One of the coolest gadgets you can own
Modern 3D printers are much easier to use than they’ve ever been. They are also much more capable and reliable than early hobbyists and even commercial models. Perhaps most importantly, they are now priced in such a way that anyone who wants one can afford it.
We’ve pulled together a selection of 10 of the best 3D printers under $500. Each one is highly rated by a decent number of real-world customers and has one or two features that set them apart from the hundreds of other 3D printers on the market.
If you’re not already familiar with 3D printer jargon, we strongly recommend you read HDG Explains : How Does 3D Printing Work? before proceeding! Please note that this article contains affiliate links, sales of which help us create great content like this!
Best For Big Prints: Creality CR-10 V2
The “biggest” problem with affordable 3D printers is that they tend to be too small. Which means if you want to print projects that are larger than an action figure you have to fork out a sizable stack of money for the privilege.
The Creality CR-10 V2 comes in at the upper limit of our budget for this list and offers a very spacious 300x300x400mm build volume. This V2 model boasts a number of upgrades over the original CR-10, not least of which includes better build materials, quieter operation and a print resume function if the build has to stop for some reason.
If you want large, quiet and reliable printing at the $500 price point there doesn’t seem to be all that much competition for this newly-refined big-boy printer from Creality.
Budget Dual Material Printing: QIDI TECH X-Pro
Most 3D printers have a single material extruder, which means you can only print your project using one type of filament in a single color. The X-Pro offers a dual-extruder printer at the $500 price point that can print in a variety of materials as well as in two colors at once.
A dual-extruder system like this allows for some truly complex 3D prints. For example, you can print a model that has both hard and flexible materials.This is obviously more complex than single material prints, but having a printer that can print using two independent materials at this price is a big deal.
The X-Pro has some smart features. Such as the magnetically attached bed and side panels. It also has a decent build volume and, since it’s enclosed, you should have good temperature stability during your print. If you want to get into multi-material printing, this is the cheapest option we’re aware of.
Fast, Space-efficient Vertical Printer: FLSUN Mini Delta 3D Printer
Most 3D printers on the market, especially in the budget segment, are “cartesian” printers. That is, they use a three-axis print head using XYZ coordinates within the build volume. Delta robot printers such as the FLSUN Mini Delta use a different method of getting the print head to its desired location inside the build volume.
The print head is attached to three arms that run up and down independent vertical rails. By varying the height of each arm, the head can swing freely within the build space.
Delta robot printers like this are faster than cartesian printers, can print tall models that would need slicing in cartesian printers and can do a better job of printing curved surfaces. The downside is that they can’t quite reach the same level of resolution and precision as a cartesian equivalent.
The Mini Delta comes in at a fantastic price, has a small footprint compared to its total build volume and offers a stylish all-metal design. If you need the specific advantages of the delta robot design, this is a good budget entry.
Best Budget High-resolution Resin Printer: LONGER Orange 30
It wasn’t too long ago that resin printing was reserved for multi-million dollar engineering facilities. Now resin printers have firmly entered the consumer space and this Orange 30 is one of the best affordable models we’ve seen.
The precision and finely detailed prints that are possible with the Orange 30 are incredible. It uses a 2560×1440 LCD screen to mask each of the print layers, allowing for complex structures and stunning prints. It also uses a matrix of UV LEDs for curing, ensuring uniform levels of UV light across the LCD screen.
This LCD-based SLA (stereolithography) is a new approach to the traditional industrial rapid prototyping method that’s been in use for decades. It’s a smart way to use existing consumer technology to achieve something new. If you don’t want to build structural models and care mainly about aesthetics, this has got to be near the top of your list.
The Best Beginner’s Printer: FlashForge Finder
The first 3D printers that you could buy for home use were not meant for the casual user. They needed significant assembly, setup and maintenance. We’ve had to build our fair share of 3D printers over the years and this is a key reason they’ve not been mainstream for such a long time.
The FlashForge Finder offers a simple, user-friendly printer experience. It’s also designed to be safe to use, with rounded corners and liberal use of plastic where needed. Operation of the printer happens through a color touch screen with a friendly graphical interface. It’s quiet, has assisted leveling and works with WiFi, so you can put it anywhere. It’s pretty much the perfect entry-level 3D printer.
A Fast Budget Resin Printer: PHROZEN Sonic Mini
The Phrozen Sonic Mini uses the same LCD curing system as the Longer Orange 30, but comes in at a significantly lower price. The biggest trade off is a reduction in print resolution, but the Sonic Mini can still achieve fine detail better than any extrusion printer at this price range.
One very cool feature of the Sonic Mini is its wide resin compatibility. You don’t have to stick to first party resin or even LCD resin. This printer will even work with DLP projector printer resins! PHROZEN rates the lifespan of their LCD at 2000 hours, so you’re also likely to get years of service from this entry-level machine unless you decide to upgrade for other reasons.
The Best All-rounder For Everyone: Comgrow Creality Ender 3 Pro
The Creality Ender 3 is the very definition of “good enough” when it comes to 3D printers. It’s an open design machine that has all the most important features an extrusion-type Cartesian printer should have.
It’s an Open Source machine, which means those who like to tinker and customize can really get into the software guts of the machine, or benefit from community mods. While it is semi-assembled to cut down costs, it seems assembly is so easy that they recommend it as a project for children.
The build volume is more than decent and you get traditionally premium features such as print resuming at a great price. If you’re curious about 3D printing and want a good first experience with a fundamentally solid machine, the Ender 3 looks like the one for the job.
Best For Hobbyists With Small Budgets: JGMAKER Magic
This sub-$200 3D printer from JG Maker straddles the line between a basic hobby-grade dabbling printer and more serious machinery. It’s got an open bed design and a decent build volume, so you should be in a position to print most useful items and not just small curiosities. Most importantly it has a filament runout sensor and allows you to resume printing. Fantastic features at the price!
You can print models from an SD card as well, which means your printer and your computer don’t have to be anywhere near each other. WiFi would have been a nice feature, but having a sneakernet solution is better than being forced to tether the machine to a PC.
Adding $100 to your budget will see good gains in performance, build volume, noise level and the overall experience. If that’s just too rich for your blood then the Magic is an excellent choice.
Best Educational Printer: Creality Cr-100 Mini 3D Printer
Available in a kid-friendly red or yellow truck design, the CR-100 Mini is priced for the classroom or the bedroom of any precocious young engineer. This printer doesn’t require any assembly, it has automatic bed-leveling and sports a rather tiny build volume. Not a printer you could really make practical items with, but perfect for making toy models and teaching the little ones about the technology they’ll almost certainly have to use as adults.
It’s small enough to lock away from unsupervised hands and cheap enough to enable bulk purchases by schools.
Most Affordable LCD Resin Printer: QIDI TECH Shadow 5.5 S
The Shadow doesn’t need much explanation. It’s a high-resolution machine with a small build volume. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to make detailed figures and other models or prototypes that aren’t meant to be load-bearing or durable.
For this price it’s in impulse-buy territory but it will outperform most extruder-type printers at many times the price. If you’re looking to take your Dungeons & Dragons hobby to the next level, this is absolutely the best deal you’re going to get!
While we’re not quite there yet when it comes to real-world replicators like the ones you’ve seen in Star Trek, it’s still mind-boggling that you can buy what amounts to a desktop production facility from these best 3D printers for well under $500.
Whether you just want to play with the technology or have practical applications for your new 3D printer, there’s no doubt that this is one of the coolest gadgets to own today.
Do you have any cool ideas when it comes to what a 3D printer can be used for? Share them in the comments and let us know why you want a 3D printer or what you’ve done with yours since getting it.