3D Printers for Rapid Prototyping

3D Printers for Rapid Prototyping

Jump to our list of top 10 3D printers for rapid prototyping

As desktop 3D printing is increasingly becoming popular and widespread, the market is getting saturated with various types of 3D printers. Hence, choosing one becomes more difficult as there are certain differences that you need to account for. Most importantly, the methods used in the process.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what your needs are. The 3D printing methods aren’t specifically tailored for particular projects as there are some pros and cons to using each of them. Each method differs from the other so users need to carefully create a game plan and account factors like the speed of the printer, the time it takes to finish the project, build materials and the overall cost. Thus, it stands to reason that selecting the printing method is your number one priority, as the rest of the proceedings will depend on that outcome. Hopefully, this guide will help you decide which rapid 3D printer best suits your needs.

Let’s start with getting ourselves acquainted with the different available methods of rapid 3D printing.

3D Printing Methods

There are several methods that define the process, making it possible to achieve end goals by utilizing different means. However, three methods stand out as being the most common ones – fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS). We will mostly focus on this trio, but we also won’t fail to mention other methods, such as digital light processing (DLP) binder jetting, material jetting, metal jetting and so on.

Two primary differences between separate printing methods are the technique or the procedure with which the layers are placed to create parts and the materials used in the process. It starts with a creation of computer-aided design (CAD) file which comes to life thanks to the different printing methods. Some methods melt or soften the material to create the layers, others cure liquid materials, while there are also methods that cut the material to the desired shape and then join it together. The bottom line is that every one of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Fused deposition modeling (FDM)

This is perhaps the most popular method because of the sheer number of matching printers available for purchase on the market. FDM is a term trademarked by Stratasys, Inc. The method is also frequently called fused filament fabrication (FFF), while the name plastic jet printing (PJP) is rarely used. It is a popular choice for individuals due to the fact that is more affordable than other 3D printing methods, while also being easy to use.

This process is fairly simple. The material is melted into a semi-liquid state and supplied through a nozzle attached to an extruder. The extruder forms layers onto the print bed as the material hardens. The print bed lowers for each new layer and repeats the process until the object is completed. The thickness of the layers regulates the quality of the 3D print with options to increase or decrease it.

While there are other printing materials developed for FDM such as carbon, bronze and wood, the most commonly used printing materials in the process are plastic filaments: ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), PLA (polylactic acid) and PC (polycarbonate). These materials provide rather accurate and strong prints with a rough surface quality. The method is ideal for fast, low-cost prototyping, but also quite useful for the manufacture of functional end products with broad applications.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography has a long history of use as it is the oldest method of rapid 3D printing. An industrial variant can be used for printing objects that are significantly bigger in size, compared to FDM, ranging well up to two meters.

The printing takes place in a container with an ultraviolet laser heading the proceedings. First, a layer of liquid plastic (photopolymer resin) is spread over a platform. Then, a UV laser starts to form layers one at a time. For each layer, the platform is lowered with the next layer drawn directly on top of the previous one. Since the liquid plastic is UV-sensitive, exposure to UV light cures and solidifies it. Upon completion of the object, a supporting platform raises it out of the container and the excess liquid drips away.

Materials used with this printing method are mostly limited to different kinds of resin (paintable resin, transparent resin, etc.). Finished prototypes feature smooth, high-quality surfaces that provide lots of post-processing opportunities, such as highly detailed sculptures and jewelry molds. Stereolithography is used almost exclusively for prototyping smaller objects as they can be printed within a short period of time and with relatively cheap cost.

Selective laser sintering (SLS)

This method differs from FDM and SLA printing mainly through its additional choice of printing materials. SLS uses various plastics with powdered materials to print objects in a process that is similar to stereolithography.

Once more, the laser is at the forefront, first mapping out the first layer in powder, then selectively sintering the material. As SLS printers have two beds, the first print bed slightly moves down while the second bed containing the powder moves up. Then, a fresh layer of powder is spread on the object and the process is repeated until it has been completed.

