Just a few years ago, finding a 3D printer under $500 would have been almost impossible. Now there are dozens to choose from. This brings 3D printing within the reach of modelers, hobbyists, and small businesses. Of course not every cheap 3D printer has the same capabilities. They produce different-sized models with varying levels of detail. Many are filament models, but several resin printers also come within this price bracket. Getting the right balance between cost and performance can be difficult, and the technology can be confusing. This article demystifies the jargon, and finds the best 3D printers under $500 for whatever kind of model making appeals to you.
— Best Overall: Anycubic Photon Mono X 4K Resin 3D Printer
— Best Budget: ELEGOO Neptune 2 FDM 3D Printer
— Best for Beginners: Creality Ender 3 3D Printer
— Best Large Volume: Artillery Sidewinder SW-X2 3D Printer
How We Picked the Best 3D Printers Under $500
We imposed a price ceiling of $500 to ensure each of our picks fell within what could be expected as a reasonable price for those buying their first 3D printer. The result is some of the best budget 3D printers currently available. However, price was far from the only consideration.
Build Volume: Many 3D modelers focus on small projects, or create complex assemblies from a number of small components. Others want to go big as soon as possible. Fortunately, buying a low cost 3D printer doesn’t necessarily limit the scale of your ambitions. We sought a range of alternatives to cover all potential users.
Set Up and Ease of Use: The best resin 3D printers within our price bracket come ready to use, but many filament models require some assembly. How easy they are to operate also varies. Our picks illustrate this variety, allowing buyers to choose a model that is appropriate to their experience level.
Value: Price doesn’t always equate to value. Despite the relatively low cost of our top picks, these are not always the cheapest 3D printers on the market. However, one we selected comes from a brand recognized for their expertise and quality. As a result they should offer long-term reliability.
Best 3D Printers Under $500: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Anycubic Photon Mono X 4K Resin 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: By any standards, the Anycubic Photon Mono X 4K is a high quality 3D printer. To find it priced below $500 makes it terrific value.
— Type: Resin
— Built Volume: 7.55 inches L x 4.72 inches W x 9.84 inches H
— Speed: 1.97 inches per hour
— Highly detailed prints
— Durable, stable all-metal chassis
— Easy setup and use
— No direct computer connection
— Gimmicky WiFi
Anycubic has long been one of the leading names in 3D printers with a wide range of innovative, high-quality machines. The Anycubic Photon Mono X 4K set new standards for speed and detail when introduced, and while larger, faster models are now available, few can challenge this model in the under $500 bracket.
With resin printers like this, screen resolution has a big impact on the detail provided. This one has an 8.9-inch 4K LCD, resulting in 3,840 x 2,400 pixels per inch. It‘s capable of printing layers at just 50 microns (0.0019 inches) thick, and at almost 2 inches per hour, it is also one of the fastest resin printers in its class.
The general structure of this 3D printer has the solidity necessary for consistent results and its built-in fans keep things at a constant temperature. The setup is somewhat time consuming, though more straightforward than most filament models. A 2.8-inch touch screen accesses many functions, but files have to be input via a USB stick. There is a WiFi app but its functions are limited and setting it up can be frustrating, so many independent testers consider it not worth the effort. The Photon Workshop software also has its critics, though popular alternatives are available from ChiTuBox and Lychee.
When introduced, the Anycubic Photon Mono X 4K was around 30 percent more expensive than it is today. It has dropped into our price range mostly because 6K and 8K versions now exist. At the moment, we think the Anycubic Photon Mono X 4K is the best 3D printer under $500 on the market.
Best Budget: ELEGOO Neptune 2 FDM 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: There are plenty of cheap 3D printers on the market, but none come with the clear instructions and high print quality of the Elegoo Neptune 2.
— Type: Filament
— Built Volume: 8.66 inches L x 8.66 inches W x 9.84 inches H
— Speed: 1.97 inches per second
— Clear assembly instructions
— Good print quality
— Low cost
— Manual leveling
— Poor interface
The entry-level Elegoo Neptune 2 comes in at well under half our $500 price limit, making it the best budget 3D printer in purely monetary terms. That alone would make it attractive to those thinking of trying 3D printing for the first time, however, the Elegoo Neptune 2 has more to offer than just low cost.
The majority of 3D filament printers come as self-assembly kits. Care is necessary because errors can impact performance later on. Fortunately, the Elegoo Neptune 2 comes with clear instructions, and obvious components, so setup is comparatively simple. It’s not quite all plain sailing though, as bed leveling is a key feature for accurate prints, and this needs to be done manually. Getting it right can be time consuming which may be frustrating for complete beginners. Also, while the touch screen display provides a lot of information, much of it can be unclear and confusing. Fortunately, the provided Cura software is very good, and helps enormously.
Mechanically and functionally the Elegoo Neptune 2 is a very good 3D printer for the money, though sadly the interface lets it down. There are plenty of online sources that can help resolve problems, and results will be worth it, but getting the best from the machine will require patience.
Best for Beginners: Creality Ender 3 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: Creality was one of the first to produce high-quality, budget-friendly 3D printers. The Ender 3 has become hugely popular and has outstanding learning resources.
— Type: Filament
— Built Volume: 8.66 inches L x 8.66 inches W x 9.84 inches H
— Speed: 7.9 inches per second
— Excellent component quality
— High-quality output
— Outstanding customer support
— Manual bed leveling
— Assembly instructions could be improved
At first glance the Creality Ender 3 looks a lot like a whole bunch of other low-cost 3D printers. In fact, Creality is renowned for 3D filament printers that combine quality components with competitive pricing, and as a result, there are many copies.
