Our testing methodology
How we test 3D printers
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Here at 3DGearZone we take testing 3D printers, equipment, and accessories extremely seriously. There are hundreds of 3D printers out there to purchase and it is our mission to get you the right info so that you make the best decision for your needs.
When we get our hands on a 3D printer, we take the lens of an entry-level hobbyist and ask several important questions: How easy is it to get it assembled, and get it up and running? Is the 3D printer reliable enough to print over and over with the same level of quality? Is the 3D printer safe to use? How is the user experience of the printer? If I need to open it up to fix or repair it, is it easy to do? Can I get it warranted or serviced if something breaks? Is this 3D printer a good value? What can I print on this 3D printer?
There are dozens of questions we answer when we go through the review process. We then analyze each answer, give it a value, and plot it in a chart to ensure that we are fully impartial and give an objective review for every printer we look at.
When we review a 3D printer, we look at the following criteria:
- Printer setup
- Print Quality
- Print experience
- Features & upgrades
- Community & retailer support
This allows us at 3DGearZone to provide a concise and accurate method to compare a 3D printer among its peers. Additionally, this allows you to focus on what you feel is more important. Perhaps you are a hobbyist that enjoys assembling a 3D printer. In that case, you may put less emphasis in printer setup and more on print quality. Or you could be someone who needs a 3D printer for work, and safety, maintenance, and retailer support is the top priority for you. By breaking down the review process into these categories, we at 3DGearLab make choosing the right 3D printer easy for you.
Table of Contents
When we take on a 3D printer for review, we examine it on a wide range of criteria to give a fair comparison against its peers. In this section, we dive deep into how we test 3D printers and our methodology. In some cases, we do highlight some differences between how we test FDM 3D printers against SLA 3D printers, as there are some major differences between their technologies and use cases.
Most 3D printers are not plug-and-play, requiring users to spend time assembling, calibrating, and tuning their 3D printer before even starting their first 3D prints. When we review a 3D printer, we look at the complete process of receiving the printer to get it started on its first 3D prints.
When unboxing the printer, we first examine its shipping packaging. Since many of these printers come from overseas, we look to see if it is packed well enough material to ensure that the machine arrives safe and unscathed. After that, we examine how organized the printer and its components are. Is it easy to unbox? Does it come with an instruction or set up manual? Does it come with any accessories or spare parts?
If the printer requires assembly, we carefully note the entire assembly process. Is this a printer that just requires you to bolt on a few components and plug in a few cables? Or is a printer that arrives as a box of parts that require you hours or days to put together as a kit carefully? Even if it’s just a few parts that need to be assembled, how easy is it to do? Does the printer come with an assembly manual? If so, is it detailed enough to be easy to understand? For many users, this can be a dealbreaker as they may not care for spending hours assembling and tinkering with a printer before being able to use it. We cover this important criterion in depth to provide you with all the necessary information.
Finally, before we get into printing, the printers need to be calibrated. Various things must be done, such as bed leveling, filament extrusion calibration, and other tests. How difficult is it to level and calibrate the printer? Are there any calibration wizards available to help?
The 3D printer setup process is a critical and often daunting task that 3D printer buyers must go through before printing. We place a lot of weight on this aspect of the 3D printer review process to ensure you get all the right information before making a purchase decision.
Often the top of the list of important criteria for any 3D printer buyer. A printer can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but if it produces poor-quality prints, it means nothing. Fortunately, most modern 3D printers can now produce good and consistent quality prints. At 3DGearZone we spend most of our time pushing 3D printers we review to their limits to make sure that it performs well in any use case. We don’t just print benches, cubes, chess rocks, and test files that come with most 3D printers. We print large figurines, dozens of the same calibration files, objects that take up the entire build volume, and many, many other test prints. Our extensive testing suite ensures that we cover the 3D printer’s print quality for any user’s use case.