Because the method is complex and messy, SLS prototyping is mostly used for industrial 3D printing. Nevertheless, desktop printers have been developed recently and are expected to soon become conventional means of 3D printing. SLS printers provide functional parts and prototypes, as well as some specific end products. Unlike SLA and FDM methods, SLS doesn’t require the use of support structures as the printing object is always surrounded by unsintered powder. This provides a great level of design freedom but takes the whole process longer to complete.

Other methods

Digital light processing (DLP) is very similar to stereolithography. The main difference here is a projector that is used to cure photopolymer resin, instead of a UV laser. Other than that, these two methods are almost identical and you’ll often find printers that support both methods.

Binder jetting uses inkjet print heads that apply a liquid bonding agent onto the thin layers of powder. By gluing the particles together, the part is built up layer by layer. This results in fragile parts with limited mechanical properties if further processing is not done.

Material jetting is much alike a common inkjet paper printing, applying the material in droplets layer by layer. The method achieves good accuracy and surface finishes but is limited to wax-like materials only. As a result, the fabricated parts are somewhat fragile and the complete process is rather slow.

Selective laser melting (SLM) and electronic beam melting (EBM) are two metal jetting 3D printing methods. The primary difference between these methods is the power sources. SLM uses a high-power laser beam, while EBM uses an electron beam as its power source. The process is pretty similar to SLS, with metallic powders being fully melted in this case. The two methods are used for complex geometries and objects with thin walls and hidden voids, but take a long time for development and are fairly expensive.

Laminated object manufacturing (LOM) uses adhesive-coated paper, metal laminates or plastic as printing materials. These materials are first used together with heat and pressure, then cut into the desired shape by a laser or a knife. Even though this is not among the popular methods, it is rather affordable and speedy with low printing cost due to non-expensive raw materials. There is some post-processing to do, especially with larger objects.

Maintenance

With devices of this magnitude, it is essential that you perform maintenance regularly in order to avoid malfunctions. If you notice your prints are not coming out right, chances are something is wrong and needs fixing. To avoid these situations from the start, it helps to have a rapid prototyping machine that requires low levels of maintenance. There are a few things to look out for.

As a rule of thumb, open-source printers are easy to maintain. The parts are easier to access and remove, and, if need be, replace. For instance – nozzle cleaning, one of the most common maintenance actions, is much easier to do if you can easily remove it and clean it away from the printer. Because of the different material/filament properties, some will clog the nozzle more frequently than others. The print bed is another part of the machine that will require regular cleaning. This is more accentuated with the SLA printers. Due to the printing material (various types of resin), the printing process is messier and requires you to deal with the sticky resin and rubbing alcohol. So, printers with additional coats of PEI (polyetherimide) generally require less cleaning, due to their better material adhesion.

Another part of 3D printer maintenance is the firmware update. It is just as important to perform routinely as most manufacturers listen to their existing customers and actively work on improving their products according to their feedback. That way, even if you maintain your hardware and still get buggy performance, the firmware may be the answer. The same goes for the software update, albeit in a smaller capacity.

How to choose the proper 3D printer for rapid prototyping

Depending on your end goal, you need to choose the printing method that is the most adequate. If you are looking for fully functional, durable plastic parts with a limited amount of post-processing, then fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the method for you. A cheaper alternative would be selective laser sintering (SLS), albeit with lesser quality and longer time to complete. Stereolithography is your pick if you want to quickly produce small, refined and highly detailed objects that don’t require finishing touches. The type of material, development time, as well as the resulting cost play vital role here so careful consideration is in order.

 

Top 10 3D Printers for Rapid Prototyping

 

Ultimaker2Ultimaker 2

Ultimaker 2, as the name would suggest it, is a continuation of the Dutch company’s Ultimaker model series.

Technology: FDM
Price: $2,499
Materials: ABS, PLA
Printing speed: 30 – 300 mm/s
Build size: 23 x 20.5 x 22.5 cm
Min/max layer height: 20/200
Difficulty of use: everyone
Rating: 8.6
Company: Ultimaking Ltd

This 3D printer for prototyping has a sturdy, white-framed construction. It features a single extruder and a large build area. The build platform is made out of sheets of glass and lined with a heated bed. The subsequent heating before every print helps keep plastic objects from curling up. Before the first print, it’s necessary to apply some glue (comes included) to the center of the platform. This makes it very easy to remove objects after printing and thus requires little further maintenance.

