You may not know it, but the best 3D printers can be brilliant tools for photographers, as well as for other creatives and DIYers. They enable you to make attachments for your cameras, such as lens hoods, specialist supports and caps, and because you're the one designing them, their dimensions will perfectly fit your devices.
Even better, the best 3D printers can quickly print out your designs, so you don't have to go to a shop, or wait around for an online order. With a bit of time and imagination, the best 3D printers can allow you to create totally unique tools and accessories that can really benefit your photography.
There have also been examples of people using 3D printers to create their own retro large format cameras. And it is even possible to print your own 3D textured plastic photographs, known as lithophanes with a 3D printer (you’ll need Adobe Photoshop’s 3D tools, available since Photoshop CS5).
• See also Best 3D scanner
In fact, 3D printing technology has come a huge way in the past few years, and there are some brilliant 3D printers out there that are both affordable, and small enough to fit in studios and on desks.
The quality and cost of 3D printouts has also improved over the years, which makes it a great time to shop around for the best 3D printer for your needs.
In this guide we'll show you the best 3D printers money can buy in 2020 for a variety of uses and budgets. From affordable and compact 3D printers that are ideal for hobbyists and anyone who wants to get started in 3D printing, to larger professional 3D printers that can create professional 3D printouts at large sizes and volumes.
Best 3D printers in 2021
If you're looking for a budget 3D printer, then there really is no better option than the XYZprinting da Vinci Mini range
Compared to some of the other 3D printers in this guide, the XYZprinting da Vinci Mini+ has a price that won't make a big dent to your bank balance, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on print quality, and you get auto levelling and the option of an open smart tag (NFC reader for filaments). The XYZprinting da Vinci Mini w+ adds wireless connectivity.
In fact, the 3D printouts are very impressive considering price and size, and the PLA filament is derived from corn-starch so safe in education or home learning as well as environmentally noble.
When it comes to size, the XYZprinting da Vinci Mini+ (as the name suggests) is small enough to fit on a desk or in a studio, so you're not having to make room for a huge 3D printer.
MSLA (Mask Stereolithography) printers are becoming ever more popular, and but they can still be quite pricey. If you want to try the new technology, which offers faster print speeds and better accuracy, then a great choice is the AnyCubic Photon Mono. The case design means you can keep a good eye on the print process through the UV-shield, the speed of which is further boosted by the mono LCD.
While it doesn't have many of the more advanced features such as resin bath tilting, temperature or resin level sensors that you'll find on more expensive models, it's a great entry point into this type of 3D printing. The software that's included is good, and the 2.8-inch touch screen easy to use; it’ll get you up and printing in no time. Just be aware of the additional maintenance needed with MSLA 3D printing – you do need to clean the thing afterward.
Many of the 3D printers on this page are very expensive, but if you don't want to spend a fortune, then Creality’s range is well worth a look, and the Ender 3 is the model they keep refreshing because the fans keep coming back. This latest edition has improved quieter (but not silent) printing (though you can still enjoy watching the process in action thanks to the coverless design) and a newly designed UI on a 4.3-inch color screen.
It’s pretty easy to set up, though you do need to assemble the arm support. Soon you'll be making some 3D printouts with impressive quality considering the low price tag, printing from an SD card or direct from your computer (the latter being a great way to keep the two devices separate during a long print).
Prusa Research is a well known name in 3D printing, and its i3 MK3S kit is its flagship model. Powerful new features such as filaments sensors, Bondtech extruder, P.I.N.D.A. 2 probe and market-leading E3D V6 nozzle ensure that the print quality is top notch, which is why the Prusa i3 MK3s is one of our favorites.
At around $900/£700, this certainly is an investment, but it's not the most expensive 3D printer out there, and represents a good balance, offering advanced features without coming with a sky-high price tag which could put many people off. Note that this price is for the kit, which requires a bit of assembly. You can also order it ready-built and tested for around $1200/£899.
Ultimaker is a company that proves you can make stylish and desirable 3D printers. While many of the 3D printers in this guide have rather barebones and functional designs, the Ultimaker S3 offers a touch of class – without skimping on the features or print quality.
It can handle a wide variety of 3D printing tasks, and the quality of the printouts is superb. There is also a large number of accessories that help you turn the Ultimaker S2+ into an essential tool for your needs, and it features swappable cartridge hotends, a brilliantly easy-to-use touchscreen UI and the Cura slicer software for designing your 3D prints.
All this comes at a high price, however, which may put some people off. But, if you have the budget, this is easily one of the best 3D printers you can buy right now.
The LulzBot Mini 2 as the best 3D printer for people who want something compact and easy to carry. The new version 2 improves on print speed and reducing noise, and it's open-source, which means there's a community that are working on updates and accessories for the printer, and continually improving it.
It's smaller and more portable than many of its 3D printer competitors, but that doesn't mean you're stuck with only producing smaller printouts.
In fact, the LulzBot Mini 2 offers a 20% larger build volume than the previous model, without increasing the actual size of the printer. That makes it a great choice for people with limited amount of space.
With two separate extruders, FlashForge hasn’t just been thinking of adding a bit of color to your creations; the two print heads can create entirely different models, from different materials, at the same time. The system includes mirror modes, duplicate modes, and of course the ability to print soluble support materials to be removed at the end of the print.
There are also all the advanced features you’d expect on a high-end system, like a built-in camera, auto-leveling plate (which can be heated up to 120˚C) and HEPA H13 air filtering for dust-free prints; a nice touch is that the plate surface can be slightly bent to pop the model off without a scraper.
The DigiLab 3D45 was an award winning machine when it came along and the robust approach to design and safety means that it’s still an excellent choice even where kids are running around. The 4.5-inch touchscreen is easy to use, and the wi-fi, ethernet or USB connectivity and built-in 720P camera mean connectivity is great.
Though the pricing is decidedly more mid-range than beginner, it’s not as high as you might imagine. If you buy your filaments from Dremel, the printer will use the RFID chips to automatically adjust settings and can confidently be left going over 24h.
Other printing guides:
• Best 3D scanner
• The best large format printer
• The best photo printing online: top services from around the web
• The best photo printer: desktop photo printers compared
• The best portable printers