3D printing (additive manufacturing) is one of the most exciting technologies a school can incorporate into their design and technology or physical sciences curriculums. Universities now include 3D printing in several engineering courses, so it makes sense to introduce this technology to students during high school to provide an introduction to the technology.
It should be said that 3D printing is in no way universally included within secondary education curriculums at this present time. However, educators are increasingly seeing value in 3D printing as a learning tool for students. Design and technology curriculums currently include manufacturing processes such as injection moulding, so 3D printing definitely has a place.
3D printing is engaging, interactive and fun. However, choosing the right 3D printer for schools isn’t necessarily straightforward. Budget constraints, health and safety concerns and futureproofing are key considerations for educators, and rightly so. Following, we have listed some of the best 3D printers currently available for schools, which we have first-hand experience with in education. To find out more about any of them, contact us at this page.
The FlashForge Finder is one of the most affordable 3D printers we sell, putting it well within reach of schools with a tight budget or making it ideal for schools who want to purchase a number of 3D printers.
It retails from us for £499.00 including VAT. For your money, you get a well-made Fused Filament Fabrication 3D printer with an enclosed build chamber and a 140 mm x 140 mm x 140 mm build volume. The Flashforge Finder prints PLA only, so it doesn’t have a heated print bed which reduces the risk of students injuring themselves.
The Flashforge Finder also has a 3.5″ touchscreen and you can send files to print through Wi-Fi or USB cable. The Finder also has built-in storage for filament, and it can print at a layer height of 100-500 microns (0.1 – 0.5 mm).
FlashForge Creator Pro
If you can stretch your budget to £1,000.00, the FlashForge Finder Creator Pro is a step up from the Finder. This Fused Filament Fabrication 3D printer can print ABS and PLA, and it offers a larger 225 mm x 145 mm x 150 mm build volume. It too offers an enclosed build chamber, and it can print at a layer height of 0.1 – 0.3 mm (100 – 300 microns) so you can print a wide range of models. Models printed at 100-microns have plenty of detail, and good consistency.
For the money, the Creator Pro offers plenty. The print chamber is sealed with a large, translucent acrylic cover and the printer is controlled via a simple LCD display with physical buttons. This printer also has an industrial-grade dual-extruder system so that you can print twice as fast and with a wider range of materials including ColorFabb filaments.
The MakerBot Replicator Plus is an outstanding 3D printer. It has an enormous 295 mm x 195 mm x 165 mm build volume, and it can print down to a layer height of 100 microns (0.1 mm). This printer comes loaded with features, including a webcam for remote monitoring through MakerBot Print and MakerBot Mobile. You can send files to print over Wi-Fi or USB. The Replicator+ is also 30 per cent faster than its predecessor without any compromise in print consistency.
The MakerBot Replicator+ prints MakerBot PLA and MakerBot Tough PLA. These materials print quickly without the need for a heated bed. This 3D printer also benefits from MakerBot’s Smart Extruder+, which has double the warranty of its predecessor with better thermal management and an extended PTFE tube to feed filament into the nozzle.
MakerBot Replicator Mini+
The MakerBot Replicator Mini Plus takes everything that’s great about the Replicator Plus and downsizes it. The build volume of this model is 101 mm x 126 mm x 126 mm, and the printer has a tiny footprint of 295 mm x 349 mm x 381 mm which is ideal for smaller classrooms. The Replicator Mini+ is an excellent 3D printer, with good print quality and consistency. It is 10 per cent faster than its predecessor and it comes with the Smart Extruder+.
The MakerBot Replicator Mini+ also has an improved Grip Surface build plate, which reduces warping and curling. Parts stick to this build plate like glue, which dramatically increases print consistency. The Replicator Mini+ is also cloud-enabled with Wi-Fi and mobile support, and it has a webcam for remote monitoring just like its bigger brother.
The Ultimaker 3 is considered to be one of the best FFF desktop 3D printers on the market – and we also believe it to be up there with the very best. It can print at a layer height of 20 – 200 microns (0.02 – 0.2 mm), and it offers a 215 mm x 215 mm x 200 mm build volume, with the ability to print PLA, PVA, ABS, CPE and Nylon. This wide support for materials means that students can 3D print parts for a wide range of applications, including for mechanical applications.
If you currently own an Ultimaker 2, we recommend upgrading to the 3 since it has a new dual extrusion system which can 3D print at a higher temperature of up to 280˚C, and new swappable print cores. The Ultimaker 3 is also available as the Ultimaker 3 Extended, with a roomier 215 mm x 215 mm x 300 mm build volume.
Formlabs Form 2
If you are more interested in stereolithography for your curriculum, there’s no better 3D printer on the market than the Formlabs Form 2. This SLA 3D printer has a generous 145 mm × 145 mm × 175 mm (5.7 × 5.7 × 6.9 in) build volume, and can print at a layer height of 25, 50, or 100 microns. It also comes loaded with features, such as Wi-Fi and touchscreen controls, and it is capable of printing parts with geometries that FFF 3D printers can’t.
The Formlabs Form 2 is a big improvement over the Formlabs 1+, which was already a very good 3D printer. The Form 2 has a sliding peel mechanism that gently removes parts from the print bed, and it has an automated resin tank to eliminate the need for bottles (the Form 2 uses cartridges). With the Form 2, you can also re-print previous jobs at the touch of a button.
If the 3D printers listed above are too small for the projects you have planned, then consider the 3DP Workbench. This enormous 3D printer offers a build volume of 950 mm x 850 mm x 500 mm (37.4 x 33.5 x 19.6 in), and it can print at a layer height of 70 – 100 microns (0.07mm – 0.1mm). It can print PLA, PETG, HIPS, PVA and ABS, although it does come with a price tag as big as its footprint (over £20,000), so this printer is not for the fainthearted.
What you get for your money is astounding though. The 3DP Workbench is used by manufacturers and designers to create prototypes, concepts and end-use parts that would usually have to be made utilising traditional manufacturing processes. This printer is also very reliable, thanks to industrial-grade components, and it is surprisingly easy to operate.