Fused deposition modeling is the simplest and most affordable 3D printing technology, making FDM 3D printers the best 3D printers for beginners and hobbyists. Since FDM’s invention in the late 1980s and commercialization in the 1990s by Stratasys, FDM 3D printers have advanced to become smaller and more affordable. No longer industrial machines the size of fridges, you can now buy a desktop FDM 3D printer for just a couple of hundred dollars.
What is FDM 3D printing?
- For the full, more in-depth guide, check out our FDM technology explanation here.
FDM 3D printers use an extruder — we have a full guide on how 3D printer extruders work here — to extrude melted filament according to instructions determined by the 3D printer model dimensions you have set.
The most common 3D printer filaments are PLA and ABS — we also have a guide comparing PLA with ABS — though there are a wide range of other materials for different purposes such as PETG, PC, Nylon, and even carbon fiber filled filaments.
The material is extruded layer-by-layer over the preset dimensions — once one complete layer is finished, the 3D printer moves up by the designated layer height (for example 50 microns) and does it all again. This continues until the part is finished!
The easiest way to think of FDM 3D printing works is like icing a cake with a pipe bag. Rather than with icing, melted plastic filament is pushed through the nozzle, and deposited in the set pattern. Once once layer is finished, the extruder lifts up by one layer (or the print bed moves down) and the process is repeated, as if you were icing multiple layers of a cake, gradually creating a three-dimensional object.
FDM 3D Printer Buyer Guide 2020
|Name and Brand||Build volume (mm)||Dual extruder?||Price||Best Price At:||Alternative Purchase Option|
|Creality Ender 5||220 x 220 x 300 mm||No||$349||Amazon here||3DJake UK & Europe here|
|Monoprice Voxel||150 x 150 x 150||No||$399||Amazon here|
|Tronxy X5SA Pro||330 x 330 x 400||No||$479||Amazon here|
|Creality CR-10 V2||300 x 300 x 400||No||$520||Amazon here||Gearbest here|
|QIDI Tech X-Pro||230 x 150 x 150||Yes||$649||Gearbest here||Amazon here|
|Prusa i3 MK3S||250 x 210 x 200||Can be upgraded (but very difficult)||$999 assembled, $749 as a kit|
|Qidi Tech X-Max||300 x 250 x 300||Yes||$1,199||Gearbest here||Amazon here|
|Ultimaker 3||197 x 215 x 200||Yes||$3,499||Dynamism Store here|
|Raise3D Pro2||305 x 305 x 300||Optional||$3,999||Dynamism Store here||Amazon here|
|Ultimaker S5||330 x 240 x 300||Yes||$5,995||Dynamism Store here|
Types of FDM 3D printers
Though they all utilize the same technology, there are 4 main varieties of FDM 3D printer: Delta, Cartesian, Polar & Scara 3D printer (robotic arm). Polar and Scara are fairly obscure still however, so we’ll explain the main two.
- We have written a more in-depth guide to all four (Cartesian, Delta, Polar & Scara) types of 3D printer which you can view here.
Cartesian FDM 3D printers — The most common type of FDM 3D printer, Cartesian 3D printers include the legendary Ultimaker 3, and printers made by American 3D printer giant Makerbot. They use X, Y and Z-axes to extrude filament on the right co-ordinates.
Delta FDM 3D printers — Less obscure than they once were, Delta FDM 3D printers are more commonly seen in RepRap 3D printers such as the Rostock. They use three arms to control the extruder, allowing for extra flexibility and faster 3D printing.
Whereas the print bed usually moves depending on the co-ordinates in a Cartesian 3D printer, it remains stationary in a Delta printer. This is because Delta printers are more flexible and can reach the edges of the print bed, negating any need for it to move.
Our Ranking: the FDM Printer Buyer Guide 2020
First thing to note is this is a subjective list — we don’t claim to be the ultimate authority on 3D printing, just a guiding voice. However, we are knowledgeable and have used and built a large number of FDM 3D printers.
Criteria used to evaluate the best FDM 3D printers included:
- Print Quality
- Versatility: number of materials available, slicer, ability to be upgraded
- Ease of use
Part 1: FDM 3D printers under $1,000
10. Creality Ender 5
- Company based in: China
- FDM 3D printer cost: $349 / £349 / €279 — Available on Amazon here / Available on 3DJakeUK & Europe here
- Amazon Australia only has the Creality Ender 3, available here
- Build volume: 220 x 220 x 300 mm
It was a hard decision to leave either the Ender 3 or Ender 5 out of this ranking, and in the end we stuck with the bigger brother. The Creality Ender 5 prints taller prints than the Ender 3 (by 50 mm) and has a redesigned cubic structure which almost certainly helps make the printer more stable overall. As we all know, stability = reduced vibrations = better part surface finish and quality, and it shows with how accurately the Ender 5 can print for such an inexpensive FDM printer.
