The earliest patent for 3D printing technology might have been filed way back in 1980, but when the first commercial 3D printer — Darwin — entered the market in 2008, even the idea of printing a tiny and mediocre replica of the Eiffel Tower seemed like science fiction to many. The 3D printer market hasn’t rested for a second since that time. Not only are 3D printers faster and more versatile in 2021, they’re also a lot cheaper.
If you haven’t joined the world of 3D printing yet, but want to, the first question you’re bound to have is — exactly what is a 3D printer going to cost me in 2021?
The sky is, of course, the limit when it comes to pricing. It is now possible to print an entire house with 3D printing technology, for example, with the MudBots concrete printer. The fact that their website doesn’t even offer a ballpark should be enough of a hint about the price. If it’s a hobby or entry level 3D printer you’re after, though, in other words something fun to experiment with in your household, you can buy a budget 3D printer for as little as $200. On the upper end of the hobby or semi-professional 3D printer scale, you can realistically find yourself a reliable workhorse with a larger print surface even if you don’t want to spend more than $2,000.
In 2021, 3D printers have become accessible to almost everyone, but what kinds of features can you expect from 3D printers in different price ranges, and which kind of 3D printer could be right for you?
Here's a quick summary: Resin 3D printers will tend to cost more compared to FDM 3D printers.
Filament-based 3D printers — more technically called FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers — are the more common type of 3D printers, and the kind most people will already be familiar with. These printers melt so-called filaments, essentially plastic strings, onto the printer’s build surface plate (bed) with the print heads. Filament 3D printers have been around for longer, and are ideal for consumers who are planning to print slightly larger but less detailed objects or smaller objects they’re prepared to continue to manually adjust and refine.
Filaments themselves come in all sorts of different types, but not all can be used with every 3D printer. Open 3D printer designs allow for printing only at lower temperatures, while 3D printers with closed designs enable users to choose from among a wider variety of filaments. In addition, some filaments require heated beds, found in more expensive models. Some examples of filaments are:
PLA (polylactic acid)
— this most widespread filament is suitable for even the cheapest filament-based 3D printers as it does not require a heated bed and does an adequate job at lower temperatures. The fact that it’s non-toxic makes it ideal for family use, but the material can lose its shape when exposed to heat.
ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
— able to produce strong 3D prints resistant to heat, this filament can be finished with acetone for extra smooth results. To be able to use it, you’ll need a 3D printer with a heated bed. Because it does release toxic vapors, you’ll need to wear a protective mask.
TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane)
— super bendy and stretchy, this filament is suitable for flexible projects, but as it’s harder to work with, TPU is best for more advanced users.
Resin printers, or stereolithography/dark light projection (SLA/DLP) printers, use a newer technology, and have entered the hobby market more recently. These 3D printers cure liquid resin by exposing it to light — as they work their way through each of many layers, the print bed will keep rising a bit, and your print emerges upside down as the light hits and hardens only the right parts of the resin to finish your planned design. Resin 3D printers can print a layer resolution of around 25-50 microns, which makes them the right choice for folks who are intending to print much more detailed items.
|Type of 3D Printer||Price Range|
|Entry Level 3D printers||$200 - $500|
|Hobbyist 3D printers||$500 - $2,000|
|Professional 3D printers||$3,000 - $12,000|
|Industrial 3D printers||$15,000 - $200,000|
Price range: $200 - $500
Entry level 3D printers are your new budget 3D printers.
Entry level filament printers can, in 2021, be ridiculously cheap. The user-friendly Ender 3 printer will, for instance, only set you back $250 dollars, and you’ll be happy to hear that it has exceptionally low noise levels. The FlashForge Adventurer 3 can be yours for $300, and comes with a detachable nozzle.
Entry level 3D filament printers tend to be on the slower side and you may be annoyed by the noise coming from some of these machines, so you’ll want to shop around. These entry level filament printers also generally only work with materials like PLA, which can print at lower temperature ranges, and are prone to melting when exposed to heat.
