Personal 3D printing is one of the most fascinating technologies to emerge in the last few years. But the concept of printing plastic and steel products in 3D from a machine sitting on your countertop is still so fresh that many people haven’t really wrapped their heads around the technology. And with over 100 manufacturers to choose from, deciding which of the currently available 3D printers to buy can be pretty tricky.
So we decided to rate the new best 3D printers to hit the market in 2012. so here are our contenders:
The RepRapPro Mendel is a top performer when it comes to build-it-yourself kits. Like all RepParPro 3D printers, the Mendel is intended to be partly self-replicating, meaning the plastic parts of the machine can be printed by a completed machine. The Mendel has strong rods that make for very stable printing and a build volume of 352 cubic inches.
At $598, the RepParPro Mendel is one of the least expensive 3D printers of 2012. With its innovative self-replicating, open-source design and quality 3D printing, the Mendel is first on our list of best 3D printers for 2012.
The Printrbot+ (pronounced “printer bot plus”) is one of the largest build-it-yourself 3D printers available, with a build volume of 512 cubic inches. Sure, there are larger build areas available for people willing to fork over a couple thousand dollars to own or rent a 3D printer. But at $699 (or $949 if purchased fully assembled), the Printrbot+ offers an unbeatable print-space-per-dollar value, which is one of the big reasons we love it so much.
The Printrbot+ is also lightweight, with frames cut from birch wood, and it utilizes integrated 12 mm rods and bearings that make putting this machine together in under an hour a breeze. The Printrbot+ uses 3 mm ABS plastic filament.
MakerBot Replicator 2
MakerBot is one of the few “household names” in desktop 3D printing, and the company’s Replicator 2 makes it obvious why that is. A step up from the Printrbot+ when it comes to the detail and precision of its productions, the Replicator 2 is especially good at producing models and detailed rapid prototypes.
The printer has 412 cubic inches of build volume framed by an attractive powder-coated steel chassis. It also comes with a software package that slices virtual models up to 20 times faster than the previous version. At $2,199, the factory-assembled Replicator 2 is competitively priced, and is hands down one of the best 3D printing machines available on the market in 2012.
The Stratasys Mojo is the most expensive machine on our list, but it’s also the most robust. As a professional-grade machine, the Mojo is capable of producing high-grade products out of a wide range of coiled ABS plastics. The Mojo also stands out from other printers on our list based on its design, which makes it look as close to a large 2D printer as any 3D printer we’ve seen.
And although the price tag of $9,900 is very high, given the superb degree of quality, precision, and ease-of-use, the Mojo deserves to be compared to industry-grade machines (whose prices can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars). The Mojo is one of the best 3D printers of 2012 and it certainly isn’t one of the most expensive.
Upcoming Kickstarter 3D Printer : Formlabs Form 1
The Formlabs Form 1 is similar to the Replicator 2, but it stands out in some very distinct ways. Unlike the extrusion system used by most desktop 3D printers—which heat plastic and force it out of a nozzle—the Form 1 uses precision lasers to harden a bath of plastic resin and build models layer-by-layer. This innovative system not only allows for incredible precision, it also looks amazing, as the models appear as if they’re being pulled out of a pool of chemicals.
In fact, the Form 1 might be the coolest looking 3D printer to be released, and the design of its orange plastic canopy and brushed aluminum housing helped to ensure it a spot on our list. The build volume of the Form 1 is relatively small, coming in at 117.6 cubic inches. The Form 1 is also one of the more expensive printers we selected, with a pre-order price of about $3,299.00.
This concludes our list of the best 3D printers of 2012. Feel free to send us other options that we may have missed on or tell us why or why not our picks have been on point or off by a mile.