Best 3D FDM Printers: My Picks for 2020
If you are interested in buying a 3D FDM printer there are many factors to inform your decision. Below you will find information to help you choose the right one.
There are many different 3D FDM printers on the market today. They range in cost from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. If you have come to this page you are probably looking for a 3D printer that won’t break the bank. Below you will find my choices for best budget FDM printers.
These are the Top 3 Budget FDM Printers for 2020:
- Creality Ender 3 (Click here for price on Amazon) – Best build volume for the price. I love the Ender 3. It has a great community and is a reliable and affordable printer.
- Monoprice Select Mini V2 (Click here for price on Amazon) – Small form factor that is great for beginners. If you are new to 3d Printing this printer is a great choice.
- Ant A8 (Click here for price on Amazon) – This is a full DIY kit which is reflected in its budget pricing. I recommend this printer for the DIY enthusiast who really wants to learn how 3D printers work and enjoys tinkering.
Why I picked the Creality Ender 3
- Well under $300 this is a great printer that won’t break the bank.
- 220x220x250mm build volume is great for the price!
- Heated bed helps avoid warping and peeling problems.
- Power loss print resume feature. If the power goes out, you can resume your print where it left off.
- While the Creality can benefit from a few upgrades with proper calibration it will offer great prints right off the bat.
Larger Print Volume Printers:
- Artillery Sidewinder X1 V4 (Click here for price on Amazon) – This is a great printer that is very quiet. 300x300x400mm build volume is much larger than entry level budget printers.
- Creality CR 10 V2 (Click here for price on Amazon) – This printer has a 300x300x400mm build volume with a heated glass bed.
Why I picked the Creality CR 10
- The Creality CR10 0ffers a massive 300x300x400mm build volume in a printer under $500.
- The CR10 is an affordable and reliable printer that can compete with more expensive printers.
- Heated glass bed offers beautiful first layers with excellent adhesion. I recommend using Aquanet unscented hairspray on glass beds for superior hold.
- It may not be the nicest looking printer, but the open format allows easy access to all moving parts. The open access allows for easy maintenance of the printer.
Best Printer for Quality
- The Original Prusa i3 MK3S (Click here to check the price on prusa3d.com) – It’s hard to beat the king. The Prusa i3 is still dominating the market in terms of build and print quality. The main drawback is all that quality comes with a big price tag compared to the other printers on this page.
Why I picked the Prusa i3
- Prusa knows how to build a printer and keeps improving in their designs.
- The Prusa i3 has exceptional print quality right out of the box. The fully assembled printer is quality tested and calibrated at the factory.
- The Prusa offers great calibration and print monitoring features.
- Prusa offers excellent customer and technical support.
- It has a large and helpful community of users.
- Comes in a kit option for those who are DIY enthusiasts. The kit is also less expensive than the assembled model.
Features to look for in an FDM printer
- It fits your budget. You can do amazing things with even the smallest 3D printer. Don’t worry if you can’t afford the biggest 3D printer. While large build volumes are great, you can still scale down or slice up bigger prints to fit on a smaller printer.
- Heated build plate. While not strictly necessary, a heated build plate makes bed adhesion easier. It also expands the materials you can print with as materials such s ABS require a heated bed.
- Good community support. Having a helpful and active community around a printer can help you get started with the printer. The community can also help you find solutions to problems you encounter with the printer.
- Low noise level. 3D printers make noise when they print which may be annoying to other family members. If you don’t have a dedicated workspace away from the rest of your family, you’ll want to find a printer with a low noise level. Read my article about how much noise 3D printers make.
- If you plan to print ABS or other specialty filaments you may want to consider an enclosed 3D printer or building an enclosure. The enclosure will keep the heat consistent making for better prints. An enclosure also has the advantage of containing smells from the printer while it prints. You can read my article here about 3D printer smells.
About FDM Printers
Having a basic understanding of 3D FDM printers is important as it will help you as you decide on what 3D printer to choose. In this section I’ll review the different components of a 3D printer and talk a little about 3D printer design.
FDM stand for Fused Deposition Modeling where layers of melted plastic are adhered one on top of another. As the plastic cools the layers fuse together creating a solid 3D print. A 3D FDM printer moves a print nozzle in 3 dimensions to slowly build up layers of plastic into a 3D object. The print nozzle is heated to a temperature between 190° – 260° to melt plastic that is passed through the nozzle. The temperature used is determined by the material being printed and the specifications of the printer being used.
FDM printers use plastic known as filament that come in 1.75mm and 3.0mm diameters. 1.75mm is by far the most common size. The most popular filament material for home printing is PLA and is typically the least expensive. Other types such as PETG are gaining popularity but require more tweaking of settings to get good prints.
Some 3D printers have a heated bed to help with print adhesion. It is critical that the first print layer sticks to the bed to avoid breaking free during the print. If the object being printed breaks free the print must be cancelled and started again. By heating the build plate or print bed the plastic has better adhesion. With a heated bed a glass plate can be used to get ultra-smooth first layers. If using glass, you will need to use an adhesive such as a glue stick or my favorite Aquanet unscented hair spray.
Using materials such as PEI sheets or painter’s tape can help with adhesion for non-heated beds. If you plan to print in a colder environment, I recommend building an enclosure for your printer. This will help keep heat in the print allowing it cool slowly and making it less likely to peel off the bed.
FDM printers need to move the print in all 3 dimensions and achieve this in a few different ways. Some printers move the bed only in the Z (up and down) direction while the print head moves in the X (side to side) and Y (forwards and backwards) directions. Other printers will move the print head in the X and the Z directions and move the bed only in the Y direction.
The Print head on an FDM printer contains a heating element and heater block that will cause the filament to melt as the plastic passes through the nozzle. There are two types of print heads, direct drive and Bowden. With direct drive a stepper motor called the extruder motor drives the filament directly into the nozzle.
A Bowden printer puts the extruder motor on the frame of the printer and drives the filament through a long PTFE tube that connects to the nozzle. The benefit to the Bowden design is a lighter print head that can move around more quickly with less backlash. A downside to the Bowden design is that it becomes difficult to print flexible materials.
Direct drive extruders can handle all types of materials, but they make the print head heavier. The heavier print head requires slightly slower print speeds than a Bowden extruder. Direct drives also have the advantage of less stringing or ooze. As the material is pushed through the nozzle pressure builds up. After the extruder motor stops pressing more filament into the nozzle the filament will continue to ooze out of the nozzle due to the existing pressure. Using retraction to release the pressure results in less oozing. With a direct drive you need less retraction and get less stringing.
FDM printers require their own power supplies and a printer will either use 12 volt or 24-volt supplies. A 24-volt printer can heat up faster than a 12-volt printer which is nice for short prints or when calibrating your printer. However, 24-volt parts such as fans are not as common and finding the exact part you need for an upgrade or replacement can be tricky.