Just a few years ago, 3D printing was a hobby for geeks and nerds. It was difficult, frustrating and slow.
Fast forward to 2024, and that has all changed completely. Now, you can buy – for a very reasonable sum – a printer that works out of the box, doesn’t require hours of tweaking and adjusting and prints large models in hours – not days. Small models can take mere minutes.
Since you’re reading this, you’ve probably made it past the point of wondering what on earth you’d use a 3D printer for, but if not, there are many useful tools and gadgets as well as fun things to print, all of which are available to download free from sites such as Thingiverse and Printables.
Here we’ll explain what to look for in a 3D printer and recommend what you should buy.
First, a brief word on colour: consumer 3D printers are single-nozzle devices which print one colour at a time. If you want to multicolour prints, then Bambu’s P1S Combo and A1 Combo can hold four spools of filament and change colour automatically. Multicolour prints can take a long time, though, and waste filament.
One other thing: until you’ve spent time getting to grips with a 3D modelling app such as Fusion 360 or Tinkercad, you’ll be limited to printing objects that other people have designed. There are lots of them, but if you want something bespoke, you’ll have to create it yourself.
Don’t be put off buying a 3D printer, though. Choose wisely and you’ll be rewarded with a device that can print intricate, articulated models from the off.
We’re focusing mainly on FDM (fused deposition modelling) printers here because these are the most popular type. The other type is a resin 3D printer, such as the Creality Halot One Plus, which works very differently, and are designed for printing small, intricate, solid models.
Best 3D printers 2024
1. Bambu P1S – Best 3D printer for most people
Excellent print quality
Automatic colour changing
Fast CoreXY motion system
Basic non-touchscreen control panel
Filament wastage can be high in multicolour printing
No failed print detection
With so many tech products you get what you pay for. This inevitably means the “best” will also be the most expensive. It’s certainly the case here, but just because the P1S is expensive doesn’t mean it isn’t good value.
If you buy the P1S Combo, it will come with an AMS, a unit that sits on top of the printer. It holds four spools of filament and can load and unload them automatically and print in multiple colours without any assistance from you.
With only one nozzle, multicolour prints aren’t exactly fast. But the AMS also takes the pain out of changing filament when you want to print something in a different colour to the previous print.
If you don’t care about multicolour, you can buy the non-Combo version of the P1S for quite a bit less.
Overall, the P1S is a remarkably good printer. It’s really fast thanks to the use of a coreXY system, and as it’s fully enclosed it’s reliable even when printing with ASA, nylon, polycarbonate and other filament types because of the stable internal temperatures. More importantly, print quality is absolutely superb.
If there’s a downside, it’s the rubbish dot-matrix screen which seems very out of place on a printer this expensive. But, there are other ways to control the P1S, such as printing from a PC or phone via Wi-Fi. The Creality K1C is a good alternative if you must have a touchscreen, and it also has a few other features such as failed print detection.
If you just want to print with PLA, PETG and other filament types that don’t require an enclosure, take a look at Bambu’s A1 which is a lot cheaper.
Read our full
Bambu P1S Combo review
2. Bambu A1 – Best budget 3D printer
Fast, reliable printing
Fully automatic levelling
Doesn’t support more exotic filament
AMS Lite adds significantly to the price
In our full review, we call the A1 “the 3D printer you’ve been waiting for”, and with good reason. It’s as close to ‘one click’ printing as you’ll get right now: it adjusts itself automatically for reliable printing and has all the features most people want, at a surprisingly affordable price. Bambu’s desktop and mobile apps are really good, too.
Like Bambu’s more expensive P1S, it can print models up to 256mm³ and you can buy the optional AMS Lite (shown to the right of the A1) for automatic multicolour printing.
The only drawback is that the A1 can’t really print nylon, ABS, ASA and other ‘exotic’ filaments because they require an enclosure. Without one, they tend to warp. The A1 can print carbon-fibre filaments if you buy Bambu’s hardened nozzle, which is very easy to fit.
Print quality, when using supported filament types, is sensational.
Read our full
Bambu A1 review
3. Creality K1 Max – Best large 3D printer
Fast, reliable printing
Large build volume
Fully automatic bed levelling
Some features exclusive to Creality’s slicer
No multi-colour capabilities
Some may say the K1 is just a poor copy of the Bambu P1S, but that does it a disservice when so many 3D printers are basically copies of each other. There are two models, the smaller K1 which is cheaper than the larger K1 Max.