Many of the entry level 3D printers on the market right now can, however, compete even with higher-end professional 3D printers. Consumers who are looking for a resin printer that allows them to make amazingly detailed creations could consider the $400 Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K, to name one example. It’s fast, has a better resolution than many other (including more expensive) resin printers, and is relatively easy to set up.
The Anycubic Photon Mono, which is a personal favorite of ours, only costs around $250. And if your into D&D or any other tabletop games, we believe that it's the best 3D printer for your tabletop miniatures.
Price range: $500 - $2,000
People who are planning to do more heavy-duty crafting may instead want to opt for a 3D printer that falls into the hobbyist range, spending a little more. These 3D printers can offer you larger prints, in the 5 to 6 inch range, and tend to be faster. Because 3D printers do require a fair bit of tinkering and configuring before they’ll do their job, though, you should be prepared for the fact that these 3D printers will not simply plug and play. Hobbyist 3D printers will also demand regular maintenance and repairs to keep working, and should not be used commercially.
The Anycubic Photon Mono X is a good example of a resin printer suitable for more serious hobbyists. This MSLA printer will cost you no more than $500, and will print pretty detailed tabletop miniatures. Even bigger prints with a height of up to 9.5 inches will be within your reach with this particular model.
One example of a good mid-range filament printer can be found in the MakerBot Replicator + — which, at just short of $2,000, is a slightly more serious investment. It can, on the other hand, use not only PLA filament but also metalfill and woodfill. At $1,900, the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 is another great option to consider. Its in-progress display feature enables users to watch their creation being printed.
Price range: $3,000 - $12,000
As 3D printer prices drop rapidly, resin and filament printers previously reserved for professionals and truly dedicated enthusiasts are starting to become more accessible even to hobbyists. Printers in this category the best choice for small business owners, classrooms, engineers, and designers, but casual users who simply want the best can also consider them.
If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can deliver larger prints of up to 12 inches in each dimension, and you want your 3D printer to be faster, quieter, and more reliable so that you can 3D print larger volumes, you have some great options to choose from.
The FormLabs Form 3 resin printer uses the latest LFS technology and allows for the printing of objects with impressive dimensions. This SLA 3D printer is even used by dentists, and will certainly meet your home 3D printing needs very nicely, whether you’d like to print extremely detailed figures or models, make jewelry, or print yourself some awesome cosplay helmets. While it comes at a premium, as you’ll have to lay down $3,500 for this beauty, you can expect this 3D printer to serve you well.
Price range: $15,000 - $200,000
Industrial 3D printers are at the extreme end of 3D printing prices. Companies have used them to improve their prototyping capabilities, offer large scale 3D printing and even fabricate art sculptures.
Industrial FDM printers aren't as popular as their desktop counterparts. Mainly because at this price range, $50,000 and above, SLA or SLS technologies are better solutions.
An industrial SLA 3D printer such as the one that we have cost around $100,000. What makes it different than your Formlabs 3 XL is that it can 3D print objects up to 2 feet. It has a large build volume that allows us to 3D print multiple parts in a single run.
For many, having access to industrial 3D printers is almost impossible. Luckily, many professional 3D printing services allow you to have access to large format 3D printers, metal 3D printers, color 3D printers without the high initial investment cost. For example, our 3D printing service uses industrial SLA 3D printers to print high quality and smooth parts for a fraction of the cost of an industrial 3D printer.
At the industrial end of the 3D printing market, you can, of course, expect to lay down thousands upon thousands of dollars. These 3D printers are now used for anything from medical purposes, such as 3D-printed hip joints completely tailored to the patient’s unique anatomy, to rocket components.
Those people who are investigating what kind of money they would have to invest in a solid, reliable, 3D printer that will meet their crafting or small business needs, satisfy their curiosity, or that will help teach the next generation within classrooms, will, however, not need to spend thousands of dollars. Even entry level 3D printers that cost no more than $200 to $500 can do a very decent job, allowing you to print both functional components and figurines or models.