3D printing is still a bit of a wild frontier in technology, but the category has matured to the point that it’s now affordable—and even kid-friendly. Essentially, 3D printers connect to your computer and let you create just about anything you can imagine that will fit inside the printer. There’s also a vast repository of fun stuff to try out over at Thingiverse, a sort of Google for 3D-printable objects.
So let your kids design, print and enjoy stuff they make. And if adults want to get in on the fun, there are options on this list for everyone in the family. Before you shop, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the basic terms used to describe 3D-printing technologies. Keep in mind you’ll also need to buy filament for your printer, which is like buying ink for your printer.
Here are the best 3D printers for kids:
I like the FlashForge Finder 3D Printer because it’s packed with all the features I like in regular 3D printers, but it’s been resized and rethought for younger users. It uses a cold printing deck so burns aren’t really an issue, and the big touch panel makes operation a snap. You can print from Wi-Fi, the cloud or a thumb drive. Best of all, the prints look great. Plus, it’s quiet, a big bonus since you might want to let the printer work away on a big project overnight. For $299, this is a solid choice for kids, teens and adults interested in doing some 3D printing.
Monoprice Voxel 3D Printer
If you’ve got tweens and teens with an interest in additive manufacturing (the fancy name for 3D printing), the Monoprice Voxel 3D Printer is a great choice. Less toy-like than some other printers on this list, the Voxel also features a wider array of features and printing options, along with a quick-swap print head system for even more creative avenues. While it’s a bit more expensive (starting at $399), the Voxel has enough power and flexibility to allow users to make more complex objects.
QIDI Tech X-Smart
Like the Monoprice Voxel, the QIDI Tech X-Smart printer is a machine you can grow with. While the look appeals more to younger kids, the capabilities are there for years of learning and development. For $399, it offers multiple print material abilities, tough, all-metal construction and a nice touch panel for making prints sharp and easy. Transparent doors keep prying hands away while the printer is in operation, and the X-Smart also has a low noise level while working.
da Vinci Mini Wireless 3D Printer
The affordable da Vinci Mini 3D Printer may be small, with 6″-by-6″ print space, but for young aspiring printers it’s a great place to start. Simple to use and with Wi-Fi connectivity, you can dial up a print object online and get it working in a short time. It even comes with environmentally friendly filament in the box. Once set up, you push a button and watch objects come to life.
TRONXY XY-2 3D Printer
This is a printer for curious kids who are interested not only in printing objects, but understanding how a 3D printer works. It’s an open-air style, so maybe not the best for younger kids, but it allows for those interested in the mechanics of 3D printing to see and understand “how it works” while it prints. Plus, you have to build the printer itself (which is not difficult). Once built, the XY-2 features a nice touchscreen and accepts several types of print media.
Dremel Digilab 3D20 3D Printer
From Dremel, the people that make those amazing cutting tools, comes the 3D20 printer. Bigger than most of the printers on this list (and at $590, somewhat more expensive), the 3D20 is still easy to use, but it can print much larger objects. Fully enclosed, the 3D20 is safe for little kids to use but flexible enough for teens and adults to enjoy. Plus, it comes from Dremel, so customer support is widely available and reliable. The 3D20 is also compatible with numerous 3D object libraries like Cura so you can access a huge universe of objects to print.
HICTOP IDEX Independent Dual Extruder 3D Printer
While not specifically targeted at kids, the Hictop IDEX printer is part of a growing trend in 3D printing: multi-color or “blended” objects as well as the ability to print two identical items at once, and even make them a mirror of each other. Starting at about $730 on Amazon, it is an “open” printer so it’s probably better for older kids to experiment with, but it helps reduce the cries of “I want one, too!” from young scientists. Plus, you can create some very interesting objects while using two different filament colors. A large icon-driven touchpad also makes operation very easy.