- For an extra $50 you can upgrade to the Ender 5 Pro printer kit, at $399. It’s available to buy here / or on 3DJake here
It’s one of the few FDM printers under $1,000 that makes this list and it absolutely deserves it. Despite the low cost, the Ender 5 can print layers as small as 50 microns, and can even be sped up slightly without a noticeable drop off in quality — if you’re in a rush or just plain impatient! That being said, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry and leave the print speed as is. Overall, it’s fantastic and one of the best FDM printers you can buy for less than $500.
9. Monoprice Voxel — Low Cost FDM 3D printer under $500!
- Company based in: USA
- FDM 3D printer price: $399 — Available on Amazon worldwide here
- Build volume: 150 x 150 x 150 mm
Monoprice are different to most FDM 3D printer manufacturers in that they aren’t new startups – they’ve been here since 2002. That extra time to research and create has clearly helped, as Monoprice have given us some of the best cheap 3D printers in recent times. This shows with the Monoprice Voxel, a fantastic, low-cost 3D printer for beginners and experienced makers alike.
This Cartesian FDM 3D printer is accurate for the price, offering a minimum layer thickness of 50 microns. It’s portable too, it’s both compact and lightweight, and won’t take up too much space in a cramped room. In addition, the Monoprice Voxel can print in a wide variety of 3D printer materials, including ABS, PLA, HIPS, PET, PVA and more.
This is aided by the closed build chamber, a rarity for an FDM 3D printer at such a low price. The heated chamber means ABS and other materials like Nylon can be printed with little warping and improved accuracy. The 150 x 150 x 150 mm build volume is not the largest, but for a low price FDM 3D printer that is easy to use, works consistently, and with an enclosed print area, it’s a great option overall.
More recently, Monoprice have been prolific in releasing the Monoprice SLA 3D printer, the Monoprice MP10, Monoprice Voxel, and more.
8. Tronxy X5SA Pro
- Company based: China
- FDM 3D printer cost: $479 / £499 / €499 — Available on Amazon here / Amazon UK link here
- Original Tronxy X5SA (not Pro version) = $359 / £309 — Available worldwide here / UK link here
- Build volume: 330 x 330 x 400 mm
It’s unfair to include the Creality CR10 without the Tronxy X5SA Pro — both the kings of the sub-$500 FDM 3D printer market. They’re both 3D printer kits, so require assembling (shouldn’t take more than a couple hours, even for a beginner), but outperform printers which cost double the price.
The X5SA Pro is more stable, heavier (due to frame being mostly aluminium now rather than plastics) and it shows in the print quality. It can print massive prints — up to 330 x 330 x 400 mm — even bigger than the Creality CR10. It’s accurate up to 125 microns, which is what to expect for less than $500, and has drawn the plaudits for its reliability and ease of use.
It’s large, simple to build, and effective. That’s why it gets so far up our ranking despite being not as precise as some more expensive FDM printers.
7. Creality CR-10 V2 — Best FDM 3D printer For $500!
- Company based: China
- FDM 3D printer price: $499+ — Available on Amazon here / 3DJake UK & Europe here / Australia here
- Build volume: 300 x 300 x 400
The Creality CR-10 has an extremely strong reputation in the community as the best FDM 3D printer for its price. Manufactured by Chinese 3D printer manufacturer Creality, the CR-10 V2 is a low cost 3D printer kit that can be assembled within an hour. That isn’t an exaggeration either: I personally am the most un-DIY-skilled person I know, and I built a CR-10 in about 45 minutes.
With a minimum layer thickness of 0.05mm, the CR-10 keeps up with far more expensive FDM 3D printers. Though it looks basic, it has an easy-to-navigate screen and can be accessed via SD card. The Creality CR-10 has a fantastic build volume for the price, able to 3D print objects up to 300 x 300 x 400 mm in size. This makes it a great FDM 3D printer for beginners as well as veteran makers.
6. QIDI Tech X-Pro
- Price: $599 — Available on Amazon worldwide here / Best price on Gearbest here / 3DJake UK & Europe here
- Available on Amazon Australia here
- Build volume: 230 x 150 x 150 mm
The QIDI Tech X-Pro is great 3D printer for education; designed to be super simple to use with its 4.3 inch touchscreen and easy to navigate system. You can print easily via WiFi or USB, perfect for classrooms, and its closed build chamber (vs FDM printers like the Tronxy X5SA or Creality Ender 5) make it safer, emanate less toxic smells, and also make parts less likely to warp.
Another key part is sits curved metal print plate, which makes removing finished prints far easier — perfect for children or students. Parts are less likely to get stuck on this curved plate, which also reduces injury risk from scraping oneself while trying to get the part off the print plate. It isn’t just for schools, it just has a bunch of features that make it ideal for that purpose — it’s also a reliable, low cost FDM printer that we rate very highly for makers at home.
