The 4 Best 3D Printers for 2023


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Jul 14, 2023

The 4 Best 3D Printers for 2023

We’ve updated the What to Look Forward to section to include the newly announced

We’ve updated the What to Look Forward to section to include the newly announced Prusa MK4.

What can you make with a 3D printer? Almost anything you want—from vases to GoPro mounts to phone cases—provided you don't mind that it's made out of plastic.

Whether you’re a tinkerer interested in prototyping or a tabletop-gaming enthusiast seeking to expand your arsenal of miniatures, a 3D printer might be the manufacturing tool you need. We recommend the Prusa Mini+ printer because it's the most reliable printer we’ve tested, and we find it to be an especially good value at $400 or so. It's also easy to use and relatively inexpensive to operate.

This printer consistently cranked out high-quality prints in our tests and has a huge print volume.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $459.

The consistency and the thoughtfully chosen, repairable parts of the Prusa Mini+ will please more advanced users who need a dependable 3D-printing machine. It's also a bargain, with unusual features at this price such as a large, 7-by-7-by-7-inch printing area (also known as the print volume, or the total space you can print within) and a color display, as well as 24/7 customer support. Prusa printers are the quietest models we’ve tested, too, and they’re compatible with a wide range of plastic types.


This model offers the reliability and quality of a Prusa printer plus the largest print volume available.

The Prusa i3 MK3S+ is a worthy upgrade from the Mini+ for its 9.9-by-8.3-by-8.3-inch printing area, more stable z-axis, and better extruder. It comes with parts that are likely to last longer (though no color screen as on the Mini+) and an upgraded motherboard that can better detect and correct errors while the machine is printing. Its setup is also faster and easier than that of the Mini+.

The MP Cadet is cheap, reliable, and small enough to fit on any desk.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.

If you’re a total beginner who doesn't want to invest too much, or if you’re looking for a printer that's safer for children to use (similar machines are advertised for kids as young as 8), the Monoprice MP Cadet might be a better option. In our testing, it consistently turned out flawless (though less detailed) prints as long as the designs weren't too complex. It has a small, desk-friendly footprint. It's also less than half the price of the Prusa Mini+, but it doesn't offer as many features or produce the same level of detail, and it has a smaller, 3.9-by-4.1-by-3.9-inch print volume.

This model is best for larger or taller printing jobs, such as cosplay or art pieces.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $469.

If you’re trying to print a sci-fi helmet or custom shelving brackets, a larger printer allows you to make the entire part in one shot rather than splitting it into smaller components and gluing them together. The print bed of the Artillery Sidewinder X2, an 11.8-inch square with a height of 15.7 inches, gives you a lot more room for bigger jobs. This model also offers easy setup and an intuitive menu, and in our tests it produced fantastic prints.

This printer consistently cranked out high-quality prints in our tests and has a huge print volume.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $459.

This model offers the reliability and quality of a Prusa printer plus the largest print volume available.

The MP Cadet is cheap, reliable, and small enough to fit on any desk.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.

This model is best for larger or taller printing jobs, such as cosplay or art pieces.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $469.

Dave Gershgorn is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter and an avid 3D-printing enthusiast. He has printed through dozens of rolls of filament, has owned multiple printers, and has designed custom 3D-printable models for home improvement, product testing, and cosplay. His current personal printers are the Prusa i3 MK3S+ and the Elegoo Mars 3.

Signe Brewster has been researching, studying, and testing 3D printers for tech publications including Gigaom, TechCrunch, and now Wirecutter since 2013. She has printed hundreds of 3D models, and through that experience she has learned how to spot the annoyances that can come with using an emerging technology.

In the course of researching this guide, we interviewed several 3D-printing experts, including Sean Charlesworth, a 3D-printing specialist for Tested, and Justin Kelly, an entrepreneur who founded LaserGnomes and Proto House.

People who need to quickly make prototypes or custom plastic parts can get the most mileage out of a 3D printer. These machines are also useful tools for anyone who likes tinkering or teaching children about STEM concepts. You can find plenty of downloadable designs online at 3D-model libraries such as Thingiverse. The range of possibilities is even wider if you know how to use CAD (computer-aided design) software. And anyone can work with a 3D printer: Most printers are easy enough to use that a child (with adult supervision) can print any of the endless variety of toy designs available.

Be warned that no 3D printer is unbreakable. A day will come when you’ll need to replace a part or get your hands dirty in some other way. Replacement parts are available for the Prusa Mini+ and MK3S+, but not all 3D printers are equally easy to fix. You might want to avoid 3D printing altogether if you aren't confident that you’d be able to perform a minor repair on the equivalent of a household appliance.

