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3D Printer Systems
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BUTN Comparison Chart for 3D Printers Below $5,000...

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The products and companies below were chosen by the editor because they were believed to provide a good value and reasonable service to customers. If your company would like to be listed, let us know why you think it should be.
Hot Patents! The Additive Fabrication Spy TODAY THERE ISN'T a strong distinction between hobbyist and professional additive manufacturing machines at the low-cost end of the market. Those machines costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are certainly aimed at professional and industrial applications, but many inexpensive systems are also used by professionals over a wide range of applications. While originally intended for hobbyists and home use, their capabilities have improved to the point where in many cases there is simply no need to spend more. While hobbyists are still an important market segment, most low-cost machines today are finding their way into small businesses and departments of large companies.

The more interesting choices below about US$5,000.
Here's what available today from commercial producers that have been in business long enough to be known entities and have satisfied customers. These are not the only choices, and we probably have left out some good ones. Worldwide there are easily more than 200 machine manufacturers with new ones appearing almost daily. Many of these companies succeed in financing themselves though one of the crowdsourcing web-sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. If you are adventurous, you may consider buying from this type of start-up. Keep in mind, though, adventurous often means willing to wait a long time while a group of amateurs figures out how to be a manufacturer. You can read about some of the frustrations experienced in this section. The vendors below have a good chance of satisfying your needs without a hassle.

These are selections for mainstream applications.
To widen your choices beyond the vendors listed here explore the commercial listings by technology. This is where to go if you are looking for a machine with large build volume or special material capabilities such as food, chocolate or ceramic. Other machines are also available to provide higher accuracy, or aimed at particular applications such as biomedicine or electronics.


The Two Basic Technologies for Low-cost 3D Printers

RepRap's Mendel BUTNTHE FIRST AND EARLIEST is based on thermoplastic extrusion technology originally from Stratasys, but now available from hundreds of companies. When Stratasys' patents ran out, the RepRap project at the University of Bath (UK) copied the technology. Open-source licensing of the hardware and software resulted in its wide proliferation. RepRap is short for (self-) replicating rapid-prototyper. Commercial vendors have no interest in self-replication, but have in most cases used this open-source design as a starting point. In a few cases, they've maintained a fully open-source approach, but for the most part they've added proprietary developments onto that base.

Nearly all systems have similar specifications, although the mechanical implementations and materials capabilities may differ considerably. In general, these machines:
  • use a wide range of true thermoplastics such as PLA, ABS and many other materials, including specialties like wood and metal-filled plastic,
  • produce parts with good strength,
  • accuracy in the range of + - 0.004 in.,
  • have a moderate to large build volume.
  • BUTNTHE SECOND TECHNOLOGY commonly used for low-cost machines is the so-called inverted stereolithography system. This technology was originally available from envisionTEC and several other vendors. It typically uses photopolymers exposed from below by a deformable mirror device (DMD), sometimes contained in a standard video projector, purchased separately. Lasers, LED's or liquid crystal panels may also be used in the exposure process.

    The specifications for these machines differ quite a bit from thermoplastic extrusion technology, but not that much from each other. In general, the machines:
  • use a limited range of photopolymers which only mimic true thermoplastics in their mechanical properties,
  • produce much higher resolution parts, typically around 0.002 in for X- and Y-axes and 0.001 in or even less for the Z-axis,
  • have a small build volume.

  • Kit vs. Assembled
    Kits offer minimum cost, but can be very time consuming. Most vendors that used to exclusively sell kits now supply fully-assembled and tested systems. We no longer list kits because an assembled machine now costs very little more. If what you want is to start 3D printing parts quickly, that's the way to go.

     

    Compare the specifications of the 3D printers listed on this page in our very complete chart...

    arrowExtrusion-based Systemsarrow


    BUTN 3D Systems. The Cube® printer has been updated for ABS as well as PLA capability. At US$999 it's the lowest priced, machine available from a major 3D printer manufacturer. The machine is a cornerstone of the company's Cubify™ consumer community. The Cube® offers dual heads, easy material loading and kid-safety features.

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    The CubePro® is a machine with a much larger build volume and which can be equipped with up to three deposition heads. The CubePro® price starts at US$2,799 for a single head rising to US$4,399 for the three head version. The CubePro® is the only machine listed that actually has true part accuracy specifications, but unfortunately both machines have expensive material requirements.
    Learn about the company...


    3D Systems' Cube™
    BUTN Airwolf. The HD2x is their flagship model and a bit expensive at US$3,995. However, it's capable of using over 20 different materials and prints at up to 150 mm/sec using dual extruders. A single extruder version is also available as well as the much less expensive model HDL. At US$2,295 this machine trades the use of high temperature materials such as ABS for affordability.



