer deposited as needed until it creates a precisely modeled 3D object built from the ground up. Digital 3D models give the printers the instructions they need for dimensions, shapes, and layering. Experts in 3D modeling can create their own models using modeling software, or beginners can download models from many online sites.

Know What You Want Your Printer For

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Will you be printing novelty items such as branded merchandise, creating kids’ toys, or printing fine plastic moving parts for robotics – or any other number of purposes? Deciding your purpose ahead of time lets you be smart in choosing the printer you want. Different 3D printers specialize in different things, and you’ll want to check ratings and reviews for info such as how well the model handles delicate objects, versatility, and accuracy.

Size Actually Does Matter

different sizes of shoes

You don’t want to buy a 3D printer intending to extrude a living room chair only to realize the printer is barely large enough to extrude a sippy cup. Check the dimensions not just of the printer, but of the actual printing plate. Manufacturer specifications should provide you with clear information on the maximum width, depth, and height of an object that you can print. While there are 3D printers large enough to fabricate an entire house in fewer than 24 hours, for commercial consumer printing, you’ll probably average out on something large enough to print a toolbox.

What Kind of Filler?

3d filament

You may be wondering what actually goes into a 3D printer. While some 3D printers use microbeads, the types of printers available to the average consumer use spools of filament. The filament is fed into the printer and melted so that it can be used to layer over and over again into the shape desired.

Many filaments are just labeled as “3D printer filament” with few details on what they are – usually polymer or some form of plastic or resin that’s easy to melt and easy to shape. However, you can get filaments in titanium, silver, or nearly any substance as long as your 3D printer is able to heat it and appropriately work with it. Some substances can leave behind residue that can gunk up printers not adequately equipped to handle them.

5 Best Rated 3D Printers on Amazon

These five 3D printers have racked up the reviews on Amazon, and here’s how they average out:

Manufacturer: Qidi Technology

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • 4.3-inch touch screen
  • Dual extruder with two spools for double color printing
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    Heatable and removable build platform
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    Removable, bendable plate allows easy removal of models
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    100-500 micron layer resolution
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    225 x 145 x 150mm (8.8 x 5.9 x 5.9 inch) max build volume
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    Internal QIDI Print software
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    USB pen drive
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    Works with ABS and PLA filament

Manufacturer: FlashForge

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Strong, stable metal framework
  • Dual extruder with two spools
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    High heat resistant metal platform
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    LED-lit printing area
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    Heavy-duty Z-Axis guide rod
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    Works with ABS and PLA filament
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    SD card slot
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    100-500 micron layer resolution
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    227 L X 148 W X 150 H mm (8.9 X 5.8 X 5.9 inch) max build volume
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    New and improved model over previous wood and plastic models

Manufacturer: Qidi Technology

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Dual extruder
  • 100 micron layer resolution
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    SD Card
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    Works with ABS and PLA filament
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    230 x 150mm (8.8 x 5.9 inch) build plate size (no information on build volume available; compare to the Qidi X-Pro)
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    Fully enclosed constant temperature device
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    Aviation-quality flat build plate guaranteed not to warp during heating
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    Fully metal external frame
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    High-heat-resistant metal platform supports
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    Support for Replicator G/Makerware software

Manufacturer: Qidi Technology

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Single MK10 nozzle and 10 mm rod
  • 3.5-inch full-color touch screen
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    Qidi Print software
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    SD card
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    Works with ABS and PLA filament
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    140 x 140 x 140mm max build volume
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    CNC machined aluminum alloy build platform

Manufacturer: Sindoh

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • 5-inch color touch screen
  • Fully automated loading – little effort involved in changing or loading filament
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    Assisted bed leveling
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    0.05 – 0.4 mm layer resolution
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    Remote monitoring for longer and more complex projects
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    Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity
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    USB compatibility
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    Easy mode for beginners
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    Built-in assistance for optimal direction
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    Single nozzle
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    200 x 200 x 185 mm (7.9 x 7.9 x 7.3 inch) max build volume

5 3D Printers for Shoppers on a Budget

Not everyone can afford to shell out four figures – or even three figures – for a new 3D printer. If you’re on a budget or just don’t want to spend too much money testing out a shiny new toy that may end up gathering dust when you get bored with it, these five affordable 3D printers are for you.

