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Should you upgrade your 3D printer to a faster one? Not so fast

One thing most 3D printer hobbyists need is patience. Patience in setting up and calibrating their machines, patience in finding or creating the perfect 3D models and, above all, patience in waiting for their creations to be carefully assembled line by line from crawling plastic threads. However, the last part doesn’t necessarily have to take that long.

Here’s what changed the way we think about the speed of 3D printing.

The 3D printing business has experienced a race to the bottom in terms of price over the past five years. The need to create a class of affordable 3D printers that still have some advanced features has caught the attention of most manufacturers. Elegoo, Anycubic, Creality and others have produced the same type of printer with minor changes to improve usability. Meanwhile, well-known brands such as Prusa, Ultimaker and Raise3D have revised their tried and tested machines, focusing on the quality of the print rather than the speed.

Read more: Best 3D printer for 2023

All that changed in early 2023 with the release of the AnkerMake M5closely followed by the Bambu Lab X1 Carbon. Overnight, the 3D printer had machines that printed impressive models at least twice as fast as other printers. The race for speed was on and other companies began to respond in earnest. Prusa now has the MK4, Creality has the K1 and other companies will surely follow suit. If you’re new to 3D printing and want to get started, purchasing one of these super-fast machines will give your hobby a boost if you have the budget.

But the big question is: If you already have a 3D printer that works for you, should you rush out and buy a new, faster machine?

AnkerMake M5 3D printer on a table with a selection of printed skulls James Bricknell/CNET

The answer: It really depends on your current machine

The decision to upgrade will likely come down to one of three factors

  • Need to print faster? (for example if you print professionally)
  • Your budget needs (faster printers are more expensive)
  • The quality of your current 3D printer is fine (as long as it isn’t broken…)

Your budget

These ultra-fast 3D printers start at around $600 – the Creality K1 and Bambu Lab P1P are the cheapest ultra-fast machines – but can cost up to $1,400 for the Bambu Lab X1 Carbon. If your current device is a budget 3D printer like the Elegoo Neptune 3 ($229), then spending three times as much on an upgrade is daunting. For around $200 you could just buy another Neptune 3 and print twice as many things.

Business needs

3D printing has always been great for rapid prototyping. If you run a small business or are a home-based inventor, having a device that allows you to print and improve your ideas is invaluable. Ultra-fast 3D printing makes rapid prototyping everything even, well, faster. A model that once took four hours to print could take nearly 90 minutes with a machine like the Bambu Lab P1P. In the world of invention and small business, saving nearly three-quarters of your time on a project is a big deal.

I run an Etsy 3D printing shop, and although I have several standard speed printers for the shop, using faster machines obviously increases my output and therefore my profitability. If you believe in the saying “time is money,” investing in an ultra-fast 3D printer is a good idea.

Your quality

Without exception, all of the ultra-fast printers I have tested have achieved results comparable to the best 3D printers available. But if you’ve already set up your 3D printer to deliver amazing results every time, and none of the other two points above apply to you, then you may not need to upgrade at all. Because if you don’t want to spend the money, don’t need the speed for your business, and have a printer that already produces fantastic results, there’s no real point in upgrading.

Ouroboros snake printed on the X1 Carbon Ouroboros snake printed on the X1 Carbon

The print quality from these ultra-fast printers can be amazing

James Bricknell/CNET

Should you buy a quick printer as your first printer?

3D printing is still an industry where quality is paramount. While the speed is amazing, it may not be a reason to upgrade on your own. However, if you are looking to buy your first 3D printer and your budget allows it, you should definitely check out one of these ultra-fast printers. The print quality, the quality of the device, the easy setup and the printing speed make it the best choice for beginners. My current suggestion is the Bambu Lab P1P. It ticks all the boxes for an ultra-fast printer at a mid-range price of $699.

I’ve been using and testing 3D printers for almost a decade and have seen many exciting improvements. The advent of speed is just the next exciting step forward. It is always important to remember that new improvements do not invalidate the current crop. If your 3D printer still works well, keep it until it stops working.