Manual leveling is tedious, repetitive, and exposes you to the more underrated component of failed prints — human error. Wouldn’t it be great to automate all the boring stuff away, and get to printing? It’s good news for you then, as auto-leveling 3D printers have become more and more affordable.
What is an auto-leveling 3D printer?
An auto-leveling 3D printer is one that comes equipped with the necessary kit (sensors) to automatically detect the distance between the nozzle and the print bed.
Prior to auto-leveling, makers worldwide had to manually adjust their 3D printer’s bed so it was at the correct distance away from the nozzle. This was time-consuming, annoying, and put beginners off. Moreover, you’d have to re-level your 3D printer every few prints as the bed began to fall out of alignment over time.
Having a self-leveling 3D printer saves you time and hassle, so you can get to doing the fun things like printing your favorite models. These auto-leveling printers have proximity sensors near the tip of the nozzle and detect where the print bed is across various points on the print bed. For example, the Creality CR-10 Smart has 16 points spaced evenly across the print bed that the nozzle probes to get distance data.
With this data, the 3D printer’s firmware can make adjustments on the distance the nozzle comes to the print bed during the 3D printing process. For example, if one side of the print bed is slightly uneven, the printer adjusts to this and ensures that the nozzle and bed remain the same distance apart throughout the print, improving bed adhesion and print quality.
Generally, the ideal distance between the printer nozzle and bed is around 0.1mm, but this can vary.
Problems that can occur if the nozzle is too close to the print bed include:
- Scratch marks on the print bed
- Filament will be unable to extrude, especially in the first few layers
- Can clog your nozzle
Problems that can occur if the nozzle is too far away from the print bed include:
- Bad adhesion
- Filament will curve and twist around the nozzle rather than being deposited
- Poor print quality
Either way, badly optimized bed leveling causes bad adhesion and worse print quality, so it’s key to do this properly. Even with an auto-leveling 3D printer, it can be worth manually calibrating everything every once in a while to ensure your settings are spot on.
What are the advantages of a 3D printer with automatic bed leveling?
- Better print quality and bed adhesion
- More accessible for less experienced beginners
- Saves you time and hassle manually leveling the 3D printer
- Human error can affect manual leveling
Therefore, a level print bed is crucial for high-quality prints. If you’re trying to avoid constantly ruined, sloppy-looking prints caused by poor layer adhesion, go for a self-leveling 3D printer.
Can you upgrade a 3D printer to auto level?
Yes, you can, and many makers opt to upgrade their printer so that it can auto level. Many 3D printer auto-leveling kits are available, but check the kit you’re interested in is compatible with your printer.
Some popular 3D printer auto-leveling kits include:
- BLTouch — kits Available on Amazon here
These kits come with firmware, such as Marlin, which when placed where your printer’s z-stop is, learns the height of the build plate, and makes adjustments based on these measurements.
The best auto-leveling 3D printers
1 – Creality CR-6 SE — one of the cheapest auto-leveling 3D printers
- Price: $399 — Available on Creality Store here / Available on Amazon here
- Build volume: 235 x 235 x 250 mm
Creality’s Ender 3 and CR-10 range are some of the most popular 3D printers of all time, but less has been said about the CR-6 range. Whereas the Ender 3 range lacks auto-leveling features, the CR-6 SE self-levels without issue to save you time and ensure consistent print quality.
It’s one of the cheapest auto-leveling 3D printers around, and features a range of other great features, too. The upgraded 32-bit mainboard is more powerful and quieter than the standard 8-bit motherboards that ship on the standard Ender 3. For those who value a quiet printing experience, the quieter motherboard and silent cooling fan make it ideal.
The build volume is more than enough for all but the largest projects – and you can even expand the Z-axis for super tall cosplay prints – and the carborundum glass build surface makes for good adhesion and helps prevent warping.
You can build this auto-leveling 3D printer kit in just a few minutes – it’s even quicker to assemble than the Ender 3! The 4.3-inch touchscreen is also a nice addition, saving you time and effort compared to the twisting knobs on the Ender 3, and overall the CR-6 SE is a great 3D printer for those looking for a more premium and stress-free printing experience.
2. Flashforge Adventurer 3 Lite
- Price: $329 — Available on Amazon here
- Build volume: 150 x 150 x 150
If you’ve got younger kids that you want to get involved in 3D printing, the Adventurer 3 Lite is perfect. It’s enclosed, so it keeps any curious child’s hands safely locked away from the nozzle while printing, with this enclosure also benefiting your prints as you can more effectively control the temperature, and reduce warping.
