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The best 3D printer for your school: updated February 2018

We understand that choosing a 3D printer for your 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 an K-8 classroom or library environment.

At Makers Empire, we’ve helped thousands of K-8 teachers in America, Australia, Europe and Asia integrate 3D printing and design into the classroom so we understand what works and what doesn’t.

To come up with this table below, we tested more than twenty 3D printers that could be suitable for schools.

We paid for all the printers we have recommended, so you can be sure our recommendations are fair. Plus, we spent weeks, months and years using these printers to ensure we were modelling expected classroom and school conditions.

From conversations with teachers, we understand that the most important criteria for schools when choosing a 3D printer are:

  1. Plug ‘n’ play – that is, ease of use;
  2. Affordability;
  3. Durability; and
  4. Reliability.

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. Hover your mouse or cursor over the features in the first column to display detailed definitions and descriptions. 

Best 3D printers to buy for Elementary and Middle Schools

flashforge_3d_ffg_invent2_inventor_ii_3d_printer_1509397565000_1366591




  • Reliability
    This score indicates an assessment of the 3D printer's reliability to produce consistent prints with minimal issues in a school setting. Reliability is a relative term when it comes to 3D printers: even the most reliable printers we have had require servicing and attention.
  • Price
  • Build Size
    Maximum printable size as width x depth x height.
  • Fully Enclosed
    Enclosed printers have inaccessible moving parts to reduce the risk of injury.
  • HEPA Air Filter
    Air filters remove odour and plastic particles from the air. An enclosed printer with a HEPA air filter is the most healthy option for schools as the internal air gets washed.
  • Assisted levelling
    The printer needs a perfectly level surface for optimal printing. Most printers have assisted levelling to help users mechanically level the print platform.
  • Materials
    Compatible 3D filament (plastic consumables)
  • Printing Bed Material
    Flex board is ideal for PLA filament. Perforated board is better for ABS filament. Advanced alloy is state of the art and suitable for all materials.
  • Price of 3D Filament (Plastic Consumables)
    Makers Empire sells PLA filament in packs of 500 grams rolls.
  • Connectivity Options
    Options to load design files onto the 3D printer
  • Interface
    Touchscreen interfaces are intuitive and easy to use. Scrollwheel interfaces are mechanically operated.
  • Built in Camera
    Printer has built in camera so you can monitor printing progress remotely.
  • Conclusion
flashforge_3d_ffg_invent2_inventor_ii_3d_printer_1509397565000_1366591

FlashForge
Inventor IIS

  
  • 8/10
  • $799 USD
  • Medium: 140 x 150 x 140 mm
  • Yes
  • Optional
  • Yes
  • PLA
  • Flex Board
  • $
  • USB / WiFi / Polar Cloud
  • Touchscreen
  • Yes
  • 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.
mini up 2

Up Mini 2



  • 8/10
  • $599 USD
  • Small: 120 x 120 x 120 mm
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • ABS & PLA
  • Perforated Board and Flex Board
  • $$
  • USB / WiFi
  • Touchscreen
  • No
  • Reliable and affordable printer. Best for portability. Getting a bit dated now - expecting an upgrade soon. See our review.
cubicon-single

Cubicon Single



  • 9/10
  • $2,899 USD (with 2 extruders)
  • Big: 240 x 190 x 240 mm
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • ABS & PLA
  • Advanced alloy print bed with excellent auto-levelling
  • $
  • SD Card
  • Touchscreen
  • No
  • 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.
download

Zortrax M200



  • 8.5/10
  • $2,099 USD
  • Big: 200 x 200 x 180mm
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
  • ABS & PLA, however we've found that PLA performs comparatively poorly.
  • Perforated Board
  • $
  • SD Card
  • Touchscreen and Scrollwheel
  • No
  • A real work horse for us - a great, reliable printer but getting a little dated now. Initially, it 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 this printer through the years and it keeps going. They recently brought out PLA for it but we've struggled to get good prints with it. These printers print at a hotter temperature than other printers and can be used with Afina/UP filament.

Other Printers We have Bought and Tested for Schools

When testing printers for use in elementary and primary 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 elementary and primary 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.