It feels like only yesterday that 3D printing technology was hot, new, and exciting, but it’s already been several years since they exploded in popularity. And while the biggest barrier to 3D printing has always been the equipment cost, these days that’s no longer an issue.
A few years back, even the cheapest 3D printers were uncomfortably close to the $1,000 mark. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in just a year or two, because now you can get a quality 3D printer for as low as $400 — or, if you’re willing to sacrifice a few features, you can even go as low as $100.
Keep in mind that these prices are only for the printer. Materials like 3D printing filaments will cost extra, but that’s to be expected. After all, you can’t use a traditional printer without ink, right? Material costs are just part of the process.
With that out of the way, let’s explore several 3D printers that are available for cheap and whether or not they’re worth buying.
Peachy Printer ($100)
When the Peachy Printer Kickstarter campaign launched in late 2013, a lot of people rolled their eyes and wrote it off as a scam or vaporware. Was it really possible to manufacture a 3D printer that could be sold for only $100? Most people didn’t think so.
A couple of months ago — nearly two years after the Kickstarter campaign, which actually raised $600,000 beyond the $50,000 they requested — news came forth that Peachy Printer v1.0 was pretty much completed.
Here’s how it works: Peachy Printer uses a resin-based system that sits inside a large jar. The jar gradually fills with water, and as it fills up, the resin that floats on top rises with the water. A laser shines on the resin and solidifies it in layers, starting from the bottom to the top.
The printer itself seems a little too fragile for anything other than casual home use, but for just $100, it’s an awesome purchase for anyone who’s interested in 3D printing but isn’t sure if they’re ready to make a full commitment.
Note: We cheated a bit with this one – Peachy Printer is currently in pre-order status with an estimated shipping period between September and December 2015 for new orders, but we just had to include it because of the incredible price.
Q3D OneUp ($200)
Prior to the Peachy Printer, Q3D OneUp held the title for cheapest 3D printer in the world as no other printer could match its super-low price tag. Unfortunately, that low price came — and still comes — with a few hidden costs.
The OneUp’s build area is a paltry 3.9″x3.9″x4.9″, which is absolutely tiny compared to the average home-use 3D printer. The actual quality of print is okay but far from the greatest, and some users have reported spotty build quality for the printer itself.
But the kicker is QU-BD’s terrible customer service and quality assurance. In the past, they have shipped components that have accidentally caught fire — and issued no apologies or replacements. If you ever need help with your OneUp, you won’t get it from them.
And at the end of the day, the difference between $200 and $350 (the next cheapest 3D printer) is small enough that we recommend waiting a bit, saving a little more cash, and skipping the OneUp, at least until QU-BD gets their act together.
M3D Micro ($350)
Marketing itself as the first true consumer 3D printer, the M3D Micro is an entry-level product with a sleek design and intuitive controls. It only went live on Kickstarter in early 2014 but is already shipping units.
Like the OneUp, the Micro has a tiny build area with a slightly larger base but shorter height: 4.3″x4.5″x2.9″. Given the printer’s name, this is obviously intentional by design — but at the end of the day, the kind of stuff you can print will be limited by size.
The printer comes in 5 different colors (Black, Blue, Green, Orange, which are all standard, and Silver, which costs an additional $25). The printing is quality and reliable, so consider getting it if you don’t mind the size.
For more details, check out our review of the M3D Micro.
Folger Tech Kossel 2020 ($350)
The Kossel family of 3D printers is unique in that it’s based on an open source platform that utilizes a delta design: instead of moving the extrusion head on three separate axes, the head dangles off of three separate pillars.
Because of the dangling head, the Folger Tech Kossel 2020 has a circular build area rather than a more traditional rectangular space. The diameter of the print space is 8.3″ with a height up to 12.2″ — much larger than the printers mentioned above.
This particular model comes with an auto-level feature that sets the printing bed at the right angle without requiring manual adjustments. It’s a convenience feature, but one that’s so useful that it may as well be considered essential for printing enthusiasts.
The one downside to this printer is that you’ll have to assemble it from scratch. All of the necessary pieces come with the kit, but the build process requires a good deal of time and technical know-how. Not recommended for DIY newbies.
Printrbot Play ($400)
If you were to ask any 3D printing community for recommendations on a cheap printer, most would probably point you to the Printrbot Play. At $400, it’s not exactly cheap for someone who isn’t already in love with 3D printing, but it is the cheapest you’d want to go without sacrificing quality or features.
The Play is meant to be an entry-level device, so it too has a small build area: 4″x4″x5″. Despite that, you get superior printing quality and the assurance of knowing that most Printrbot customers are satisfied with their purchases.
One bonus: You can order Printrbots as unassembled or preassembled and there’s no price difference. For newbies, we recommend the preassembled option. You also get a one-year license for Fusion 360, a 3D CAD program that you can use to design your own 3D printables.
But if you know for sure that you’re going to 3D printing a lot, you should consider spending an extra $200 on the Printrbot Simple model, which has a build area of 6″x6″x6″.
Which One Is Right For You?
There are two reasons why you’d want a cheap 3D printer: either you want to test the waters for as little investment as possible, or you want a small but robust printer that you can “buy for life”.
In the former case, Peachy Printer is probably the smartest move because it’s so cheap. In the latter case, it doesn’t get much safer than Printrbot Play.
Once you’ve made your purchase, here are a couple at-home 3D printing ideas you can try as you get used to your new device. We also recommend these office organizing 3D printables that you might find useful.
Which cheap 3D printer looks best to you? Are there any other affordable models out there that we happened to miss? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!