A 3-D printer is a big investment, so you want to be sure that whichever option you go with is easy enough to use that your child won't get frustrated by the process. Fortunately, the best 3-D printers for kids have user-friendly interfaces and are compatible with plenty of downloadable apps so that kids can program them right from a tablet or phone.
The biggest difference between a classic 3-D printer and one that's safe for your kids to use is its design. Since the plates get hot as you print, you want to be sure that the printer you choose is safe and appropriate for your child's age. For younger kids, you may want to consider an enclosed 3-D printer with no space to burn tiny fingers. On the other hand, if you have an older kid or teen, you may want to look into a more versatile printer that allows for greater creativity. The rest of your decision will largely come down to your budget.
When it comes down to it, investing in a great 3-D printer for kids is a big deal, so you definitely want to nail it. Here are some excellent printers on the market to help you narrow down your options.
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1. Best Overall, All Things Considered: Dremel Digilab 3D20 3-D Printer
Not only is this enclosed 3-D printer safe to use for kids of all ages, but it's simple to operate, too. For one, it comes completely assembled (always a plus), so you can start creating within minutes of opening the box. The fully enclosed case also allows kids to look inside to see what's happening without accidentally touching any hot plates or other components. This printer also has a full color LCD touchscreen, making it even easier for kids to choose their settings and projects. And bonus: Schools tend to use this 3-D printer in their labs and classrooms, so your kids may already be familiar with the technology. Dremel even has lessons and activities online for extra ideas.
According to one reviewer: "You honestly can't beat the ease or the quality for the price. If you want an entry to mid level printer, look no further. Seriously though, this is solid, looks awesome, and prints pretty fast as well. I can't say enough good things about this printer."
2. Runner-Up: FlashForge Finder 3-D Printer
This touchscreen printer is both easy to use and safe for younger kids with monitoring. It features a sturdy base with the printing plates in the center and out of the way, so they won't tempt little hands. That said, this printer isn't completely enclosed, so teaching your child how to use it safely is key. It features removable plates, so you can easily slide out projects once they've cooled. The highlight of this printer, though, is its Wi-Fi connectivity. It hooks up to your internet network the same way a phone or tablet would, and it comes preloaded with tons of projects and settings on the color touchscreen, making it ready to use right from the start.
According to one reviewer: "Within an hour of opening my printer I was printing a test cube, then a boat. They looked amazing, not at all stringy or textured like I have seen bad 3D printers make. My 6 year old, with supervision, was able to print himself a boat and 6 die (dice) as well as bracelet which we they spray-painted with copper. It looks incredible."
3. Best For Older Kids: Monoprice 121666 Mini Delta 3-D Printer
For older kids, this affordable mini printer allows for plenty of creativity and flexibility. While it's small, it has tons of features that kids can use to experiment with different types of filament. The extrusion nozzles heat a wide range temperatures for different project types, and it even has the ability to access open source software. As your kid gets more and more comfortable printing, they can use the software to tailor their projects to their personal taste and style. This doesn't feature the touchscreens of the options above, but for the price this 3-D printer is a steal.
According to one reviewer: "I like this little printer. For churning out small parts, it's actually got some advantages over my bigger ones. It works fine out of the box. And frankly, it's a lot more entertaining to watch it make a part. Looks like a big spider changing leg angles to spin webs."