3D printing, once the speculative dream of science fiction fans (ah, the Star Trek replicator!) is now a reality, and though the machines themselves still tend toward funky looking boxes containing exposed wiring, print heads, drive mechanisms… they’re quickly moving from something your genius neighbor might throw together in a garage to a branded product with sleek lines and easy to use software that can be used in the home. An indication of the potential for 3D printing came from HP’s Meg Whitman, who recently announced that at some point in 2014, Hewlett-Packard, long known for ink- and laser-jet printing on 2D paper, would be joining the ranks of 3D printer manufacturers who hope to corner the market on 3D printing in the home.
Gadget Review has taken a look at some printers with potential everyday use in the home, and have found ten of them for under $1000. Also intended for small business use, most come as either DIY kits, or as fully assembled machines, though you can expect to pay a bit more for the latter. All printers on the list are based on the RepRap/RepStrap open source project and all can use a type of thermopolymer plastic (filament or pellets) such as ABS and/or PLA for extrusion-printed FDM/FFF creations.
The Revolution 3D printer can be purchased for $999 making it the highest priced printer under $1000. With shipping it will put you over the $1K mark, but here’s what you get for the price– a really awesome, really sleek, fully calibrated, fully assembled 3D printer that offers a 6”x5.5”x5.5” maximum object volume and may be the most precise and fastest machine in the price category. It has a heatbed to allow it to use ABS without warping (and allegedly uses less filament in the process), and is one heckuva value considering QU-BD is positioning it as a first-class business printer.
The Up! Mini retails for $899 (shipping puts it juuuust over $1K) and for that you get a machine that looks like it was fabricated by the Empire… dark and sinister. Inside, it’s a terrific 3D printer that uses ABS/PLA to create 4.7”x4.7”x4.7” objects. It has very quiet operation, comes with a heatbed, and is portable, making it a nice addition to a design studio or home business.
The Creator comes fully assembled at $799 for the transparent casing and $899 black casing. The company also offers the Classic Prusa model, also fully assembled at $899, but the Creator is the low-cost machine that’s more ideal for creatives and home-business manufacturers with a 4.72”x4.72”x4.72” print area that can easily create toys, small machine parts and other useful PLA thermoplastic objects.
7. RoBo 3D
The RoBo 3D PLA-only model costs $599 while their ABS+PLA model is a bit more at $699. Both come fully assembled, but the ABS+PLA model is the real value here. Robo 3D printers look like finished high-tech equipment, hardly a bare wire or cable to be seen. The casing is solidly built, while the internal moving parts hover around a 10”x10”x10” heat bed (actual heating surface is 8.4”x8.4”x8.4”). Having been a Kickstarter campaign for most of 2013, the machines are now ready to produce and can be ordered now though the lead time to build the machine is longer than the others on the list (8-12 weeks before shipping).
Billing itself as a portable 3D printer since the parts are fully collapsible and can be stored in a laptop bag (it can be powered a standard laptop cable), The Portabee is one of the few sub-$1000 printers to come with a heatbed, which controls shrinking and warping of the plastic as the creation is being printed. Lightweight at 6.2 lbs, he complete kit ($499 unassembled) must be assembled by the user, but it’s not rocket science to piece it together using the fully detailed schematics and plans. Shipping once ordered takes up to a week because, like many printers on this list, the majority of the parts must be 3D printed themselves. Neato!
This 3D printer is also known as the XYZ Printing da Vinci 1.0. But whatever you call it, it’s still not quite ready for prime-time. Announced in August of this year, the company is still getting things ready for the big roll out… in Taiwan. The printer, which can be had for $499 US dollars can only be pre-ordered for shipping within Taiwan at the moment, but since Kinpo rebranded it’s 3D printing division recently, they seem quite serious about making the da Vinci 1.0 a world-wide sensation. I expect this will be ready to ship in the States by the end of 2014 if not sooner. That said, what an amazing looking machine! It uses ABS thermoplastics (and appears it could possibly use PLA as well) and offers creatives a chance to build 7.87”x7.87”x7.87” objects.
Pirate 3D is positioning The Buccaneer as a kind of iPrint3D gadget… The two-piece polycarbonate frame is minimalist in design to the point of lacking all but one button to operate the machine. If anything, Apple should be jealous. The Buccaneer (only a year ago simply a Kickstarter project) just became available for pre-order on November 1st, and is available in limited quantities for $497 (it ships in April when pre-orders will cease and the price will go up to $697). Coolest thing about the printer? You can print wirelessly from virtually any device– even a smartphone.
Out of Brooklyn, New York comes Solidoodle and their two printers: the 2nd Generation ($499) and the 3rd Generation ($799) models. Both are built to order and shipped fully assembled which takes the massive hassle out of putting a kit together yourself… once the machines out of of the box it’s just a matter of networking it to a computer and plugging it in. It uses open source design/print software to help you create 6”x6”x6” plastic parts. The machines offer a real solid system in the nice-price category.
The Printrbot models (Simple, Jr. v.2, and Plus) are all fine printers, but the simple is a great entry-level 3D printer for the serious creative. While the Jr. v.2 runs $699, and the Plus will set you back $999, the Simple is oh-so-affordable at $399… and it comes fully assembled, ready-to-use out of the box. It’s a PLA-only model (no heatbed here) and offers just a small 4”x4”x4” area for the actual build of your creation, but for the price it’s hard to beat this easy-entry model if you wish to start making your own plastic creations (or to produce molds that can lead to bigger projects).
The absolute cheapest (well, inexpensive is the better word) 3D printer available at the moment (without being complete junk) is the Makibox… The A5 HT comes partially assembled and is a steal at $300, while the A6 LT, also partially assembled, can be had for the low, low, LOW prices of $200. Think about it… futuristic 3D printing technology for as little as 200 clams! While both models offer a 5.9”x4.33”x3.54” print area, the big difference is that the A5 HT comes with a stainless steel heat bed and can use ABS and other 3D print materials, while the A6 LT uses only low-temp PLA plastics to work its magic.
Hey! You left off MakerBot!!
Yup… MakerBot’s Replicator (not yet capable of producing “Tea, Earl Grey– Hot”) is well above the $1000 price tag we capped our list on, yet it’s probably one of the best known 3D printers around. MakerBot is frequently featured as being the go-to company for 3D printing, and no doubt, they are a leader, but they have yet to produce a desktop model that’s truly affordable for most folks.
Christian Hokenson is a writer based in Burbank, CA. He's interested in technology, movies, and home entertainment. If you're nice to him, he might buy you ice cream.