Prospective buyers should also be aware that the 3D-printing industry is in a constant state of upheaval. MakerBot, which was long considered the frontrunner among home 3D printers, stopped marketing to hobbyists and home users several years ago in order to focus on commercial and educational institutions. Many of the printers we have tested have come and gone within the span of a year or two. So it's not out of the question that you might someday find yourself without much support from the company that made your printer. It's also possible that a new breakthrough will suddenly leave you with outdated technology.

In addition, a 3D printer brings health and environmental concerns. When a printer melts plastic as part of the extrusion process, it releases volatile organic compounds and other particulates. The CDC recommends (PDF) using printers in a "negatively pressured area with a dedicated ventilation system," which is not a feature found in your average home. It's a good idea to weigh how comfortable you are with exposure to some fumes before buying.

On the environmental side of things, consider that you’re investing in a machine that works primarily with plastics. It's possible to recycle or compost certain types of 3D-printed plastics (polylactic acid, or PLA, being the most sustainable of the common varieties), but the process can be complicated. There's also the option to invest in a spendy recycling system of your own.

We turned to articles from 3D Hubs, Make, PCMag, and Tom's Guide, plus customer reviews on sites like Amazon, to develop a short list of the best 3D printers for beginners. We then interviewed our experts on what to look for in a printer.

You could spend anywhere from $200 to $1 million on a 3D printer. The best options for hobbyists are priced at $1,000 or less. As with any piece of technology, printers in different price ranges offer different mixes of features. Printers really do get better the more you spend—and sometimes they’re also easier to use. Some higher-priced machines offer specialty features such as dual-color printing or a webcam for monitoring your print remotely, while other expensive units are known for their exceptional reliability.

We skipped 3D printer kits, which are less expensive but require a great deal of assembly, in favor of machines that print good-looking parts straight out of the box with as little maintenance required as possible.

No matter what price range you’re considering, we’ve concluded that the best 3D printers offer the following features:

We time how long we take to get each printer from the box to set up on our desk, and we jot down notes on the initial software installation and navigation process. Then we get to printing. We allow each printer eight attempts to produce as many acceptable models as possible. We rate each print as either a success, a mediocre effort, or a failure. Successful prints look smooth, with no obvious imperfections. Mediocre prints have readily visible layers or imperfections but still look like a completed model. Failure takes many forms—everything from broken filament string that causes the print to stop to wild spaghetti-like misprints due to software or hardware errors.

Printers usually come with several models preloaded; we always start by printing one of these because they’re carefully optimized for the printer. Errors in these prints indicate that there is likely something wrong on the hardware end that we need to adjust. After the first successful print, we move on to designs we’ve found on Thingiverse. For our 2020 and 2021 testing, that group included "Low-Poly Bulbasaur" and "Low-Poly Charmander" by Thingiverse member flowalistik, "Curved honeycomb vase" by eggnot, and "Skull lamps - Voronoi Style" by shiuan. Our 2022 test added the "3DBenchy" model by CreativeTools and the "Nano All In One 3D printer test" from Printables member Steeveeet. These models had a range of detail, overhangs, and scale that would give us an impression of the printers’ strengths.

Almost any 3D printer is capable of putting out successful models—experienced users know (or can figure out) how to tweak settings and hardware to get such results. But beginners (or even intermediate users like us) aren't as likely to know what to do or to care enough to spend time fine-tuning. For the purposes of our testing, we give the printers the basic care they need to function—an initial bed-level check combined with factory-recommended settings—but we don't tweak the printer or software to get better prints unless something goes wrong.

We also note how many times we have to repair the printers, how often each machine needs its print bed leveled, and how difficult it is to remove completed models from the print bed. These are general issues that pop up for any tier of 3D printer, but some printers are better than others at reducing the time you have to spend cleaning and repairing them.

This printer consistently cranked out high-quality prints in our tests and has a huge print volume.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $459.

The Prusa Mini+ offers the best overall 3D-printing experience thanks to its combination of print quality, reliability, and desk-appropriate size, all offered at a relatively low price. It produced some of the best-looking prints among the machines we tested, it works with a wide variety of filament brands and types, and it comes preassembled. (You can save some dough and buy a kit to assemble the Mini+ yourself instead, though we didn't test kits because of the added skill involved.) Prusa printers are the quietest we’ve tested, which makes them especially bearable to work alongside in an office.

Across eight test prints, the Mini+ produced eight perfect models, the best result from any printer we’ve tested. It can print layers as thin as 0.05 mm, half the thickness that most of the printers we’ve tested can achieve. As a result, it prints objects that look especially glossy and smooth. Unlike with most of the other printers we’ve tested, we’ve never seen an obvious error in printed models from the Mini+.

