A dormant Reddit sub about the best 3d printers under $500 turned lively last week when some newbie printing enthusiast started ranting about the ineffectiveness of his Prusa I3 clone.
He eventually got more information than he bargained for. But it ended well for the kid. Must be fiddling with the Z-Axis and the extruder as we write this.
As 3D printing goes mainstream and enters homes around the world, there are bound to be a lot of inquisitive heads popping out of the woodwork. That’s cause the tech is still virgin for the casual desktop user.
If you are a noob looking to dip your toes into the water and get started with the additive manufacturing process, then you are at the right place.
We have been dabbling in 3D printers since they were gargantuan-sized machines that guzzled UV resin and cost more than a Ducati Veyron. From that to the present day, 3D printers have been our mainstay, bread and butter and the sole reason to exist. (Err…maybe not!)
Today, we will talk about the best 3d printers under 500 dollars. We will talk about the potential applications and the pros and cons of machines at this price point. More importantly, we will help you set realistic expectations.
What can you print from an under $500 machine and at what quality?
So, sit back and enjoy this read.
|FlashForge Finder||5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5"||PLA||Check Price|
|Monoprice Select Mini||4.7" x 4.7" x 4.7"||ABS, PLA & Others||Check Price|
|Qidi Tech X-One 2||5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5"||ABS, PLA||Check Price|
|RepRap Prusa I3 V2||8"x8"x7"||ABS, PLA & Others||Check Price|
|Da Vinci mini||5.9'' x 5.9'' x 5.9'||PLA||Check Price|
If there were ever to be a 3D Printer beauty contest, then the FlashForge finder would walk away with the crown. Thankfully, its credentials are not limited to the cutesy little cube-styled design.
This is an entry-level 3D printer with one of the most user-friendly interfaces that we have ever seen.
It has a colored touchscreen control panel, an open source environment and comes at a very reasonable price point that makes it well within the reach of beginners looking to dabble into prototyping without breaking the bank.
Portable, Easy to use
The Finder is designed for consumer use. It is lightweight (16 kgs.) and will easily fit on an office desk or in your classroom. Operation is as easy as it can get thanks to the colored touchscreen with large icons that are easy-to-select.
It features a slide-in, non-heated build plate and an integrated calibration system that can be very helpful for beginners. The Finder guides you to level the building platform to perfection helping you avoid irregularities in the prints. However, as you progress to bigger prints, you will discover that the automated leveling system doesn’t quite cut it.
You will have to grease your elbows, take the print head apart and fiddle with the extruder gap to get the leveling right. No biggie, but it’s better to know this beforehand.
Wi-Fi Connectivity and USB stick
The Finder features FlashPrint, one of the best slicer programs for designs. As you get more adept with the software, you will be amazed at some of the advanced features that allow you to tinker with the motor, speed and other features of the printer.
Coming back to the designs, they can easily be imported through Wi-Fi connectivity as it has an inbuilt 4GB memory or the USB stick included in the package. So, you don’t have to bother hooking it up to the computer.
- Sometimes, the X and Y axis tend to ram against the side casing.
- Non heated building platform limits the usage to PLA filament only. Not ABS.
When the Monoprice Select Mini first arrived, the market was largely dominated by obscenely priced printers with glaring design flaws and boring specs. The Select Mini, as it is fondly called, was a game changer.
It is built like a tank, speaks normal G-code (no proprietary nonsense), can be operated even by a third grader, is hackable and most importantly, costs less than $250 as I write this.
That’s an unbeatable package.
Let’s take a closer look.
Sturdy design with a reasonably sized print area
The first thing that catches your eye is the largish 120 x 120 x 120 mm heated print area. That’s much bigger than what’s on offer with most other printers at this price point. Club that with a print resolution of 100 microns and a top speed of 55mm per second and you have a very impressive feature set.
It features a USB connection as well as a MicroSD slot for file transfer and is compatible with Cura, Repetier-Host, ReplicatorG, and Simplify3D for slicing objects. We hate closed proprietary software as much as you do which is what makes the Select Mini one of our favorite consumer-grade 3D printers.
Compatible with ABS and PLA
Another neat feature is that the Select Mini is compatible with both ABS and PLA. The filament included in the pack is sub-par as expected. So, you will need to order the material separately.
Print quality is pretty decent as long as you don’t rev it up to top speed. At top speed, it just fails to print. But keep the speeds low and you can churn out some amazing designs at top quality. Bridging, finer details, overhangs, everything is top notch.
You can do a couple of test runs with the cat and elephant design that comes bundled in the MicroSD card or slice up some designs yourself.
• Non protected heated bed.
• There’s a notable temperature difference at the hot end. While a degree or two wouldn’t be bothersome, we noted that the difference can be as high as 5 degrees at times. That’s a recipe for disaster when working with heat sensitive materials.
• It has a tedious calibration process.
While most of the 3D printers under 500 are considered entry-level models, the Qidi Tech X-One 2 is the closest that you can get to a $1000 professional-grade unit. This is a beast of a machine that can print to precision in very little time.
