We understand that choosing a 3D printer for your primary or middle school can be a difficult decision. While many will be great for high school students or a hobbyist, some are less suited for regular use in a K-8 classroom, Makerspace or library environment.
At Makers Empire, we’ve helped thousands of K-8 teachers in Australia, America, Europe and Asia integrate 3D printing and design into the classroom so we understand what works and what doesn’t.
From our conversations with teachers, we understand that the most important criteria for schools when choosing a 3D printer are:
- Plug ‘n’ play – that is, ease of use;
- Air Filters – learn why air filters are important;
- Reliability; and
- Customer support.
Additionally, the ability to print wirelessly or over the Cloud, thereby eliminating the need for USB memory sticks or even being in the same room as the 3D printer, is another useful feature to consider.
The 3D printer market is fast-changing – almost every new 3D printer brings some new feature that will soon be standard on all printers, but none of the current printers on the market has every single one of the current, must-have features.
With this in mind, here is our current list of recommended 3D printers. To come up with this list, we evaluated more than twenty 3D printers, reviewed teacher feedback and assessed recent reviews from independent sources. We’ve spent weeks, months and even years testing printers to model expected classroom and school conditions.
Tip: hover your mouse or cursor over the features in the first column to display detailed descriptions.
Best 3D printers to buy for Primary and Middle Schools
- Build Size
- Air Filter
- Assisted levelling
- Printing Bed Material
- Price of 3D Filament (Plastic Consumables)
- Connectivity Options
- Built in Camera
- Customer Support
- $1,199 AUD
- Medium: 140 x 150 x 140 mm
- Yes, both HEPA and carbon filters
- Flex Board
- USB / Wifi / Remote control via the Polar Cloud so you can operate your 3D printer from anywhere.
- Printing anywhere via a web browser makes it easier to share the printer around the school. Ethernet (via dongle) is great as WiFi in schools is often difficult to get working reliably (due to issues with proxys, security etc). See our review.
Up Mini 2
- $899 AUD
- Small: 120 x 120 x 120 mm
- Yes, a HEPA filter
- ABS & PLA
- Perforated Board and Flex Board
- USB / WiFi
- Reliable and affordable printer released in 2016. Best for portability. See our review.
- $5,999 AUD (with 2 extruders)
- Big: 240 x 190 x 240 mm
- Yes, levelling is fully automatic.
- Yes, a HEPA filter
- ABS & PLA
- Advanced alloy print bed with excellent auto-levelling
- SD Card
- Fantastic printer with a unique motorized print bed and heated chamber. Support is not great, however - initially, it took us a few months to get it working properly and we had to send it back. We recommend you buy two extruders and keep one for ABS and one for PLA. This won't make it cheap but changing between the two different filaments clogged our extruders (it's happened to others, too). See our review.
- $2,900 AUD
- Big: 200 x 200 x 180mm
- ABS & PLA, however we've found that PLA performs comparatively poorly.
- Perforated Board
- SD Card
- A real work horse for us - a great, reliable printer, which has recently been updated as the M200+. Initially, the M200 was ABS only but ABS tends to warp and benefits from a heated chamber so we bought the doors and made a lid to keep the heat in. We've replaced bits and pieces on the M200 model through the years and it keeps going. As this printer works well with engineering plastics and is not enclosed, we think it's better suited to a high school environment.
Maximise Student Learning with a 3D Printer
Buying a 3D printer is just the first step when you integrate maker pedagogy and Design Thinking in your school.
Which 3D modeling software will your students use? How will teachers learn how to use the 3D printer and 3D design as an authentic teaching tool efficiently and effectively? Which class management tool will you use so teaching with 3D doesn’t become a logistical challenge? How will you ensure teachers can access the professional development, resources, training and support they need to become confident and skilled teachers with 3D technology?
Fortunately, Makers Empire includes everything teachers need to successfully integrate Design Thinking, maker pedagogy and 3D printing into their teaching practice.
Other Printers We have Bought and Tested for Schools
When testing printers for use in primary and middle schools we prioritise reliability, usability, durability and affordability.
The following printers were all good in their own way but would not be our first choice for schools. It’s possible that newer versions of these printers or more technical knowledge amongst teaching staff could make these printers great for schools.
BEE THE FIRST (2013): the original version of this printer was problematic – the filament would break in the tube and would require a difficult dismantling. This has probably been fixed now but we haven’t had a chance to try the newer printer. This printer is not enclosed and there is no air filter or LCD touch screen on the version we had.
FlashForge Creator Pro (2014): a great printer but more suited to hobbyists/high schools as it has a dual head. This makes it more advanced as it allows for two colours or soluble support but it’s also more tricky to get right. No air filter.
Polar 3D (2014): this printer has a unique circular motion build plate. The inbuilt camera is great – you can monitor printing progress from a remote location, which is very helpful. Not enclosed, no air filter or LCD.
Makerbot Thing-O-Matic (2011): a classic printer, very DIY. No air filter or LCD. Too dated now.
Robo C2 (2017): a good printer. No air filter, however.
XYZ Da Vinci Jr (2016): quite a cheap printer but filament rolls are ”çhipped’ so you can only use XYZ filament with it. An enclosed printer with basic LCD and no air filter.
Up Plus 2 (2013): A classic printer. Very reliable and sturdy, but getting dated now. No air filter, not enclosed, no LCD.
Up Box / Up Box+ (2017): We experienced reliability issues with the original Up Box but the newer Up Box+ is much better. Has air filter and is enclosed. No LCD screen.
Other Printers We Bought but would not recommend
These printers are either discontinued or not recommended for schools. This does not mean that these printers were/are not good printers – it’s just that when we tested them we found them unsuitable for primary and middle schools.
3D Systems Cube 3 – a dual head machine. We struggled to get good prints from it and it has now been discontinued.
Makerbot Thing-o-Matic – a great, early printer. Very DIY, however. Discontinued.
Printrbot Simple Metal – a good printer but quite DIY. It took us a while to have it set up properly to print well. It’s not enclosed and has no air filter. Now discontinued.
Cocoon Create (2018) – for the price, this is a great printer from Aldi supermarket. However, it’s not durable enough for schools. Also, it’s not enclosed and there is no air filter.
Creality CR10: A decent printer with big build volume for the price. However, it is not enclosed and there is no air filter.
OTHER 3D PRINTERS
Don’t see a 3D printer listed here that you’re considering? Please contact us for expert advice – we want to make sure your 3D printing experience is a successful one!