We decided to use the free PrusaSlicer software program to prepare files for printing. We still prefer the detail packed into Ultimaker Cura, another free program compatible with a wide range of printer types, but we found PrusaSlicer easy to use and reliable in how it prepared files for the Mini+. It has plenty of customization options for the average 3D-printer owner.

We used a USB stick to transfer files from our computer to the printer, but Prusa has published a guide to a DIY upgrade that allows you to send files over Wi-Fi. Once you plug in the USB stick, you can use a knob to scroll through the menu and file list on the Mini+'s color screen, which we found to be much easier to parse than the blue and white, text-only screen of the Prusa i3 MK3S+.

Although the MK3S+ has a larger, 9.9-by-8.3-by-8.3-inch PEI print bed, the Mini+ is no slouch with its 7-by-7-by-7-inch print volume. (For an even larger print bed, check out our also-great pick, the Artillery Sidewinder X2.) Most free models you’ll find available on library websites like Thingiverse are made for this size of print bed, so it's not often that you’ll max out its abilities. We were able to remove the bed and bend it to pop off prints, but usually we used a scraper and gentle pressure instead. The Mini+ isn't flashy, but it's especially practical. It automates as many quality checks as possible, so there's less manual setup each time you print. It's also built out of replaceable parts; that's useful if you plan to run the printer continuously and want it to have as long a lifespan as possible. And Prusa's printers are upgradable, whether you want to add nicer parts or swap in features from the latest printer.

The Mini+ can print in standard plastics such as PLA and ABS, plus materials like nylon and wood blends. If you’re interested in even more exotic materials, the MK3S+ is a better choice. Prusa makes a line of reasonably priced filament in many types of materials that we have enjoyed using, but the Mini+ is compatible with filaments from other brands, too. We have used Hatchbox filaments with good results in other printers in the past, but we haven't tested them on the Mini+.

The Mini+ has a decidedly old-school look among 3D printers. But we actually prefer its exposed components to the sleeker looking printers we’ve tested because the design makes the printer easier to repair.

It took us just over an hour to assemble the "preassembled" version of the Mini+. That's the longest process for any printer we’ve tested. From ensuring that we attached wires in the right place to fiddling with screws at awkward angles, the experience was more of a headache than we expected after the relatively easy assembly required for the MK3S+. The instructions are sometimes vague, so we recommend a close read. However, once we had the Mini+ assembled, it was quick and easy to get ready for printing.

Spending more on a 3D printer gets you, well, more: Touchscreen controls and the ability to print over Wi-Fi are two features we’ve enjoyed on more expensive printers. One benefit of using a USB stick instead of Wi-Fi is that you can save multiple prints to the stick at once; that way, when the first job finishes, you can remove the print and start the next one without having to go back to your computer. But we look forward to Prusa's addition of Wi-Fi abilities in the future.

The Mini+ has a totally open design, which means that it releases the VOCs and particulates that it produces while using certain types of filament like ABS. You might notice a maple-syrup or plastic smell from the melting filament. If you’ll be using the machine in a home environment, it's a good idea to use a "healthier" plastic such as PLA. It's also a good idea to print at the lowest temperature possible for your chosen material; the lower the temperature, the less bad stuff the printer releases into the air. If you plan to spend time in the same room as a running 3D printer and don't have a ventilated hood or HEPA air filter, turn on a fan or crack a window to improve ventilation (PDF). It's also a good idea to wear gloves to prevent skin transfer.

This model offers the reliability and quality of a Prusa printer plus the largest print volume available.

The Prusa i3 MK3S+ offers the reliability and print quality of the Mini+ along with a larger print bed, a more stable design for greater printing detail, and a better extruder that can handle a wide array of materials. It also comes preassembled or in a DIY kit, though we found the preassembled kit much simpler to set up than the Mini+.

In eight test runs, the MK3S+ made five perfect prints, second only to the Mini+. Like the Mini+, it prints layers as thin as 0.05 mm, creating more detailed models than most competitors in its price range. Of the three jobs that were failures, two were due to setup error and one was due to a clog that we were able to resolve. Unlike with most of the other printers we tested, we never saw an obvious error in the printed models. The print quality of the MK3S+ can be attributed to its sturdy frame and dual z-axis lead screws, which keep layer lines tight and consistent.

It took 32 minutes for us to set up the MK3S+, about average for the printers we’ve tested. Our test unit came assembled, but we took some time to run through the initial setup wizard. Although most of the setup is automated, you should pay close attention during the bed-level calibration; using the knob next to the printer's computer screen, you need to lower the print nozzle until it nearly touches the bed, slightly squishing the melted filament. We made some mistakes the first time we booted up the printer. We recommend carefully reading the messages on the screen while the setup wizard is running, as well as studying the printer's instruction manual. The manual is wordy at times, but we prefer that to the minimal or confusing instructions that other printer makers tend to include.