5. Prusa i3 MK3S — Best FDM 3D printer under $1,000!
- Company based: Czechia
- FDM 3D printer cost: $999 pre-assembled, $749 for kit — cheap Prusa clones start at around $160 here
- Build volume: 250 x 210 x 200 mm
The undisputed champion 3D printer kit, Prusa 3D printers blow away the competition in almost every way. They’re so good, that they got Josef Prusa into Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for 2018! Known as the best FDM 3D printer from the RepRap movement, the Prusa i3 can be accessed via USB drive or SD card, and weighs 6.35kg.
With a very impressive build volume of 250 x 210 x 200 mm, the Prusa i3 MK3S can print almost any object within reason. With layer resolutions of up to 50 microns achievable, it is also one of the highest quality FDM 3D printers on the market. Moreover, you can choose whether to buy own Prusa 3D printer pre-assembled or buy it in kit form. Overall, the Prusa i3 is a fantastic printer which outperforms most of its more expensive competitors outright. Its stats really don’t do it enough justice for how good this printer really is.
Part 2: FDM 3D printers above $1,000
4. Qidi Tech X-Max
- Cost: $1,199 — Available on Gearbest here / Available on Amazon here / 3DJake UK & Europe here
- Build volume: 300 x 250 x 300 mm
The X-Max is Qidi Tech’s largest 3D printer, and the big brother of the highly rated X-Pro, offering a huge 300 x 250 x 300 mm build volume and heavy metal structure for stable and reliable 3D printing.
The X-Max performs the role of a low cost industrial 3D printer, with the features and accuracy for professional 3D printing, but without having to pay $5,000+ upfront before being sure of a return on investment. The enclosed chamber makes printing difficult filaments like ABS and Nylon far easier, and you can also print filaments like carbon fiber and PC for industrial rapid prototyping.
The X-Max is easy to use with the user-friendly and large 5-inch touchscreen, and the ability to print via WiFi. It’s known for great reliability, but if you do run into any trouble, Qidi have a full after-sales service team to assist you with any problems you may be having. Overall, it’s a great, reliable and high quality FDM 3D printer.
3. Ultimaker 3
- Company based: The Netherlands
- FDM 3D printer cost: $3,500 — Available on Dynamism Webstore here
- Build volume: 197 x 215 x 200 mm
At number 1, Dutch FDM 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker thoroughly deserve their position due to how excellent the Ultimaker 3 is. Featuring a dual extruder as well as being accurate up to an incredible 20 microns, the Ultimaker 3 is the perfect printer for prototyping, small business solutions, makers, and more.
Coming included with a camera for remotely monitoring your prints, the Ultimaker 3 also has a good build volume at 197 x 215 x 200 mm. This versatile FDM 3D printer can be connected to by USB stick, WiFi, or Ethernet, and is a designed to look sleek – it looks like it belongs in an Apple store! Though one of the more expensive options at $3,499, the Ultimaker 3 is a fantastic printer for those who prioritize reliability, consistency, and great quality. Overall, it is our number 1 FDM 3D printer of 2019.
2. Raise3D Pro2
- Company based: China.
- FDM 3D printer price: $3,999 / €3,999 — Available on Amazon here / Available on Dynamism Webstore here
- Build volume: 305 x 305 x 300 mm.
Also selected as one of our best 3D printers of 2020, the Pro2 is the definition of a workhorse 3D printer. Raise3D built this printer for industry, which shows as online 3D printing service Voodoo Manufacturing uses Raise3D printers to produce parts for their customers. The fact that it is being used as the go-to printer for a FDM 3D printing service shows just how highly rated this printer is.
- If the Pro2 isn’t big enough for you, Raise3D also sell the Pro2 Plus. You can check it out here.
Offering a large 305 x 305 x 300 mm print volume, the Pro2 has a dual extruder option for those who need to print multiple materials and colors, though this reduces dimensions to 280 x 305 x 300 mm. With its very accurate 0.01mm minimum layer thickness, the Pro2 proves large print sizes and accuracy can both be achieved simultaneously.
The Raise3D Pro2 is also very simple to use, boasting an ergonomic 7-inch touchscreen to control the printer with. At $3,999, the Pro2 is a solid industrial FDM 3D printer that can handle print after print after print with ease — the printer has been tested over 100,000 times, it can handle it!
1. Ultimaker S5 – amazing FDM 3D printer
- Company based: Holland
- FDM 3D printer price: $5,995 / £5,000 — Available on Dynamism Store here
- Build volume: 330 x 240 x 300 mm
We didn’t envy Ultimaker’s position in the run up to the release of their newest printer, the Ultimaker S5. Why? Because one of the problems with delivering such a fantastic product that takes the market by storm, is that expectations rise. Having released what is viewed by many as the pinnacle of FDM 3D printing, where could they go from there? Expectations were through the roof, and anything below incredible would be at risk of being deemed a failure.
But of course it was great. With the general consensus being that the prints are impeccable, the larger size useful and its effective dual extruder making it versatile, the Ultimaker S5 was met by fanfare. Undoubtedly the S5 would be on our list if it were not for the higher price, so we included it here as a special mention out of respect for this stellar machine.
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