Direct Drive 3D printers are a step forward in the world of FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) printing.
Traditionally, a Bowden Tube set-up is used to extrude filament through the hot end. The Bowden or Teflon tube setup involves an extruder controlled by a motor through which filament is fed.
The filament is then pushed through the tube and down through the hot end setup, where it is then deposited and printed onto the print bed.
This is a tried and tested system that works well, but does have its flaws.
For example, the average Bowden Tube may be around 300 mm long, which is quite a distance to cover before the filament is even heated.
There are several issues that can befall the poor filament before it reaches the hot end, such as blockage in the extruder gears, blockage in the tube, breakage, etc.
Then there’s the tube itself, which can become damaged and even come loose at one or both ends.
This can then allow air in, which will again cause a blockage and ultimately a failed print.
Quick Overview of the Direct Drive Process
Direct Drive system cuts out part of the traditional process and makes printing more efficient.
In essence, a Direct Drive 3D Printer does exactly the same job as a standard FDM printer, but removes the distance between the extruder and the hot end.
Efficiency of the printer is therefore increased, leading to fewer faults such as blockages and filament breaking.
There can also be problems with a direct drive printer, and we’ll be looking at some of those as we go through our discussion.
We’ll also have a look at some great upgrade options to improve your printer.
Let’s get down to the business of looking at some best direct drive 3D printers currently on the market.
7 Best Direct Drive 3D Printers
The choice of which 3D printer to buy in itself can be a minefield for those just starting out in the hobby.
However, even the most experienced among us might have to think hard about which direct drive 3D printer to buy.
We’ve therefore compiled a list of the seven best for you to consider.
Among those considerations are the key features not only of the direct drive but of the overall printer, the pros, and cons and the price.
Please note though that all prices have been sourced from the manufacturers, so there may be differences if bought elsewhere.
1. Prusa i3 MK3S
Prusa as a company is fairly unusual in the realms of 3D printer manufacturing, as they are a European rather than Southeast Asian based company.
They produce a smaller range of 3D printers, but the design and build qualities rival that of the bigger 3D tech companies.
The Prusa i3 MK3S is in the slightly higher price bracket of home or hobbyist 3D printers, but is one of the most popular and best-selling of Prusa’s range.
The printer itself is actually available to buy in two different options.
You can purchase the printer fully assembled and ready to go straight out of the box. Or you can buy the kit version for a couple of hundred dollars less and assemble the printer yourself.
You end up with exactly the same printer, but it’s then down to you how confident you are to build it yourself.
As Prusa put it themselves, the kit version gives you Full Assembly Experience (6-8 hours), which teaches you how the printer works.
There is also the option to purchase a purpose-built enclosure, which then gives this printer the feel and look of something in the high-end professional area.
In terms of direct drive printers, the extruder is something that Prusa has developed itself and incorporates Bondtech gears and the E3D V6 hot end.
Both of these are high quality additions which makes the direct drive extruder a smooth-running piece of kit.
- Direct Drive Extruder
- SuperPinda Probe Bed Levelling
- Power-loss Recovery
- Removable Print Bed Sheets
- Filament Run-out Sensor
- Build Volume – 250 x 210 x 210 mm
- High Speed (200 mm+/s) and High Temp (300 °C) Printing
- Large build volume
- Quality direct drive extruder
- High speed and high temp printing
- Higher price bracket
- Cheaper option needs full assembly
- Fully assembled: ~$1220
- Kit: ~$890
- Enclosure: ~$215
2. FlashForge Creator Pro
FlashForge is another 3D printer manufacturer that may not be considered mainstream, but certainly have a lot of resolute and loyal users.
Their printers are designed in a similar fashion to Prusa in that they go for the technical and quality side over the quantity and mass production.
That being said though, they are by no means a small player in the world of FDM 3D printers.
The FlashForge Creator Pro is an upgrade in effect from the popular Creator model, and shows this in some of the improvements it has to offer.
The printer itself is fully enclosed and comes ready built and ready to use.
The fact that it’s fully enclosed does reduce the overall build volume compared to its rivals.
These dimensions are a little unusual, as the build plate itself is rectangular rather than square. Something that is more common with SLA printers.
The direct drive is similar to most but has one striking difference as it has dual printing nozzles.
This therefore means there is the possibility to print multicolor objects, which does set it apart from other printers in this range.
The dual feed extruder also allows for different filament types, so you can use one type for the actual model and a different one for the support.
This works particularly well if you use HIPS filament for the support, as this can be dissolved in D-Limonene post-processing, making removal much easier and leaving no marks.
- Dual direct drive extruder
- Fully enclosed and fully assembled
- Maximum nozzle temp – 240°C
- Maximum print speed – 100mm/s
- Build volume – 150 x 227 x 148 mm
- Dual drive, allowing for two colors or filament types
- Fully enclosed
- Smaller build volume
- Lower printing speeds
- Reasonably priced
3. Creality Ender 5 S-1
Creality are possibly one of the best-known 3D printer manufacturers in the world and definitely fall into the aforementioned bigger tech companies.
