When I got started 3d printing in late 2017, I purchased an Anet A8 printer on sale for $200. This cheap 3D printer required a lot of work to get working. A lot has changed to under $300 printers since I purchased my first printer.
Affordable 3D printers are now worth it, thanks to improvements in 3D printer manufacturing and falling costs. These printers are easier to assemble, easier to setup, and any issues that arise are easier to fix. Support for these printers has also greatly improved.
Why Purchase a Cheaper 3D Printer?
3D printing technology dates back to the 1980’s. The patent for SLA printing was granted in 1981 and for FDM in 1989.
In the decades since these technologies were patented, production prices have come down. At the same time, production techniques have improved.
Just in the last few years, multiple affordable good quality printers have been released. Unlike my Anet printer, these printers come in a few easily assembled parts. Once they are assembled, very little needs to be done to get them set up and working.
And the support for affordable printers is phenomenal. The manufactures offer more support but there are a ton of Facebook groups for almost every printer out there.
If you have a problem, sites like this one exist to help you quickly get back up and running.The newer low cost printers are much easier to troubleshoot and fix.
Easier To Assemble
For the Anet A8, I had to spend hours over 2 different days getting the printer assembled. Every screw and bold had to be assembled by hand by me.
I found a video to follow that turned out to be for an older A8 variant. When I switched to a better video, the assembly took a slightly different path. There are so many pieces that you could correctly assemble the printer multiple ways.
The Ender 3 V2, from Amazon, I got came in a few pieces. But the base was assembled, the control board was already attached, and there was really only one way to put the machine together with each step depending on the prior to complete.
All in all, it only took about an hour to assemble, most of which was spent watching a video and trying to figure out where I put the parts I had scattered around my office.
Any then there are the low cost printers that are already assembled. The Anycubic Photon Mono and the Monoprice Mini SLA, both available from Amazon, are low cost resin printers that require almost no assembly. You need to attach the build plate to the arm and put the reservoir in place and that is it.
If you decide to grab the Monoprice Mini SLA, check out our article on Setting up the Monoprice Mini SLA.
Easier To Set Up
In general, setting up a 3D printer, after it has been assembled, is relatively simple. Go into the settings, preheat the hotend, and thread the filament in.
You do have to level the build plate. Thanks to Thingiverse, you can download this print level guide. The gcode files are preconfigured for the Ender 3. There is one file that moves the print head around so that you can check the level of the build plate at the corners and the center. The other gcode prints a series of smaller and smaller squares that allows you to check how level you build plate is by actually printing at each corner and the center.
I wish something like these preconfigured gcode files existed when I first started.
Next you have to set up the slicer software.
My Anet came with an older version of Cura. I had to enter all the slicer settings manually, even though the software came on an SD card with the printer. I had to look up the build plate size in order to enter it correctly.
Now, many of the cheap 3D printers are actually in the list of machines in Cura. For my Ender 3 V2, from Amazon, I simply selected the Creality from the manufacture list and Ender 3 V2 as the model.
The Anycubic Photon Mono and the Monoprice Mini SLA, both available from Amazon, come with custom software for slicing. You don’t need to look anything up, just install, select your model and slice. It’s almost too easy.
Easier To Fix
When I first got started 3D printing, there were few resources available. I struggled for long period of time when I had issues. Over time, online resources started to popup.
Because my printer was completely assembled by hand, it was much more finicky. It was difficult to get the printer tuned in to get quality prints. But small issues with banding cropped up, due to the Z-axis being out of alignment. You can see my article about Z-banding and Z-wobble for everything I found related to this problem.
Not only are affordable prints less likely to have issues, we now have resources such as Facebook groups and websites like this one that cover every aspect of 3D printer troubleshooting.
Recommended Low Cost Printers
If you are looking for a low cost printer I have 2 recommendations to offer you. These are both printers that I have used and can testify to their quality.
Ender 3 V2
As I have mentioned, the Ender 3 V2 is easy to assemble and can be put together in under an hour.
This machine has a large heated build plate for large prints but thanks to this file on Thingiverse, the bed is relatively simple to level.
The Ender 3 V2 features an LCD screen with an upgraded user interface.
The main board includes silent TMC2208 stepper drivers that reduces the sound compared to the Ender 3 and Ender 3 Pro.
Unlike the Anet A8, the frame for all versions of the Ender 3 are metal. Metal is much sturdier than the acrylic frame that the A8 came with. This reduces banding that can occur when the frame shakes.
On the A8, the power supply was sticking out to the side. This is a potential safety hazard as you, a pet, or a child could accidentally touch a live wire on the power supply. The Ender 3 Power supply is secured in the pre-assembled base, out of the way and protected from accidental touches.
And the Ender 3 is one of the most popular printers for hobbyists. This is the printer I recommended for my friend who is looking to get a printer for D&D.
You can get yours from Amazon here.
Anycubic Photon Mono
I decided to get an Anycubic Photon in order to 3D print D&D minis. Yes, the Ender 3 is capable of printing very high quality minis, but if you want the highest quality minis, you need a resin printer. Save the Ender 3 for larger minis and terrain.
Since I purchased the Photon, Anycubic has come out with the Anycubic Photon Mono. While the print size has stayed the same, the cost has come down significantly.
The advantage of the Photon Mono is pretty clear. You can print very thin layers with a very high resolution and get exceptional quality prints.
The only down side to the Photon is the build plate size. At 130mm x 80mm with 165mm height, the print size is fairly small. However, as a resin printer, you can get much higher quality prints on this printer than on an FDM printer of a similar size.
I hope this article has helped you in your quest for a 3D printer.
Affordable 3D printers have come a long way since I purchased my first printer.
Whether you decide to pick up one of the printers I recommend or decide to grab a different one, let me know how your 3D printing journey goes.