Best answer: If you’re looking to make massive 3D printed pieces or you want to finish your prints, then a filament printer is the best choice for you. If you want production quality out of the machine or you are looking to print small models with high detail then we would suggest a resin, SLA/DLP printer
- A great starter: ANYCUBIC Photon ($230 at Amazon)
- The best of the best : Prusa Mk3 kit ($750+ at Prusa Research)
What is SLA/DLP printing?
Stereolithography/Dark light projection (SLA/DLP) printers are, essentially, 3D printers that print using light to cure liquid resin into layers. The cheaper versions use an LCD display to shine a UV image into the resin, which cures it into a solid layer. The print bed then rises up slightly to let the next layer cure.
This allows you to print a model with extremely fine detail, far more than a standard filament printer can produce, and the end result tends to need far less post-processing work to give you a finished product.
The downside is that they tend to have smaller build plates than filament (FDM) printers, so you can’t make large pieces on them. They also tend to be a little slower than FDM printers as they have to cure. You will also have to wash the print and further cure it after it has printed to get the full effect.
There have been great strides to solve both these problems, though. You can now buy an excellent wash and cure station that can speed up the curing process considerably, and Peopoly has released an enormous printer called the Phenom that will resin print your parts on a much larger scale.
What is FDM printing?
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the style of printing you are likely most familiar with. A string of plastic called a filament is melted through a hot end and deposited on the build plate. The next layer is then placed on top of the previous layer.
FDM printing is used far and wide in modeling and for producing larger parts like cosplay armor and helmets. The nature of the printing makes it very easy to set up and very easy to learn. Most maker spaces around the country use FDM printers as they are cheap and reliable.
It’s only when you start wanting to make smaller models in finer detail that FDM printing can run aground. That isn’t to say that a well-tuned FDM printer can’t give you amazing detail, they can. If you look at the Joker model we used by Wekster, you can see that although the model isn’t quite as nice as the resin version, it still looks very good.
So which should you buy?
That’s a good question. It all depends on the kind of printing you want to do.
If you are hoping to print miniatures for board games, highly detailed models, or production quality parts, then an SLA/DLP printer is the best choice. The level of resolution that a resin printer can bring is extraordinary.
If you are hoping to build large scale models, cosplay items like armor or helmets, or you are looking to produce prototypes rapidly, then an FDM 3D printer is likely the right choice for you. It gives you the greatest range of options at a great price.
Prusa Mk3 Kit
You can’t get better
For a first time FDM 3D printer, you really can’t do better than the Prusa Mk3. Its advanced features and astounding print quality make it the best printer you can buy for under $1000
There is a considerable array of FDM 3D printers on the market at a price point to suit every pocket. We chose to showcase the Prusa Mk3 here because it is the perfect mix of price, advanced features, and quality prints. I would recommend buying the kit version of the Prusa as it will give you a chance to learn more about how the printer works and will provide you with insight into how to fix it if things go wrong.
The ANYCUBIC Photon is impressive. For far less than you might think, you can have a resin printer that makes amazingly detailed models reliably.
We went with the ANYCUBIC Photon for this comparison because the entry-level price point is just right for trying resin printers for the first time. Sure it has a small build plate, and the touchscreen is not the best, but a resin printer for so little money is not to be sniffed at.