They have a vast range of both FDM and SLA printers and associated tech, and their Ender range is one of the most popular and best-selling 3D printers out there.
The Ender 5 S-1 is an upgrade on the previous Ender 5 Pro, and this has moved it firmly into the category of direct drive printers.
The addition of Creality’s own Sprite extruder system gives the Ender 5 it’s S-1 designation and adds a few extra features to an already decent printer.
The Sprite is a direct drive extruder, but has additional attributes of adding much faster print speeds and higher temperature to the machine.
Dual cooling fans and the option to add water cooling as well is an interesting feature, but not one that is over necessary in this case.
The printer itself is reasonably priced and comes mostly assembled, with some of this needed on delivery.
It’s partly enclosed, but there are top panels available to buy from third party makers that make it a fully enclosed machine.
The build volume is good for a compact printer and the controls, mainboard and drivers are all to the latest Creality standard.
The drivers are actually silent with this particular mainboard, so working volume is limited to the movement of the gears and the extruder itself.
- Direct Drive
- Auto Bed Levelling
- Flexible/removable print bed sheets
- High Speed (250 mm/2) and High Temp (300 °C) Printing
- Build Volume – 280 x 220 x 220 mm
- Touch Screen Control
- Silent Mainboard
- High Speed and Temp
- Quality Direct Drive
- Large build volume
- Minimal assembly
- Plastic parts where metal could be better
4. LulzBot Mini 2
The LuizBot range of 3D printers is again one that you may not be familiar with. They are less prominent and their products are in the higher price category.
However, the LuizBot Mini 2 is still a viable choice for the hobbyist printer who wants direct drive printing.
As LuizBot put it, the Min 2 is less show pony, more work horse, meaning that it may not look great, but it does the job.
The printer itself comes fully assembled and is semi enclosed, but there is the option to purchase a full ABS printed enclosure if you want for $200.
The build volume is on the smaller side, but printing temperatures and speeds are in the higher range.
The printer has direct drive and that’s what we’re focussing on here.
This is actually a third-party extruder in the form of the E3D Titan Aero which is part metal and part plastic in construction.
- Direct drive extruder
- Build volume – 160 x 160 x 180 mm
- Max Temp – 290 °C
- Max travel speed – 300 mm/s
- Semi enclosed
- Fully assembled
- Simple to use UI
- High temp printing
- Upgrades available
- Small build volume
- Higher price for printer and parts
5. MakerBot Replicator+
MakerBot is another company that doesn’t hail from the East but is actually based in the USA.
The American market for 3D printers is obviously massive, so having a home-grown company offering quality products is a bonus for customers.
MakerBot Replicator+ is again in the higher price bracket, but this time the printer looks like it should be in that category.
The overall look is actually really pleasing for this fully enclosed 3D printer and resembles that of a microwave oven!
The direct drive comes from the MakerBot Smart Extruder+ which is the company’s self-developed part and can be found on the majority of their newly released machines.
The slick design of the extruder is surprisingly compact, which works well in an enclosed printer.
There is the option to purchase the Smart Extruder+ as an upgrade, and it’s compatible with older models of their printers. Check the compatibility first before you decide to go down this route.
The UI control panel is small but has all the functionality you need. There is also an on-board camera which is great for monitoring your print progress or producing time-lapse videos.
A flexible build plate is also always a good inclusion, as is the ability to remotely access and control the printer via Wi-Fi.
In fact, the connection options are all-inclusive with this printer as it allows for Wi-Fi, USB, Ethernet and USB-drive control.
- Proprietary direct drive
- Fully enclosed
- Build volume – 295 x 195 x 165 mm
- On board camera
- Quality build and design
- Good connectivity
- Quiet operation
- Unclear tech specs
- High price bracket
6. Creality Sermoon D3
We’ve already looked at Creality as a company and what they produce in terms of affordable 3D printers for the home enthusiast.
However, their range of printers isn’t restricted to the Ender and there are some higher end (and higher price!) machines in their stable.
The Sermoon D3 is one such printer and definitely moves us into the higher price bracket.
But what are you getting for your money that’s different from some of the other, lower priced models we’ve looked at?
Well, the Sermoon D3 is fully enclosed which usually means a smaller build volume but in this case, it still retains an impressive 300 x 250 x 300 mm print area. This is much bigger than any of the others we’ve discussed, so you can see why this may be more expensive.
The direct drive aspect of the printer is provided again by the Sprite dual gear extruder.
Operation of the machine is almost silent, with print speeds of up to 150 mm/s for PLA and 250 mm/s for ABS. The maximum printing temperature is as you’d expect with the Sprite at up to 300 °C.
There’s an on-board camera for remote monitoring too and good connectivity thorough Wi-Fi and other cable/disc-based operation.
Auto-bed leveling, filament sensor, power resume and air filtration are just some other nice features of this machine.