    Airwolf
    BUTN Aleph Objects, Inc. Aleph Objects' LulzBot TAZ 5 may be a good choice for small businesses looking for a sturdier and more business-like alternative in a low-cost 3D printer. The machine has only a single extruder, but another can be added. It has a large build volume and can use a wide range of materials including ABS, PLA, PVA, high-impact polystyrene, wood filament, nylon and others. It's also pretty speedy. The TAZ 5 has a built-in graphic LCD controller to operate basic machine functions and allowing it to print directly from an SD card. The unit sells for US$2,200.



    LulzBot TAZ 5
    BUTN LeapFrog (Netherlands). The Creatr™ '14 is a capable machine that costs just €1,249 The company also has a much taller version called the Creatr™ XL having a Z-axis height of nearly 2 feet and selling for €3,999. The speedy Creatr™ HS is also available offering print speeds of up to 300 mm/sec and selling for €1,999 The Creatr™ can be equipped with a second extruder for about US$250. Unlike some other machines, adding the second extruder doesn't decrease the build envelope volume.
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    The Xeed™, is a professional-level, dual extruder machine. It has higher resolution and thinner layers, as well as a large build chamber of 13.8 x 10.6 x 8.6 inches. It sells for €6,999.



    LeapFrog Creatr™
    BUTN MakerBot Industries. The company is a division of one of the major 3D printer manufacturers, Stratasys. The fifth generation of their machines was introduced in 2014. The Replicator™ Mini (pictured) sells for US$1,375 with a single extruder and uses PLA exclusively. It offers a layer thickness of 200 microns (0.008 inches), a steel frame, WiFi connectivity, an on-board TV camera for build monitoring, and a smallish build volume of 3.9 x 3.9 x 4.9 inches.
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    The fifth generation Replicator™ offers an improved extruder, on-board TV camera and assisted leveling. It's priced at US$2,899, and also uses PLA exclusively. The Replicator™ Z18 offers a large build chamber of 12 x 12 x 18 inches (LxWxH) and sells for US$6,499.
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    The company also has a web-site for users to exchange designs called the Thingiverse. It's open-source, however, so anyone can use it, not just MakerBot customers. Many thousands of designs are available for free.
    Learn about the company...
    MakerBot Replicator™ Mini
    BUTN PP3DP Company (China). [aka Delta Micro Factory, a division of Beijing TierTime Technology Co. Ltd.] The UP! Personal Portable 3D Printer was introduced in July, 2010. The machine is very small and light, weighing just 11 pounds. The selling price is US$1,299 and while the device is somewhat based on open-source efforts, it's mainly a closed proprietary system. The latest version of the machine, the UP! plus 2, is capable of using both ABS and PLA. The UP! plus 2 also has the convenience of automatic leveling.
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    The company also sells the UP! Mini for US$899. It has a slightly smaller build envelope and slightly poorer resolution. The UP BOX is their latest effort, offering a build volume roughly 10 x 8 x 8 inches, automatic leveling and 100 micron layers in an attractive package for US$1,899.
    Learn about the company...
    PP3PD
    BUTN Printrbot. The company was originally crowd-funded to supply 3D printer kits at rock-bottom prices. These early efforts have evolved into a more sophisticated and robust product line, while still emphasizing low prices. Their most popular machine is the Simple which sells for US$599 and has a 6 x 6 x 6 inch build volume. This machine is for PLA only, as is a less expensive unit called the Play, which has a smaller working volume, but sells for only US$399. Printrbot also supplies the Plus which extends the material selection to ABS and a good sized working envelope of 10 inches on a side, and the ability to use two extruders. The Plus sells for a US$1,199 which is quite inexpensive for its capabilities. The company has also introduced a unit called the Pro with a 2 cubic foot print chamber.



    Printrbot
    BUTN Solidoodle. Solidoodle was originally started to supply the least expensive assembled printers in the marketplace, but has been eclipsed by others in that regard. Solidoodle's Fourth Generation retains their original build volume of an 8 inch cube, but provides a more attractive design and several ease-of-use improvements at a price of US$699. Also available is the Workbench, an open frame machine with a build volume of 12 inches on an edge and dual extruders. It sells for a very reasonable US$1,299. The Workbench Apprentice cuts the size of the working volume to 6 x 6 x 8 inches, but retains dual extruders. The unit sells for US$799, but their least expensive model is the attractive US$599 Press model, imported from China. This single extruder unit has both ABS and PLA capability and an 8 inch cube print volume.
    Learn about the company...