Manufacturer: Monoprice

Average Rating: 3.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Single nozzle
  • Desktop sized
  • Color LCD
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    Quick-release steel gear filament feeder
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    120 x 120 x 120 mm (4.7 x 4.7 x 4.7 inch) max build volume
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    Works with ABS, PLA, conductive PLA, wood and metal composites, XT Copolyester, and dissolvable PVA
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    Supports many operating systems, including Windows 7 through 10, Mac OS X, and Linux
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    Heated build plate
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    MicroSD card and USB compatible
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    100 micron layer resolution
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    Ships fully assembled and factory-calibrated
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    Compatible with multiple applications, including Cura and Repetier

Manufacturer: XYZ

Average Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Uses proprietary DEHP-free, heavy metal-free biocompostable non-toxic PLA filament
  • Single-button print capability
  • Multicolored LED status indicators
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    Wireless network connectivity
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    Auto-calibration
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    5.9 x 5.9 x 5.9 inch max build volume
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    Over 5,000 downloadable templates available from manufacturer
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    Comes with bonus perks such as 300g PLA filament, maintenance tools, XYZMaker CAD software, and a $49 STEAM 3D design tutorial e-gift card

Manufacturer: Anet

Average Rating: 3.7 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Prints ABS, PLA, PRTG, wood, nylon, PP, HIP, TPU
  • Single nozzle
  • 0.1-0.3mm layer resolution
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    Heated bed
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    220 x 220 x 240 mm max build volume
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    Compatible with Cura, Repetier, and other software
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    Works with Windows XP/7/8, Mac OS, and Linux operating systems
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    Includes SD card, hex wrenches, spanner, nipper, screwdriver, filament, and cleaning cloth

Manufacturer: HopeWant

Average Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • 110 x 110 x 125 mm max build volume
  • Desktop sized
  • Works with PLA filament
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    Supports Windows, Mac, and Linux
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    Cura and Repetier compatible
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    Includes TF card, glue stick, and filament

Manufacturer: iNSTONE

Average Rating: 3.4 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Desktop sized
  • Portable
  • 0.1-0.4 mm layer resolution
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    110 x 110 x 120 mm max build volume
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    Single-knob print initiation
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    Single nozzle
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    Works with iNSTONE 1.2, Microsoft 3D Builder, Simplify 3D, Cura, and Slice3r software
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    Supports Mac, Linux, and Windows 7 through 10 operating systems

5 3D Printers for Tech Lovers With Money to Spend

If money is no object – and we really do mean no object, 3D printed or otherwise – these five 3D printers are waiting to drain your bank account. Interestingly, the more they cost, the lower their ratings. Maybe they’re not worth the price tag…or maybe after dropping five figures, there’s a little buyer’s remorse.

Manufacturer: FEASUN

Average Rating: 3.0 out of 5 stars (from one review)

Top Features:

  • Industrial sized 3D printer
  • Full-color touch panel and user interface
  • High-performance heating plate with a low failure rate
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    Silent, stable linear slide
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    Supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD
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    550 x 550 mm (11.8 x 33.5 inch) max build volume (depth by height; width not provided)
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    Uses PLA, TPU, TPE, and PETG filament
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    50 micron layer resolution
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    Magnetic rod ends
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    Supports Cura, Craftware, and Kisslicer software

Manufacturer: Leapfrog

Average Rating: 1.0 out of 5 stars (again, from one review)

Top Features:

  • Dual nozzles for two-color printing
  • Fully standalone and enclosed
  • Capable of 10-micron layers
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    Auto calibration and leveling
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    220 x 350 x 270 mm/20.8 liter max build volume (35 x 24.5 x 22 cm build area)
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    Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB capable
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    Touch screen interface with job control