The Flashforge Adventurer 3 Lite is one of the cheapest 3D printers with auto-leveling, another feature that makes it ideal for beginners or kids, letting you skip all the hassle and get straight to the fun printing. The removable heated bed makes it easier to remove prints after printing, and despite its appeal as a basic, easy-to-use printer, it can still print tougher filaments like PETG.
It also comes with a filament run-out sensor, switching off automatically in the event of a power cut or similar failure, pausing your print so you can resume without ruining your model, and it’s very quiet, so it won’t disturb you too much if you’re working or relaxing in the same room.
3. Anycubic Vyper
- Price: $429 — Available on Anycubic Store here / Available on Amazon here
- Build volume: 245 x 245 x 260 mm
Another low-priced self-leveling 3D printer, the Anycubic Vyper’s 1-click auto-leveling system automatically adjusts based on the data gained from each of 16 different points across the print bed to optimize printing.
Despite the large build volume, it’s a compact printer that doesn’t take up too much space, and when we recently tested it out we were impressed with the print quality. Though we didn’t run it too fast, Anycubic say that with the Vyper’s new fan cooling system you can print faster without a noticeable loss in print quality — at up to 100mm/s.
The new 32-bit motherboard and control chip makes it more powerful than previous Anycubic 3D printers, making for better precision and quieter printing. The large 4.3-inch touchscreen is a nice bonus, and the UI is easy to use to get printing and change each setting. Another great feature is the new and improved double gear extrusion system within the extruder, making flexible filaments like TPU easier to print and prevents tangling, and also makes standard PLA printing more reliable.
Overall, we were impressed when we tested the Anycubic Vyper, and if you’re looking for a high-quality 3D printer that auto levels for a good price, this could be the one for you.
You can read more in our full Anycubic Vyper test here.
4. Flsun QQ-S PRO
- Price: $369 — Available on Amazon here
- Build volume: 255 x 255 x 360 mm
The only delta auto-leveling 3D printer on our list, the Flsun QQ-S Pro offers fantastic build volume, especially the 360 mm Z-axis, making it ideal for tall cosplay prints, large figurines, and other characters, and a range of other large projects you may have.
Being a delta printer it also prints very quickly, so if you’re in a rush and want to print big parts or models, this one’s for you.
The strong metal frame anchors the printer down to the ground, improving stability and precision as vibrations and other factors are prevented from affecting print quality. The touchscreen is easy to use and when we tested the Flsun QQ-S we found it very efficient overall. It’s also fairly quiet.
We recommend the QQ-S Pro as a great low-cost self-leveling 3D printer for large projects and fast printing.
You can read more in our Flsun QQ-S test here.
5. Prusa i3 MK3S+ — reliable auto-leveling 3D printer
- Price: $749 as a kit / $999 assembled — Available on Prusa Store here
- Build volume: 250 x 210 x 210 mm
Prusa printers have been known as the most reliable, hassle-free, and high-quality 3D printers around for years, winning boatloads of awards and selling hundreds of thousands of 3D printers.
The latest version, the i3 MK3S+, comes with improved first layer calibration via the new SuperPINDA probe, and a range of other key design improvements. The automatic mesh bed leveling is flawless and keeps everything optimized, and the print platform’s removable PEI spring steel sheets make it easy to remove your finished prints without having to strain and risk damaging your print while scraping it off the bed in an awkward position.
Other quality-of-life features include the filament runout sensor, power loss recovery to save where you are in your print, key safety features, and it’s very quiet while printing.
Prusa printers are also open source, so you can use third-party filaments, and the i3 MK3S+ is powerful enough and can reach high enough nozzle temperatures to print filaments like ASA, Polypropylene, Polycarbonate, HIPS, Nylon, and carbon filled filaments, beyond the standard ABS and PLA.
Overall, if you’ve got the extra money to spend, go for the Prusa and you won’t be disappointed.
6. Ultimaker S3 – premium auto-leveling option
- Price: $4,080 — Available on Dynamism here / Available on Matterhackers here
- Build volume: 230 x 190 x 200 mm
The premium, high-quality auto-leveling 3D printer option, the Ultimaker S3 guarantees a hassle-free printing experience. Designed for prototyping and for business use, the S3 features advanced auto bed leveling via automated calibration settings. These settings measure the build platform’s coordinates and automatically adjust without you needing to manually intervene — it’ll just stay level and optimized.
It’s also a dual extruder auto-leveling 3D printer, so you can print with PVA and PLA for dissolving filaments, as with HIPS and ABS, and a range of other filaments.
The Ultimaker S3 is also incredibly accurate, able to print precise parts of up to 20-micron resolutions. At this level of precision, it’ll be slow, but the results will be fantastic. It’s expensive and usually reserved for more professional use, but functions fantastically as an auto-leveling printer for a range of uses.
For premium machines, read our buyer’s guide for commercial 3D printers.