Several software options are available for the MK3S+; we used Cura, downloaded directly from the Ultimaker website. Cura is compatible with a wide range of printers, so during setup you should pick the MK3S+ profile to ensure that the software is tailored to your machine. We’ve used Cura for years without issue. Beginners can start a print quickly, without much thought, or drill deeper into the settings in the software's intuitive menus when they’re ready to do more fine-tuning. It's also worth checking out PrusaSlicer, which, as the name implies, is Prusa's version of slicing software; there, the company offers expertly tuned profiles for its printers and filaments, as well as helpful features like variable layer height based on where your model has the most detail. It also has great features for generating custom support material, which is like scaffolding around your print that helps your printer lay down material at gravity-defying angles. In PrusaSlicer you can "paint" the areas on your model where you want support material, and the slicer will build that scaffolding up from the build plate to meet those specific areas, making the print less prone to failure.

You can print on the MK3S+ over Wi-Fi directly from PrusaSlicer if you install a Raspberry Pi Zero W into your machine, or you can save your file to an SD card and insert it into the machine. Using a knob, you can scroll through the black-and-white menu on the MK3S+'s small screen to select which model you want to print. It isn't the flashiest or most intuitive system, but it is similar to what you’ll find on most other $1,000 printers.

The MK3S+ has plenty of cool features, our favorite of which is the removable 9.9-by-8.3-by-8.3-inch PEI print bed. Its direct-drive extruder allows you to print with flexible filaments like TPU to make custom phone cases, for example, or rubbery feet for gadgets. The extruder also includes a filament-runout sensor, which automatically pauses a print if you don't have enough filament to finish. And this machine is modular and built out of replaceable parts, so you can swap in the latest upgrades.

The MK3S+ can print using standard filaments such as ABS and PLA, as well as more interesting materials like nylon or those that contain carbon fiber. It's compatible with a wider range of filaments than the Mini+ (its hotend, the structure that melts and extrudes plastic, can reach 572 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with the Mini+'s 536 degrees), though most people don't need to take advantage of its more unusual filament options.

Although this machine doesn't look as stylish as some of the other 3D printers we’ve tested, its 15-by-17-inch footprint is small enough for it to fit on a desk. It's also impressively quiet (though you’ll still know it's on when you’re in the same room). As people who have each tried to sleep within earshot of 3D printers whirring and singing in their robotic tones, we can attest to the importance of a printer that is seen and not heard. As is the case with the Mini+, we recommend cracking a window to avoid inhaling the fumes that the MK3S+ releases due to its open design.

The MP Cadet is cheap, reliable, and small enough to fit on any desk.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.

If you aren't sure you want to commit to using a 3D printer regularly, or if you just want to spend a bit less, the Monoprice MP Cadet is a good budget option. In our testing, this $200 printer made prints that looked just as good as the results from printers that cost several times more, and its small size makes it especially desk friendly. Its removable, unheated bed is also more suitable for little fingers and releases finished prints with ease (though it puts your prints at risk of warping). However, this machine lacks the relatively advanced features you get from more expensive printers such as the Prusa Mini+ and i3 MK3S+.

Among the eight test prints we attempted, the MP Cadet produced four great-looking prints, one mediocre print, and three failures. The MP Cadet can print layers as thin as 0.4 mm; they’re eight times thicker than the MK3S+'s 0.05 mm layers but still thin enough that prints look tidy (even if you can see each individual layer). This machine did a mediocre job of printing the skull lamp file, which has lots of small details and overhangs that ended up looking a bit sloppy but still came out intact.

The first failed print happened right away, as the print head immediately dug into the print bed, damaging its soft surface. We discovered that we had readied the print in Cura with a profile for the Monoprice Mini. Once we downloaded a version of Cura directly from Monoprice and selected the MP Cadet profile, the printer operated normally. The next two failures occurred when we tried to print the pack-of-gum-sized Charmander: Partway through the print, the Charmander figure lifted off the bed and adhered to the print nozzle instead, creating a half pocket monster, half spaghetti nightmare creature. Because the MP Cadet's print bed is unheated, prints don't adhere as well as they could. Using a layer of painter's tape and dabbing at it with a glue stick before starting prints solved the problem. The upside of an unheated bed is that you can remove models as soon as the print job is done. We didn't find any sort of scraping or bending necessary to pop off prints—another advantage of an unheated bed.

Setting up the MP Cadet took us 30 minutes. It arrived assembled, but we ran into some kinks with Monoprice's instructions. First, the company advertises that you can print from an iOS or Android app called PoloPrint, but the app is difficult to use, and owners complain of connection issues. Second, during our tests the printer offered the option to start printing the models loaded onto the microSD card in the printer—our hitting the print button did nothing, though, and we found the interface confusing. Instead, we recommend using Cura to load files onto the microSD card and then initiating prints on the printer's screen.

