3D printers are changing printing and design as we know it. Teetering on the cusp of the mainstream, the latest hobbyist- and consumer-friendly versions start at about $800 and can cost well over $3,000. Some are limited only to creating small plastic objects that measure just a few inches, but others can print using a variety of materials, producing objects that measure up to two feet per side.
Makerbot Industries has emerged as the leader in the home 3D printing market, putting out models that are more professional and polished than any of the competition. The latest incarnations have shed the plywood look of earlier models in favor of decorative purple lighting and a black powder-coated steel case. The futuristic look reflects the innovation of the printers, which can create objects in bioplastic (also known as polylactic acid, or PLA plastic) for just over $2,000 a pop.
Makerbot's primary competition comes from Type A Machines. Their 3D printers cost nearly a thousand dollars less, can create larger objects and are generally considered to be more reliable.
The Apex 3D Printer is one of the industry's most exciting developments due to its custom print head. The four extruder heads can print liquids and solids at the same time, and creator Fred White likes to joke that it can print a shot glass and fill it with whisky.
One of the only 3D printers with a built-in display is the HyRel 3D. The printer addresses a common problem with consumer 3D printers: a lack of consistency and reliability. Designed to produce parts with incredible accuracy, the printers contain carefully-designed metal parts that reportedly boost consistency.
One of the largest 3D printers is the 3D Monstr, capable of printing objects measuring up to one cubic foot. Eventually, the printer will be capable of printing objects up to two cubic feet. As a bonus, the printer is foldable for easy storage, and it can simultaneously print up to four different materials.
The price of the Jangobot 3D printer makes it stand out from other large-format 3D printers. At just $999, the printer can create objects just bigger than a basketball in two types of plastic with a print resolution of 0.1mm to 0.3mm.
DIY-enthusiasts can now make their very own 3D printers thanks to a kit made by Tinkerines. The Ditto printer, once assembled, can print objects in two types of plastic up to 21x18.5x23cm per side and offers a resolution of 100 microns.