This is the fourth year of Make:’s 3D Printing Shootout, and as we’ve watched printing mature, we’ve also observed the emergence of other desktop digital fabrication tools. And so for this year, along with our printer reviews, we’ve expanded our reviews into CNC mills, laser cutters, and vinyl cutters. It’s a desktop fabrication revolution!
Make: editors and our hand-selected crew of 3D experts tested a variety of fabrication tools across several price points, pitting them against one another to evaluate their quality based on user experience out of the box, print quality (you can test your own machine with our test prints here), value, and overall product quality.
But out of the 39 machines we tested there had to be standouts; some doubled down by improving solid year-over-year performance, while others nailed the introduction of features that the community has been clamoring for. And some just flat-out blew us away.
Without further ado, here are the best performing desktop digital fabrication machines from this year’s Make: Shootout.
The Best FDM 3D Printers
For the designer, teacher, tinkerer, and engineer, these are the standout machines in each class.
The machines with the best total score.
1st: Taz 5 — The fifth version of the Taz shows LulzBot’s commitment to excellent engineering. Total score: 35
2nd: Zortrax M200 — If you care about 3D prints more than the process of 3D printing, you need to look at the Zortrax M200. Total score: 34
3rd: Rostock Max — Makes huge and beautiful prints. You won’t break the bank with the Rostock Max. Total Score: 33
Greatest cost-to-features ratio.
1st: Rostock Max — Its large print volume combined with the cost savings of a kit makes this machine a sure bet.
2nd: Printrbot Simple — Expandability at a low price. This is one of the top machines for getting started in 3D printing.
3rd: Printrbot Play — Great prints for just $399. Need we say more?
Best for Schools
Safety features and ease of use.
1st: Printrbot Play — Its low cost and safety oriented elements make the Play a good machine for students and teachers.
2nd: UP Box — Fully enclosed, good safety features, and ease of use should make this a classroom hit.
3rd: BeeInSchool — This sturdy machine designed for schools offers educational pricing.
Mobile or space-saving machines.
1st: Printrbot Simple — Still one of the best starter printers. And now with the included handle, a great mobile machine.
2nd: Ultimaker Go — The shipping foam doubles as a carrying case to take the Go on the go.
3rd: Printrbot Play — Small and light, the Play is easy to transport.
Outstanding Open Source
The beginning and future of 3D printing.
1st: Taz 5 — LulzBot keeps striving to make the Taz line better while still holding true to its open source roots.
2nd: Rostock Max — Huge print area, great prints, and open source — it’s a 3D printer trifecta.
3rd: Ultimaker 2 Go/Extended — Ultimaker brings design and beauty to a machine that you could still largely build on your own.
Best Large Format
Sizeable machines for those who want the biggest prints.
1st: Ultimaker 2 Extended — The Ultimaker Extended gives you a great print area while not taking up your entire desk.
2nd: Rostock Max — If you want to go tall, this is the machine for you.
3rd: Taz 5 — Big beautiful prints — if you have the desk space.
Notable CNC Mills
Your best bets for cutting and routing projects, big, medium, or small.
Best Large Format
Big machines ready to cut your next piece of furniture.
1st: Crawlbot — No other machine on the market can touch it for cutting size vs. stored footprint.
2nd: X-Carve (1,000mm) — This is a nice-sized machine if you don’t have the room to cut full sheets.
3rd: Shapoko 3 — Decent size out of the box that can be expanded easily thanks to its heavy-duty rails.
Great hobby mills that can make tons of projects and get you into the CNC world.
1st: Shopbot Desktop — A well built and easy to use workhorse. But you pay for it.
2nd: Shapoko 3 — Simple and rigid, exactly what you want in a CNC mill.
3rd: Printrbot CNC — The Printrbot team threw out the CNC-making playbook to bring us this sturdy beast.
Best Desktop Mill
PCBs, molds, and small parts are a click away with these desktop workhorses.
1st: Nomad 883 — It may look pretty with its bamboo case, but the fantastic clamping system makes this a machine for serious use.
2nd: Carvey — Quiet and easy to use, perfect for a desktop mill.
3rd: Othermill — When you want a highly portable mill, the Othermill is your best option.
SLA Printer Selections
With a growing number of choices, two machines stand tall in this field.
1st: Form 2 — A large print area, auto-fill resin, open resin compatibility, and Wi-Fi connectivity — just a few things that put the Form 2 on top of the resin printer market.
2nd: LittleRP — If you are interested in getting started with resin printers, the LittleRP is a low-cost, easy-to-build kit. Toss in your own DLP home theater projector and you are off and printing.