To top it off, it has a very user-friendly control panel that makes it a breeze to operate. Compatibility with QIDI Print, Cura and Simplify 3D make it easy to slice up designs of your choice.
Qidi retains the all-steel frame that made the first iteration, the X-One so popular. It can take some abuse without having as much as a blemish to show for it. However, the extra brawn makes it slightly heavier than most other consumer printers. It weighs close to 42 lbs. So, lugging it around isn’t going to be a cakewalk.
It comes pre-calibrated for use. So you can set it up and start printing in less than an hour. There’s a large touchscreen LCD interface with some built-in presets and guides to get you going.
Exceptional print quality
We threw quite a few challenges at the Qidi in the form of round, diagonal and even the dreaded Dodecahedron (scaled down) from Thingverse. It printed fast (150mm/s) with satisfactory results. Yes, there were a few stringing problems but none were severe enough to cause us to cringe.
The build plate is heated and we clocked it at 120 degrees at the hot end.
Coming to the tech specifications, the Qidi Tech X-One 2 boasts of a 6mm CNC machined aluminum alloy build platform that like the rest of the machine, is designed to take a beating. The X-One 2 supports both ABS and PLA. Connectivity options include an SD card slot and a USB drive.
• No automatic build plate leveling
• It can be annoyingly loud when printing at top speed
DIY printing kits were once considered the domain of nerds and wired geeks. That’s not the case anymore. Even the average joe likes to tinker and hack a 3D printer these days and what better way to get started than the RepRap Prusa I3 V2.
This is a DIY 3D printer, which means that you will have to put it together part by part. It comes from RepRapguru, which is an all-American company, which is a welcome change from the massive influx of Chinese devices in the market currently. (Hint: Excellent English speaking tech support)
Largest Print Bed at this price
The Prusa I3 V2 has a large 8″x8″ heated print bed covered with borosilicate glass. No other prebuilt printer at this price point offers a build area this big. While this might not seem like an important criterion when you get started, be rest assured that you will quickly outgrow the basic, small prints that you start off with and will want to experiment with bigger-sized and more complex designs sooner than later. That’s when you’ll learn to appreciate the extra build space.
Being a DIY printer, you get hands-on access to the various parts and all of them are good quality. (Even though we would have liked an all-metal frame rather than the Acrylic one.) Nothing seems flimsy or cheaply made. There’s no drilling or soldering needed. You just need to attach the electrical and mechanical parts and you should be all set to get started.
Print with anything
One of the features that we like the most on the Prusa I3 V2 is the MK8 extruder that extends your printing capabilities to a variety of materials. The extruder is compatible with wood, dissolvable PVA and selected metal composites in addition to the normal PLA and ABS. With a 0.04mm nozzle, the print resolution is an excellent 100 microns and the finer details are not missed.
There are ample videos and custom builds possible with the Prusa I3 V2. In fact, we have downloaded a few open source adaptations, printed some of the parts and created our own custom version of the Prusa I3 V2.
• Assembly may seem difficult for beginners
• The instructions are not the best. (Check YouTube for instructional videos instead)
We were not huge fans of XYZprinting until we got our hands on their newest prodigy, the Da Vinci Mini. This pocket-sized printer should undo some of the damage to their reputation that happened courtesy dodgy quality printers that they churned out in the past.
The Da Vinci Mini is a beautifully designed no-frills machine with an intuitive user interface and a very affordable price tag. In fact, some of the features of the machine are comparable to much higher priced models.
Let’s explore the mini up close.
Built-in Wi-Fi and storage memory
The Da Vinci Mini features Wi-Fi connectivity allowing you to connect it to your home or office network and download files on to the onboard storage memory. This is also how you access the control panel which is integrated into XYZWare, the company’s proprietary software, which is to be loaded on to the computer.
The in-built memory allows you to store the design in the machine itself rather than constantly keep it connected to your computer.
At 5.9 in. cubed., the build area is pretty decent for a machine this size. But it only prints using 1.75 mm PLA FROM XYZPRINTING only!!! You heard that right. Filament locking in an otherwise flawless machine. Ugh!
Excellent print resolution
The Da Vinci mini packs an impressive performance in the prints. It prints at 100 microns with reasonably good detail. True, it can never beat a $1000 3D printer if you pit it against one. But for a sub-$200 printer (as of today on Amazon), the print quality is top notch.
It is a tad slow for our liking. But once again, it all boils down to what one can realistically expect at this price point. For the money, the Da Vinci Mini is a lot of printer. Period!
• No LCD Screen
• Filament Lock in with XYZWare which prevents you from refilling the spool using a filament of your choice.
• Slightly slower than other pre-built printers
• Lack of adhesion on the build plate
To sum it up
That’s it folks. These are our favorite 3D printers in the sub-$500 range. There’s the Da Vinci Mini for budget-minded shoppers, the Prusa I3 V2 for wannabe hackers and the FlashForge Finder for absolute beginners.
We hope that this helps you make an informed choice and if you have your own personal favorite to add to this, then do write into us and don’t forget to show us some love by sharing this post with your buddies.