Manufacturer: MakerBot

Average Rating: 2.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • Part of MakerBot proprietary 3D system of technologies
  • Uses cloud-enabled MakerBot OS
  • Compatible with proprietary MakerBot Smart Extruder
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    Connects via Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or USB
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    Single nozzle, single filament, single color
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    12 x 12 x 18-inch max build size – the second largest on this list
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    Fully-enclosed printing
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    Uses PLA filament

Manufacturer: Stratasys

Average Rating: 3.6 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • 12.7 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm max build volume
  • Uses ABSPlus filament
  • Prints in 9 colors
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    Compatible with Windows 7 and Windows 8
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    Plug and play ready
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    Capable of creating movable operating parts
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    Includes WaveWash 55 Support Cleaning System with eco-friendly dissolvable Ecoworks tablets
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    Comes with QuickPack Print Engines

Manufacturer: Raise3D

Average Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Top Features:

  • 305 x 305 x 610 mm (12 x 12 x 24 inch) max build volume – the largest on this list
  • 7-inch touch screen
  • Connects via Wi-Fi or Ethernet
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    Able to resume printing after a power outage
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    Fully enclosed print chamber
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    Rigid aluminum frame
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    Fine detail printing
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    Compatible with over 10 types of filament, including ABS and PLA
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    Rated best overall in Make Magazine’s 2017 3D Printer Guide

3D Printing Pens

Aside from standard 3D printers, you can also buy 3D printing pens. These are more novelty items for children and young adults, ranging in price from $25 to $100. They heat and extrude a safe low-temperature filament that you can use to “draw” in three dimensions, either creating raised artwork or else looping, tangling, and layering the filaments to create a sort of spaghetti model of whatever your heart desires. It might not have much practical use, but it’s fun for the kids and lets them join in on the 3D enjoyment. With the right framework and a lot of patience, you can actually make pretty complex designs.

3d pen

Don’t Forget the Accessories

To successfully 3D print items, you’ll need a few accessories as well. Those accessories include:

3d Printing Tools
  • Removal tools. Heated materials can seal to the 3D printer’s plate; removal tools with sharpened edges – which look much like spatulas or putty knives – can be used to lift and remove your extruded objects from the plate without damaging them.
  • Cutting and retouching tools. Sets of cutting and retouching tools, like the Octave Tool Kit A for 3D Printer, let you cut and shape your 3D extruded objects to refine them.
  • Tweezers. Special 3D tweezers help you both clean your 3D printer and handle your 3D printed objects. These are not the same as regular cosmetic tweezers.
  • Paints and coatings. While you can often print single-color pieces in the shades you want, you should also buy paints that bond well with the materials you’ve chosen – as well as coatings to finish and protect them.
  • Filament spool holders/cases. These keep your filament spools organized and dry; believe it or not, in humid environments, damp filaments can be a problem when atmospheric condensation is attracted to the material, creating problems when it’s heated and the moisture consolidates, then evaporates, leaving behind air bubbles in your extrusions.
  • Cleaning kits. 3D printers are sensitive, and require a great deal of attention and cleaning. Special kits come with all the tools and solvents you need to safely keep your printer operational.

Buyer Beware

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Amazon has recently been cracking down hard on fraudulent sellers, but sometimes people slip through the cracks. Always buy from top-rated sellers; avoid products with no ratings, or just a few five-star ratings that look eerily similar and don’t actually tell you much in detail about the 3D printer. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is – and even if you may actually get a 3D printer in the mail, it may end up being a poorly-made knockoff that will break on first use while the seller mysteriously disappears from Amazon before you can get in touch with them. Be smart, and make careful choices when deciding which seller to select.

Finally, Always Be Safe

safety first

3D printers are fun, but they’re also high-precision machines operating at high temperatures. Always be safe and careful around them. Keep your pets away from them, don’t touch hot surfaces, and wear protective gear while using your 3D printer. This applies to when you want to get up close and personal with your printer while it’s working; no one wants a stray drop of hot resin flung into his or her eye. Goggle up – and have fun!

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