We print with an extensive list of different objects to test various aspects of each FDM 3D printer we review. This excludes layer and extrusion consistency, dimensional accuracy, print-to-print consistency, layer stacking, detail reproduction, cooling, ringing, the flatness of the bed, the ability to print with flexibles, and more.
Calibration cubes are often a good way to test for dimensional accuracy, as they are 20mm on all three sides. They are often a good way to test for ringing and other consistency issues with their flat sides and lettering. However, we take this a step further by printing the same cube 20 times to see the printer’s print-to-print consistency. Do the dimensions change between prints? Does the quality change between prints? This is an excellent test for print consistency.
Figurines and statues are often one of the most printed objects on FDM 3D printers, and when testing 3D printers, we want to make sure we cover that use case. Figurines often represent a challenge for layer and extrusion consistency and many times emphasize’ how good a 3D printer’s cooling is. The figurine test usually allows us to separate the good FDM printers from the great FDM printers.
Often overlooked by many reviewers is how well a 3D printer prints tall objects that take up its entire z height. If a printer is poorly built or comes with poor-quality components, many of its shortcomings will manifest in the tall tube test. The tube test is especially challenging for tall FDM or cartesian printers and can really push printers to their limits for their layer and z-banding height consistency.
Another large use case for FDM printers is their use for cosplay. Often making props such as swords, shields, helmets, and armor. We test the 3D printer by printing a multi-part sword that needs to be glued together and uses a wooden rod for support. This tests the print quality, dimensional accuracy, and flatness of the bed.
TPU Phone Case
Many modern FDM printers can now print flexibles such as TPU out of the box. We test it by printing a phone case of the difficult material. This is an excellent test of the printer’s ability to print exotic materials, bed adhesion, and extrusion consistency.
Resin Printers are the premier 3D printer choice when it comes to highly detailed objects such as tabletop miniatures, jewelry, detailed figurines, and props. With that in mind, we printed a variety of different objects that would test a resin printer’s ability to print these highly intricate files.
A flagship model by most users. This file shows off an incredible amount of detail that only resin 3D printers are capable of reproducing. There are minute details, such as scale texture and teeth, that only the best printers can reproduce well. This file can really show the difference between the previous generation and modern generation resin 3D printers.
While the dragon bust can show off how a resin 3D printer can reproduce organic shapes, the robot figurine emphasizes flat surfaces and hard angles, which can be surprisingly hard to reproduce. MSLA technology used in most resin 3D printers do have a drawback of showing the pixels or voxels used to create the object, which can result in lines or “stairsteps” in a resin print. This again differentiates good resin printers from great resin printers, as the best resin printers pack more technology to reduce the “stair step” effect.
The house model is a relatively large resin print that tests organic and nonorganic detail reproduction alongside the ability to print larger objects that are dimensionally accurate. These files are often used as terrain for tabletop miniatures, making it an excellent use case for users who want to 3D print for gaming.
This test produces many highly detailed tiles across the entire build plate to test the consistency of the entire build surface. This allows us to see how well a resin 3D printer performs from edge to edge.
3D printers don’t just end with the objects that they produce. Often overlooked by many reviewers is the experience working with 3D printers. The best 3D printers in the world would be rarely used if it proved to be a frustrating experience just to get one to print, and with that in mind, we take a deep dive into what goes into getting a print out of a 3D printer.
The first and possibly the most critical piece is the software that is used by the printer. Many budget printers come with outdated or frustrating use of slicer software to get a 3D model ready for 3D printing. While many professionals in the field have access to much better software or know their way around the software that ships with these printers, many first-time users or hobbyists do not. When confronted with software with a poor user experience, we highlight it to you so that you know to look out for it.
Another often overlooked aspect is the user interface with 3D printers. 3D printers have a huge variety of ways to interact with them. Many sport color touchscreens, while some use just a monochrome LCD with a click wheel. Some use microSD cards or USB drives to load files from a computer to the printer, while advanced models can do it via WiFi. We ensure you know how you’ll need to interact with the machine.
