Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers

So you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, and your index finger is quivering over that 300 US Dollar printer on Amazon.com. Stop! You’re about to have a bad time. 3D printing has come a long way, but most 3D printers are designed through witchcraft, legends, and tall tales rather than any rigorous engineering process. I would say most 3D printer designs are either just plain bad, or designed by a team of Chinese engineers applying all their ingenuity to cost cutting. There are a few that are well designed, and there is a comparatively higher price tag attached.

I’ll start by going through some of the myths and legends that show up in 3D printers. After that I’ll go through some of the common, mostly gimmick, features that typically hinder your printer’s ability, rather than adding any useful function. Next I’ll go onto the things that will actually make your printer better. Finally, I’ll add some special consideration if you’re a beginner buying your first printer.

Myths and Legends

Most printers have very mechanically weak designs. You will never be able to just throw a spindle on 99.9% of 3D printers and get a CNC machine. 3D printers are typically not designed to take loads, they are not designed to handle dust, they aren’t designed for alignment, or anything else needed for a CNC machine. Printers get away with an enormous amount of mechanical sin because of two things. One, there is barely any load on a 3D printer.  Two, the additive manufacturing doesn’t need anything but better-than-nothing position control to work. What I’m getting at is that most printers are terrible, and they will work anyway.

Bearings Vs Bushings and Other Linear Myths

Bushings will work just fine. Really. A self-lubricating bushing on a precision, hardened rod will work super well for a 3D printer. It will be just as precise, just as smooth, have less maintenance, and cause no issues compared to a proper bearing. The LM8EUU bearings used in most 3D printers are usually made to such terrible tolerances that they could be making your printer less accurate.

Most of the time, none of this matters anyway. Because, your bushing or bearing is likely to be pushed into a flimsy piece of 3D printed plastic; which will instantly negate any precision advantage from either solution. If a printer advertises linear bearings or bushings going into a steel or aluminum part you may get a precision and rigidity advantage over another printer choice. Otherwise, it’s unlikely.

Another thing that isn’t going to do any good is a regular 608 skate bearing riding against an extrusion. These bearings have to be pre-loaded to provide any precision. They are designed to take up some axial misalignment. In order to get rid of this axial misalignment, you have to pre-load the bearing with a spring or bolt, pressing the inner race against the ball and in turn the outer race. Both must be firmly held. If this isn’t happening, which in 90% of the 3D printer and CNC designs that use this method it isn’t, you will face at least some misalignment. The perceived benefit of these bearings just won’t have the desired effect on the precision of your movement.

In conclusion, the type of bearings in most printers won’t make much of a difference unless they are properly restrained, loaded, and aligned; which is expensive to do.

Large Motors vs Small

A NEMA 17 stepper motor is probably overkill for a 3D printer. They just happen to be the cheapest and most readily available size. Most 3D printers that have trouble printing with a smaller, weaker motor are badly designed and need the extra power. I don’t see many printer manufacturers advertising smaller motors, but some have tried to pass off larger ones as an upgrade, which is dubious.

Timing Belts, Screws, and String are Equivalent with Weak Mechanical Support.

GT2 timing belts, or even low-stretch string, are plenty for your printer if you want to keep the cost low. Even if you have a precision ground acme lead screws with a properly adjusted and pre-loaded lead nut, you still won’t get any advantage unless you hold them properly, which is expensive to do.

That isn’t to say, if you had a Class 0 ball screw on a properly ground and squared three hundred thousand dollar mechanical movement that you wouldn’t see more precision. It’s just to say that if you put a ball screw in your machine and hold it in place with a mostly hollow block of PLA, it’s meaningless.

Also, I will mention, if the choice is between a bit of hardware store all-thread and a ground or rolled lead screw with lead nut of any description, it absolutely, 100%, will make your printer more accurate. Especially for Z movements where the weight of the extruder or bed is pressing down on the lead nut, pre-loading it.

Injection Molded Plastic Parts Aren’t Much Better.

Makerbot used bushings in cheap plastic parts, rendering the steel frame meaningless. http://3Dprinting-blog.com/378-makerbot-replicator-2-upgrade-to-linear-bearings/
Makerbot used bushings in cheap plastic parts, rendering the steel frame meaningless. Photo: 3Dprinting-blog

Makerbot did this puzzling thing with the Replicator 2X. They built an expensive steel frame for their printer, and then held all the moving parts with bad injection molded plastic. They’re so useless that there’s a whole ocean of aftermarket businesses replacing the plastic parts. Most 3D printers have their primary movements made with 3D printers. