We have coffee makers that can make a cup of joe right out of the box. We have smartphones that require little to no setup when bought new. We have printers that are plug-and-play, needing only a simple driver install before churning out print after print. So, why is it so tough to get 3D printers to do the same—function right out of the box with little to no setup beyond connecting to your device of choice and simply uploading your CAD model?
Granted, many variables differ for each print—size, resolution dynamics, and choice of material all come into play for each print. However, there should be a standard when it comes to plug-and-play for these machines. Auto-find my file type and just print the object using the CAD data therein…is that so difficult? Can we not have a civilization? Certainly, technology has come a long way to be able to handle such a feat, and in this roundup, we’ll look at ten 3D printers that come close to the notion of “click-and-print” with minimal setup.
TierTime Upbox+ $1,899 (Courtesy of TierTime)
Metal frame? Check. Enclosed casing? Check. Heat print bed? Check. All three of those features make for a decent 3D printer, allowing for a more consistent print, and TierTime’s Upbox has them and more. It comes with a closed plastic casing, a modularized melted-extrusion-modeling (MEM) print head and has a build volume of 10 × 8 × 8 in. As far as filaments go, it can take advantage of ABS, ABS+, and PLA, but will support others in the near future.
On the software side, the Upbox uses Up Studio, which is straightforward and supports STL and UP3, although others can be converted using third-party platforms. Setup is easy as well by connecting to your PC, Mac, or iOS device via USB or Wi-Fi.
Once the initial setup routine is complete, you can then upload your 3D file, manipulate the parameters needed (if required), and the Upbox does the rest. While it isn’t a simple plug-and-play machine, it does come pretty close, and with the myriad of features that come packed with it (blackout recovery, filament run-out recovery, HEPA filter, and more), it’s hard to pass this one up.
If you work for a company that needs a 3D printer or wants to try one, get this first. Printing parts in ABS will change how you prototype forever.
MakerGear M2 $1,825 (Courtesy of MakerGear)
The MakerGear M2 is similar to the Upbox in that it features a metal frame, heated print bed (110°C and up), and a build area of 8 × 8 × 10 in. However, it doesn’t have an enclosed case (although you could build your own) and comes with no software. Although they do recommend Simplify3D, you can use the modeling platform of your choice, such as Slic3er, Simplify3D, Blender, or SketchUp. Beyond the specs mentioned above, the M2 features 4-point leveling, single/dual extruder, and aluminum construction.
As far as filaments go, it can handle PLA, ABS, PET, HIPS, Poly and metal, wood, and carbon-fiber composites. When it comes to simplicity of use, MakerGear states, “open box, follow instructions, and beautiful prints will soon follow.” The M2 is probably the only 3D printer on this list that manages to get as close to plug-and-play or set-and-forget as possible—connect via USB (or use SD card), run initial setup, and upload your 3D model.
This is the printer used at my shop, to be honest. After much deliberation and searching models, this printer was found to produce amazing results… if everything is set just right. The metal frame was the first requirement, coming off of a plastic unibody printer I had before it. Since getting the MakerGear M2, an enclosure was built for it, one of those Ikea end-table mod enclosures. It consists of two end tables stacked on top of each other. The software driving it is Simplify3D. So far, the results are the best I have seen outside a quarter-million-dollar Objet printer.
TEVO Tarantula I3 $237 and up (Courtesy of TEVO 3D Technologies)
The bare minimum is the phrase that best describes TEVO’s Tarantula I3 3D printer. This machine comes as a kit, and it’s a great platform for beginners (or even experts for that matter) as a starter printer for its ease of use and ultra-low cost.
Ease of use and low cost don’t make a great 3D printer by no means, nope. It must meet the criteria stated previously, and it does—it comes with a solid metal frame and heated bed with self-leveling capability, but it doesn’t have an enclosure, thereby negating consistent heat and allowing for ambient airflow (bad for repeated print consistency). That doesn’t mean it’s not worth of building your own.
