What's the "best" 3d printer out there on the market today? The answer is quite subjective, but many publications and people are touting the Bambu Labs X1C as being the winner. Why is that? How is it different from other 3d printers? Will it be the best printer for you? Having bought one last month and used it a ton in the intervening time period, I feel like I'm qualified to weigh in an help you figure it out. Will the Bambu Labs X1C be the best 3d printer for you?
RIP Maker Select Plus
I first started my 3d printer journey back in 2018 with a Monoprice Maker Select Plus. I wasn't really sure that I would get that much out of a 3d printer, so buying an inexpensive model from a vendor I trusted (hah!) seemed like a good place to start. Well, it finally kicked the bucket last month as I was working on a large project. It tried very hard to twist itself into a pretzel, damaging the bed and warping some of the X axis.
I had been considering replacing it for a while now - I'd gotten to the point where I'd tweaked and fixed and upgraded it as much as could be done reasonably without tearing it apart and rebuilding it from scratch.
Picking a Replacement
I had a few options for replacement:
- I could buy another low-end model "hobbyist" grade printer that would probably need a lot of upgrades, tweaks, and attention before it gave me optimal prints - I could buy a kit printer (like a Voron)
- I could buy a printer that "just works" out of the box - likely one intended for commercial use
... and some needs/wants that basically boil down to "I want to be able to do more with the new printer than I could before - more materials, bigger prints faster, etc."
Of the options, I didn't really love any of them. I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg to continue 3d printing, and I didn't really want to have to constantly deal with printer issues preventing me from making a thing.
I was really leaning towards the Prusa line of printers, hoping that I'd end up with something that was good quality and reliable without having to break the bank. I had pre-ordered a Prusa XL back when they were first announced, but as time went on the lack of news/updates started to grate. It was also expensive, didn't do everything I wanted, and was too big for my workbench. The Prusa Mk4 was announced around the time the XL was finally getting ready to ship, but it didn't seem like that was a huge step up from the Mk3, which was already something of an aging platform.
So that put me into the market for a "just works" printer. The Bambu Labs X1C really stood out here. It's got a lot of what I'll call "advanced" features - LiDAR for bed leveling, automatic material switching, cloud-based monitoring, etc. All of this comes at a generally pretty reasonable price - not completely astronomical like an Ultimaker, but not so far off from the Prusa-grade printers as to be an unreasonable value proposition.
I bought a Bambu Labs X1C
Let's start with the good news. I am happy with the X1C. It is basically exactly as advertised. I unboxed it, went through the 15 minute setup process, and by the end of the day I'd printed a bunch of items that my old printer struggled with, with much better quality.
It was amazing how much of an upgrade this unit was over my old printer. I didn't worry about whether or not the print was going to come out looking right. When I'm using the AMS, basically the only thing I have to think about is "did I take the old print off the build plate?" No loading filament. No worrying about the first layer. No endless tweaks in the slicing software to get it to do the right thing. Far less difficulty removing supports/brims than on my old printer.
So... What's the Catch?
Surely at this point I could just stop and say "If the Bambu Labs X1C is in your price range, buy it without hesitation." But there's more to this story. The Bambu Labs X1C is like those "commercial grade" printers in more ways than just "it's turnkey" and "does a good job."
The mantra of the Voron/Prusa/Ender style printers is that everything is under your control. Most of these printers use standard parts - heck, some of them are just literal copies of another manufacturer's design! The firmware is usually open source, or at least open enough that someone could come along and make modified/upgraded firmware for them. Basically, this is more along the lines of an "open source/community support" model. If your Prusa breaks or you want to upgrade it, chances are that's going to be straightforward and easy to do.
The Bambu Labs X1C is different. It has probably at least a dozen consumable parts that are guaranteed to wear out over time. Bambu Labs will sell you replacements, for a price. They caution you not to use 3rd party stuff with it - even the glue stick to help PLA parts release easier you should only source from them. The firmware/software stack is almost all closed source, and parts depend on a cloud service you have no control over.
I also found that, while I could use 3rd party filament, the unit (and the AMS in particular) seems tuned for Bambu Labs filament. They have RFID tags in the spools, the AMS is picky about spool sizes, the slicer has better tuned defaults for Bambu filament, etc. With time, I'm sure I can adapt and tweak it to work as well with other filaments, but it's certainly not optimized out of the box for that use case.
There is a good chunk of the 3d printing enthusiast community who would turn their noses up at this sort of quasi-"vendor lock in" I'm describing. But see, this is the model for a lot of "commercial grade" hardware. If your business depends on consistent performance out of a tool, you buy the tool plus the consumables from the company. On the other hand, this is the model that brought us so much pain in the "2d printer" space - printers that lock you out if you don't use official, first party, non-renewed consumable cartridges.
That's not to say that the community isn't trying to find replacements for things that can only be sourced from Bambu Labs, or that using something 3rd party is just outright forbidden. It's just not nearly as easy to do for things like the cloud service, the firmware, etc.
Finally: Should you buy an X1C?
The question you really have to ask yourself about the Bambu Labs X1C is not "does it work?" The X1C is not snake oil. It works fantastically. The question you ask yourself is also not "will it be obsoleted by a new model as soon as I buy it?" - this is a 3d printer with a rich feature set that is going to serve you for many years (fingers crossed).
The question you have to ask is - "am I interested in going from the community supported model to a Bambu Labs supported model?" There are pros and cons here. On the plus side, you get something that "Just Works" - but on the minus side, you trade a certain amount of freedom to get there.
If you are into this hobby because you like to tinker with printers, this is probably not the printer for you. But if you just want stuff to print, and are willing to pay a (currently) reasonable amount to get stuff done, then the Bambu Labs X1C might be worth it for you.
For me personally, I'm willing to take those tradeoffs. For the cost of a reasonably high spec laptop, I can just hit "Print" and get stuff made. But I understand if not everyone feels the same way I do.