2021 is a great time to start on your 3D printing journey, with a wide range of affordable printers on the market perfect for first time buyers. But with so many options, what is best to go for? Hopefully, this buyers guide will help you decide what’s best for your needs.
(Note, the prices in this guide are from the time of writing and could potentially change in the future)
The first thing you will need to do is decide what sort of material and build volume you need, as well as the sort of things you would like to print.
If you want to print small, high detail parts for miniatures models or jewellery, you would probably be best to go with a resin printer.
If you want to produce larger parts, functional parts or prototypes, you would normally be best to go for an FDM machine.
If an FDM machine is best suited for the kind of prints you would like to be doing, there are a lot of options available that I will separate by brand below. Most of what you pay for in terms of FDM printers goes into the size of the build volume and what extra features you want such as auto levelling, low filament detect and dual extrusion among others.
One machine that is always at the top of our recommendation list is the Ender 3v2.
This is an ideal machine for someone just starting out. It is well supported and has a large community of users. It is relatively inexpensive at £198.95, and it has quite a large build volume for the size of machine (220x220x250mm build volume). It also has a 32 bit motherboard with silent stepper drivers as standard which makes it much more quiet than the older versions of the Ender 3. The Ender 3v2 does not come with auto levelling as standard, but it can be upgraded to have a BLTouch auto levelling sensor pretty easily if that is something you are interested in. On a machine this size, you don’t really need auto levelling, but it can make the machine a lot more convenient and user friendly. The Ender 3 is capable of printing PLA and PET-G out of the box, and it does come with a small test spool of PLA. The test spool it comes with won’t last you very long though and is only good enough for a few small test prints to help get you set up, so its normally best to buy a 1kg spool with it as that way you know you are going to get the colour you need and it will last you much longer.
The other popular choice of machine this size in the Creality range is the Ender 5 Pro.
The Ender 5 has a similar size build volume to the Ender 3, but it is a bit taller at 300mm on the Z axis. Personally though, I don’t recommend the Ender 5. The logic behind this kind of machine is that if you have the bed move on the Z axis rather than the Y axis like on the Ender 3, the print does not move as much while it is printing and this can give you better print quality, but because the Z axis is only supported on one side on the Ender 5, it does mean that it is less stable and as the Z axis drops or if the print gets too heavy it can cause the plate to judder and this can have a more detrimental effect on print quality than if the bed was on the Y axis like on the Ender 3. For this reason, I tend to recommend the Ender 3 over the Ender 5 because the bed is more stable on the Ender 3 and the Ender 3 is the cheaper option.
If you want a machine where the bed moves on the Z axis like the Ender 5, I tend to recommend the Sermoon D1 as an alternative.
This is because the bed is supported on both sides and is much more stable. It also has a bigger build volume than the Ender 3 and 5, it is a bit of a funny size build volume at 280x260x310mm. It also has low filament detect and direct drive. The direct drive makes it much better for printing flexible materials if that is something you are interested in. It also comes with acrylic panels around it and looks very nice. But the acrylic does not make a full enclosure and it does not come with a lid, so it does not make it any better at printing higher temperature materials. It is also a bit more expensive than the other machines at £465.
If you don’t mind going for something a bit more expensive, but you want a machine that is a bit faster from the Creality range, it might be worth having a look at the Ender 7.
The Ender 7 has a bit bigger build volume than the machines mentioned previously, with a build volume of 250x250x300mm at a price of £595.96. It also has low filament detect and silent stepper drivers. The thing that really sets the Ender 7 apart from the others is that it has linear rails and a core XY system. This allows it to print much faster than other machines of this type and still maintain a higher level of directional accuracy. Most FDM printers can print best at around 60mm/s, but the Ender 7 by comparison can achieve speeds of up to 250mm/s. Going all the way up to 250mm/s might not be practical depending on your settings and what material you are using, but even if you are not using the absolute maximum speeds all the time, it will still be a noticeably faster machine than something like an Ender 3.
Having said this, if you want to print lots of parts quickly, in my experience you are normally better off going for multiple smaller printers than one very fast one. For example, you could get 3 Ender 3v2s for the price of the Ender 7. Which would produce prints much more quickly than one fast machine, and you also get the benefit of not just relying on one printer, so if one printer develops a fault or gets a blocked nozzle, you still have another 2 machines to carry on printing with.
If you want something a bit bigger than the printers listed above, you might be better off going for something like the Ender 3 Max.
The Ender 3 Max is by far the most cost effective of the larger FDM machines at £228. It has a build volume of 300x300x340mm. It does also have silent stepper drivers and low filament detect. It does not come with auto levelling, but you can add it as an optional upgrade if you would like auto levelling.