Regardless of that drawback, the Tarantula I3 features (depending on the additional extras) an 8- × 8- × 8-in. build area, dual-color metal extruder, and can take advantage of ABS, PLA, PETG, wood and PVS filaments. It uses a TF card or USB port for connecting to a PC or Mac, and like the MakerGear M2, you can use your software of choice for uploading G-code.
This is another instance where an enclosure built around it is a must. Prepare for a little project before using this printer.
Prusa Research Prusa i3 $699 (Courtesy of Prusa Research)
Like the Tarantula, the Prusa i3 is based on the RepRap Project to produce a low-cost 3D printer that can make its own components. As such, this machine also comes in kit form. However the design is a little more refined than the Tarantula, and includes an aluminum frame, heated bed with auto-leveling, and integrated LCD and SD card controller. Nope, no case with this one as well; however, with most open platforms, you can make your own thermal-controlled box to keep things consistent.
The Prusa i3 also features an 8- × 8- × 8-in. build area, RepRap-based open-source electronics, and comes with the company’s version of Slic3r to get things up and running. It also runs the entire gamut of filaments, ranging from ABS, PLA, and PET to NinjaFlex, nylon, and bamboofill—all of which pass through an E3D V6 extruder.
Makerbot Replicator+ $2,499 (Courtesy of Makerbot)
Makerbot is known for its quality 3D printers, and the Replicator+ is a testament to that reputation, considering it has been around forever. Surprisingly, this 3D printer meets only two of the desirable qualities wanted for great prints: A powder-coated metal frame with an ABS case, but there’s no heated print bed! Instead, the Replicator+ features the company’s bendable Flexible Build Plate with kung-fu grip, which keeps prints from moving and pop off when done.
With that caveat in mind, the machine boasts many good features, and it’s easy to use. The printer comes with a hot-swap Smart Extruder+, which can be replaced quickly if problems arise. It also includes an internal camera that allows you to view your prints remotely to monitor progress, as well as an intuitive LCD display that lets you change settings, view files, and access cloud-based models.
The main feature, though, is its connectivity options, being able to connect over USB, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and even remotely over the Makerbot app. As for software, it uses Makerbot Print, which lets you easily upload your own 3D models or imported from those taken from the cloud. You can even control a series of Makerbot prints through other connected machines if there’s a need. The only real drawback (besides the heated bed issue) is you’re limited on what filaments can be used, in this case only PLA.
Community is a huge draw for this printer. Their library of 3D models, prints, etc. is hard to ignore.
Ultimaker 3 $3,495-$4,295 (Courtesy of Ultimaker)
If you can afford it, the Ultimaker 3 (standard and extended versions) is an easy-to-use 3D printer that produces consistent quality prints and exceeds the requirements for a solid machine. Solid metal frame, heated glass print bed, and case are all present on this machine. What’s more, it features dual extrusion so that you can print in different colors and with the different filament at the same time.
Like the Replicator+, it features an internal camera for monitoring prints and has swappable print heads. It also features active leveling, which alters the bed automatically, depending on the job. Build volume measures-out at 8.5 × 8.5 × 7.8 in. (for the standard version), and it uses all standard filaments—ABS, PLA, PVA, Nylon, and CPE. What’s interesting is that the 3D printer utilizes NFC tags that read what the filament is when installed, and then adjusts the settings accordingly.
Connection options include USB and Wi-Fi and files can be uploaded with a flash drive. On the software end, the Ultimaker 3 uses the company’s version of Cura to get prints optimized and ready for manufacturing, utilizing both basic and advanced settings. Turn on, connect, and print; it doesn’t get any easier than this.
Flashforge Creator Pro $899 (Courtesy of Flashforge)
It’s not the cheapest or most expensive 3D printer on the market, but the Flashforge Creator Pro is easy to use and built like a tank, making it perfect for this roundup. Beyond its solid steel frame, heated aluminum auto-leveling print bed, and PVC case are a dual extruder print head, an 8.9- × 5.9- × 5.7-in. build area and front-mounted LCD display for changing settings.