Ultimaker 2 is fairly simple to setup and easy to navigate. The printer comes with Cura, a free software package which offers beginner, advanced, and expert settings options. However, Ultimaker 2 is one of the 3D printers that comes without a USB connection support for printing. The printer does sport a USB port, but it is used for firmware updates only. Instead, you have to use an SD card slot with a card that’s included in the package. The device is Wi-Fi ready, although you need to buy an additional adapter for it. Print quality is consistently good throughout three resolution presets: high (60 microns), medium (100 microns), and low (200 microns). There is an option of a ultra-high 20 microns (0.02mm layer resolution) by manual value input. Naturally, the higher the resolution is, the longer the printing time will be as the resulting prints feature the highest level of detailing, which Ultimaker 2 delivers effortlessly.

The price might be an issue and could possibly present a significant reason to move away from Ultimaker 2. Namely, it cost $2,899 at the time of its launch. Curiously, the product is absent from the official Ultimaker homepage which makes it difficult to ascertain its price. Seeing that the website sells Ultimaker 2+, its advanced brother, for approximately $2,018 and that the smaller Ultimaker 2 Go is priced at around $1,272, it should fall somewhere in between, closer to the $2,000 mark. In that case, pricing would not be an issue, making Ultimaker 2 rather affordable. Additionally, there is also a possibility of purchasing an extruder upgrade to convert it into an Ultimaker 2+.

Conclusion

Ultimaker 2 gravitates toward users such as small business looking to do quality rapid prototyping, product designers, hobbyists, as well as first-time 3D printing users due to its overall ease of use and low-cost material. Those characteristics also make it a good fit for educational purposes, although those on a budget might look some place else.

Zortrax M200Zortrax M200

Zortrax is a 3D printer manufacturer from Poland who rose to fame with Kickstarter funding of its M200 model. The quality of it now speaks for itself, as this is one of the best consumer-level 3D printers you’ll find.

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Technology: FDM
Price: $1,650
Materials: ABS, PLA, PET, Nylon
Printing speed: 100 – 400mm/s
Build area: 20 x 18.5 x 20 cm
Min/max layer height: 90/400
Difficulty of use: everyone
Rating: 8.9
Company: Zortrax

Zortrax M200 has a sturdy aluminum frame, giving a feel of premium build quality. The next thing you’ll notice is how easy it is to get the machine running. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to start printing, making it an excellent out-of-the-box printer. The same goes for calibration, thanks to the implemented automated platform leveling system.

The Z-Suite software that comes with the printer allows for accurate printing at the maximum high resolution of 25 microns. The software is simple, offering basic options, as well as multiple control settings for those seeking a more advanced printing experience. As is the case with Ultimaker 2, there is no PC-to-printer USB connection, but an SD card slot with a provided 4GB card. What characterizes this single extruder printer is the consistency of the prints. It’s a well-known fact that even the long prints finish without a problem, with the printer’s documented success rate over 90 percent. The perforated build platform plays a key role here as it prevents ABS material from warping.

M200 is optimized for its own proprietary filament, which hinders creativity and material availability. Effectively, you are limited to only a few material options, although Zortrax is active in broadening their offerings. The printer also lacks temperature controls for further tinkering with the lower-costing material. Other than that, one serious drawback of this printer is the cost. While the M200 does deliver in terms of reliability and print quality, the single extruder and the lack of open-source capabilities seriously question the given amount you need to cash out for this machine.

Conclusion

There is much to like about M200. Plug-and-play capability, super reliable printing and its general ease of use make it a mighty fine rapid prototyping machine. Both beginners and experts will find it very appealing for its high-quality, almost industrial-grade 3D prints. However, there are much cheaper alternatives to beginners who may seek their 3D printing fortune elsewhere.

Prusa i3 MK2Prusa i3 MK2

This budget-friendly and a distinct 3D printer from the Czech Republic comes in two forms – as a DIY kit and as a pre-assembled, fully calibrated printer.