- Sprite direct drive
- Fully enclosed
- Colour touch-screen UI controls
- Build volume – 300 x 250 x 300 mm
- Max temp – 300 °C
- Max Speeds – 150/250 mm/s
- On board camera
- Air filtration
- Direct drive
- Large build volume
- Fast print speeds & high temps
- High quality and reliability
- Versatile connectivity
- High price range
7. Artillery Sidewinder SW-X2
Artillery is another of the leading China based manufacturers and have a pedigree of producing quality and affordable printers.
We’ll therefore end our list by going back to the mid-range price bracket and have a look at the Artillery Sidewinder SW-X2.
This has a more familiar gantry frame set-up and is similar to a lot of entry level FDM printers.
However, the SW-X2 is by no means a junior or beginner’s 3D printer and has a lot of features you’d expect to see on higher priced models.
For starters, the build volume is a massive 300 x 300 x 400 mm, which gives much greater scope for the types of models you can print.
Auto bed leveling and calibration are also an additional feature and of course, there’s the direct drive to consider.
This is a Titan extruder and is composed of both, metal and plastic parts. This is a bit of a downside to the overall construction, as the gears will be prone to wear and tear down the line.
The printer itself comes in a semi constructed kit form, but the base is substantial and holds all the key electrical components and wiring out of sight.
The direct drive is assisted in its printing process by a dual drive z-axis, which provides more stability and allows for better print quality.
- Titan direct drive extruder
- Build volume 300 x 300 x 400 mm
- Max print speed – 150 mm/s
- Max print temp – 240 °C
- Auto bed levelling
- Dual z-axis drive
- Full colour touch screen UI controls
- Large build volume
- Auto levelling
- Wi-fi connectivity
- Direct drive
- Reasonably priced
- Not fully assembled
- Lower print speeds and temps
How To Choose Direct Drive 3D Printers
So, we’ve looked a t a fairly wide range of different direct drive 3D printers.
But how do you go about choosing the best one for you?
Obviously, there are a few considerations to make. So let’s now give a brief overview of some of the things you need to look out for.
This is usually the first thing on the mind of a 3D printing enthusiast, and certainly the main thing you should be looking for in a 3D printer in general.
We’ve talked a lot about print speeds and higher temperatures, and these are good if speed is what you’re after.
This could be of benefit to those who may be using their 3D printer for commercial purposes, for instance where manufacturing deadlines are important.
However, speed doesn’t always go hand in hand with print quality. So it’s worth looking at reviews and examples of models that have been printed with the particular machine you’re considering.
Have a look online or on Facebook user groups for the model of printer, and this will give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of quality.
Ease of Use
The printers we’ve looked at are all fairly easy to use, but possibly not for the absolute beginner with no 3D printing experience under their belt.
3D printing is a steep learning curve, but one that should be enjoyed rather than endured. The old adage of start low and aim high should therefore be considered if you’re starting out and looking straight for a direct drive 3D printer.
All of the 3D printers in our list have good customer support, and some have online tutorials to help you get to grips with anything you’re unsure of.
Again, online forums and Facebook groups are ideal places to get any information you might need.
The one thing with the size of a 3D printer is the build volume. The average home FDM 3D printer will typically have a build volume of around 200 mm³, which is fine for most users.
We’ve looked at printers in this list that have varying sizes, so it’s a case of a couple of factors: how big do you want your prints to be and how much room do you have for your printer.
Build volume obviously gives you the dimensions of the maximum model size you can print, but you may also need to consider the overall dimensions of the printer itself.
For example, the MakerBot Replicator+ has a fairly average build volume (295 x 195 x 165 mm) but the machine size is 528 x 441 x 410 mm and weighs 18.3KG.
Compare this to the larger build volume of the Artillery Sidewinder SW-X2 (300 x 300 x 400 mm) and the overall size of the machine is 550 x 405 x 640 but with a weight of 12.9KG.
You’re therefore getting a bigger build volume, but for not much more of an increase in overall product size.
We’ve looked at printers ranging in price from around $340 to $2500 and in essence, they all do the same job.
Whatever price you pay comes down firstly to affordability and then what you want to get for your money.
If you’re starting in 3D printing or looking to move on to a direct drive printer, then you’re best starting at the lower end of the price range. These are great printers and ideal for both hobbyists and those wanting to print commercially on a small scale.
The more advanced user or someone that wants to go for a major upgrade may opt for the more expensive in our list and benefit from the increased build quality, faster speeds, and inevitably better print quality.
So there we have a list of some of the best direct drive 3D printers currently on the market.
The price range we’ve looked at is in the mid to higher end for home users, but there are other more expensive models which we haven’t discussed.
The direct drive is definitely an improvement on the Bowden tube set up in terms of ease of use and print quality, so if you are looking to upgrade your existing printer, you definitely need to consider that feature.
However, there is of course the option to upgrade with some of the direct drives we’ve looked at, so that may also be the best option for you.
At least then if you don’t get on well with the direct drive, you haven’t wasted hundreds of dollars on a printer you can’t work with.