3D printers can be a great addition to an architect’s office. This is because, during the initial stages of architectural design, a building may go through multiple different iterations before settling on the final one that gets built.
In the past, they’d be expressed through models that would have taken a few days, if not weeks, to construct and assemble.
Now, with 3D printing, this only takes a few hours. This also saves money, too, since the models are constructed from one material via an automated process.
A quality 3D printer can even replicate the intricate details that you’d expect from the old, longer, and costlier model construction processes.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that the explosion of domestic 3D printers has been met with great positivity by architects and their businesses.
We’ve grabbed five of what we think will be the best 3D printers for architects and displayed them below, even going as far as to write about their pros and cons.
We’ve also added an information section at the end, for those who aren’t knowledgeable about these printers and may need some quick tidbits to get them started.
In a hurry?
This is our Winner!
Why it's out top pick
If you’ve got models in need of printing and just want to be pointed in the right direction, allow us to recommend our top choice.
We chose the Ultimaker S5 3D Printer, one of the newer printer releases that’s packed with many features we think architects would find very helpful.
Check out the points below and see if you agree:
- This printer can tackle complicated, intricate designs through its use of dual extruders and water-soluble supports. The extruders allow you to print with multiple materials, which can be of different colors, whilst the water-soluble supports make complex geometry in your models more tenable.
- The printing bed is heated so that your prints stay smooth. This also keeps ABS printing open to you as a possibility. The swappable print core system is very easy and fast to use, making the printer beginner-friendly and maximizing how much time the printer spends working.
- An impressive fan system not only cools the printer and your projects inside when they’re done, leading to more secure bonds, but the increased airflow can also smoothen out rough edges in your models. The printer’s LED display notifies you of when you need to do something, too, so you’re never left in the dark.
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The first printer we chose when building our list is called the Ultimaker S5 3D Printer, a name fitting with its high-performance standards.
Every iteration of Ultimaker’s S series has only gotten bigger, so we’ve made sure to find the most modern to get you as much room to work with as possible.
This does mean that it’s expensive, being both high-end and newer to the market. It’s far and away the most expensive on this list, but a worthwhile investment for those who need only the most impressive construction models.
So, what justifies buying the Ultimaker S5? There are a few things. We’ve already mentioned its size, and we shouldn’t need to say more about how useful the Ultimaker’s 215mm of build volume will be to an architect. It’s on the larger side, but certainly not the largest volume out there.
It should still remove most limits that some other printers may place on you when deciding the proportions of your planned constructions, in both width and height.
In terms of specs, what sets the Ultimaker apart is its dual extrusion capabilities which not only allow for combined printing, but each extruder can also be working with different materials from one another. Also, before you ask, yes, the materials each extruder works with can also be two different colors, adding to how complex and eye-catching your models can be.
Speaking of the complexity of your prints, there’s also then the water-soluble supports you can use to smoothen surfaces and/or enable you to include complex geometrical patterns in your construction models, which is perfect for architects who are working with sculptures or modern architecture designs.
They probably would have loved to have one of these lying around when the Sydney Opera House was first modeled, is what we’re saying.
It makes very little noise thanks to the state-of-the-art fan system in place, which is nice on the ears but also means that an increased airflow throughout the printer cools and smoothens your projects.
The hot plates can also be swapped out very easily, no matter what support materials you’re using, which increases the uptime on this speedy 300mm^3/s printer.
For all of its features, it’s an easy and efficient printer to use no matter your skill level. An LED interface will flash whenever it wants your attention, so you aren’t left guessing at what you should be doing next.
Next up we have the Comgrow Creality Ender 3 3D Printer, an efficient DIY printing model that’s handy for those who aren’t afraid to work with their hands.
We say that because whilst it’ll ship to you with some of the core elements pre-assembled, which will have been strictly tested by the supplier before finding their way to your door, you will need to take about two hours out of your day to construct it.
Many other DIY printers can take even longer than that, so we suppose whether this is a pro or con depends on your opinion of half-filled glasses of milk.
Once constructed, the printer will use Advanced Extruder Technology which drastically reduces plugging risk and the chances of other extruder-related errors occurring.
This also includes the v-slot POM wheels that make extruder movement smooth and silent, whilst also being durable so they’ll survive for quite a long time.
The entire printer is rigorous in how it’s designed, featuring a Resume Print Function that enables your printer to remember where it was and what it was doing should a power outage, or a similar error, interrupt the process.