The Max offers a 300x300x300 build volume, something not currently available from Bambu and it has an easy-to-use touchscreen. Bed levelling is fully automatic and it even has a LiDAR system that helps ensure prints are successful and good quality.
There’s built-in Wi-Fi and an ‘AI’ camera that can detect when prints are failing, as well as when you might have accidentally left a model or some tools on the build plate.
As both K1 and K1 Max use coreXY systems, they’re just as fast as the Bambu and although quality isn’t quite up to the P1S’s level, it’s still very good.
Read our full
Creality K1 Max review
4. Elegoo Neptune 4 – Best cheap 3D printer
Automatic bed levelling
Intuitive touchscreen controller
More expensive in UK than US
Elegoo’s slicer isn’t the best
The Neptune 4 offers everything most people are looking for in a first 3D printer. It’s easy to set up, has auto bed levelling, a colour touchscreen and is pretty fast to boot.
That’s already a lot for the low price, so it’s not too surprising it doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Unlike some of the budget models here, it competes with the coreXY printers for speed thanks to an upgraded print head with much improved cooling over the Neptune 3.
It’s a shame that like the Ender 3 S1 Pro levelling isn’t completely automatic, but once you’ve adjusted the knobs, subsequent levelling is automatic.
Print quality is very good at the default 300mm speed, but it’s a good idea to use an alternative to Elegoo’s slicer which caused us quite a few headaches when prints failed.
Read our full
Elegoo Neptune 4 review
5. Creality K1C – Best for exotic filaments
Can print carbon fibre filaments out of the box
Can print ASA, nylon, ABS as well as PLA and PETG
Built in camera
Single colour printing only
Can be very noisy
Frustrating to change filament
The K1C can print models up to 220x220x250mm, and comes almost fully assembled. It’s fully automatic, which means there’s no need to make any manual adjustments: it prints reliably from the word go.
Effectively, it’s an upgrade of Creality’s K1 and has a hardened steel nozzle that can print abrasive filaments like carbon-fibre infused PLA and PETG. Unlike the K1 it also has a camera for monitoring print progress remotely, and it’ll detect and notify you of problems like foreign objects left on the build plate and failed prints.
The touchscreen makes it easy to use, and Creality’s desktop and mobile apps aren’t bad, although they lack the polish and ease of use of Bambu’s.
The only real limitation is that the K1C can’t print in multiple colours, but if you don’t need to do that, it’s a great choice.
6. Anycubic Kobra 2 Plus – Best for printing huge models
Massive build volume
Takes up a lot of space
Not suitable for filaments which require an enclosure
With a build volume of 320 x 320 x 400mm (WDH), the Kobra 2 Plus can print very large models. If that’s not enough, there’s also the Kobra 2 Max with an even larger 420 x 420 x 500mm volume.
It’s a bed slinger, which means the build plate moves backwards and forwards. In turn, this means you need quite a lot of desk space for the Kobra 2 Plus. It’s fast and capable of good print quality, and is pretty easy to use thanks to automatic bed levelling, vibration compensation and a colour touchscreen.
Read our full
Anycubic Kobra 2 Plus review
7. Creality 3D Ender 3 S1 Pro
Great print quality
Almost all the features you’d want
Auto-levelling requires manual input
Slow by today’s standards
The S1 Pro is really a budget 3D printer but it’s more expensive than the cheapest because it has had all the bells and whistles thrown at it.
There’s the Sprite direct drive print head with dual metal gears for reliable extrusion. It’s capable of heating to 300C, so you can print with a wide range of filaments. The bed goes up to 110C, too, which helps prints adhere when working with more awkward types of filament.
It isn’t enclosed, though, and is a bed-slinger, so needs room in front and behind it to accommodate its range of travel. There’s a useful LED strip which is really bright, and a colour touchscreen. Its interface could be improved a bit, but it’s not bad.
Print quality is very good, but it isn’t fast. To improve it you can buy Creality’s Sonic Pad – a Klipper-based touchscreen – but this adds a lot of cost and hassle. If speed is important, choose a printer that offers 300mm/sec out of the box like the Bambu A1.
Read our full
Creality 3D Ender 3 S1 Pro review
8. Creality Halot One Plus
Easy to use & reliable
Works with various slicers
Great print quality
Fan runs constantly during printing
Requires post-printing cleanup + curing (like all resin printers)
More expensive than some rivals
The Halot One Plus is an easy-to-use resin 3D printer that has a good-sized build volume, prints reliably and at high quality. It’s quite expensive compared to rivals, especially in the UK.
