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

We understand that choosing a 3D printer for your primary, elementary 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 America, Australia, 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:

  1. Plug ‘n’ play – that is, ease of use;
  2. Affordability;
  3. Durability;
  4. Safety;
  5. Air Filters – learn why air filters are important;
  6. Reliability; and
  7. 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 Elementary and Middle Schools

flashforge_3d_ffg_invent2_inventor_ii_3d_printer_1509397565000_1366591




  • Overall Rating
    This score indicates an assessment of the 3D printer's overall quality.
  • 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.
  • Enclosed
    Enclosed printers have inaccessible moving parts to reduce the risk of possible injury.
  • Air Filter
    Air filters remove odour and plastic particles from the air. 3D Printers commonly use HEPA or carbon filters.
  • 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 sell 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 features built in camera so you can monitor printing progress remotely.
  • Customer Support
    After sales service and support provided by the manufacturer and/or resellers.
  • Conclusion
mini up 2

Afinia H400 /
Up Mini 2


  • 8/10
  • 8/10
  • $599 USD
  • Small: 120 x 120 x 120 mm
  • Yes
  • HEPA filter
  • Yes
  • ABS & PLA
  • Perforated Board and Flex Board
  • $$
  • USB / Wifi
  • Touchscreen
  • No
  • Good
  • Reliable and affordable printer released in 2016. Best for portability. See our review.
flashforge_3d_ffg_invent2_inventor_ii_3d_printer_1509397565000_1366591

FlashForge
Inventor IIS


  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • $799 USD
  • Medium: 140 x 150 x 140 mm
  • Yes
  • Optional HEPA and Carbon filters
  • Yes
  • PLA
  • Flex Board
  • $
  • USB / Wifi / Remote control via the Polar Cloud so you can operate your 3D printer from anywhere.
  • Touchscreen
  • Yes
  • Good
  • 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.
download

Robo
3D C2


  • 7/10
  • 7/10
  • $799
  • Small: 127 x 127 x 152.4mm
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
  • PLA, ABS, PET-G, Nylons, Polycarbonate, Flexible TPE, Flexible TPU, Magnetic Iron, HIPS, PVA & more.
  • Flex Board
  • $
  • USB / Wifi / Connects to your Wi-Fi network from your mobile device and the Robo app so you can print using the Robo app.
  • Touchscreen
  • No
  • Good
  • A generally reliable printer that produces excellent quality prints. Can be remotely controlled via Octoprint Cloud. Auto levelling eliminates the need for manual adjustments. One thing to note is that the adhesive build surface can be easily damaged and is somewhat tricky to apply to the platform.
Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 9.09.29 pm

Makerbot
Replicator +


  • 7/10
  • 6/10
  • $2499
  • Medium: 140 x 150 x 135 mm
  • No
  • No
  • Yes (with attachment)
  • ABS & PLA
  • Flex Board
  • $$
  • USB, WiFi, Ethernet and Cloud-enabled so you can control it remotely with MakerBot Print or the MakerBot Mobile app.
  • Touchscreen and Scrollwheel
  • Yes
  • Good
  • There are better options if you have this kind of budget. Also, it is not fully enclosed, which is not recommended. The Makerbot Mini is also not recommended as it is an expensive printer given the small build size and low resolutions prints it produces.

Best 3D printers to buy for High Schools

flashforge_3d_ffg_invent2_inventor_ii_3d_printer_1509397565000_1366591




  • Overall Rating
    This score indicates an assessment of the 3D printer's overall quality.
  • 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.
  • Enclosed
    Enclosed printers have inaccessible moving parts to reduce the risk of possible injury.
  • Air Filter
    Air filters remove odour and plastic particles from the air. 3D Printers commonly use HEPA or carbon filters.
  • 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 sell 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 features built in camera so you can monitor printing progress remotely.
  • Customer Support
    After sales service and support provided by the manufacturer and/or resellers.
  • Conclusion
flashforge_3d_ffg_invent2_inventor_ii_3d_printer_1509397565000_1366591

Flashforge
Inventor IIS

  
  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • $799 USD
  • Medium: 140 x 150 x 140 mm
  • Yes
  • Optional HEPA and Carbon filters
  • Yes
  • PLA
  • Flex Board
  • $
  • USB / Wifi / Remote control via the Polar Cloud so you can operate your 3D printer from anywhere.
  • Touchscreen
  • Yes
  • Good
  • 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.
Dremel3D45

Dremel
3D45

  
  • 9.5/10
  • 9/10
  • $1,799 USD
  • Big: 250 x 152 x 170mm
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • PLA/ABS/Other
  • Flex board
  • $
  • USB / Wifi / Polar Cloud
  • Touchscreen
  • Yes
  • Excellent
  • The Dremel 3D45 is a highly regarded printer. It can print in multiple materials, has an inbuilt camera and can also print wirelessly over the Cloud. Dremel also offers excellent customer support. This 3D printer is probably better suited for upper middle and high schools with slightly larger budgets. Superior to the Makerbot Replicator for price, product features and customer support. Best 3D printer for this price range.
download

Zortrax
M200


  • 8/10
  • 9/10
  • $2,099 USD
  • Big: 200 x 200 x 180mm
  • No
  • New combined HEPA and carbon air filter add-on
  • Yes
  • ABS & PLA (PLA performs poorly by comparison)
  • Perforated Board
  • $
  • SD Card
  • Touchscreen and Scrollwheel
  • No
  • Good
  • A real work horse for us - a great, reliable printer, which has recently been updated as the M200+. 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.

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.

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.

OTHER 3D PRINTERS

Don’t see a 3D printer listed here that you’re considering? Please contact us for a consultation and expert advice – we may be able to bundle your preferred printer with a Makers Empire School Subscription.