As with the MK3S+, you can prepare models for printing on the MP Cadet with Cura. Despite the initial snafu we had in downloading the correct version, we appreciate that all of Cura's features are available even when you’re working with such an inexpensive printer.

The MP Cadet's print bed is relatively tiny, at just 3.9 by 4.1 by 3.9 inches. That's big enough for it to print game pieces, toys, and some household parts; many downloadable designs also allow you to print them in several pieces and then assemble them to create a larger object. However, if you want to print big designs on a regular basis, a printer with a larger bed is worth the investment.

The MP Cadet is noticeably smaller than most printers, with an overall footprint of just 8.3 by 8.3 inches. However, because its print bed is not enclosed and it doesn't have a heated bed, you need to keep it away from open windows and in an area with a relatively constant temperature so that the air doesn't warp prints. The work area should also have good airflow, such as a small fan nearby. The melting filament gives off a maple-syrup or plastic smell, so in addition to having airflow in the room, you should avoid sitting right next to the printer as it operates to avoid inhaling the fumes. The MP Cadet is noisier than the Prusa i3 MK3S+, too, though it isn't unbearably loud.

This model is best for larger or taller printing jobs, such as cosplay or art pieces.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $469.

For larger prints, the Artillery Sidewinder X2 offers a great balance of size, ease of use, and premium features for just about the same price as our top pick. Its 11.8-by-11.8-by-15.7-inch print bed gives you lots of space for 3D-printing cosplay helmets or lampshades, for example, and its direct-drive extruder makes it great for flexible filament, as well. This machine isn't for everyone, though, due to its size and impracticality for most everyday prints. It's physically much larger than all of our other picks, so you need a dedicated space for it that's at least 24 inches deep, 18 inches wide, and 36 inches tall. A larger print bed also means a tougher time leveling that bed, compared with the experience on our smaller picks. But if you want a printer that can keep up with your Mandalorian cosplay idea, the Sidewinder X2 can do it.

The Sidewinder X2 has an easy setup process similar to that of many other partially assembled 3D printers. You simply need to mount the printer's gantry, a fancy word for the tall part of the printer that moves the extruder around, to the base. Doing so requires inserting four screws to secure the printer's gantry to the base and then plugging in a few well-labeled cables. Much of the wiring is located inside the printer's frame, so cable management wasn't an issue in our tests, and there are no cables to snag while the machine is printing. However, the manual that comes with the Sidewinder X2 is not translated perfectly and can be a bit confusing. The internal wiring can also make the printer more difficult to repair compared with our other picks if a part breaks after dozens or hundreds of hours of printing.

In our tests, the initial calibration was a slightly more manual process than for our other picks, as the Sidewinder X2 has a Level menu that moves the extruder to preloaded points around the print bed. You tap the touchscreen to move the extruder to a specific point, slide a piece of paper between the nozzle and the bed, and then turn a knob on the underside of the printer to raise or lower the bed until you feel only slight resistance from the nozzle when moving the paper. You repeat this step at four other points around the bed. It takes a bit of experience to dial in this process, but the Sidewinder X2 makes it easier and faster than most other manually leveled printers do. Printers with larger beds are always more difficult to level, since a larger area is more prone to warping or slight imperfections. Despite that, we found the Sidewinder X2 to be even across its entire bed surface.

We prepared models for the test prints in Cura, though a profile in the software for the Sidewinder X2 isn't readily available. Instead, we used the included profile for the Sidewinder X1 and modified the build volume to match that of the X2. While Cura profiles and similar resources exist online for our other printer picks, the Sidewinder X2 generally has a smaller community of users, so it's a bit tougher to find people with similar problems and solutions if something goes wrong.

The Sidewinder X2 produced excellent test prints and did especially well on the taller prints that were larger than anything possible from our other picks. For instance, we scaled the honeycomb vase test model up to 10.5 inches tall, and the resulting print had equally smooth surfaces from bottom to top. Longer prints, such as a 34-hour print we ran for a colleague's cosplay outfit, ran without issue or incident and produced nearly perfect results. (The imperfections were due to user error when we set it to generate supports.)

However, this printer is best for people who know they want to print a lot of large objects. It's physically very large and would commandeer the kind of desk found in a bedroom or a small office. The Prusa models are even easier to set up and maintain, have much better support communities, and are more repairable.

