The best cheap, mid-range and high-end 3D printers in 2024 | Expert Reviews (2024)

There are two main plastics used for this, namely polylactide (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). PLA tends to produce cleaner results, while ABS models are physically stronger; the difference isn’t huge, though, and most printers can use both. Many can also use filaments that are mixed with other materials, such as wood or copper. This lets you produce items with more aesthetically pleasing textures, and which may even be electrically conductive, if that’s useful to you.

If you want to make a model out of more than one material (or in more than one colour) you can often pause the printer part-way through a print job, switch filaments, then resume printing. In this way you could, for example, print an object with a red bottom and a blue top. If you want to combine colours more intricately than this, you’ll need a printer with a dual extruder head, which can switch between two different filament feeds as it prints each layer.

The main alternative to the FDM process is stereolithography (SLA): instead of plastic, this uses liquid resin which is hardened by exposure to a laser. SLA isn’t ideal for domestic use, as it produces unpleasant odours and the models need to be bathed in alcohol once the print process is complete – but the end results can look cleaner, with more fine detail than you’d get from a comparably priced FDM machine.

Where can I get 3D models to print?

There are literally millions of 3D models available for free download from sites such as thingiverse.com or cults3d.com. Every 3D printer comes with software that can import such files and drive the printer to turn them into physical plastic items. You can normally assume that this software will be offered for both Windows and macOS, and some printers support Android and iOS as well.

It’s worth checking what file formats the supplied software can read, however. The most common types are STL and OBJ files, but there’s plenty of others out there. If your 3D printing software supports a wide spread of formats, that means you can find and print cool 3D object files from a broader range of sources.

Note too that the supplied software doesn’t normally offer a complete set of tools for designing your own 3D objects. It might allow you to make basic alterations to downloaded models, but if you want to go further you’ll want to look into a dedicated 3D modelling or CAD application – just make sure it can output files in a format that’s compatible with your printer software.

What type of connections does a 3D printer use?

Some 3D printers can connect directly to a PC or Mac over USB, while others are designed to be driven over a network (either wireless or wired). It’s worth checking this before you buy: a network model is ideal if you want to share your printer across multiple computers, but might not be the most convenient for personal use.

Even if your chosen 3D printer doesn’t support direct USB connection, it may well still have a USB socket. This is to allow you to plug a flash drive or external hard disk containing model files; you can then use the printer’s built-in browser to select a file and start the printing process with no need for a computer connection at all. Some printers have a microSD card slot for the same purpose.

Does the nozzle size and print resolution make a difference?

Most 3D printers squirt their molten plastic out of a standard-sized 0.4mm nozzle. This is fine enough for all but the most intricate models: we’d hesitate to use it for small gaming figurines, but it’s absolutely acceptable for ornaments, tools and knick-knacks.

The nozzle diameter doesn’t tell you the whole story, however. You should also check the print resolution, which tells you how precisely the plastic can be positioned. In many cases, although the plastic itself has a diameter of 0.4mm, the printer can lay it down with an accuracy of 0.1mm. It’s worth checking this before you buy, as print resolution can vary substantially between different printers, and it can spell the difference between bumpy, rough-looking prints and smooth, professional-looking results.

The best 3D printers you can buy in 2024

1. MakerBot Replicator+: The best high-end 3D printer

Price: £1,722 | Buy now from LaserlinesThe best cheap, mid-range and high-end 3D printers in 2024 | Expert Reviews (1)

Designed for workshops and schools, the Replicator+ is one of the fastest 3D printers around. It offers great accuracy and quality, and it can produce large objects with footprints of up to 295 x 195mm.

Like the Dremel Digilab, the Replicator+ includes a built-in camera so you can monitor your print progress from afar. Support for 20 different file formats means you can work with pre-designed models from any number of sources, and in addition to built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections there’s also cloud support, so you can manage print jobs over the internet – perhaps using the MakerBot Mobile app for Android and iOS.

The catch is that you’re obliged to use MakerBot’s own PLA filament – if you try to save money by using cheap unbranded material you could void your warranty. There’s also no support for ABS at all, and while MakerBot’s own Tough PLA makes a great alternative it’s pricier, costing around £80 for a 750g reel.

Still, while the Replicator+ isn’t a budget choice, its speed and versatility are impressive: if you’re looking for a 3D printing workhorse, it’s well worth considering.

Key specs – Printing type: Single-extruder FDM; Print materials: 1.75mm PLA, MakerBot Tough PLA, bronze fill, copper fill, wood fill; Nozzle diameter: 0.4mm; Print resolution: 0.1mm; Quoted printing speed: Not stated; Print volume (WDH): 295 x 195 x 165mm; Printer dimensions (WDH): 528 x 441 x 410mm; Interface: 3in colour LCD with control dial; Connectivity: USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Buy now from Laserlines

The best cheap, mid-range and high-end 3D printers in 2024 | Expert Reviews (2024)
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