Although it might originally have been the niche purview of the exceptionally wealthy, 3D printing is actually a more cost-effective hobby than you might think. It's still a hobby that requires a decent initial outlay, of course. But once you're set up and ready to go, you'll be amazed at how affordable it can be and the sheer amount of applications a 3D printer can be used for.
What You'll Need
Software – Without the software to drive it, a 3D printer is little more than an attractive paperweight. 3D printers require a computer-aided design (CAD) file to function. They use the information in this file to print your model layer-by-layer. Models can either be scanned into software via a 3D scanner, or built from scratch via a number of 3D printing software programs. Most of these are free, but if you want to get more complicated, you might have to pay a premium.
The Resin – This is the refillable liquid that’s used to create the objects you'll be printing. 3D printer resin is a compound fed through the printer's nozzle, where it hardens in certain places, forming multiple slices that are used to build your eventual model layer-by-layer. Numerous resins are available, from standard, affordable resin, to smoother, high-detail resin.
The Printer – The printer itself is obviously the major purchase to consider here. Which model you choose should depend on what you plan to use it for and what you can afford (in financial terms and in terms of the available space in your home). As with all major technological advances, 3D printers have gotten progressively smaller and less complicated in the decade or so since they first hit shelves. Below, we'll be underlining a few of the more affordable, entry-level 3D printers that will give the vast majority of first-timers exactly what they'll need to get started.
The Best Budget Printers
XYZprinting da Vinci Mini – For only £150 and weighing in at a svelte 10kg, you're getting a surprising amount of printer for your money here. Whilst you might struggle to print anything substantial, and the included software is a little basic and unstable, it is easy-to-use by design and is the perfect entry-level model. It's also just about small enough to store in a desk drawer so is the perfect beginner 3D printer if you're worried about where you're going to keep it.
M3D Micro – An adorable design and competitive price of around £200 (not to mention the size and weight at just 1kg) has led to the Micro being the default beginner model for many 3D printer enthusiasts. For form factor alone it's a winner and it's whisper-quiet in use. It is, however, very slow and can only print very small models.
BeeTheFirst+ BeeVeryCreative – This 3D printer would look at home in a modern art museum. If you're in the market for an affordable 3D printer (£400) that also looks the business and performs surprisingly well considering its price range, this is a perfect option. Be sure to snap one up if you find one for sale too, as there are not that many of them out there in the wild.
FlashForge Creator Pro – Reaching into the mid-range models now at a shade under £700, this model offers a perfect compromise between price and usability. Not only does it look professional with its sturdy build quality, sleek black curves and enclosed printing platform, but it performs like a professional printer too. The accuracy is superb, particularly when paired with decent software. The only potential drawback is that it is a little on the loud side.
LulzBot Mini – Pushing slightly past the mid-range into the realm of professional 3D printers now, the LulzBot Mini is a wonderfully named open source 3D printer that's easy-to-use and incredibly powerful. For just under £1300, you'll be getting a printer with a much larger print area than its cheaper alternatives, and the open source nature of the hardware means it's infinitely flexible and enjoys a community of committed users all working together to create new add-ons. It might be a little slow, but the results are always top-notch.