If you don’t want to go for a Creality machine, there are some alternatives from other brands such as the Artillery Genius or Hornet.
Both the Genius and the Hornet have the same size build volume as the Ender 3 (220x220x250mm), and both also have silent stepper drivers.
The Hornet is the cheaper of the 2 machines at £184.96. It is a very nice machine as a budget alternative, it looks very nice is a very neat, good quality machine. The only downside is that the PTFE tube that feeds the filament to the hotend is integrated into the cables. This means, if you were to get a blockage in the tube you would have to also replace the cable with it, which will make it more expensive to replace if you need too.
The Genius is a more expensive machine at £279.95, but it does come with a few extra features such as dual Z axis, low filament detect and direct drive. Dual Z axis is not something that is really necessary for a machine this size, but it is nice to have, and the direct drive makes it much better for printing flexible materials if that is something you are interested in.
If the Genius and the Hornet are not quite big enough for your needs, you could also have a look at the Artillery Sidewinder.
The Sidewinder is basically the same machine as the Genius but with a bigger build volume of 300x300x400mm for £374.94.
One thing worth noting about the Artillery machines, is that they don’t come with a removable bed. This is not ideal, as the printing surface will wear out over time, and you don’t want to have to replace the whole bed and all the cables every time you just want to swap out your printing surface. For this reason, I normally recommend buying a removable magnetic bed with it when you buy an Artillery machine. The ones I tend to recommend are the Prima Magnetic Flexplates that you can find on the link below. These are great because they are removable, they are easy to get prints off as they bend, you don’t need any adhesive like glue or spray to help the parts stick and they tend to last much longer than the textured surfaces that a lot of machines come with.
The only other machine that would be worth mentioning for a good starter machine would be the Flashforge Creator Pro v2
The Creator Pro v2 is a very nice machine from Flashforge that does not have quite as big of a build volume as the machines mentioned previously at 200x148x150mm. But it is the only machine at this price range with an independent dual extruder (IDEX). IDEX machines will allow you to do things like duplicate parts (print 2 parts at the same time) which will allow you to print parts much more quickly with one machine if you need a lot of them, as long as the parts are small enough to fit 2 of them on the bed. It also gives you the ability to do multi material or multi coloured prints or you could use a water-soluble support material if you have any parts that you have which need supports in difficult to reach places. All in all, I would also say the Creator Pro v2 is a fantastic machine if you don’t mind the smaller build volume, and it is by far the cheapest and most user friendly IDEX printer I have ever used. You can get the Creator Pro v2 for £579.
If a resin printer is more like the sort of thing you need, there is not quite as much choice as the range of FDM printers on the market. But there are still a few important factors that are worth being aware of when looking to buy your first printer, such as the build volume you will need and the type of screen that you would be best to go for.
These days, I would recommend going for a mono screen printer. Mono screens are better than the older style screen as they are more powerful and cure the resin faster, reducing your cure times and making the print complete much faster. Mono screens also tend to last longer and be more reliable than the older style of screen.
By far the most popular resin 3D printer on the market at the moment is the Anycubic Photon Mono.
The Photon Mono is the latest version in the photon range and as the name suggests, comes with a mono screen. They have a build volume of 130x78x165mm at a price of £259.96 and tend to be quite reliable machines.
We don’t tend to recommend going for a big resin printer as your first printer, as larger build volumes can sometimes need a bit more knowledge and experience with resin printing to get the most out of. But if you did need a bigger build volume there is also the Photon Mono X.
The Mono X is mostly the same as the smaller Mono, but it has a 4k screen with a volume of 192x120x245mm at a price of £599.
Creality also have a good selection of resin printers to chose from. The latest in Crealitys range is the Halot-One.
The Halot-One also has a mono screen and has a build volume of 127x80x160mm. It costs £209, which is cheaper than the Anycubic and it also come with a few extra features such as an inbuilt carbon filter and Wi-Fi.
Again, if you would like a bigger build volume the Halot-Sky is the larger version of the Halot-One and is much the same with a build volume of 192x120x200mm at a price of £614.95.
Wash and Cure
The only other things that would be worth getting when you buy your first resin printer, aside from some resin (Most resin printers don’t come with any resin included) would be a wash and cure machine.
You don’t need a wash and cure machine to get started, but it can be a nice addition.
You can get the Anycubic wash and cure machine for £148.99.
Creality also do there own wash and cure machine £129.95.
If you are using water washable resin, you might not need the wash function.
If this is the case, Creality also do a standalone curing station for £45.95.