Writing a $500 3D Printer Grant

Over the past few months, I have spoken to hundreds of teachers and students about 3D printing. Teachers are excited to learn that 3D printers are now affordable enough for the classroom. My school district’s local education foundation offers $500 classroom grants for teachers.  A number of teacher and librarians have asked for recommendations for an entry level 3D printer. Here is what I would recommend for writing a $500 3D Printer grant.

3D Printer Club

First Know Why You Want a 3D Printer
3D Printing using the current fused filament technology is hard. There is endless tinkering, tweaking and troubleshooting to create a cheap plastic part. Printing is time consuming even when the printer is working. All these issues are compounded when working on an entry level printer. Given all that, do you still want to bother with a 3D printer?

For me, the answer is absolutely yes! I want students to learn about the process of 3D printing and how the printer itself works. I want students to become designers and makers and share their creations with the world. I feel like there is a window of opportunity right now where students are fascinated about taking an idea and making it into reality. Be sure your grant focuses on what students will take away from the experience rather than the hardware itself.

Budget Recommendations for a $500 3D Printer Grant (Kit)


$299 – Printrbot Simple: Unassembled kit
$30 – Shipping
$90 – 3 rolls of PLA 1.75 mm fIlament
$35 – Tools: Digital Calipers, hex wrench set, tweezers, mini-spatula, screw driver set
$15 – Consumables: Painters Tape, lubricant, alcohol wipes
$30 – Storage: Small Rolling Cart or Bin, PVC Spool Holder

The 3 rolls of filament in the budget should last for a good portion of the school year. Choose 3 different colors of filament to provide choices for students. The tools, consumables and storage may be something that you are willing to buy out of pocket but you will NEED most of those items and the cost can add up so include it in your grant. Only 3-4 students at a time will be able to work on assembling the printer. Involve the other students in other parts of the process such as creating designs or writing a build blog.

Budget Recommendations for a $500 3D Printer Grant (Assembled)
Printrbot Simple Assembled

$399 – Assembled Printrbot Simple
$25 – Shipping
$30 – 1 roll of PLA 1.75mm filament
$30 – Tools: Digital Calipers, hex wrench set, tweezers, mini-spatula
$15 – Consumables: Painters Tape, lubricant, alcohol wipes

The budget is much tighter when ordering an assembled kit. Shipping is rough on this style of kit printer so be prepared to put in a few hours checking over the printer and troubleshooting anything that may have come loose. (All 3 of the assembled Printrbots that I’ve used required some work out of the box.)

Strategies to reduce costs:
– The best practice is for the teacher and students using the printer to assemble it. But if you want someone else to assemble your printer, see if there is a club willing to assemble the printer for you. I sponsor a high school 3D Printer club. We have offered to assemble Printbot Simple Kits for teachers in our school district.
-There is a 10% discount on the purchase of 10 or more Printrbot printers. Try to arrange a group buy for your school district. The discount will pay for shipping.
-If you have a laser cutter, you could buy a Simple Builder’s Kit (no Laser Cut Wood) for $259 and cut your own frame using drawings released by Printrbot. However, if you factor in the costs for the material, you probably aren’t saving that much.

Kickstarter Warning: 
There are a number of low cost 3D printer projects on Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding sites. Kickstarter projects and grants aren’t a good mix because the ship dates for these projects frequently slip and you risk missing your ordering deadline for your grant. Base your grant on a shipping printer!

If you have suggestions for educators writing a $500 3D Printer grant, please post in the comments or contact me on Twitter @designmaketeach or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DesignMakeTeach.

Photos of Printrbot Simple are from Printrbot.com and are used with permission.