The prices for 3D printers have been decreasing in recent years with the advancement in technology. In 2014, for example, it was difficult to purchase quality 3D printers for a budget below $2,000.
Currently, you can get a variety of quality options for under $1000. You can acquire the devices for a couple of hundred dollars up to several thousand. The cheapest 3D printer is about $200 while the average price is $700. The prices for professional ranges significantly higher than for hobbyists. Professionals commonly look for high-quality equipment.
Sculpteo estimated that the average professional used a budget of $9504 for 3D printers in 2017 which was a 55% increase from 2016. You should be clear on the needs you want your 3D printer to fulfill so that you narrow down your choices and work with an affordable budget. The primary categories of 3D printers include:
- DIY 3D Printer Kits – $100 to $500
- Entry Level 3D Printers – $300 to $900
- Advanced Desktop Printers – $1,200 – $4,000
- Industrial 3D Printers – $15,000 to $200,000
DIY 3D Printer Kits
The low-cost way of getting a 3D printer is assembling your own. There is no way of experimenting with the technology than by building your own machine. The assembly demands patience and time and a certain level of skills. This category is ideal for hobbyist, tinkerers, and experimenters.
There are two ways you can use to build a 3D printer. You can opt to buy a kit from a top 3D manufacturing firm. These printers in a box often come with a step-step by manual. The kit is not entirely assembled but features the parts you will need. If you replace any of the components, you can always re-order them from the manufacturer. You will however not learn as much about the system with this method.
The other option is a fully-custom printer. This procedure is quite challenging, but it provides the perfect opportunity to learn 3D printing. If the printer needs any subsequent repairs, you will do them easily. Most hobbyists and amateurs, however, lack the necessary skills to build this type of printer. As you progress in the building process, you will realize that some components need adjustments, so it is wise to find out how each part relates to the overall body of the printer.
Buying a kit is the most affordable way of gathering all the parts, and even if you do not use some components, it will still be cheaper than buying the pieces individually. A firm that sources the parts in bulk and organizes a kit will sell it at a lower price than the cost of you buying the components from different avenues. The prices of the kits range between $100 to $500.
To save money when building a printer, you can source used parts from other electronics. The power supply for PCs, for example, can work with the printers while steeper motors can be retrieved from DVD drives. The customization process can take weeks and even months. Thankfully, the 3D printing community is very vibrant, and you can seek advice.
Entry Level 3D Printers
This level of 3D printers is ideal for novices. They provide an affordable way of getting acquainted with the technology before upgrading to costly models. An entry-level 3D printer is the basic desktop printer. They are quite popular as the costs of the printers can become prohibitive. The printers are at the leading the 3D printing revolution to make the technology affordable and accessible to people and small enterprises.
The entry-level 3D printers have been increasingly fitted with more capabilities than their predecessors. It was, for example, difficult to find dual extruders and decent build bases a few years back. Printers in this category could not also print with multiple materials. These features are luckily becoming the staples in the products of this range. It is becoming tricky to point the distinctions between advanced and basic printers by examining the technical specifications.
The machines are not free of limitations, however, as most of them will not
allow the printing of dimensions much over 3-4 inches. Most of the printers will not let you print using more than one filament. The layer resolution for devices in this category commonly caps out at about 100 microns. This limit particularly affects very detailed objects. The printers can also be slow and noisy in comparison to advanced models. The print quality is not the best you can get. The printers in this price range are also not very durable.
Prices fall between $300 to $900. You get a good entry level to the world of 3D printing with these machines, and some are quite reliable and capable. The printers are great learning tools for 3D printing enthusiasts.
Advanced Desktop 3D Printers
This group of printers holds the promise of the most value in the current 3D printing market. These printers are projected to disrupt the sales of 3D printers in the market substantially. The printers can deliver good quality parts which is part of their charm. You will get enhanced precision, functionality, and reliability. These printers are perfect for people with limited experience on the basics of 3D printing or who have a strong drive to learn all the nuances of 3D printing.
Most of the printers are used in design studio and small companies. They have the capabilities that could only be done by industrial printers about four years ago. Many of the machines have a build of about 12 inches in all dimensions. You get a range of materials including different colors and textures. The best printers in this group can print quite fast while still maintaining quality.
This category includes multi-capable printers that can be used for laser-engraving and as cutting machines. Manufacturers in this range pay to attention to the interface and easiness of use and equip the devices with better software and Wi-Fi and touchscreen capabilities. Most of them are acquired pre-calibrated, or the calibration takes place automatically as soon as they are activated.
The quality of the prints is precise, and defects are few. Some of them feature noise-reduction, but some are quite large, so a level of noise is expected. The noise depends on the type of instrument. The kind that rely on big mobile gantries will be louder due to the number of moving parts while laser-based equipment are quiet.
This price category is wide. A mid-range advanced printer will go for about $1200 while the top of the range products are about $4,000. At this price, expect better hardware and an increased layer resolution. Most printers will reflect a layer resolution of under 100 microns. These machines are the best bet when you need detailed objects.
Industrial Level 3D Printers
Industrial 3D printers offer the level of precision engineering required to deliver advanced designs in volume. These printers have such technology like selective laser sintering (SLS), work-fused deposition (FDM), and Polyjets. The instruments have metal-fabricated interiors and slick interfaces. Manufacturers of these printers charge highly for the base printers and as well as high rates for the yearly maintenance contracts. You will also buy the propriety materials at a premium to the ones on the open market. The selection of materials in this category is also limited and expensive.
Printers in this category are serious machines for serious business. They print high-quality designs faster than those in any other price range. You can expect to find them in the local factory producing prototypes. They can utilize materials like metal and carbon fiber while the printing processes differ widely. The printers are often large and are commonly delivered as standalone units. Some of the machines come in several large units where one is for printing and the rest for processes like sintering and curing. This make of 3D printers is typically used for functioning parts and prototypes and even feature in the manufacturing chains of many commercial products.
The prices fall between $15,000 to $200,000. This price tag makes the printers only ideal for large firms. Besides being initially expensive, the printers will also take up a lot of recurring costs in maintenance and in buying the particular set of materials. While industrial printers present the best quality in the industry, they are among the most limited in both materials and function. Filaments can also cost much more than printers in the lower categories. They are perfect for industries and enterprises that have the kind of replenishing budget to keep up with maintenance. The market of these printers is on a decline, however, as many cheaper advanced printers are increasingly equipped with the technology to rival these industrial ones.
The days of extremely high 3D printer prices are well behind us. The printers are revolutionizing modern-day printing. Several companies have been at the forefront of this evolution by producing finely-configured desktop versions of what was mainly industrial machines. These companies have democratized the printing industry by making 3D technology practical and affordable for consumers. You can use the printers for household projects like designing bookends and custom doorstops.
For a little above $100, you can get a DIY kit to build your own 3D printer. These kits are sold by reputable firms and have all you need to get started in the venture. The entry-level packages will accommodate the curiosity of novices with 3D features to deliver great designs. Hobbyists with a level of skills can opt for the advanced desktop printers which have an impressive range of capabilities. At the top of the range is the highly-precise industrial-level 3D printers which are used in the manufacturing processes of some commercial items.