Technology: FDM
Price: $690.00 (kit); $890.00 (pre-assembled)
Materials: PLA, ABS, PET, HIPS, Flex PP and many more
Printing speed: 20 – 150mm/s
Build area: 25 x 21 x 20 cm
Min/max layer height: 50/200
Difficulty of use: beginner, intermediate
Rating: 9.1
Company: Prusa Research

The versatile printer features the company’s i3 design, found on other products, which is completely open-source. At the center is the slightly larger build area, compared to most printers. The MK2 has only one extruder but makes up for it with its excellent heated bed. It consists of a thick printed circuit board (PCB) heater covered with a thin PEI (polyetherimide) foil. As a result, it quickly heats up and cools down and has a superb bed adhesion. Another neat PCB feature is the zones with different heating properties. These zones provide even temperature distribution throughout the heated bed. This is very important when printing larger prints out of plastic with high-temperature properties. On the left side of the hot end is the inductive probe that features automatic bed leveling, among other things.

Setting up the machine takes very little time. You can connect it to your computer via USB port and print almost immediately. The computer recognizes it as a printer device so you can begin your printing momentarily. Windows 10 users are especially in for a treat as it recognizes MK2 as a 3D printer, which means you can use the integrated 3D Builder app along with other CAD software. The default setup itself produces quality and consistent prints. Further tinkering reveals the “silent mode” option which reduces the noise during printing but also limits it to prints under 400 grams.

The “silent mode” option is there for a reason. The noise level that MK2 produces is often high and can be somewhat distracting. Another drawback might be the lack of a dual extruder setup for those looking for a more advanced experience. However, dual and quad extrusion upgrades are available as of lately, along with the multi material upgrade.

Conclusion

Prusa i3 MK2 is one of the best budget 3D printers that consistently produces high-quality prints. Its open-source concept, easy setup and immediate printing without previous tuning make it a highly popular choice among many 3D printing enthusiasts. MK2 even outperforms higher-priced printers from different classes. Both newcomers and experts will find in it almost everything they are looking for in a 3D printer.

Flashforge Creator ProFlashforge Creator Pro

The Pro version is the successor to the FlashForge Creator 3D printer. The original printer was an entry level model, but FlashForge Creator Pro brings some serious improvements.

Technology: FDM
Price: $899.00
Materials: ABS, PLA, PVA, exotics
Printing speed: 40 – 100mm/s
Build area: 22,5 x 14,5 x 15 cm
Min/max layer height: 100/500
Difficulty of use: intermediate
Rating: 8.6
Company: FlashForge

Unlike its predecessor, Pro has a heavy-duty metal frame with an enclosed chassis. The front part sports a clear, acrylic display and an LCD panel beneath it. Inside is a LED lighting-infused build area that is slightly smaller than usually found in other printers. The printing material is fed through a dual extruder system onto a heated aluminum bed. There is a three-point platform leveling system in place which helps reduce warping.

Printing can be done over a wired USB cable or by using an included SD card. Software-wise, FlashForge Creator Pro comes with Replicator G suite, which supports Windows, Mac OSX and, Linux. The printer also works fine with other software. It produces high-quality objects quickly, thanks to its dual extruder. The option of both closed and open build area is a nice addition. The closed design works best for ABS material as it gets warm during prints. On the other hand, the open build area design best suits PLA material that needs to be cooled and ventilated during printing.

As with every 3D printer, there are some downsides. In the case of FlashForge Creator Pro, the second extruder sometimes knocks off the printing object from the heated bed. The machine is not quite plug-and-play as it takes some time to set it up properly. There have also been some concerns regarding overall efficiency. Still, the printer has a large community support ready to help out at any moment.

Conclusion

The machine is built on an open-source platform so you can experiment and upgrade to get the best out of it. Apart from different hardware and software, you can use third-party filaments for your designs. FlashForge Creator Pro is another rapid prototyping 3d printer suitable for people who want to get into 3D printing with an affordable machine. It’s very well made and features a dual extruder, something a lot of 3D printers in this price range lack. However, some technical knowledge is required as the machine is a bit difficult to set up and start working.

Formlabs Form 2Formlabs Form 2

Form 2 is Formlabs’ third generation printer that improves upon the Form 1 series with a wide range of new features.