ABS, PLA, Nylon, composites (metal and wood), and dissolvable filaments can all be used with the Creator Pro. The company states that the extruders can be modified to handle flexible materials if they decide to release them in the near future. For software, Flashforge ships this with an SD card pre-loaded with the ReplicatorG open-source platform, which is easy to use, even for beginners. The card also contains the manual as well as design ideas if you get stuck on what to print.
XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 Pro $699 (Courtesy of XYZprinting)
XYZprinting also offers a sturdy 3D printer with its da Vinci 1.0 Pro and comes complete with solid metal frame, heated bed, and plastic enclosure. What makes this printer different from the others is that it has a unique calibration system that’s adjusted using knobs and onboard software that guides you using the printer’s LCD display.
Like some of the other models mentioned previously, the printer utilizes Wi-Fi, USB, and a mobile app to upload models as well as accessing other cloud-based designs. While you can only use either ABS or PLA filament, you are not restricted to the in-house material. That means you can use your filament of choice regardless of manufacturer.
Another interesting feature of the da Vinci 1.0 Pro is that you can swap out the print head with a laser engraver for etching designs on almost anything, including wood, leather, and cardboard. XYZware rolls the software show and is easy to use to manipulate models, although you can simply upload an STL file and hit print.
Qidi Technology X-One $499 (Courtesy of Qidi Technology)
There’s nothing overtly exceptional to Qidi Technology’s X-One 3D printer; it’s not going to win an award for being flashy as simplicity is the name of the game here. It is solidly built, though, with an all-metal design, and uses the same FDM manufacturing method like most other entries in this list. Beyond its construction, it was designed more as a child-friendly teaching tool and features a single fan-cooled extruder, able to print objects from 100 to 500 microns with a volume up to 5.5 × 5.5 × 5.5 in.
PLA and ABS are the only options here for filament choices, but as a learning tool, that’s all you really need. Like some of the other 3D printers here, it features an intuitive touchscreen for adjusting settings—resolution, temperature, material, etc. It is also pretty limited regarding connecting options, which include USB and SD card only with no Wi-Fi support.
The SD card comes pre-loaded with Cura, but others can be used depending on your preferred platform. While X-One may seem underwhelming on all fronts, it is really well constructed and a great option for those looking for a “set it and forget it” option.
Zortrax M200 $1,800 (Courtesy of Zortrax)
The last entry in this roundup was voted best plug-and-play 3D printer by 3D Hubs last year in 2016, and for good reason. Zortrax’s M200 has a great build quality with a full-metal frame encased in an all-aluminum housing, providing great stability while printing. Good looks aside, it features a perforated heated, auto-leveling bed with a build area of 8 × 8 × 7.2 in.
While it only uses a single direct-feed extruder, it makes up for it with a detailed resolution of up to 400 microns, providing a high level of detail to any print. Like most of the others, this 3D printer can either tether to your PC or Mac via USB or access files from an SD card. Sadly, there is no Wi-Fi option, but no printer is perfect.
It does feature a small LED screen for navigating settings as well as a myriad of filament options, including ABS, PLA, Nylon, and many others. Zortrax’s Z-Suite software is easy to use and offers settings for beginner to advanced users, or you can simply upload an STL, OBJ, DXF, or 3MF file and hit print, then walk away.
There are a ton of 3D printers on the market that will cover just about any project aspect you have—some with high resolutions, others capable of using nearly any material, and still more offering a myriad of connection options and easy-to-use software packages. When it comes to plug-and-play or “set it and forget it” options, the list dwindles down. Still, they can be found, and at nearly every price-point. However, there really should be “standards” across all of them that makes them as easy to use as a PC-connected laser printer. Onward, to a 3D printer-in-every-garage world.