How to Choose the Best 3D Printer - One Size Doesn't Fit All

Newcomers to 3D printing may feel overwhelmed by the many different options available. 3D printers are sold at many different price points, with differing technologies and levels of sophistication. Consequently, there isn’t a single “best” 3D printer for a job – it depends on your application needs and utilization requirements. Below we’ve laid out the important factors to consider when buying a 3D printer for the first time.

Price

There’s a 3D printer for nearly every budget. The lower-priced models are ideal for hobbyists or beginners, making 3D printing more accessible and affordable than ever. They tend to be the smallest on the market, and have a lower print accuracy.

Mid-range 3D printers offer increased reliability and print quality, making them popular with educators. These printers can be slightly larger, and some are well-suited for prototyping or even tooling applications.

High-end 3D printers offer the highest print quality and reliability on the market. They’re engineered to be fast, accurate, and well-suited for a range of possible applications, from industrial to consumer goods.

Use case

"3D printing" covers a wide range of technologies, each of which has different strengths. Some technologies are better suited for industrial applications like functional testing and tooling, while others are better for consumer goods or design applications. At Stratasys, you'll find that FDM technology is largely used for parts that need to be durable and strong, while PolyJet technology is more often used for parts that require color and texture realism.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Technology

PolyJet Technology

Speed

Depending on the desired application, print speed might be a critical factor. Rapid prototyping or factory floor applications, for example, rely on fast and efficient part production to keep lead times short. More inexpensive 3D printers generally print around 50 mm/s, while the fastest options print at or above 150 mm/s.

Resolution

Resolution refers to the level of detail that a 3D printer can achieve. Overall print quality is determined by the horizontal resolution, which is the smallest movement the extruder can make across the XY axis, and the vertical resolution, which is the minimum layer thickness the extruder can produce. A smaller resolution indicates better detail in the final part.

Durability

As with other forms of technology, some 3D printers have a longer shelf life than others. If you see 3D printing as a long-term manufacturing solution, it’s important to prioritize not just overall lifespan, but also how long a printer is expected to run at full performance with the highest amount of throughput.

The world of 3D printing doesn’t have to be intimidating. This infographic lets you explore the most important components of an industrial 3D printer designed for your office space: the Stratasys F120.

Inside the Stratsys F120

Material capabilities

Some printers are limited to one or two materials, and others have a range of material capabilities. While hobby printing or certain kinds of prototyping may only require one or two materials, you might need a more versatile printer for more sophisticated applications. Some printers are compatible with a wider range of materials, while others feature multiple print heads for more complex designs.

Environment

It’s important to consider the environment that will house your 3D printer, as it can place restraints on size and other factors. For example, a printer that runs loudly may be disruptive to people working nearby. Look for a 3D printer that’s been specifically engineered to minimize noise levels. For office environments where space is an issue, desktop 3D printers tend to be more sleek and compact than their more industrial counterparts.

Print size

For beginners or hobbyists, a large build plate probably isn’t a priority. However, if you plan to use a 3D printer for end-use parts and industrial applications, the ability to print larger parts may be valuable. Bigger build plates allow large parts to be printed all at once, saving manufacturing time.

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course. You may have other priorities specific to your business and desired application. Considering these basic factors, however, will help you in identifying the best 3D printer for you, whatever your application.

For professionals who need a professional quality 3D printer, check out our F123 series. These printers are available in a range of sizes and price points, including the F120 desktop 3D printer.