3D printers are everywhere! They’ve been around for a little while now, of course, with favorites from MakerBot, Formlabs, and others for home use, but now they’re also popping up from established manufacturers of inkjet printers — like HP — and even toolmakers, as we’ve seen with Dremel. This array of selections for all uses, from desktop home hobby use to industrial-scale critical components manufacturing, is fantastic… and confusing. After all, when you only had one choice, it was pretty easy to figure out where to buy your 3D printer. But now? Where do you go, how do you narrow it down?
Fortunately, you don’t have to do it by yourself. There’s no going blind now, which is especially useful if you’re thinking about picking up a 3D printer in time for the holiday season, either as a gift in itself or in order to create some baubles for your list. With plenty of time left before the holidays hit in force, Make: magazine has come up with a list of 10 standout 3D printers across a few different categories.
We’ve mentioned the magazine’s parameters set for the 2015 shoot out, in which 3D printers were run through their paces by printing the same objects. These objects tested printers’ dimensional accuracy, surface finish, overhang capabilities, and more.
All this was done in anticipation of the Ultimate 3D Printing Guide 2015, which will be available starting today, Friday, November 7, at the Engadget EXPAND event at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, running through tomorrow. Print issue pre-orders and PDFs of the guide are $9.99 (or $16.99 for print and PDF) at MakerShed. It will also appear in stores November 25 for those who can wait a little longer.
It’s certainly been an inventive and exciting year in the 3D printing world, and it looks like it’s still just getting started.
“2014 has been a full-throttle year for 3D printing since January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) introduced us to dozens of new machines. It’s clear that additive fabrication has caught the attention of major brands in all sectors (Adobe, Microsoft, Hasbro, Dremel and even Arduino) and the push for the mainstreaming of this technology has hit new heights,” said Anna Kaziunas France, digital fabrication editor for Make: magazine. “The field of printers we tested this year represent a departure from last year with a number of new entries from across the globe. We’ve seen 3D printers from Asia and New Zealand, and at Rome Maker Faire in October, there were dozens of 3D printers introduced.”
The review team for the guide included 3D printing experts who put the printers through their paces in Youngstown, Ohio to come up with their top contenders. Youngstown may not seem like the most obvious choice for the meeting, but it’s an important place in manufacturing, so a bunch of people meeting to talk about manufacturing really only makes sense.
“This year, we created a publishing event for our annual 3D printer shootout and conducted the testing at the home of America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a government-supported initiative to support 3D printing and manufacturing,” said Jason Babler, creative director of Make: magazine. “As manufacturing returns to America — in part driven by 3D printer technology — what more relevant location than a city in the industrial belt?”
France was excited about the team of experts assembled; some have now been on the test team for all three annual shootouts. She noted some of their newer names as valuable additions to the team: “With the addition of 3D-printing research scientist Andreas Bastain, our test methods advanced from mere visual inspections of Thingiverse objects. We drafted a flexible evaluation protocol and created parametric models that could be quickly adapted to any unexpected situation. These preparations, combined with the onsite, real-time, data-crunching diligence of Kacie Hultgren (aka Pretty Small Things) has yielded quantified comparison data that we could only dream of previously.”
Without further ado, their top printers (and their manufacturers):
Best in Shootout: Ultimaker 2 (Ultimaker) “Undisputed best scores in print-quality tests”
Rookie of the Year: BeeTheFirst (BeeVeryCreative) “An easy-to-use, attractive, portable machine”
Reliable Performer: Afinia (Afinia 3D Printer) “A solid bet for the third year running”
Most Maker Machine: LulzBot TAZ 4 (LulzBot) “Everything a maker wants”
Happy Mediums: Ditto Pro (Tinkerine) & Zortrax (Zortrax) “Not quite top of the charts, but high quality prints”
Smart Software Integration: DeltaMaker (DeltaMaker) “Seamless integration of OctoPrint”
Most Upgradable: Ultimaker Original+ (Ultimaker) “Continual support and available upgrades”
Thin Wallet Win: Printrbot Simple Metal (Printrbot) “Affordable and tied for 2nd for print quality”
Feature Packed: Replicator 5th Gen (MakerBot) “Flagship machine full of shiny new tech”
3D printing is only getting bigger, and guides like this will keep us all apprised of the newest goings on, as well as doing the side-by-side comparisons that we can’t do on our own.
“This was an incredible effort by everyone on our team of testers who represent a cross-section of 3D printing gurus, from engineers to designers and artists to technology and 3D printing instructors,” said France.
What do you think? Would your top 10 3D printers match up with Make: magazine’s? Were these who you expected to see in the list of leaders, or would you put another spin on it? Let us know in the Top 10 3D Printer forum thread on 3DPB.com.