I get variations of this question several times a day:
“I’m just staring out in 3D printing, can you recommend a 3D printer?“
Rather then continue the time consuming process of answering each person individually, I am writing a guide that I can simply point people to.
This IS NOT a generic “which printer should I buy?” guide. If you are asking me or visiting my website, you more than likely want to print one my designs. My recommendations will reflect that. If you want to print dragons, chess pieces or other knick-knacks, you should find another guide.
Short Answer (TLDR):
Buy a Prusa, either an i3 MK3S or a Mini. Yes they are more expensive, but you won’t regret it and it will save you hours and hours of banging your head against the desk in frustration. WAIT! Don’t actually buy anything yet, read on to understand why.
Below are the criteria I will use
- What do I want to print?
- Where will the prints be used?
- How much money am I willing to spend?
“What do I want to print?” is the most important question. If you buy a printer that isn’t capable of the size or resolution you need, then you are no better off than before you bought a printer.
For instance if you want to print my larger rectangular Packout bins for Milwaukee bit holders shown above, you need a printer that can print at least 200mm in one direction. This will eliminate the Prusa Mini which can only print 180mm in any direction.
Build dimensions for common printers usually max out around 220mm (With the exception of the Ender 5 Plus). Otherwise you are probably going to spend several thousand for a large format 3D printer.
“Where will the prints be used?” is the next question you should ask. Will it be exposed to sunlight or heat? If the answer is yes, I recommend printing in PET-G filament.
It is about the same strength as PLA, but it can handle much higher temperatures (like the temperature in the cab of a vehicle in the sun) without warping. The problem with this is that printing in PET-G requires nozzle temperatures of 250C and bed temperatures of 80C. Several cheaper printers can’t handle printing PET-G out of the box, or printing PET-G will slowly destroy the printer over time.
PLA has it’s place, it’s usually cheaper, more widely available, and available in more colors and types. It is easy to print and strings less, so it’s a good filament when you are starting out, but it warps in high heat or long term exposure to medium heat.
ABS is also great choice, but very frustrating to print.
Below is a chart I’ve compiled of printers that I will recommend. (Note these all require varying levels of assembly.)
|Printers||Price||PET-G||Bed Size (XxYxZ)|
|Prusa Mini||$400 Shipped||Yes||180x180x180mm|
|Prusa i3 MK3S||$800 Shipped||Yes||250x210x210mm|
|Ender 3 Pro*||$200+||*Maybe||220x220x250mm|
|Ender 5 Plus*||$570 Shipped||*Maybe||350X350X400mm|
Notice the * next to the Ender 3 Pro and Ender 5 Plus. While the Ender printers are entirely capable of printing using PET-G in small quantities, prolonged use at the temperature required will degrade the printer to the point where it will readily clog. It could happen after 10 prints, or 100, but it will happen. Many people have told me they have upgraded the printer with the Micro Swiss All-metal Hotend Kit for Creality3D for $70.
Based on price, and ability to print my designed I recommend buying a Prusa Mini. With the Mini, you just load the file, press a button, and walk away (most of the time.) You will be able to print every one of my designs except for the rectangular Packout Slim bins. If you really want these bins, you can pay somebody else to print those for you and still buy the Mini for much cheaper than the i3 MK3S.
If you have the money buy a Prusa i3 MK3S, you will thank me. Hands down the best printer for it’s price point.
While I have no experience with the Enders, I know several people who own them and get by. They are nowhere near as user friendly, you will have to level the bed yourself and position the print head before every print. Plus if you print PET-G, you will eventually have issues
How about that cheap knockoff you saw for $200. I have no problem with these. In fact my second printer was one. They are a great learning experience. No tech support, no replacement parts, hours spent troubleshooting… In fact if you really want to learn how a 3D printer works and become an expert I recommend that you buy one. If you just want to start a print and be 95% confident that you’ll get something usable after the first print, stick to my recommendations.
If you are printing PET-G and your printer doesn’t have a PEI bed, buy this self adhesive PEI sheet. You just stick it onto your print bed. I recommend sanding the surface with 600 grit sandpaper until it is frosty and cleaning it with acetone. Repeat when things don’t stick as well. And don’t use it for flexible filament.