Best Budget 3D Printers of 2024

Four 3D printed models showing 3D printing errors

James Bricknell/CNET

Testing a 3D printer is a thorough process. Printers often do not use the same materials or the same processes to create their models. I test SLA 3D printers, which print using resin and light, and FDM printers, which melt plastic on a plate. Each has its own methodology. The core modifiers I look at include:

  • hardware quality
  • Ease of setup
  • Bundled software
  • Print appearance and accuracy
  • Repairability
  • Corporate and community support

A key test print depicting the (now outdated) CNET logo is used to evaluate how the printer fills gaps, creates accurate shapes, and deals with overhangs. There's also a small tower that helps you measure how well your 3D printer handles a temperature range.

When testing speed, slice the model using the standard slicer that comes with the machine by default and compare the actual print time to the statement completion time in the slicer. 3D printers often use a variety of slicers, which can vary widely depending on how long you expect them to complete.

then use Prusa slicer Determining the amount of material used for the print and dividing that number by the actual time it took to print will give you a more accurate number expressing the speed in millimeters per second (mm/s) that the printer can run at.

Infrared heat map of a 3D printer build plate Infrared heat map of a 3D printer build plate

James Bricknell/CNET

All build plates are supposed to be heated to a certain temperature. InfiRay Thermal Imaging Camera for Android To see how well they are doing. I set the build plate to 60 degrees Celsius (the most common temperature for build plates), waited 5 minutes for the temperature to stabilize, and then measured the temperature at six separate locations. We then measured the average temperature to see how close the 3D printer came to the advertised temperature.

Since testing resins requires a variety of criteria, I use Ameralabs' standard test. That is, print out a small resin model that looks like a small town. This will help you determine how accurate your printer is, how it handles small parts, and how well UV exposure will work at various points on your model.

Many other anecdotal test prints using various 3D models are also performed on each printer to test part life and how well the machine accommodates different geometries.

Among other criteria, we looked at this company to see how responsive they are to customer support inquiries and how easy it is to order replacement parts and install them yourself. Kits (printers that come only semi-assembled) are judged by the length and difficulty of the assembly process and the clarity of the instructions.

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