Technology: SLA + DLP
Price: $3,499.00
Materials: resin
Build area: 14.5 x 14.5 x 17.5 cm
Min/max layer height: 25/100
Difficulty of use: intermediate, professional
Rating: 9.0
Company: Formlabs

Formlabs has become known as a premium maker of resin-based desktop 3D printers. Form 2 continues along those lines while bringing something new. It sports a signature orange enclosure that sits on a metal base. The build area is almost double the size that Form 1+, but still considerably smaller than other, FDM printers. Still, Form 2 uses stereolithography (SLA) technology/method with the focus on the tiniest details. A self-heating resin tank warms the resin to a consistent temperature, making sure that the print process produces quality and reliable prints. There is also an automatic resin feed system installed that refills the resin if the amount in the tank is low.

Form 2 uses the company’s own PreForm software, downloadable for Windows or Mac from the Formlabs site. Among the usual stuff, you can remotely track the progress of your print jobs through the company’s website. One rather handy feature is the number of connectivity options. You can either connect the printer via Ethernet, WiFi, or USB 2.0, basically however you please. The printer is controlled through a smartphone-sized touch screen which displays upload and printing progress, temperatures and so on. The resulting prints are of the highest quality and among some of the best from any desktop 3D printer. The printer’s default resolution of 100 microns gives away great results on it own, without additional tweaking. And best of all – it doesn’t take much to set it up and start working. A finishing kit is included in the package.

The central issue regarding Form 2 is its price and running costs. While the price for a SLA prototype printer is usually around the $5,000 range, Form 2 is well below that mark with its $3,499.00 price. Yet, both the printer and printing materials are significantly pricier compared to 3D printers that use a plastic filament. Since the printer is not open-source, you are limited to using Formlabs’ standard liquid resin which adds to running costs. In addition, the print process is messy due to the nature of stereolithography.

Conclusion

Considering this particular 3D printer for prototyping is primarily aimed at professionals, the price factor is not that much of an issue. 3D printing hobbyists, artists, and consumers with a non-restricting budget that seek out high-resolution print will also find Form 2 appealing. Businesses that require sporadic short-run manufacturing and professionals such as product designers, architects and others will have a hard time finding a better choice with first-class print quality and a relatively low price for an SLA 3D printer.

MakerGear M2MakerGear M2

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The fifth generation of MakerGear 3D printers continues in the fine line of the US manufacturer’s 3D printer assembly.

Technology: FDM
Price: $1,825.00 (single extruder); $2,225.00 (dual extruder)
Materials: ABS, PLA, PET, Nylon, Flexibles
Printing speed: 80 – 450mm/s
Build area: 25.4 x 20.3 x 20.3 cm
Min/max layer height: 25/100
Difficulty of use: intermediate, professional
Rating: 9.2
Company: Makergear

The first M2 was released in 2012. Since then, the model has undergone several improvements, making it one of the finer desktop 3D printers around. It has a rather striking appearance, with a sturdy all-black steel frame and aluminum construction. Some parts around the extruder are made of plastic which can be printed if necessary. M2 has an open printing area with a four-point heated bed made out of borosilicate glass. You can choose between a single or a dual extruder setup, the difference being a cool $400. Additionally, the printer is fully open-source in terms of electronics, firmware, and filament. You can adjust it any way you want with interchangeable nozzles, extruder system, and other add-ons while being free to use the filament of your choice.

An interesting note is that the M2 doesn’t come with a native software. MakerGear does provide a download link on its website for free Slic3r and Pronterface software. The printer is compatible with many open-source and commercially available modeling, slicing, and printer control software for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The company recommends Simplify3D.
You can connect the printer via USB cable or stick, as well as with an SD card. You can immediately print objects after plugging in the printer. The end results are excellent, almost industrial grade level on high resolution.

However, such superb results require previous technical knowledge. The machine is not as easy to use as some other 3D printers. It can also be a bit noisier at times, due to its open build area. The price might be the deterrent in this case, especially with a single extruder version.

Conclusion

Because it is completely open-source, the M2 has a rather easy maintenance with easily accessible parts and a reasonable filament cost. While this is certainly not a beginner level machine, M2 is a versatile rapid prototyping 3D printer that produces high grade prints once you get the hang of it. Small businesses looking to do some in-house work will find it compelling due to its industrial-like precision and modular nature.

