What is a dual color 3D printer?
Just so we are on the same page: A dual color 3D printer means that the 3D printer can take two different colored filaments into the extruder at the same time, and melt them separately – or if you really want to, two of the same color. The advantage is being able to print in a specific color, and then swap colors during the print. The alternative to this method is to simply paint your finished product if you wish, but having the filament itself colored makes one step easier for you. Given our reference to a dual color printer, it is likely clear that some printers are capable of doing just one filament color at a time.
For additional hardware knowledge: A 3D printer becomes dual color with two extruders built in. While we would like to cite some magic of doing so with one extruder, it is possible just by having two melting extruders on your printhead. It is indeed possible to have an IDEX model with two extruders that can print simultaneously too.
Also note that if you don't always intend to print with two colors, you'll still be fine with a dual color 3D printer. Simply don't use both extruders and only put one color in.
What are the best 3D printers with dual colors for under $500?
The Flashforge dreamer is actually on the higher end of Flashforges selection of printers, so in this brand, this isn't really a budget printer. With that said, they did a fine job constructing this machine. The Dreamer is enclosed, which helps when printing items that don't have pleasant smells – and keeps them protected during the printing process.
A couple more positives about the Dreamer before we flip the script: the print resolution can go as high as 75 microns, which is good for a printer under $500. Fine detail for models and minitaures is possible, though of courrse that will slow you down. The Dreamer also makes transferring your 3D files easy with a built in wireless connection. This isn't one of our top priorities, but not needing a USB stick or memory chip is fairly convenient when you can send your files via WiFi.
The Dreamer also comes mostly constructed, which both speaks to its relatively small size, and the ease of use it tries to promote. You could be printing within a half hour of opening the box. The touchscreen is easy to use and you get 4 gigabytes of memory on the internal drive.
Some downsides: While this review is for a dual color printer, the Flashforge filament recommended for this printer doesn't come in an extravagant number of colors. The frame itself is also plastic – though we are willing to compromise for the price. You also don't get an automatic bed leveler, but the bed is pretty easy to level. The printing surface and volume capability aren't all that big – but again, it's a good balance for a 3D printer that comes almost ready to use and for a good price.
One advantage not often spoken about is getting support from the manufacturer. Not everyone wants to use online forums and discussion boards – or to figure it out through Google searches. Flashforge offers lifetime support for people who own their printers. That's pretty cool.
QIDI Tech X-Pro
The Tech X-Pro is synonymous with 3D printing because just about everyone can use it – from people doing work with actual engineering to a home hobbyist, it's a great choice. The Tech X-Pro is capable of printing with several kinds of filaments including ABS, PLA, and more.
This 3D printer has a 4.3” touch screen that is quite easy to use to navigate and make settings changes. The bed is also heated to maintain plastic consistency as the extruder prints. One big love we and other 3D printers have are that the Tech X-Pro is easier to maintain the average. The nozzles don't tend to get stuck, and it is generally well engineered to avoid significant downtime or repairs. The build area is a bit larger than the Dreamer, though not by much at 20mm more. For users who have Mac OS X, the great news is that the Tech X-Pro supports it, so no worries there.
One of the biggest pluses is a higher resolution ability than the Dreamer, which is helpful if you want some extra detail out of your prints.
Naturally, there are downsides. You might want to re-level the bed after long prints – as this doesn't level itself, and it seems slightly shaky. Unfortunately, you'll need a memory stick (it does come with one) to transport files as you don't get WiFi or any level of wireless. Still, they have balanced having a more flexible system capable of Mac OS X files with an easy to use printer, which keeping more expensive features that not everyone really needs, like WiFi, off the table.
No, your eyes don't deceive you, and our spellcheck is asking too: that's three E's in “Geee”. Anyway, this printer is under $500 and fits the dual color model well with the ability to print in single, dual, or mixed colors in the event you want to experiment a bit.
The build volume surface is also a bit bigger than the previously mentioned models at 220 x 220 x 260 mm. The building plate is well designed to remain helpful and sticky – and you get an open source control board where you can get updates from other developers. It even has the potential for auto leveling with some updates, should you want them.
Some downsides here, of course. This printer is not enclosed, so it doesn't really protect what you are printing, and you'll probably smell it. The printer is also a bit loud and it does remain hot, so you'll want to let the nozzle cool down a bit. For about $300 though, this can produce good prints and has many options so long as developers help out.
Anycubic Photon Mono SE
This one is completely enclosed and has lots of features. You get a complete metal frame for durability, it is faster than average with 1.5 to 2.5 seconds per layer, and a WiFi connection to make sending files s easier.
We found the Anycubic quite easy to use, and the printer was nearly fully assembled when it arrived, reducing the amount of time we had to read instructions to get it up and working. The model is overall great for people who are printing small figurines for retail, given the speed and precision – they'll look good and allow for a reasonably high volume.
A couple of downsides here too: The software that comes with the Photo isn't great and you'll probably want to replace it soon. The provided buildplate also is ironically not great at removing resin models from and you'll want to be careful getting them off.
This is the biggest build volume in our reviews at 300 x 300 x 400. One of the more interesting parts of this printer are that it is nearly silent, which is impressive considering its size. The frame is also made of metal, making it extra durable. Creality updated this from a Bowden off-printer extruder to a Titan Direct drive which might help – and makes it easier to load your filament in- and overall makes it less messy.
Setup is super easy with 3 connections to make. You also get a filament breakage sensor which is great for telling you you are either out of filament or that something went wrong – rather than waiting for hours to learn that your 3D printer hasn't been doing anything.
What makes a good, budget 3D printer?
There are some standards for a 3D printer that you might miss with spending less, but that doesn't mean you can't get most of what you want. Some of our wishlists makes a big difference in printing:
3D printers can be loud. You are, after all, powering an extruder that creates heat while having a floating arm pushed around with precision. There are a few things you can do to keep your 3D printer quieter, but having a 3D printer that is natively at least somewhat quiet can help you feel better about sleeping while the 3D printer is running, or about having it in your garage with the door open.
It's not uncommon for 3D printer hobbyists to say that they aren't concerned about speed. That is until they start working on a project and print multiple things – then a slow printer makes them wait for results. Speed isn't the most critical, but it helps.
Your 3D printer bed needs to be pretty flat to keep things in alignment. A self leveling bed is helpful for when you don't want to bust out a level yourself to make absolutely sure the entire bed is level prior to printing.
This is kind of a no brainer, but there can be a big disparity between 3D printers in overall quality, in addition to their ability to complete a print as designed. Some of this does come down to the materials used though, to be fair.
Ease of setup
We'll often talk about both the hardware setup of making your 3D printer start to work and the software. Many 3D printers come mostly assembled – in part because they are complex machines that aren't especially easy to put together. Imagine being asked to assemble a regular ink printer out of the box – let's skip that. Software is important because you have to make drawings and slice them somewhere. Software is important!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do 3D printers come almost fully assembled?
For the most part, you are only required to screw the buildplate onto the base of the 3D printer, and plug it in. 3D printers come nearly fully assembled because most amateurs and hobbyists wouldn't know how and the experience would be much more difficult.
What kinds of filaments do these printers use?
The type varies. We recommend doing more research if you plan to use particular types of filaments and plastics for your 3D printer so you buy the right one the first time.