This ensures that any projects in the Ender 3 won’t, well, end if disaster strikes.
Power supply errors should be few and far between though, thanks to the Safety Protected Power Supply that keeps things running smoothly even whilst the printing hot bed reaches 110 degrees Celsius in approximately five minutes.
Coming in at the midpoint of our list is another Creality 3D printer, though this time it’s straight from the source.
The Creality 3D CR-10 Printer continues Creality 3D’s dedication to open-source technology, making their printers to support extensive modding capabilities, so this is perhaps best used in the hands of tinkerers and those more familiar with the inner workings of 3D printers.
In raw size, it’s one of the larger 3D printers we’ve encountered at 305x305x394 millimeters, so you shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever in printing even the most ambitious of construction models.
Even taller prints become viable thanks to the inclusion of a Bowden extruder that’s lighter on the X-axis, improving printing performance for when the extruder is working towards the tops of your prints. This makes taller prints much more viable, perfect for skyscraper modeling.
That isn’t to say the bottom of the printer is neglected either, featuring a stock glass bed that won’t warp and stays flat throughout the printing process no matter the size of the print. Uneven foundations only become more obvious the larger the prints are, so this is great for those who will be designing larger buildings.
The printer itself is made to a very high standard. It features an all-aluminum frame that’s lightweight yet sturdy and should last for years to come. On the frame are POM thermo-plastic wheels that have an emphasis on dimensional stability during extended printing operations, keeping your results accurate to micrometers.
Don’t let the abundance of aluminum used for this printer concern you, however, since instances of metal-on-metal components have been eliminated during manufacturing. Put simply, this means you won’t have any annoying clanging or singing coming from this printer when it’s doing its work.
Though it’s separate from the physical printer itself, it must be said that Creality offers 24/7 support for anyone struggling with any printer bought from them, something that’s handy for architects by trade who are new to these gadgets.
They also have a limited manufacturer’s replacement part guarantee where, if you meet the requisite conditions, you can receive parts to replace the ones broken or missing.
In fourth place on our list is yet another Creality 3D printer, this time the Creality 3D CR-10S Pro. Like the previous offering from Creality, it’s an affordable 3D printing option that can handle complex designs and comes in with a 300x300x400mm build volume that’s sure to accommodate even the largest of building models.
It's an accessible printer to operate thanks to the built-in LED display but you want to hear about its printing specs, no doubt. The printer uses Capricorn PTFE Bowden tubing to supply a steady rate of filament into your construction project, reproducing your digital blueprints to a very high degree of accuracy.
This is only helped by the 0.4mm tooth nozzle, which also all but eliminates the possibility of air gaps in your finished models.
Dual Bondtech Extruder Gears make the feeding process feel very natural and incident-free in how smooth it operates.
What’s more, the auto-leveling functionality built into the large, four-layer motherboard of this printer will keep your prints level whilst detecting changes in filaments, shutting down automatically when you’re in danger of running dry.
That massive build volume we mentioned before is kept in check by the large 500W MeanWell UL power supply the printer uses, supporting 100V to 240V with absolutely no need to adjust anything if you’re not comfortable doing so.
This is the secret to not only this printer’s fast heating and printing capabilities but also how it can print for long periods without sacrificing its build stability.
If, during a longer printing session, this printer suffers from an outage or its filament gets lost for one reason or another, there’s a print function that will see the printer continuing your project from its last layer of construction.
This saves you valuable time and materials, minimizing the cost of both human and technical errors that may interrupt lesser machines.
Last is a printer that has more precise, speedier prints in mind, as well as a very high degree of versatility that makes it great for tinkering professionals and rewarding for newbies who are learning the ropes, or filament threads, if you will.
We’re talking about the MakerBot Replicator + 3D Printer, which is the winner of multiple awards from the PC Mag Editor’s Choice Award, the iF Design Award, and TechCrunch best classroom 3D printer.
As that last accolade attests to, this printer has been purpose-built with safety in mind, being perfect for setup in public office buildings if that’s where you planned to park it.
The purchase itself includes one MakerBot Replicator and the accompanying printer, which is obviously the focus of our reviewing here. It also includes a swappable Smart Extruder+ in black, a PLA spool, a flexible build plate, and the requisite cables.