LulzBot MiniLulzbot Mini

The Mini is the smallest FDM printer by US manufacturer Aleph Objects and one of the smallest 3D printers in general.

Technology: FDM
Price: $1,250.00
Materials: ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, bronze, copper, wood, exotics and more
Printing speed: 275mm/sec
Build area: 15.2 x 15.2 x 15.8 cm
Min/max layer height: 50/500
Difficulty of use: everyone
Rating: 9.1
Company: Aleph Objects

The Mini is an entry-level printer with a low level of expertise needed to operate it. It’s made out of black-painted steel frame with an open build area. The build area is considerably smaller and in line with the model’s designation. The print bed is fashioned from borosilicate glass and features a PEI layer that prevents warping. Features worth mentioning include an auto-leveling bed, an all-metal hexagon hot end and a self-cleaning nozzle on a single extruder system. The machine has an open-source hardware and software which is always an advantage.

A large part of the Mini’s undeniable charm is its plug-and-play style. Unboxing, plugging it in, connecting and finally, printing takes around 20 minutes. As you can see, Lulzbot Mini is the true definition of a PnP device. The machine supports a wide array of open-source 3D printing programs. Aleph Objects recommends using Cura LulzBot Edition, a version of the popular open-source Cura 3D printing software that’s been optimized specifically for use with LulzBot printers. The software is hassle-free, offering three basic modes of printing: high (140 to 180 microns, depending on the material), normal (250 microns), and low (380 microns). Of course, there are also expert settings for additional fiddling. For connection purposes, a USB port is at disposal. The final print products deliver great overall quality, especially considering a plethora of material choices you can print with. More importantly, this is a highly reliable machine with a bare minimum of print failures.

There is one considerable downside to Mini’s printing use. There is no way to control the printer on the printer itself, meaning it requires a constant connection to a computer. However, the large community of users has found a workaround by using Raspberry Pi and other similar devices. Also, having an open build means the noise level is higher than usual.

Conclusion

All in all, the Lulzbot Mini is a fine example of a plug-and-play 3D printer done right. Its reliability, low maintenance and a remarkable ease of operation make it a good choice for wide audiences. Hobbyists, educational facilities and small businesses looking to do some FDM prototyping are in for a treat. Artists and designers, in particular will value the Mini’s support of almost countless printing materials.

LulzBot Taz 6Lulzbot Taz 6

The second entry on the list from Aleph Objects, the Lulzbot Taz 6 is another fine example of the company’s excellent line of open-source 3D printers.

Technology: FDM
Price: $2,500.00
Materials: ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, bronze and more
Printing speed: 30 – 200mm/sec
Build area: 28 x 28 x 25 cm
Min/max layer height: 50/500
Difficulty of use: intermediate, professional
Rating: 9.1
Company: Aleph Objects

Taz 6 shares many well-known features with its Mini brother, with additional enhancements. The 6th gen model sports the same sturdy and durable steel frame. There is an all-metal hot end and a huge build area that enables larger prints or multiple small ones at once. The print bed is heated and covered with a PEI layer. Taz 6 also features a single extruder system, automatic bed leveling and self-cleaning. Its open source design allows flexible and multi-material upgrades.

Cura LulzBot Edition is once again the software of choice, while this time connectivity is provided through a USB connection and an SD card (a 4GB card is part of the package). You control the stand-alone printing with the LCD screen coupled with a control dial on the printer body. The interface is pretty straightforward and easy to use. The printer achieves excellent print quality on the default setting alone. Further adjusting on the High setting produces even better, more precise results expected of such high-end machine. Both the curves and the sharp edges of various geometric shapes have an equal, high-quality finish.

Priced at $2,500, Taz 6 raises quite a few eyebrows, especially considering the fact that it has only one extruder. However, LulzBot sells a dual extruder tool head separately, along with other modifications. Additionally, the Taz 6 is not a quiet printer which is somewhat expected considering its design.