    Solidoodle
    BUTN Type A Machines. The company's Series 1 machines offer a large 12 x 12 x 12 inch build volume with the capability of using PLA and PET materials. The unit sells for US$2,749. It has a single extruder and WiFi and USB ports for off-line printing. The Series 1 Pro, adds a heated bed and extends the capability to over 20 materials. It sells for US$3,199.



    Type A Machines
    BUTN Ultimaker BV (Netherlands). The company's latest version is the Ultimaker 2, a fully-assembled machine selling for €1,895. Like the company's original Ultimaker, this machine moves the deposition head rather than the build platform. This is said to enable higher speed operation while depositing layers as thin as 20 microns. This also permits a large build volume of approximately 9 x 9 x 8 inches while retaining compact outer dimensions. The original Ultimaker is still available as a kit for €1,195..
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    The Ultimaker 2 Extended offers similar specs, but with a build chamber nearly 12 inches tall for €2,495. The Ultimaker 2 Go also offers similar specs but with a smaller build volume of 4.7 x 4.7 x 4.5 inches for €1,195.
    Learn about the company...
    Ultimaker 2
    BUTN XYZprinting (Taiwan). The company is a subsidiary of New Kinpo Group a large manufacturer of wireless routers, set top boxes, printers and hard disk drives. It's also the second largest contract manufacturer of laptops in the world and has stated its intention of selling one million 3D printers in 3 years. The specifications, design and aggressive price of its flagship da Vinci 1.0 have made it the number one seller in the 3D printer category on Amazon and other sites. It offers a large build volume, PLA and ABS capability and cartridge-loading for just US$499.
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    In addition, the company offers the da Vinci 2.0 dual extruder unit for US$649, and the da Vinci AiO (All in One) for US$599. The All in One is not only a 3D printer, but offers 3D scanning capability as well. More recently introduced is the da Vinci Jr 1.0. This US$349 unit offers mostly similar specs to the da Vinci 1.0, but has a build volume that is a somewhat smaller 6 inch cube. The unit also has auto-leveling and while it only uses PLA, its price is atonishingly low.



    da Vinci 1.0

    arrowPhotopolymer-based Systemsarrow
    BUTN 3D Systems. The company's entry in this class is the ProJet 1200 Micro-SLA. No bigger than a coffee-maker and aimed at high resolution applications such as jewelry and dental labs, the machine sells for US$4,900. The build volume is small at 1.69 x 1.06 x 5.90 inches, but that's adequate for its intended purpose. Photopolymer exposure is by means of a deformable mirror device and resolution is specified at 585 dpi, or 56 microns which is a little more than 0.002 in. Layer thickness appears to be a fixed 30 microns and build speed is specified at 0.55 in/hour.
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    The machine includes a built-in UV curing chamber and material is supplied from proprietary 10 gram cartridges. There is only one material available at present, but it's said to be capable of burning out for casting applications without a residue. Material costs are extremely high.
    ProJet 1200 Micro-SLA
    BUTN Autodesk. The open-source Ember is intended to promote its Spark suite of cloud-based 3D printing software, much as Google promotes its free Android operating system as an entry point to its other products. Not only are the files available for making your own Ember from scratch, but Autodesk has also disclosed the recipe for its photopolymer materials. The company believes these actions are more likely to result in extensions and improvements to the product rather than copies.
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    The Ember offers a medium-sized build chamber, average build rates and good minimum feature size, compared to other members of the class, but at a significantly higher price of US$5,995.



    Ember
    BUTN Formlabs. The Form 1+ was one of the fastest take-offs in Kickstarter crowd-funding history. This low-cost laser-based stereolithography system builds from the bottom up the way many machines in this class do, but replaces the typically-used deformable mirror light modulator with a diode laser and a pair of galvanometers to expose the photopolymer resin from below. The design permits fine control of exposure resulting in a layer thickness of 25 microns (0.001 inches), a minimum feature size of 0.012 inches with a roughly 5 x 5 x 6.5 inch build envelope. The Form 1+ is priced at US$3,299.
    Formlabs' Form 1+
    BUTN XYZprinting (Taiwan). The Nobel 1.0 copies many optical features from the Form 1+. Just as it has done with its extrusion-based products, described above, XYZprinting has aggressively priced its entry in this class of machines to provide the most value for the price. The Noble 1.0 offers a large build volume, but compromises on lower resolution in the X & Y axes. It also offers a unique material auto-fill function, but the build rate is not specified. The proprietary photopolymer is known to be expensive, although the price has not yet been announced. The razor blade model may be being used here to make up for the difference between the unit's very low price of US$1,500, which is less than half that of its closest competitor in this class.



    Nobel 1.0

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