That Smart Extruder can be changed out at any point, if you’re familiar with other extruder styles that you prefer. Otherwise, you’ll find it capable of spinning hard materials like PLA and tough filament well enough to make durable models.
It’s also compatible with MakerBot’s own branded PLA materials, no matter the spool size, including additional material types like bronzefill, copperfill, and woodfill.
It's also very easy to set up, too, only taking about a half-hour. There’s a tradeoff here though, which is that models you print can have weaker connection points.
This problem can get worse or better depending on how complex the models you’re printing are, but that means this is a soft limitation on what you can model.
Best 3D Printer for Architects - Buyers Guide
How to choose the best 3D printer for architects
As we explained, 3D printers have revitalized the architectural industry and drastically reduced what had been, for the longest time, one of the larger costs involved when getting a project pitch rolling.
Now, with these printers becoming more and more prevalent, there’s an arms race to grab the best printers you can afford, and you want to be at the front of that charge.
That’s why it’s important to grab the best but sometimes it’s difficult to tell which printers actually are better than others.
This is especially the case when you’re trained for something else, like architecture, and now need to understand this new-to-consumer technology to benefit your business.
This is where we come in. This buyers’ guide has been written to teach you the fundamentals of buying 3D printers. Not how to operate them, for that you’ll need to read the leaflets that come with whichever printer you choose, but instead certain specs you’ll want to pay attention to.
This is because, like any tech, you can sift through them based on specs alone and get a better-than-the-average product out of it.
We’ve separated this information into four short sections: the build volume, printing speed, filament types, and software compatibility.
Build volume is just how much space you have available to print on. You don’t need to use it all, and many don’t, but if you’re an architect it can be pretty useful to have a printer capable of modeling even the tallest and thickest of buildings.
This makes larger volume printers useful for those who model skyscrapers or government buildings often.
These larger build spaces often sacrifice some customizability and have simpler printing processes when compared to the tiny 3D printers you can find out there. This isn’t a universal rule, of course, and there are higher-end printers capable of both if you have the coin for it.
There is something to be said for objects printed in large volume printers and how they’re sturdier. This is because, when constructing your project, you don’t connect disparate pieces together where each connective point presents a structural weakness.
We expect you know a lot about that, being architects and all, but it stands to reason that one-piece construction is more durable than piecemeal.
This one should be largely self-explanatory. Time is money, right? So, get yourself a printer that wastes as little time as possible. Your printer should be efficient during its uptime, even when working on very complicated models that could take hours.
I know we specified printing speed but, if you make a point of valuing your time, then it may also be wise to research into how long printer setup is. This will depend on how you set it up, whether it’s ready more or less out the box or whether it’ll require full or semi-DIY construction first.
Ease of use will also shorten the downtime your printer has, particularly if you’re a beginner to 3D printing and need a machine that’s accessible and accommodating to use.
Learning is straightforward enough, in fact, you’re doing it right now, but the best and only way to save time in this regard is to put the effort in to learn about your machine.
Most printers will want to use different filaments at some point, and that point becomes practically guaranteed when the printer in question is being used for business.
Architectural modeling in particular greatly benefits from the ability to use different materials of different strengths and colors, especially when you consider there are metallic and wood-grain materials available to work with that can make your models look as true-to-life as possible.
However, in order to work with these materials, you’ll need the right filament. Printers will tell you which material they support.
You’ll be seeing the letters PLA and ABS a lot as these are the pretty standard workable materials but if you want to work with harder, more stylish alternatives then you’ll need to find a printer that can accommodate these filaments.
There also may be a compatibility issue here, too, with certain brands offering their exclusive materials to customers. This can get ridiculous, so we’d advise it’s best to avoid if possible and keep your options open.
You’ll want printers that are compatible with whatever software you’ll need to run through them, like the CAD program you used to digitally construct the models in the first place. This isn’t always a guarantee.
What we’re saying is that, yes, certain printers will only work with certain design software. And yes, sometimes that software isn’t even included in the purchase and would need to be bought separately.
Before you start feeling a headache, you should know that all of the above will work with the most popular 3D printing design software out there at the moment.
We were careful to pick DIY/semi-DIY third-party printers where you’re able and, when we did put branded printers in front of you, they were open-source and so were designed to eliminate product exclusivity to a degree.
We’d advocate you try and support open-source printers since they tend to have a high degree of versatility and very few restrictions will be placed on your printing.