If you’re new to the world of 3D printing you’re probably asking yourself “How much is a 3D printer?” That’s a good question, but it’s not that easy to answer. There’s a wide variety of 3D printers thanks to their massive rise in popularity over the last few years. They come in different sizes and grades, with varying features, performance, and durability. The cost depends on what you need.
3D printers go anywhere between a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. For example, if you’re a beginner looking to start your journey into this new hobby you probably want an entry-level printer. On average, a consumer-grade 3D printer costs around $400. Most printers designed for hobbyists cost somewhere between $300 to $500, while the ones with more features costs around $1,500.
It all depends on what features are you looking for and whether you plan on using the printer every day for professional work, or once a week for a fun project. So here’s a quick guide on the price of a 3D printer to give you a rough idea about the market and what to look for.
The Price of Technology
The cost of a 3D printer heavily depends on technology. It can go from hundreds of dollars for a basic FDM printer to tens of thousands for an industrial printer. If you want a 3D printer of your own, you need to figure out which technology is the best for your particular needs.
In addition, you need to look at size, speed, and printing accuracy. All of these characteristics will also determine the materials you’ll have to use, and they are part of the cost as well.
If you’re just taking your first step and you’re looking to purchase your very first printer, you probably want a simple FDM printer that starts at around $200. These printers may not be very fast and feature-rich, but they will teach you the 3D printing process and you’ll gather precious experience.
However, FDM printers are also found in the professional range, costing $3-4,000. The main reason for the two prices is speed and durability. Professional printers are meant for heavy use and are built to resist extended production periods. The entry-level printer can break down under too much stress from an extended printing process.
Once you dive into the advanced printing technology category you’ll encounter the SLS printers. A cheap SLS printer costs around $6,000. The price difference between the two technologies is justified by the printing speed and print complexity. Most SLS printers on the cheap end are faster than the pricy FDM printers. But they are also capable of printing highly complex models that the FDM technology can’t.
Therefore, you need to decide what your 3D printer is for and pick the right piece of technology. Based on what you want to print and in what quantities, you might even conclude that it’s not worth investing in your own printer. This is where printing services come in, offering you affordable access to professional equipment.
Entry-level printers ($200-500)
3D printers are growing in popularity at a massive rate, and for that reason, more entry-level printers are now available. You’ll even find $100-200 printers aimed towards DIYers that just want a cheap source for custom parts. After all, when something breaks in your house, finding a replacement part can be a pain. So why not design it yourself? There are millions of people who think like that, so the entry-level market is packed.
Budget printers are usually sold in kits that require assembly. It may sound a bit daunting, but this is an advantage because we can make extensive modifications to them. We can replace components to add new functionality and improve their performance specifically to suit our needs. For the first few prints you’ll be satisfied with the stock printer, but you’ll start making modifications in no time. On the downside, these printers have to be calibrated often and even repaired if you don’t start making upgrades soon after purchasing one.
As for functionality, printers in this price range are quite limited. For example, some of them will only work with certain materials if we don’t make any modifications. Furthermore, the printing speed is quite low, the printer makes a lot of noise, and the print quality won’t be near what you can achieve with an expensive printer.
All of this might make you think why you should even bother with an entry-level printer. As mentioned earlier, the purpose of the budget printer is to open the path for you. It’s simple so that you can learn the principles and the printing process immediately without fiddling around for hours. The budget printer is a learning experience.
Hobby-level printers ($400-1,000)
In this range, we start finding quality printers that are adequate for beginners and dedicated hobbyists alike. The quality of the prince, the reliability of the machine, and speed is improved when compared to the budget printers. But all of these characteristics improve with the price in most cases, so keep that in mind when planning your budget.
Hobbyist printers are meant for regular use and we can expect good quality models out of them regularly. Once you calibrate the machine, it shouldn’t require any additional modification. In other words, these printers are supposed to work well out of the box. However, you can still upgrade various components and extend functionality.
Another important factor is the material we can use. Hobby-level printers generally accept any kind of filament material, such as ABS, PETG, PLA, and nylon without requiring any equipment changes. In addition, these machines are quieter than the entry-level ones, and we can print larger pieces.
Overall, this category is the best for beginners that aren’t tightly restricted by their budget. Hobby-level printers offer enough quality and efficiency to spare us of many frustrations. Cheaper printers will require modifications and frequent calibrations instead of letting you enjoy the design and print process.
Pro-level printers ($1,000-10,000)
This is where we find the serious equipment. In this price range, you’ll find some of the best 3D printers around. They’re resilient, highly accurate, and they’ll maintain their precision for hours of constant printing. You won’t have to worry about frequent calibrations or which material you can use. In fact, most of these machines come fully assembled and calibrated. Some of them even have an auto-calibrate function so you can start using them straight out of the box.
Besides, in this price range, we also have the SLA printers that are famous for their precision. And the high-end FDM printers are gems compared to the ones in the hobbyist category. On a side note, if you also require laser engraving capabilities or CNC, some of the more expensive printers have these capabilities as they’re designed to be versatile.
In this price range, we get all the functionality we could want. We can create large models with great accuracy and there’s no limit to what printing materials we can use. The hardware is also much quieter because of the high-quality enclosures. But the hardware isn’t everything. Manufacturers include better software and focus more on the interface and user-friendliness. Some of the models come with touch-screen interfaces and WiFi connectivity.
The only real downside with these expensive printers is that we can modify them with great difficulty. This equipment is beyond DIY. The only upgrades we can make are with aftermarket components from third parties or parts from the manufacturer. But this is a price worth paying. These professional 3D printers create high-quality models out of the box and we rarely have to deal with errors and defects when compared to the budget-grade hardware. And when something does go wrong, customer support tends to be impeccable.
Industrial-grade printers ($10,000+)
Finally, if your love for 3D printers is serious enough that you’re thinking to start a business, then you need to look into industrial-grade printers. They can cost more than a brand new car and are intended for industrial use only. This type of 3D printer is found only in factories and manufacturing facilities. Industrial printers are also unique in that they can easily work with metal and carbon fiber, not just thermoplastics. This makes them ideal for prototyping and for creating functional components for complex pieces of equipment, like prosthetics.
If you’re ever interested in an industrial printer, keep in mind that it requires a lot of space. It’s not something that you can just install in your apartment bedroom. Many of them are actually built out of several units where each one fulfills a specific task, like curing or printing.
And that’s not all. If you thought spending five figures was bad enough, the investment doesn’t end there. Industrial printers are expensive to maintain and even more expensive when it comes to consumables. In most cases, you can’t perform the maintenance yourself. You need a representative from the manufacturer to service the printer and that doesn’t come cheap. Materials are also more expensive because they have to be manufactured at stricter standards. Usually, you’ll have to purchase them from the same company that manufactured the printer. These printers are meant for industries that have a budget large enough for materials, maintenance, and spare parts. However, these downsides are also the reason why these printers create such high-quality prints.
3D printers are becoming more powerful, more user-friendly, and more affordable with each passing day. But to purchase one, you need to answer two questions: “What do I need a 3D printer for?” and “How much money am I willing to spend?”
The first question is the most important one because the answer to it will determine the type of printer you need. After all, they range from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars due to all the factors we discussed above.
So give it some thought and figure out what you want to get out of your future 3D printer.