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Cheap vs. Expensive 3D Printers: The Complete Comparison

It wasn’t too long ago that 3D printers were costly and only used by commercial businesses. However, as the technology has become more popular and mainstream, the cost of 3D printers has come down significantly, making it even more challenging for enthusiasts to decide between cheap and expensive 3D printers.

Cheap 3D printers are most suitable for beginners or those who don’t need the best possible prints. On the other hand, expensive models are ideal for anyone looking for printed objects with intricate details and incredible precision.

Read on for more insights into the differences between cheap and costly 3D printers. I’ll walk you through the pros and cons and help you choose the best model for your needs.

Cheap 3D Printers Pros and Cons

Suppose you’re starting with your first foray into the world of additive manufacturing. In that case, a cheap 3D printer such as a fused deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication (FFF) printer is a great place to start. 

However, these printers are not perfect and do have some drawbacks. Here’s a rundown of some of the pros and cons of 3D printers:

Pros

  • Inexpensive: Generally speaking, cheap 3D printers are significantly less expensive than their industrial counterparts. That makes them much more accessible to hobbyists and small businesses who may not budget for a more expensive model.
  • Easy to use: Another advantage of these printers is that they are generally straightforward to use. They tend to be less complex than more expensive models and often come with user-friendly software.
  • Great for beginners: As mentioned earlier, cheap printers are an excellent option for learning additive manufacturing. They are easy to use and relatively low-cost, so you can learn the basics of printing without making a significant investment.
  • Wide variety of printers available at different price points: You can find a cheap printer to suit just about any budget, which is great if you’re working with limited funds.

Cons

  • Lower quality prints: One of the most significant disadvantages of cheap printers is that they tend to produce lower quality prints. That is because they often have smaller build volumes and use lower-quality materials.
  • Limited print settings: Cheap printers also typically have fewer print settings than more expensive models, which can be a disadvantage if you wish to fine-tune your prints.
  • Inferior build quality: Many cheap printers suffer from poor build quality, meaning that they may not be as durable or reliable as more expensive models.

Expensive 3D Printers Pros and Cons

If you’re looking for the best possible print quality and don’t mind spending a bit more money, a costly printer (such as a stereolithography printer) is a good option. However, these printers have some drawbacks that you should be aware of before making your purchase. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of these printers:

Pros

  • Superior print quality: One of the most significant advantages of expensive printers is that they produce outstanding print quality. That is because they use higher-quality materials.
  • More reliable: These printers are generally more reliable than their cheaper counterparts. They often have better build quality and use more durable materials.
  • More print settings: Expensive printers also offer a more comprehensive range of print settings, which allows you to fine-tune your prints for the best possible results.

Cons

  • High cost: Arguably, the main disadvantage of expensive printers is their high cost. Cost can be a barrier for many people interested in 3D printing.
  • Complex to use: These printers tend to be more complicated than cheap models and often require more experience to operate effectively.
  • Requires more maintenance: Expensive printers also require more maintenance than affordable models, which can be a hassle.

Head to Head Comparison

In a nutshell, here’s a table summary of how cheap vs. expensive 3D printers stack up against each other based on a few selected factors:

Cheap 3D PrintersExpensive 3D Printers
QualityTypically lowerTypically higher
Print SizeTypically smallerTypically larger
AccuracyTypically lowerTypically higher
PrecisionTypically lowerTypically higher
ToleranceTypically higherTypically lower

So, let’s compare the two in more detail:

Quality Comparison

There is a clear relationship between price and quality. 

Specifically, expensive printers tend to produce higher-quality prints than their cheaper counterparts.

However, there are some instances where a costly printer may create lower-quality objects. This quality difference can be due to several factors, such as improper maintenance or incorrect settings. Besides, your skill level and experience can also play a role in the quality of your prints.

Here’s a typical example of an expensive printer printing better than a cheaper one:

Print Size Comparison

One of the main factors determining how much you can print with a given printer is its build volume. Build volume is the maximum size of the object that the printer can create in a single session.

As you might expect, expensive printers tend to have larger build volumes than cheap printers. That means you can usually print bigger objects with a more costly printer than a cheap one.

However, it’s important to note that build volume is not the only factor determining print size. The type of printer and the material you’re using also play a role in this.

Accuracy Comparison

Accuracy is another critical factor to consider when choosing a 3D printer. Accuracy refers to how close the printer can get to the desired dimensions of your object.

In general, expensive printers are more accurate than cheap ones. That’s because they use higher-quality materials and have better build quality.

However, there are some instances where a cheap printer can be just as accurate as an expensive one. However, these errors are usually due to user errors or incorrect settings.

Precision Comparison

Precision is similar to accuracy, but it refers to the printer’s ability to print fine details. That means that precision determines how small a feature the printer can recreate.

Again, expensive printers tend to be more precise than cheap ones.

However, there are some instances where a cheap printer can be just as exact as an expensive one. Again, this could arise from user error or incorrect settings.

Tolerance Comparison

Tolerance is the final factor to consider when choosing a printer. Tolerance refers to how much the printer will deviate from the intended model. The smaller the tolerance, the more accurate your prints will be.

However, there is a tradeoff between accuracy and speed. Printers with smaller tolerances tend to be slower, as they have to account for a smaller margin of error. That means that if you need your prints quickly, you may have to sacrifice some accuracy.

Cheap Vs. Expensive 3D Printers: Which Is Better?

Now that we’ve compared the pros and cons of cheap and costly printers, it’s time to answer the question: which is better?

A cheap 3D printer should be better for you if you need simple, everyday prints. On the other hand, you’ll need to invest in an expensive printer if you need high-quality, precise 3D printed models.

However, it’s essential to keep in mind that your skill level and experience with additive manufacturing can also play a role in the quality of your prints. So if you’re starting, don’t be afraid to experiment with different cheaper printers first.

That said, here are two printers I’d recommend, depending on your budget:

  • Recommended affordable 3D printer: Monoprice Select Mini (from Amazon.com): The Monoprice Select Mini is a superb cheap printer that’s perfect for beginners. Despite the small build volume, it’s easy to use and affordable.
  • Recommended expensive printer: Snapmaker 3D Printer (from Amazon.com): The Snapmaker is an excellent choice if you need a high-quality printer. It’s easy to use and comes with a wide range of features, making it perfect for those who need precise prints.

Conclusion

So, in summary:

  • Cheap printers are better for simple, everyday 3D printed objects.
  • Expensive printers are better for high-quality, detailed models.
  • Your skill level and experience will impact your 3D printer choice and the success of your 3D print projects. 
  • Before buying an expensive printer, it would be best to build your skills and experience by using cheaper printers first.