If you want a faster, easier-to-use printer: The Bambu Labs X1 Carbon prints faster than any other printer we’ve tested (at speeds up to 500 mm/s), can handle abrasive and tough-to-print materials, and Bambu Labs offers a simple multi-material upgrade, which allows the printer to automatically switch between up to four different filaments. In our testing, its automatic bed leveling was nearly perfect, making it one of the most user-friendly printers we’ve tested. Bambu Labs has also built its own slicer on top of PrusaSlicer's open source software, integrated seamless wireless printing, and released a mobile app for iOS and Android that pairs with the printer. Our overall experience printing with this machine was that it produced flawless prints much faster than the competition, leaving us extremely impressed. We fully believe it will be our next upgrade pick. However, Bambu Labs is still struggling to meet demand, and at the moment, these printers have to be pre-ordered with about a 20-day lead time. We’ll update this guide when Bambu Labs is able to directly fulfill orders. A few words of caution to temper our excitement, though: Bambu Labs is a new company, and while it sells parts for DIY repair, the X1 Carbon is nowhere near as repairable as any of Prusa printers. Its software is also proprietary, which puts it at a disadvantage compared to Prusa, which has a history of making nearly everything open source.

If you need an even larger print bed than the Artillery Sidewinder X2: The Anycubic Kobra Max‘s build plate is four inches longer and wider than our Also Great pick, with dimensions of 15.7-by-15.7-by-17.7 inches, and has a few other benefits like a removable build plate. However, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. It's about two and a half feet wide and long, meaning that it won't fit on most desks, and if you can fit it on one, it will likely dominate that workspace. As a result, this printer is best for those with a dedicated workshop or large workspace. Size aside, we found that this printer was easy to set up and calibrate, and kept its bed level throughout weeks of printing. We had a small issue where the printer's nozzle would sometimes make contact with a print in progress and drag across infill, especially above about 80 millimeters of Z height. This never resulted in a print being knocked off the print bed, but it did cause some surface blemishes. An intermediate or experienced user could likely further tune the printer to remove this bug.

A 3D printer can be a finicky machine. Performing basic maintenance can go a long way toward preventing breakdowns and print flaws.

If your printer doesn't automatically level its print bed, periodically check the print bed and adjust it if necessary. The Monoprice MP Cadet is self-leveling, while the Prusa Mini+ and MK3S+ have a calibration option (called the Wizard) in their menus. Most of the time, if your print isn't sticking to the bed or is otherwise failing, it's because the bed isn't correctly leveled.

Some printers have print beds made of materials that prints adhere to extremely well—and judging from our experience, maybe a little too well. Adjusting print temperatures and a few other settings can help prevent sticking, but such tweaks aren't always enough. Many printers now come with removable, flexible print beds; if your printer has one, remove the bed and carefully bend it to release your model. Don't force it, or you’ll risk damaging the bed's finish. If the print is still stuck, heat the bed back up to its printing temperature and see if the model pops off easier. Next, use a scraper to carefully unstick the edges of the print and then move in a sawing motion toward the center. If you’re still stumped, one final trick is to remove the print bed and stick it in the freezer for an hour. This should shrink the print a little and make it easier to remove.

Plastic remnants can build up over time on the print bed. A cloth and warm water are usually enough to remove them; more-stubborn grime should come away with a bit of rubbing alcohol that's at least 90% isopropyl alcohol.

If you’re having trouble with uneven layer lines on the sides of your print, this is often caused by loose axis belts, or a lack of lubrication on the screw that raises and lowers the z-axis. Many printers allow you to tune the tension of the printer's belts, and you can clean the z-axis screw with 90% isopropyl alcohol and lubricate it with a dry-film PTFE lubricant.

Finally, be sure to follow each printer maker's rules for heating up and cooling down the printer, which will help to prevent clogs.

If you read 3D-printing forums and subreddits, you’ll see many experienced 3D-printing enthusiasts recommending the Creality Ender-3, Ender-3 V2, or Ender-3 Pro as a first printer. The Ender-3 Pro can be often found on sale at Microcenter for just $100, and it's a better printer than our budget pick, the Monoprice MP Cadet, on nearly every metric. There's also an avid community of Ender-3 owners who post DIY upgrades and guides on how to use the machine, a crucial aspect of learning to operate the printer and troubleshooting when things go wrong.

So why don't we recommend it as a top pick or even a budget pick? In our experience, we’ve found that the Ender-3 line requires more setup and more maintenance, and in comparison with our picks it poses a much more difficult learning curve for those who are just getting into 3D printing. As an example, crucial tasks like leveling the print bed on the Ender-3 require using separate calibration files that might have to be run multiple times or manually moving the print head across the bed, in contrast to Prusa's and Monoprice's easier, more automatic workflows. This manual work adds many minutes of pre-print setup for a 3D-printing newcomer versus seconds for our top picks, and in turn it leads to a higher chance of the machine sitting in the corner gathering dust. These processes become rote after time and are made easier by optional upgrades, but initially they require some dedication to learn.