Finally, one of the most overlooked aspects of the printer user experience is the speed and noise of the printer. Printers often require multiple fans to adequately cool their various components, which could generate a lot of noise. Sometimes it’s loud enough that you may not even want to be in the same room with it while it’s printing. We include decibel readings with all printer reviews to ensure you know how loud they are when in use.
When choosing a 3D printer, users are often confronted with a plethora of specs that can be overwhelming. Does this printer come with a Bowden or direct drive extruder? Is the printer enclosed for safety and noise reduction? What is the resolution of the resin LCD screen? How big is the printer? How heavy is it? Can it fit on my desk, or does it need to be on the floor? Is there an upgrade path for this machine? What is the max size of the budget it can print? Does it take a lot of power to run the machine? These in-depth questions are just a few of the things we ask ourselves when we review a 3D printer.
Since we analyze all of the hardware aspects in depth, we can accurately compare a 3D printer against its peers in terms of weight, size, print volume, material quality, and more. Most important is the technological value of the 3D printer. As the 3D printing industry advances at a breakneck pace, 3D printers often need to innovate to stay competitive. As a result, at each price bracket, there are many printers that come ahead in terms of the technology they pack, while others are considered obsolete. We make sure in each 3D printer review we do we highlight if a printer is considered advanced or obsolete.
A critical component of any 3D printer since, when stripped down, a 3D printer is a robotic arm that extrudes molten plastic at over 200C or cures highly toxic resin with UV light. Both can create a risk to the end user if safety precautions are not taken.
Fortunately, the vast majority of modern 3D printers have safety layers such as thermal runaway protection, properly grounded mains wiring, fume extraction, and more. We test for multiple safety cases for each printer and report when one passes or fails these tests.
Like any tool, vehicle, or machine, a 3D printer requires regular maintenance and replacement of parts that fail or break. When we review a 3D printer, we ask ourselves multiple questions: how easy is it to access the motherboard or other critical components? What is part of this 3D printer’s regular maintenance cycle? Can I replace parts that break? Do I need to send the printer back for service? Are the parts proprietary or off the shelf?
Many reviewers often do not use a 3D printer enough to have to ask these questions, but at 3DGearZone, we dive so in-depth with these reviews these questions come up every time. And with that, we make sure we have the answers for you.
Features & Upgrades
New 3D printers often come with new technologies and innovations as the industry moves at a breakneck speed. When we review a 3D printer, we examine every inch of it to see if it brings anything new to the table, such as automatic bed leveling, wireless printing support, improved extruders, and other innovations that improve the print quality, reliability, and overall printing experience. On the other hand, if we find that a printer is lagging behind its competition in terms of the technology that it is packing, we ensure to highlight that it is obsolete to you so that you are armed with the best information.
We also look at its upgrade path. While not carrying the latest and greatest, some printers may still have an upgrade path, and if they do have an upgrade path, we’ll let you know.
Community & Retailer Support
The final critical piece of any 3D printer is the community and retailers that support it. As a new industry, 3D printer companies and users rely on each other to look out for issues and come up with solutions, and many of innovations have sprung from these communities. It is important to ensure you’re not alone in this when you’re looking into purchasing your first or tenth 3D printer. When reviewing a 3D printer, we look at several community hubs such as Facebook groups, Reddit subreddits, forums, and websites to see if there is an active community. Likewise, we look at the companies themselves if they stand behind their product with warranty and support.
One other component is retailer support. As printers need replacement parts down the line, it is important that there is a supply chain to ensure that your 3D printer doesn’t get reduced to a large paperweight. We look at multiple retailers to see if they stock parts and components for the 3D printer and see if the 3D printer makes use of the shelf or proprietary that can extend or harm the life of the printer.
We take the process of reviewing a 3D printer here at 3DGearZone extremely seriously. We typically spend hundreds of hours testing all parts of a 3D printer before finishing a review. And by making it an impartial and analytical process, we can accurately compare a 3D printer to its peers, allowing you to make the most informed decision before purchasing a 3D printer for yourself. That’s why you can trust us for any 3D printer review.