Conclusion

In line with the series’ tradition, the Taz 6 is a powerful and reliable printer with lots of upgrade options, large build volume, and impressive printing results. While the Lulzbot Mini remains a better choice for more casual users, its big brother is geared towards businesses and professionals who want fast, reliable and stellar 3D printing.

CEL RoboxCEL Robox

This Kickstarter-funded 3D printer comes from the United Kingdom, featuring a much better experience than the early models.

Technology: FDM
Price: $1,499.00
Materials: PLA, ABS, mABS (clear), HIPS, PETG
Printing speed: 30 – 200mm/sec
Build area: 21 x 15 x 10 cm
Min/max layer height: 20/400
Difficulty of use: beginner, intermediate
Rating: 9.0
Company: CEL

The sort of unusual wide and stocky look of Robox reminds of a microwave oven or a breadbox. It has a hinged see-through panel that slides up to provide access to the print bed. Robox has two extruders and a proprietary extrusion system that can print in two materials at once. Along with the QuickFill Head filament feed system, those are the two features with which Robox has received critical acclaim. Still, the compact size of Robox does have a certain limitation regarding height. The relatively small build area limits the production of tall objects with a 10 cm maximum height. The removable print bed is heated, PEI-covered and features an auto-leveling system for accurate printing.

The Robox connects through a USB port and uses CEL’s own AutoMaker 3D printing software which can be downloaded via the company’s website. It quite easy to use, offering three print resolutions – draft (300 microns), normal (200 microns), and fine (100 microns). Advanced customization of the settings offers the print resolutions of 20 microns. The results are high-quality prints in all sorts of materials. Fine details show rather well, especially at the maximum high resolution.

Some of the minor complaints usually associated with the Robox is the lack of consistency and reliability that plagued earlier models. Apart from the overall small(ish) build volume, there’s not much to dislike. While not sporting an open-source design, the printer remains somewhat open, easily accepting any filament through.

Conclusion

As with every printer, there are certain settings and alignments to go through. The Robox is no different in that aspect. For the most part, the machine is relatively maintenance-free after the initial setup and provides high-quality prints. These are suitable for fashion items, jewelry, household repairs and other DIY items, as well as for prototypes of specific 3D models. CEL is one of the companies that actively works on improving their product with modular upgrades so you can expect various additions in the near future.

BCN3D SigmaBCN3D Sigma

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Sigma is a large professional FDM 3D printer for rapid prototyping, aimed at those who seek a superb quality print.

Technology: FDM
Price: $2,595.00
Materials: PLA, ABS, PVA, HIPS, TPE
Build area: 21 x 29.7 x 21 cm
Min/max layer height: 50/300
Difficulty of use: intermediate, professional
Rating: 8.9
Company: BCN3D Technologies

The Sigma has a durable, semi-open frame made of aluminum that features a large build area. The innovative IDEX (Independent Dual Extruder) system is clearly the star of the show, the element that makes the printer stand out. It provides easy calibration and clean results combining two different colors or different materials. Other noteworthy features include auto calibration probe, magnetic build plate and a straightforward and efficient filament feeding system. Despite its size, the rapid 3D printer is quite easy to set up, requiring no more than 20-30 minutes for starting the first print.

The connection is achieved through a USB port (wired) and an SD card for autonomous work. Management of the machine is possible by using a color touchscreen display. The Sigma uses Simplify3D as its 3D printing software of choice, one of the favorites among advanced users. As is the custom, there are three resolution presets: high (50 microns), medium (150 microns) and fast low quality (250 microns). In addition, there is an option for a strong print (200 microns). It’s also compatible with other 3D printing software, courtesy of its open-source approach. The Sigma prints almost anything with very high levels of quality and detail, providing an accurate and reliable printing. The dual extruder system allows for great freedom in combining different materials, while also working equally well as a single extruder system.

Downsides of the Sigma include the noise level which occasionally can be pretty high. It takes a lot of space and is significantly bigger in size to other counterparts.

Conclusion

The BCN3D is a robust printer that delivers quality prints. The IDEX system sets it apart from the rest of the class, as does its size. The ability to print almost anything in multiple colors is a feature worthy of a purchase alone. It’s dependable, versatile and anyone looking for advanced FDM prototyping will do extremely well with this machine.

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