Long gone are the days when 3D printers were all DIY kits, endless tinkering, and frustrating troubleshooting. Nowadays, it’s never been easier to start a journey into the marvelous world of 3D printing. Thanks to improvements made since 3D printers rose to prominence over a decade ago, today’s market abounds with well-designed, efficient machines capable of pumping out high-quality custom creations.
Somewhat more importantly, the cost of entry is more reasonable than ever, firmly exiling the extortionate prices of early high-end models to the past. It’s now entirely possible to pick up a sturdy and reliable printer for under $500. Prices soared beyond $1000 in the not too distant past. While this new affordability opens up doors for first-timers to try their hand at 3D printing, numerous questions can put many off making that first step, chiefly what should be my first 3D printer?
Today, we’re honing in on the very best 3D printers under $500, with one key aim: take much of the legwork out of the equation and greatly simplify that first purchase.
How We Picked
It’s very easy to find yourself bogged down in the details when it comes to 3D printers due to their highly technical nature. Navigating the 3D printing lexicon can feel daunting, or worse, put someone off completely. While half the fun of 3D printing is experimentation alongside a hefty dose of learning, many just want to start printing.
As such, factors like ease of assembly and use, build volume and quality, and reliability were crucial in our selection process. We’ve tried to avoid getting too technical and set our sights on printers that will serve newcomers and a bit more daring first-timers best. We also veered towards manufacturers with a proven track record of quality and little to no technical issues to ensure the 3D printers we recommend score extra points for longevity and reliability. Naturally, as our headline says, we’ve kept the price tag under $500.
Our search led to four top picks for the best 3D printer under $500. Let’s get into it.
Best 3D Printer Under $500 in 2021
Excellent print quality for the price
Good build volume
Easy DIY upgrades
No auto bed leveling
The Creality Ender 3 Pro makes our list for the excellent price-to-performance value on offer. Creality has been around since 2014, and they’ve injected each successive iteration of the Ender model with the know-how and expertise picked up along the way. The Creality Ender 3 Pro is a prime example of this and is, in fact, one of the latest upgrades to Creality’s respected Ender line-up.
The upgrades include a beefier power supply, better components, and a magnetic build surface, which work to offer a safer and more stable printer. The Creality Ender 3 Pro specifications include features you’d expect from pricier options, notably a fairly sizable build volume of 220 mm x 220 mm x 250 mm, a power recovery mode, a heated bed, and a tight filament pathway. The results speak to this with superb quality prints for the price. As an FDM printer using standard 1.75 mm filament, the Creality Ender 3 Pro is ideal for those that want to keep costs down moving forward.
The Creality Ender 3 Pro does ship as an assembly kit, and while the build may take a few hours, it’s relatively straightforward. As kit assembly printers go, the Creality Ender 3 Pro is among the simplest to get up and running. You have to factor in a bit of setting up and calibration, chiefly because it doesn’t include an auto-leveling feature, though. Despite what may be a drawback for novices, investing the time to set up the Creality Ender 3 Pro correctly translates to excellent prints for a 3D printer under $300.
The Creality Ender 3 Pro is ideal for those who want to learn as they build, supported by a bustling community of Ender enthusiasts. It also has the added benefit of being exceptionally well geared towards tinkering and upgrades. As Creality bluntly puts it, the Ender 3 Pro is ‘hackable as hell.’
Large build volume
Good print detail
Easy assembly for what is ostensibly a kit printer
Its popularity means availability issues at retailers
Struggles with certain materials such as ABS
If you are looking for a 3D printer capable of churning out large prints for under $500, then look no further than the Creality CR-10 Mini. Although the Mini naming convention runs counter to what you’d expect, the Creality CR-10 Mini offers a generous 300 mm x 220 mm x 300mm, which you’d typically find on much pricier models. It is nevertheless smaller than its namesake, the full-fat CR-10.
Besides the roomy print volume, the Creality CR-10 Mini shines in other aspects. The build quality is more than respectable for an FDM printer, and, for the price, it even delivers excellent results when it comes to details. Other pluses include an auto-resume function in case of loss of power, a heated removable glass bed, sturdy build quality, and a simple overall design that lends itself to easy maintenance should you encounter any issues.
While Creality advises the printer as suitable for a decent list of materials, it does hit roadblocks when it comes to the more erratic ones such as ABS. Print success varies greatly, so we’d suggest steering well clear of these. Another point worth considering is availability. The CR-10’s popularity means it tends to fly off the shelves, and to find one can sometimes be a little tricky.
Unlike the Ender 3 Pro, the Creality CR-10 Mini ships virtually assembled, with pre-assemblies that simply need joining together. Rather than hours, you’re looking at 20 minutes or so before your up and printing.
Easy to use
If you have your eye on producing fine-detail prints, for example, miniatures or elaborate showcase pieces, but are restricted by a $500 budget, then our money is on the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro. Released as a successor to the excellent Mars Pro, the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro follows its predecessors’ footsteps with an all-in-one resin solution. Fitted with a 2K LCD screen, 50 micron XY resolution, and 129 mm x 80 mm x 160 mm build volume (above the average for resin printers), the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro ships as a pre-assembled unit, which when paired with the ChiTuBox software, means almost instantaneous out of the box usage. Aside from a straightforward bed leveling procedure, we can overstate how easy it is to use the Elegoo Mars 2.
Somewhat unusually for a resin printer, the print speeds offered by the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro are surprisingly fast and easily dwarf competitor budget models and even pricier alternatives. The printer attains these speeds thanks to Elegoo incorporating a monochrome LCD for the masking process, which drastically reduces the time it takes for the resin to harden up and cure. Compared to the previous Mars Pro, print times are more or less halved. As for the quality, the results are nothing short of remarkable for a sub-$500 printer: fine details, blemish-less surfaces, and excellent all-round quality.
