You thought we were done, here. You were wrong. After extensively reviewing 5 3D printers for sale under $200 and picking the best from the reviews, we went back to our two favorites and put them through their paces, abusing both for an extra month to make sure that when I say this is the best printer for field work, I mean it.
- Creality Ender-3 (with upgrades): A
- Monoprice Select Mini: B+
- Monoprice Mini Delta: B-
- Creality Ender-3 (unmodified): B-
- Anet A6: D+
- iNSTONE Desktop DIY: No
These printers have been dragged around, beaten up, put in the hands of children and child-like adults, and run through the wringer to ensure that they stand up to the kind of abuse you might expect from the field. Now we’re really ready to make the call and tell you which are the best dirt-cheap, field-ready 3D printers.
The Best Field 3D Printer: Creality Ender-3.
Hands down, and by a wide margin, the Creality Ender-3 was the best 3D printer of the series. Though it couldn’t handle some of the fine detail work or the Printrbot, it powered through everything else without issue or hesitation. It’s solid, all-metal construction means it can take a beating. It holds its calibration through dozens of prints. It’s easy to use, easy to move, and easy to change filament in.
This is not a professional-grade printer, but for the vast majority of users who just need good, functional parts, that doesn’t matter. After the review phase, I put this printer through weeks of grind, churning out parts for the OpenCTD as we work towards the second generation instrument. My wife notes that since I set up the Ender-3, I haven’t even bothered with the Printrbot. This machine will almost certainly become my day-to-day printer.
The only downside is that, due to the Prusa-like design and the rigid frame, it’s not as portable as some others. Travel involves disassembly, which is not ideal.
The Choice for Portability: Monoprice Mini Delta.
The Monoprice Mini Delta didn’t score quite high enough to get second place, but it has advantages that make it a far more robust choice than the Select Mini. The Delta’s… delta design allows for a much more compact system, the automatic bed leveling means few out of the box adjustments. The tiny footprint saves space at a small work site. It packs away easy and unpacks in a snap.
I did make a few changes: I added a filament spindle to the top to further reduce the printer’s footprint and I added a glass plate with a thermal pad underneath for better heat transfer and a smoother build surface. Neither change bumped the price up anywhere near $200.
The Mini Delta is a good printer for most applications as long as you don’t need a huge bed and a great printer for intensive travel.
So that’s what I did. Last week we shoved the little delta into a suitcase, flew to Boston, stuck the Monoprice Mini Delta in the corner of a boathouse at the Stellwagen Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and churned out CTD parts. It did not need an ounce of maintenance.
So if space is an issue, or if travel will be frequent, or you just don;t need the massive print area of the Ender-3, the Mini Delta is your printer.
So where did the other printers end up? After several weeks of upgrades and improvements, I managed to make the Anet A6 competent enough to be used reliably by beginners. It was donated to our local library. The Monoprice Select Mini was a great little printer, and would do fine in any small workshop, but with a Printrbot Metal, Creality Ender-3, and a Monoprice Mini Delta, it didn’t fill any need in my office. It was gifted to a colleague in exchange for an old Printrbot to be used for spare parts now that the company is done. The iNSTONE DIY is… too terrible for anyone to use. It occupies a place of pride in my university office as a curious display piece. May it never print again.
Depending on how successful this project is, I may expand to include printers in the $200 to $400 price range. If you want to help make that happen, you can either use the Amazon Affiliate links in the post to buy printers, consumables, anything else or you can sign up for my Patreon and help support Southern Fried Science.