Prusa models also earned the top-pick and upgrade-pick spots due to the company's excellent support and fantastic forum filled with helpful printer owners. Ender-3 owners are more likely to find someone with the same problem, but owners of Prusa models are more likely to find a solution.

That doesn't mean we don't like the Ender-3 line. They’re actually great machines for those who are already mechanically adept or who don't get easily frustrated learning a new, complex hobby. However, they’re not the best 3D printers for most people.

3D printing creates a lot of plastic waste. Between failed prints, test prints, support material, and excess material purged while switching filaments, if you 3D print often you’ll be left with a non-trivial amount of plastic that can't be traditionally recycled. Unfortunately, there aren't many services that recycle or repurpose traditional 3D printing materials.

While many manufacturers produce recycled filament, it's difficult to find any that accept filament scraps from hobbyists. The few recycling programs that we were able to find were either incredibly expensive, like this $177 recycling box from Terracycle, or vague about how the process works.

Filament recycling machines also exist, which would allow you to recycle your own filament. But unfortunately, they either cost thousands of dollars or need to be built painstakingly from scratch.

Many 3D printing hobbyists turn to repurposing or minimizing plastic scraps themselves. One of the authors, Dave Gershgorn, collects his PLA scraps in a bread loaf pan, and then places them in a 300-degree oven until they melt into a brick. At the very least, this minimizes the tiny shards of plastic he's throwing away.

Bambu Labs has released a less expensive, more barebones version of the X1 Carbon called the P1P, which we’re also looking forward to testing. It has many of the same base features, like the same fast printing and a hotend that reaches 300 degrees Celsius, but drops some premium aspects like an included timelapse camera, LiDAR bed leveling, and an enclosed printv bed.

Prusa announced an update to the Prusa MK3S+, its most popular printer and our current upgrade pick. The new MK4 adds entirely automatic bed leveling, more precise stepper motors, a higher-resolution screen, and an entirely new extruder and hotend. These upgrades are meant to make the printer faster, more precise, and less prone to failure. We’ll be testing the Prusa MK4 and updating our guide as soon as we can.

The Anycubic Kobra Go is a budget printer that's regularly on sale for less than $200. In our testing, we found assembly would be difficult for an absolute beginner; even with our considerable experience, it took about an hour and a half. The instructions are not entirely clear, especially if you’ve never built a printer before, and some of the calibration aspects are a bit slapdash. For instance, the instructions direct you to level the extruder's gantry (or horizontal bar) by placing it on top of a cardboard box included with the printer. This is far from a precise measuring tool, and unsurprisingly it left our gantry uneven. Once we set it up, the printer was much louder than any of our current picks, and its menus were more cumbersome to navigate than either Prusa we recommend. One last annoyance: Setting the z-height for the extruder is left to trial and error, rather than done using a built-in tool like on some other printers. With enough time and effort, you could likely calibrate the Kobra Go to print larger and higher quality prints than our current budget pick. However, this guide is geared toward beginners, so as with the Ender series, we found it difficult to recommend the Kobra Go.

The AnkerMake M5 is an interesting printer from the accessory-maker Anker. It's very well-built, incredibly easy to set up, and mostly produces fast, high-quality prints. What impressed us most about the printer is its speed, as it was able to print test models nearly twice as fast as our former upgrade pick, the Prusa MK3S+. (Though the Bambu Labs X1 Carbon is still faster.) We think further iterations of this machine might be future picks, but this first version has some issues that make us hesitant to recommend it to a general audience. First, it's an incredibly loud machine: There is a loud fan that runs constantly when the machine is on, and the separate extruder fan that blows during printing is also very loud. In short, it would be tough to share living or working space with this printer. The AnkerMake slicer software has also not been officially released (it's listed as being in beta), and is still lacking many features found in others like PrusaSlicer or Cura. You can successfully import a print and send it wirelessly to the printer, but more advanced features like generating custom supports, designating support blockers, or granularly modifying the model are absent. In our testing, we had some issues with layer adhesion for small details, likely due to the machine's blistering print speeds, and also struggled with bed adhesion for smaller parts. Finally, the AnkerMake M5 costs $800, which is expensive given its shortcomings.

The Creality Ender-3 S1 Plus is an addition to the Ender-3 line with a high-resolution display and a larger print volume. We found it to be louder, more complicated to set up, and more difficult to level in comparison with the Artillery Sidewinder X2.

The Creality Ender-2 Pro, a $170 competitor to the Prusa Mini+, seems built to look nearly identical to that model. However, in our tests its menus were confusing and made the printer more difficult to operate than any of our picks. Its fans were also drastically louder than those of any other printer we tested.