The Halot One Plus is a resin printer, so is very different to the others here. Instead of using filament on a reel, it prints using liquid resin which is cured, layer by layer, using UV light.
Build volume is smaller than the FDM printers here, but it’s still relatively large for a resin printer, and the screen’s high resolution means models have lots of fine detail.
The Halot One Plus printed ultra-reliably in our tests, but if you are keen on a resin printer, bear in mind that you have to clean up prints afterwards, which usually means buying a separate washing and curing device that looks a lot like a resin printer and takes up the same amount of desk space.
Read our full
Creality Halot One Plus review
Here are the key things you should look out for when choosing a 3D printer.
Unless the surface on which objects are printed is perfectly level, prints won’t stick to it and will fail sooner or later.
Manual levelling is a chore you could do without, so go for a printer with auto levelling. Be careful: some printers claim to have auto levelling, but rely on you to do a lot of the work. Which is why it pays to read reviews as well as knowing what to look for.
Almost all 3D printers have them, but it’s a must have. A heated bed will help prints to stick: don’t buy a printer without one.
Models can be difficult to remove from the build plate. A PEI (polyetherimide) sheet helps immensely. It’s a flexible metal sheet with a textured coating is used, and held in place with magnets. When the model finishes printing, you simply lift the sheet off, flex it and the model pops off.
Some printers still use a monochrome screen with a rotary dial or buttons. This isn’t nearly as easy to use as a touchscreen. Bambu P1S (and P1P) would be much better with a touchscreen, but it’s not the end of the world with those as you can print from your PC or phone using Bambu’s apps. When a printer doesn’t have Wi-Fi (or any networking) you are stuck using the screen it comes with.
A printer’s build volume tells you how big an object it can print. It’s wise to assume that the actual maximum volume is a bit smaller than the specifications suggest, and go for one with a slightly larger volume than the biggest object you will need to print.
It can be hard to know this, and remember that a bigger volume means a bigger printer, which you’ll need space for.
Really large models can be printed in sections and superglued (or otherwise fixed) together, so you don’t necessarily need a huge printer.
Nozzle and bed temperatures
Most people print using PLA, the most common type of filament. It’s easy to work with, strong and durable.
All 3D printers have nozzles that go up to the 220°C or so that PLA requires. But if you want to print with ABS, PETG or another type that needs high temperatures, be sure to opt for a printer that can go up to around 300°C. But see Enclosure below, too.
Similarly, watch out for heated bed temperatures. Some won’t go beyond 80°C, but you’ll need 100°C or more for successful ABS prints.
Some materials such as ABS, ASA, polycarbonate and nylon need carefully controlled ambient temperature to prevent them from warping while printing. If you need to use these – perhaps because you want to print models that can survive exposure to sunlight, then look for an enclosed printer – essentially a self-contained box.
With large models taking many hours to print and the fact that you can’t always know if there’s enough filament left on the reel to complete it, a run-out sensor can be a life saver. It does it what it says: detects when the filament runs out and halts printing automatically, allowing you to load a new reel and carry on printing.
Without one, the filament could run out and the printer will carry on printing thin air, and you’d be none the wiser.
What’s the best 3D printer for beginners
The Bambu A1 is an excellent choice for beginners. It’s relatively affordable and is very easy to use because it handles so many things automatically. It’s also fast and offers top notch print quality.
How much does a beginner 3D printer cost?
Printers start from as little as $130 / £130, but you may want to spend more to get a better model with more features, faster speeds and better print quality. There are a lot of great printers under $500 / £500.
What type of 3D printer is best?
The most common type is FDM (printers that use filament on a spool), but the absolute best quality is from SLA printers, which use resin and are capable of printing much finer detail. There are lots of pros and cons of each type, but put simply, resin printers are best for small, intricate figurines, while filament printers are best for printing things that are useful around the home as well as models that hinge or articulate.
Is it cheap to use a 3D printer?
Spools of filament typically weigh 1kg and cost from $15 / £15 to $30 / £30. It’s therefore the weight of the model that matters most, not the size. So-called slicing software turns a 3D model into instructions a 3D printer can understand, and you can adjust the settings to save weight by minimising the amount of infill. Sometimes it’s cheaper to print your own parts, but sometimes you might find it’s cheaper to buy pre-made plastic things than to 3D print them.
Are 3D printers good for beginners?
3D printing is much easier than it used to be thanks to modern printers that automate a lot of the fiddly things like bed levelling. They can also compensate for vibrations, resume printing after a power cut or when the filament runs out. The difficult part is designing your own models to print, but there are thousands of pre-made models available online to download free.