As for negatives, we have to nitpick to find anything substantial wrong with the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro. It does emit a bit of a stench, but this is common for resin printers, and it does include an activated carbon filter that helps to cut that down. Other negatives include the absence of 4K, somewhat noisy fans, and an unshielded LCD that’s prone to scratching. Once again, these are minor gripes for the price.
Superb detailed/intricate prints
Generous build volume
Ease of us
Quick cure times
Closing out our pick of the top four 3D printers under $500 is the Anycubic Photon Mono. Another resin 3D printer, the Anycubic Photon Mono balances affordability, ease of use, and quality print results into a package that oozes all-round value.
Under the hood, you are eyeing up a 2K monochrome LCD, a roomy 165 mm x 80 mm x 130 mm build volume, 51 microns XY resolution, and, as far as resin printers go, a reasonably self-contained 3D printing work station that’s simple to set up (pull it out of the packaging, plug in the power cord, level the bed, and you can start churning out creations). As with other MSLA printers, layer cure times are impressively short, resulting in a much faster printing process overall.
Unsurprisingly for a resin printer, Anycubic Photon Mono stakes its claim as one of the best budget options when it comes to delicate, highly-detailed print. It’s not just the quality of the prints that stand out, but how much of the heavy lifting the Photon Mono, paired with the versatile Photon Workshop slicer, does on the user’s behalf. Great prints require very little sustained preparation.
While the Anycubic Photon Mono has a lot going for it, the plastic resin vat bears the brunt of Anycubic’s compromises to keep the cost down. It’s a question of durability after hours of interaction with toxic resin, which Anycubic could have easily avoided with a metal alternative. Naturally, resin requires a more costly long term investment than filament. Indeed, a point worth considering if you intend to jump into 3D printing for the long term.
Things To Consider
Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA or Resin) or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM or Filament)
Even the most cursory research into 3D printing invariably coughs up the acronyms SLA and FDM/FFF. While we’ll avoid offering a crash course into the specifics of the printing technique underlying each, we’ll focus instead on how they serve different applications. And, they indeed shine in very different ways.
FDM printers print significantly faster than their resin counterparts due to the layering technique used, making them an ideal option for those with limited time or who need quick prototyping. FDM creations aren’t the most accurate, although their durability and strength make them a top choice for practical uses and multiple iterations of the same model. Additionally, those sticking to a strict budget may prefer filament, with spoils more than half the price of resin. Standardized roll sizes mean better availability and a broader range of materials (PLA, PVA, nylon, etc.) and colors.
On the other hand, resin printers work best for higher resolutions, producing finer detailed models and smoother surfaces/finishes with fewer imperfections. This extra precision does come with less durability, longer print times, and a higher cost, not just for the printers themselves but the resin and post-processing chemicals, chiefly isopropyl alcohol, as well. There are also fewer material options and colors, with printers often only accepting proprietary manufacturer materials. Overall, resin printing is a more involved and costly process (not to speak of the foul-smelling fumes), but the print quality trumps FDM printers.
Packaged 3D printers come in many forms. Some are more or less pre-assembled with a few simple steps to make them print-ready, while others come in pieces and require a complete assembly. If you’re jumping into 3D printing for the first time and aren’t confident in your assembly skills, it may be best to opt for a printer that works pretty much out of the box.
If ease of assembly is a big concern, YouTube is a great resource. The glut of unboxing videos on the platform also extends to the 3D printing scene, and there’s something for virtually every 3D printer under the sun. In some instances, there are even full video assembly guides, with several manufacturers offering official vetted step-by-step guides. We recommend a quick watch to get an idea of what’s required if you are worried about the assembly process.
There’s a lot of sense in choosing a budget option when trying out 3D printing for the first time. A small investment to test the waters with the possibility of reselling with little to no loss in value is a wise move. But, when it comes to 3D printing, dirt cheap isn’t always the best option, even for novices.
The technical nature of 3D printing means that quality is generally synonymous with a higher price. The medium’s relative infancy means we aren’t quite at a point where even the cheapest options offer respectable results.
The cheapest 3D printers invariably come with compromises, whether that’s in the quality of the prints, technical hurdles, and, quite simply, limitations to what you can hope to print with any success. Raising your budget even by $100 or so can vastly improve the results, and in our guide, we’ve tried to find a middle ground between price and decent performances. On the other hand, if the result isn’t a prime consideration and you’re more in it for the learning experience with an eye on an upgrade further down the line, then the least expensive printer is a viable option.
It’s worth noting that our guide features only a limited number of 3D printers, and there are countless others out there. Still, these four top picks are an ideal entry point into 3D printing and produce exceptional results without bleeding you dry financially.
For an excellent filament printer under $500, our money is on the Creality Ender 3 Pro. Reasonably-priced, yet reliable, and capable of delivering quality prints, the Ender 3 Pro’s pseudo-DIY approach should please those interested in tinkering/upgrades and novice alike.
If large scale prints are your cup of tea, then the Creality CR-10 Mini hits the spot with incredible build volume value for the price and overall footprint. It also has the added benefits of easy assembly and good quality prints. Our vote for the best resin 3D printer under $500 goes uncontested to the Elegoo Mars 2 Pro. Definitely one for those hoping for smooth surfaces and flawless detail.
Finally, for those looking for a non-nonsense value resin option, we have the speedy Anycubic Photon Mono. Intricate prints come out great, but getting there is where this printer wins points: it’s effortless to use and intuitive.
With that, our guide to the best 3D printers under $500 comes to an end. Best of luck on your search, and should you have any questions, pop them in the comments section below, and we’ll be sure to respond.