The Creality Ender 3 can produce layers at 100 microns (0.0038 inches) thick, which, while not as high as resin printers, is good for a budget 3D printer and results in smooth models. Unlike many cheap rivals that only use PLA filament, the Creality Ender 3 can use ABS, PETG, and TPU. The machine is very quiet, heats up quickly, and the user interface is clear and informative.
It isn’t a particularly easy machine to assemble. Creality says it takes two hours, but we feel that’s optimistic and the instructions could certainly be improved. So if that’s the case, why do we recommend this as one of the best 3d printers for beginners?
The main reason is the incredible support network, and the potential for multiple machine upgrades. Not only is Creality’s own customer support very responsive, but the popularity of the Creality Ender 3 means there are dozens of videos and other resources available online. After mastering the basics of 3D printing, add-ons are available so that those who want to improve their knowledge don’t need to buy a whole new machine. It is an excellent introduction to 3D printing, and for the money, there is no better learning platform.
Best Large Volume: Artillery Sidewinder SW-X2 3D Printer
Why It Made The Cut: The Artillery Sidewinder offers an impressive build volume for a printer at this price, and doesn’t compromise on quality or user-friendly features.
— Type: Filament
— Built Volume: 11.8 inches L x 11.8 inches W x 15.75 inches H
— Speed: 5.9 inches per second
— Large build volume
— Arrives 95 percent assembled
— Auto bed-leveling
— Filament holder could be improved
— Poor customer support
With its impressive print volume, the Artillery Sidewinder is definitely the best affordable 3D printer for creating large models. It would be no surprise if the company had cut corners elsewhere in order to offer a machine of this capability for the money, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. While there are a couple of areas that could be improved, issues are minor.
The Artillery Sidewinder is not particularly fast, but can create layers of 100 microns (0.0038 inches) each, so quality is comparable with many smaller devices. It comes almost complete, just needing ribbon cable and the spool holder assembled. The quality of the latter isn’t the best, resulting in occasional feed errors, but the printer will restart from the same point if interrupted. The touch screen controls are also very easy to use.
Unusually for a cheap 3D printer, the Artillery Sidewinder has auto-leveling, which saves time and frustration. The glass bed heats up in around two minutes, so it’s ready to print quickly, and very quietly. It can take a while to get the Artillery Sidewinder working at its best, but that’s not unusual with budget 3D printers. In general, the machine is very reliable, though owners have been critical of customer support when problems have occurred.
Things To Consider Before Buying A 3D Printer Under $500
There are so many good machines available today that choosing a 3D printer under $500 presents few restrictions. However, there are a few key points that need some thought.
The size of the projects a 3D printer can create will have a big impact on most people’s choice, but this is just one aspect. It’s a good idea not to be focused on size alone, as this can result in weaknesses in other areas.
Resin or Filament
Resin 3D printers tend to be more expensive than their filament counterparts, but often create more detailed models. On the other hand, filament tends to produce a stronger model. The type of filament can make a big difference and is worth looking into further if you are unaware of how each performs. Bear in mind while the best 3D printers can use a wide variety of materials, sub-$500 models may have more limited choices.
Most people are understandably impatient to see their 3D object finished, and print speed can vary considerably. Filament printers are usually much faster than resin. However, figures can be confusing because resin 3D printer speeds are given as the height of model created per hour, whereas filament 3D printer speeds are how fast the nozzle travels. Neither give a very accurate indication of how long a particular model will take, but they can be used for comparisons.
Also bear in mind with filament printers the maximum speed may seldom be used. For instance, our best budget 3D printer can run as fast as 7 inches per second, but for common filaments like PLA, the optimum speed is only around 2 inches per second.
Q: Are 3D printers illegal?
3D printers are completely legal. What is illegal is the copying and sale of patented or copyrighted objects. Making popular games figures for your own use, for example, is okay, but. trying to sell them is not, and may bring a lawsuit from the rights owner.
Q: Are cheap 3D printers worth buying?
Absolutely. In the last few years prices have dropped considerably, so today’s best 3D printers under $500 are very capable, great fun, and can also be very educational.
Q: What can I create with low cost 3D printers?
What you can print with low cost 3D printers largely depends on print volume. Toys, models, figurines, and jewelry are popular. Credit card holders and phone cases are possible, as are plant pots and other containers. There are hundreds of free-to-download files available, or you can create your own.
Q: Do all cheap 3D printers use PLA?
Not all cheap 3D printers use PLA, although many do. Some can also use ABS or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). Our pick for best 3D printer under $500 is a resin model, which is liquid plastic rather than PLA, which is a filament.
Q: Can 3D printers under $500 work with any software?
A great deal of software works with 3D printers under $500, but there are some restrictions. It’s important to check before purchasing, particularly if you have a particular package in mind.
Q: Do I need a good computer for a cheap 3D printer?
Whether you need a good computer depends on the 3D models you intend to produce. Most of the standard SLA files that are available online are quite small, and don’t need a lot of computing power to process. However, if you intend to create your own unique models, the software required can be memory- and processor-intensive. In that case, using a budget computer might prove limiting.
Final Thoughts on 3D Printers Under $500
The ANYCUBIC Photon Mono X is an excellent 3D printer, and no other machine currently available under $500 can match the output quality. Unfortunately, resin printers produce toxic fumes so it’s very much a tool for a well-ventilated garage or workshop.
The Elegoo Neptune 2 is great value. It takes a while to set up but instructions are excellent, and many 3D printing enthusiasts feel it’s optimal to know the ins and outs of their machine. Unfortunately, the horrible interface detracts from what is otherwise a good entry-level device. Solutions are readily available, though.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.