I get some variation of this question all the time. Sometimes it comes with some set of parameters like “to use in a classroom” or “we can spend about $300” or “I need to print figures in high detail”. The trouble is my opinion is limited to my own experience . . . it’s not like I do 3D printer reviews (though I would if someone wants to send me one!). I have personally worked with less than 10 different models of printers across only 4 bands.
Just the other day I saw these “Kingroon” printers on a little known youtube channel. He had at least 16 of them and must have really believed in them. I looked it up and they were only $180! What the? I almost ordered it from Amazon as an impulse buy but then I remembered I have enough printers to fix right now.
After a bit more research, I’m glad I didn’t get one. It doesn’t have all the essentials features I list below.
3D printing, as a hobby or even a full time job, is a spectrum of “I want a tool” to “I like to tinker with my tools”. One extreme is that you want a tool to make prints on demand with little fuss. The other end is you like the mechanics of this tool and want to challenge yourself to make that tool more powerful and the printing itself is beside the point.
Much like the RC cars, if you don’t enjoy fixing things then having a 3D printer as a tool only is going to get expensive fast. So in generally you have to be a bit handy or you may as well just outsource your printing.
While I’m not afraid to fix a problem here or there and take apart a printer to fix a problem, I value 3D printers as a tool. And to me, the tool has to be reliable and there for you when you want to do something. The cheaper $200 printers are missing a few key features that I couldn’t live without. Some of them, like the Kingroon, have ONE or TWO of these but to me the price isn’t worth the extra hassle of a DIY solution and for some things, no amount of DIY is going to make up for the missing feature.
Must have features
- A removable and flexible bed is key. Glass beds are okay and usually when the bed cools the parts are easier to remove but not always. Whenever you have to get out the scraper you are just asking for trouble. Damage to your knuckles or to the printer bed itself are going to happen. If the bed is not removable and flexible then the printer is not usable.
- An auto bed leveling (ABL) system. Messing around with trying to get the bed level is super frustrating and with time constraints (like at a school) it’s just not worth it. You can generally add on ABL to most printers, especially the Ender 3, but often you have clunky solutions (like this daughterboard you add to the Ender 3 before they released a more modern board) and on the Kingroon, you had to write the z-index to the firmware and can’t control it via the UI which to me seems unforgivable. Plus, when you add on ABL to a printer that means you have a manual process and Abl to deal with. Printers where ABL is a first class citizen have no way to manually level the bed.
- Easy filament changes. I have used many different printers with 6 systems and the only one that’s even CLOSE to easy is the one you get with a Prusa Mini. It’s difficult to explain how much better it is. It’s automated and you don’t have to make guesses about what you need to do . . . the printer walks you through it step by step. In other printers you have to manually heat up the filament head and try to feed the filament through a strange path and just keep pressing till you see stuff oozing out. Don’t get me started on how bad it is on a Creality CR-6 SE or other Creality printers. And this can be made better by using a community firmware and some mods to the printer but that’s not always an option.
- It must be easy to work on . . . . something is going to break on just about any 3D printer you get (maybe unless you go in the $4k+ price range?) and being able to work on it and get parts matters. It’s not always easy to get parts on account of shortages all around but being a printer that uses parts other printers use helps. Very popular printers like the Ender 3 have availailby at 10/10 where you can get just about anything fro Amaon vs a Prusa where you get parts from them and maybe one or two other places and certainly not amazon. Beside parts, the design of the printer should make it so you can get to everything and make common repairs without having to tear the entire printer apart.
- It must be popular in the community and well regarded. Like I said before, something is always going to go wrong. A strong community means you have help online when you are trying to fix something. Company support is nice too though not many companies have any kind of real support. I’ve only interacted with Prusa a few times and they have RESPONDED which is about as good as it gets when you are trying to explain a technical problem and you don’t quite have the words. Seeing presence on youtube outside the manufacturer helps too. A sold community firmware is a good indicator of a strong platform too though you don’t see that with Prusa since Prusa support their printers and provide sold updates.
- Printer profiles in popular slicing programs. We have those old Lulzbot printers and one of the biggest issues I have with them is that they only work with some janky and old version of Lulzbot Cura and don’t have profiles setup in the latest Cura. Even new Lulzbot printers are not in the regular Cura and that’s a bad sign. Yeah, yeah, I know, you can get it to work by copying over the values and tweaking it but spending all day printing and tweaking profiles sounds like work for a youtuber, not me.
Truth is, there are lots of 3D printers that have all that and are in the $400 price range. I don’t have the money to buy and try them all! But I really like the Prusa Mini. Part of that is just love for the Prusa brand thanks to their marketing no doubt. But $350 for a 5 hour kit or $400 for a 30 minute build isn’t bad. They cost more than an Ender 3 and other cheap printers but they have all of the features that HAVE TO BE THERE. They are not perfect and I do have to unclog a print head from time to time. And I have had to replace a thermistor. I printed PETG directly on a PEI build plate and I ripped the PEI right off and ruined the $30 build plate. And cheap filament always causes issues. Outside that they are fantastic printers. We had zero issues with them the day of SWMF. That seems crazy to me looking back on it.
If you need a bigger build volume than a Prusa Mini, again, there are many options and a few are cheaper than the Prusa MK3S which is the sorta “standard size” 3D printer. You can get even bigger printers but everything I have seen leads me to belive they are fun but not a reliable workhorse and just scaling up a printer design just doesn’t work.
In many ways the Prusa MK3S is a downgrade from the mini on account of the 8-bit board and Speak and Spell screen. I don’t even have one right now but do want to get one this year just to compare it to some clones I have already. The nice thing about Prusa is that they support their printers long after they are sold in the form of updates to the firmware, updates to PrusaSlicer, and updates to the hardware itself that you can buy. That’s not true for Creality and other brands I have seen.
For resin printers, I haven’t used any but I like the Anycubic mono. The Elegoo lineup is doing shady stuff with locking people into a slicer and that just feels very much against the spirit of 3D printing.
Thanks it for now!