While 3D printing can often be an expensive hobby, it doesn't have to be. There are many fantastic printers available for under $500, so we wanted to focus on those for this article. You could be just starting in 3D printing or looking to expand your collection with some budget workhorses, but either way, we have something for you in our list of best budget 3D printers.
Types of 3D printers
There are two basic types of 3D printers: FDM and resin. While we go into great detail about filament and resin printing in another article, I will try to give you a quick rundown of the difference here.
FDM (filament based)
FDM printing is the most common type of 3D printing and is used to make large-scale models of just about any category. It can be used to make practical prints like brackets and boxes, fun prints like cosplay armor, or even 3D-printed dresses. It feels like almost every day, someone pushes the boundary of what can be done with an FDM printer. If you are looking for the most versatile 3D printer, then get an FDM one. They are safer too, so this is a good pick if you and your younger family members want to try it together.
Resin 3D printing is very different from the standard FDM style previously mentioned. While it has a list of must-have accessories to make it a success, resin printing allows for much greater details in your print. It is perfect for those who want to print gaming miniatures, jewelry, or highly detailed statues. You will need to use a liquid polymer to print these models, though, so make sure you protect yourself; it can be dangerous if you aren't careful.
- Cheap and powerful: Elegoo Neptune 2
- Everything you need: Creality Ender 3 Pro maker bundle
- Mini but mighty: Original Prusa MINI+
- Ultra-fast resin printing: Anycubic Photon Mono 2K
- Value resin: Phrozen Sonic Mini
- Go big or go home: Anycubic Vyper
Cheap and powerful: Elegoo Neptune 2Staff pick
As a starter 3D printer, you will be hard-pressed to find one as good as the Neptune 2. While it is based on the Creality Ender 3, it has some high-end additions like a filament run-out sensor and power loss protection. It has become one of the most used machines in my workshop for a printer that costs so little. If you are just starting out or looking to make a print farm, the Neptune 2 is a fantastic choice.
Everything you need: Creality Ender 3 Pro maker bundle
The Creality Ender 3 Pro is a substantial upgrade to the base model, and this bundle comes with even more upgrades on top of that. With a Micro Swiss hot end to allow you to print more exotic filaments with ease and a BulidTak flexplate system to make lifting prints off the bed a breeze, this bundle has everything you need to make your Ender 3 Pro its best self. It even comes with 3kg of PLA to get you started.
Mini but mighty: Original Prusa MINI+
Prusa makes one of my favorite 3D printers in the entire world, the Prusa Mk3s, and now they have created a budget printer almost as good. The Prusa Mini+ has all the advanced features that you could want while still maintaining a price under $500. The print quality is excellent and, because it is made by Prusa, the customer service and community support are second to none.
Ultra-fast resin printing: Anycubic Photon Mono 2K
The Photon Mono 2k from Anycubic is the perfect resin printer to get you started. The monochrome screen lets you print models almost twice as fast as conventional resin printers while keeping the same insane level of details. The Anycubic Photon Mono is a brilliant choice to get you started at such a low cost, especially if you are looking to make highly detailed models like jewelry.
Value resin: Phrozen Sonic Mini
The Phrozen Sonic Mini also has a monochrome screen for speedy prints and is priced incredibly low for a resin 3D printer. The budget on this is so low it would be worth picking up two at the same time to start you off right in this wonderful new hobby you are about to embrace.
Go big or go home: Anycubic Vyper
While there are plenty of Ender 3 clones out there, few of them are filled with as many helpful upgrades as the Anycubic Vyper. With auto bed leveling, filament runout sensors, and power cut protection, to name just a few, the Vyper has high-end smarts at a great price.
Cheap doesn't need to mean low quality
3D printing is one of the few hobbies where cheaper doesn't always equal worse. While many lower-end printers require a little more fine-tuning than their more expensive counterparts, they are still capable of producing fantastic prints with just a little work.
My current favorite 3D printer in the budget scene is the Elegoo Neptune 2. Elegoo has managed to take all of the best bits from the Ender 3 — a great budget printer in its own right — and fine-tune them into a machine that is easy to set up and prints excellently right out of the box.
If you are looking to get into resin printing instead of FDM, then go for the Anycubic Mono 2k. It is the perfect balance between budget and quality. You can expect blisteringly fast prints with a focus on exquisite detail.
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