One of the common questions for people new to 3D printing is, How Much Does A 3D Printer Cost?
I wish that were an easy answer. There is a wide variety in the types of 3D printers and their size, features, quality, durability and performance all factor into a 3D printer’s price. Here’s a quick guide to how much does a 3d printer cost; what prices you should expect to pay and what kind of features will accompany each:
Entry Level 3D Printers ($200-$400):
Printers in this category are primarily toys but are a great way to experiment and learn about 3D printing. They will only be able to print objects around 3-4″ in each dimension (width, length, height) and likely limited to printing in one material. These printers are slow, noisy, have poor print quality and not very durable. However, for printing small objects and getting a feel for how a 3D printer works, they do the job.
Hobbyist 3D Printers ($300-$1500):
Printers in this category are often surprisingly capable, but often have 1-2 fatal flaws that undermine their value. These prints can often print a bit larger than entry-level printers, perhaps 5-6″ in each dimension. They are a bit faster and might be able to print a few different materials. You’ll often find that their speeds and print quality are lacking. Most of the printers in this class, are not made to run for significant lengths of time and you’ll have to do a lot of repairs / maintenance to keep them running. These printers are good for someone who likes 3D printing as a hobby, perhaps for use by grade schools. However, these printers are not at all suitable for commercial use or in educational settings where you need them to print at specified times reliably.
Enthusiast 3D Printers ($1500-$3500):
The enthusiast category is exploding and delivering solid printers that are great for certain applications. Printers in this category can deliver good sized prints; often as large as 8″ to 12″ in each dimension. Printers in this category have reasonable speed and decent print quality (note: for most printers, slower speeds are required to generate good print quality; conversely the faster they print, you will sacrifice print quality). In this category, you’ll have greater selection in materials that can print, although some enthusiast printers require you to use the manufacturer’s standard materials which limit your options. Unfortunately, many printers in this price range are still not very durable and will require significant maintenance and repairs if you plan to operate them for significant amounts of time (160+ hours per month). These printers are appropriate for use in grade schools and infrequent use in high schools. Some businesses might find them suitable, but will often be frustrated by repairs if used frequently.
Professional 3D Printers / Performance 3D Printers ($3500-$6000):
The performance category holds the promise of the greatest amount of value in 3D printing today and are poised to significantly disrupt the sales of printers in the industrial segment. These printers have large build areas (12″ in each dimension) and often can print pretty good quality parts. Most printers in this category can print a wide range of materials, although to print them well, the manufacturer should provide print ‘profiles’ optimized to each material for their slicer software. When shopping for a performance printer, there are 2 key features to look for. First, the best performance printers have the ability to print parts both quickly while maintaining superior print resolution. Don’t only rely on published specifications; you need to look at a physical sample print and evaluate the settings the print was done at along with the actual time to print. Second, when making the sizable investment required by this price class, you want to evaluate the durability of the printer and required maintenance as this will still vary greatly. Printers in this class are perfectly suitable in Education (middle schools, high schools, universities and robotics clubs) as well as in a wide range of commercial environments (small business to large enterprises).
Industrial 3D Printers ($20,000 – $100,000):
The printers in the Industrial class differ from the Performance class in a few ways. These printers can print in high quality at good speeds, however you pay a significant premium for this privilege. These printers are truly *industrial* with very slick interfaces and durable construction and metal fabricated exteriors. Industrial manufacturers charge a high price for the base printer, but also charge annual maintenance contracts as well as require you to purchase proprietary materials at a premium to those available on the open market. Also, the selection of materials in this space are surprisingly limited and expensive. While these printers are durable and reliable, their price makes them only appropriate for large enterprises who can afford their large price tag. This price tag makes this class of printers prohibitively expensive for most universities. The irony of these machines is that due to the high operating costs, one can argue there is a disincentive for encouraging their use by employees & students. Because of this, the Performance class of 3D printers becomes an attractive alternative to industrial printers for a wide variety of businesses.