The best 3D printer for 2023


4 3D printed models that show 3D printing errors

James Bricknell/CNET

Testing 3D printers is an in-depth process. Printers often do not use the same materials, or even the same process, to create models. I try SLA, 3D printers that use resin and light to print, and FDM, printers that melt plastic into a plate. Each one has a unique methodology. The main qualifiers I look at include:

  • Hardware quality
  • Ease of setup
  • Software included
  • Appearance and accuracy of prints.
  • Repairability
  • Company and community support

A key test print, depicting the (now former) CNET logo, is used to evaluate how a printer closes gaps, creates precise shapes, and deals with overhangs. It even has little towers to help measure how well the 3D printer handles temperature ranges.

When testing speed, we cut the model using the standard cutter that the machine ships with in its standard configuration and then compare the actual print duration to the statement completion time on the cutter. 3D printers often use different slicers, and those slicers can vary wildly in what they think the completion time is.

Then we use Prusa cutter to determine how much material the print should use and divide that number by the actual time it took to print to give us a more accurate number for the speed in millimeters per second (mm/s) at which the printer can operate.

An infrared heat map of a 3D printer build plate

James Bricknell/CNET

Each build plate is supposed to be heated to a certain temperature, so we use the InfiRay thermal imaging camera for Android to see how well they do. We set the build plate to 60 degrees Celsius (the most commonly used temperature for build plates), waited 5 minutes for the temperature to stabilize, and then measured it at six separate locations. We then took the average temperature to see how close the 3D printer came to the advertised temperature.

Resin testing requires different criteria, which is why I use the Ameralab Standard Test — printing a small resin model that looks like a small town. This helps determine how accurate the printer is, how it handles small parts, and how well UV exposure works at different points on the model.

Many other anecdotal test prints are also run on each printer, using different 3D models, to test the longevity of the parts and how well the machine conforms to various shapes.

For the other criteria, I research the company to see how well it responds to customer support questions and how easy it is to order replacement parts and install them yourself. Kits (printers that come only semi-assembled) are judged by how long and difficult the assembly process is and how clear the instructions are.

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