In some ways, the Dremel DigiLab 3D40 impressed us: For about 50% more than you typically pay for the Prusa i3 MK3S+, you get an enclosed print area, a huge print bed (though not quite as large as that of the MK3S+), a touchscreen, and cloud-based printing. However, its prints in our tests didn't look quite as nice as those of the MK3S+. We also found removing prints to be difficult, and we managed to ruin two flexible beds when the top layer ripped off during print removal. Finally, we dislike that the 3D40 prints only with proprietary spools of PLA—if you want to use other types of Dremel filament, you have to spend several hundred dollars more on the Dremel DigiLab 3D45.

The Tiertime Up Mini 2 was a top pick in a previous version of this guide because of its consistently nice-looking prints. However, when we tested the updated Up Mini 2 ES, software issues got in the way of producing a single print. We tried updating the printer and then "activating" it several times, including with the help of customer support and a press-relations representative. But we continued to get a pop-up telling us to activate our printer and alerting us that slicing had failed. Even if we had resolved the software issue, the difficulty it added to setup was enough to leave a permanently sour taste in our mouths.

The Monoprice MP Cadet narrowly beat out the Monoprice Maker Select v2, our former budget pick. Although the MP Cadet was much easier to set up and produced better-looking prints in our tests, we still think the Maker Select v2's comparably huge print bed makes it a bargain if you can find it these days. If you don't mind tinkering a bit to get the right settings, the Maker Select v2 could be a better option. However, setting up the Maker Select v2 took us 45 minutes, and it suffered from a clog after just a few prints.

Once our upgrade pick, the LulzBot Mini has been discontinued and replaced with the LulzBot Mini 2. The new machine addresses some of the qualms we had with the original Mini by adding an onboard controller and an even larger print volume. However, a North Dakota entrepreneur acquired its parent company, Aleph Objects, and moved operations to Fargo. We have not yet tested a Mini 2, but will test LulzBot products for future iterations of this guide.

If you’re looking for a printer that can print in two colors, the FlashForge Creator Pro is one of the best-reviewed options. However, in our tests it printed only one great-looking model, along with six okay-looking models and one failure. We liked the printer's streamlined software, which made it easy for us to select what parts of a model to make which color. You load models onto the printer with an SD card, so queuing up a few prints at a time is also easy, and it has a large, 8.9-by-5.8-by-5.9-inch print volume.

We decided to test the Monoprice MP Select Mini v2 based on feedback from our readers and positive reviews. It's inexpensive, equipped with a color screen, and easy to set up. But we had problems with print quality, and the printer sometimes stopped altogether in the middle of a job.

The easy-to-use MakerBot Replicator Mini+ restored our trust in the brand after MakerBot hit a rough patch with reliability. However, the company discontinued the printer as it further narrowed its focus on education. The MakerBot Replicator+ combines the advanced features of the Mini+ with a more impressive build volume (11.6 by 7.6 by 6.5 inches), which makes it an ideal choice on paper, but we decided against testing that printer due to its $2,000 price. Most hobbyists should start with a more affordable machine.

The Qidi Tech I is a near-exact copy of the FlashForge Creator Pro that cost a bit less at the time of our research. It offers a massive print bed, dual extruders, and a solid design. It also had hundreds of positive reviews on Amazon when we checked. However, we were unable to get this printer for testing.

This article was edited by Ben Keough and Erica Ogg.

Sean Charlesworth, Tested, phone interview, 2016

Justin Kelly, Proto House, phone interview, 2016

Dan Ackerman, The best 3D printer in 2020 for beginners and budget creators, CNET, February 28, 2020

Tony Hoffman, The Best 3D Printers for 2020, PCMag, February 7, 2020

Matthew Mensley, 2020 Best 3D Printers, All3DP, January 2, 2020

Anatol Locker, 3D Printing With Kids: What You Need To Know, All3DP, November 5, 2015

Dave Gershgorn

Dave Gershgorn is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter. He's been covering consumer and enterprise technology since 2015, and he just can't stop buying computers. If this weren't his job, it would likely be a problem.

Signe Brewster

Signe Brewster is an editor on Wirecutter's PC team. She also writes about virtual reality. She previously reported on emerging technology and science for publications like Wirecutter, MIT Technology Review, Wired, Science, and Symmetry Magazine. She spends her free time quilting and pursuing an MFA in creative writing.

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High-quality prints: Easy-to-use hardware: Ample connectivity options: Intuitive software: Large-enough print volume: Heated bed: Compatibility with any brand of filament: Suited to everyday life: Enclosed printing chamber: If you want a faster, easier-to-use printer If you need an even larger print bed than the Artillery Sidewinder X2