3D printers categories and 3D printer types

There are several types of 3D printers and 3D printer categories. From desktop 3D printers to industrial-grade 3D printers, it is important to understand the differences between 3D printers. We have listed the main types of 3D printers here, with information on each category. In our 3D printer comparison engine, we chose to segment 3D printers in only 3 categories (Desktop, Kits and Industrial). We might add other 3D printer categories in the future, to reflect evolutions of the market.

Note:  we do not list here the various 3D printing technologies available but only the categories of 3D printers based on hardware specs and usage.

Desktop 3D printers, consumer 3D printers and home 3D printers

Desktop 3D printers, also called home 3D printers, are typically desktop-sized machines, easy to operate and maintain, and do not require assembly.

3D printer categories - Desktop 3D printer

The desktop 3D printer category covers 3D printers small enough to fit on a desktop and affordable by individuals or small businesses. The price of assembled desktop 3D printers can range from around $500 to a few thousands dollars.

Desktop 3D printers are also called consumer 3D printer or home 3D printer, as they are often chosen by individuals (versus professional or industrial-grade 3D printers, designed for companies). Desktop 3D printers do not require assembly, if they do they will fall in the 3D printer kits category (see below).

Home 3D printers can be delivered ready to 3D print (plug-and-play 3D printers) or, more often, require basic calibration and set up before 3D printing their first object. Desktop 3D printers also often come with a dedicated software, which can be proprietary or open-source (like Cura). In general, desktop 3D printers are easy to operate and maintain (but as all 3D printers they will require some basic knowledge and practice!).

Most desktop 3D printers use the FFF 3D printing technology (extrusion), with plastic filaments as the printing material. However, a growing number of desktop 3D printers are resin 3D printers, using SLA or DLP technologies.

3D printer kits and DIY 3D printers

3D printers kits, or DIY 3D printers, require the user to assemble the parts to build the 3D printer. They require hands-on experience with 3D printing and notions in electronics and electric circuits.

3D printer kits, also called DIY 3D printers, require the user to build the 3D printer from parts and electronic components available in kits. These 3D printer kits are typically far less expensive than desktop 3D printers which come assembled. DIY 3D printers require technical knowledge for assembly and are usually  more complex to operate than desktop 3D printers. Their set up and operation is likely to require tinkering.

3D printer in kits are recommended for 3D printing enthusiasts, geeks, or people with sufficient experience who want to save money. 3D printer kits come in different shape and forms but the vast majority of these kits are base on the Filament Fused Fabrication 3D printing technology, used by extrusion 3D printers.

Commercial 3D printers, professional 3D printers and industrial 3D printers

Professional 3D printers, also known as commercial 3D printers or industrial 3D printers, are additive manufacturing systems designed for professional applications such as rapid prototyping or direct manufacturing of functional parts.

Professional 3D printers, also known as commercial 3D printers or industrial 3D printers, form the most expensive and advanced category of 3D printers. These additive manufacturing systems are designed for professional and industrial use cases, from rapid prototyping to direct manufacturing of functional parts or end products.

The size of industrial 3D printers can vary greatly, from as small as a desktop machine to much bigger than a car for large volume professional 3D printers.

Depending on their purpose, professional 3D printers can be based on a wide range of 3D printing technologies from SLS to SLM, SLA or DLP. For instance, commercial 3D printers for the Dental or Jewelry industry are likely to use a resin-based technology such a SLA or DLP (higher level of details), while an industrial 3D printer designed for Aerospace application may use the SLM or SLS technology to churn out highly resistant metal parts.

Commercial 3D printer prices can range from a few thousands dollars to hundred of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars for the most advanced industrial-grade additive manufacturing systems.