In creating its fifth generation of 3D printers, MakerBot has gone for the gusto. No longer is there simply a single printer from the popular 3D printing company, but three. Those of you looking to upgrade your 3D printing workshop or who are looking to get into the 3D printing game for the first time will have some serious options to consider.
This year, alongside a re-tooled MakerBot Replicator, you'll find the compact MakerBot Replicator Mini and the hulking MakerBot Replicator Z18, named for its impressive build height. All three of this year's printers will be supported by Makerbot's brand new lineup of apps and an online store where you can purchase high quality models of other people's creations.
As for the new printers, the diminutive Replicator Mini is both the cheapest and smallest, but that doesn't make it any less worthy. With a build volume of 3.9 inches long by 3.9 inches wide and 4.9 inches tall, you'll get a good build size for printing out small parts and toys. At 200 microns, the minimum build height is a little less than ideal, but perfectly workable for an entry-level machine.
The Mini also skimps on the on-board LCD screen that MakerBot's larger printers now come equipped with. That said, if you're just looking to have some fun with an easy-to-use, reliable 3D printer, the Replicator Mini could be the little machine you're looking for. At $1,375, it's also the cheapest of MakerBot's new printers by a long shot.
The Replicator Z18 stands in stark contrast to its Mini buddy. With a build volume nearly 35 times the size of the Mini, the Z18 can handle objects up to 18 inches tall and up to a foot in length and width. All that space also comes with a refined minimum print height of 100 microns, meaning that you're much more likely to end up with smooth surfaces at the end of a job.
The Z18 can be used entirely independent of a computer, thanks to its built-in LCD screen. From the printer itself you can navigate the Thingiverse community, MakerBot's new apps and files you've downloaded onto a flash drive. The Z18 is also the only MakerBot to offer a heated build chamber to ensure high-quality prints every time. All this functionality and ease of use does come at a high price. The Z18 will run you $6,499, a hefty sum when compared to almost any of the other 3D printer options out there. Both the Replicator Mini and the Replicator Z18 will begin shipping sometime during the spring, so at least you have time to start saving before they hit the street.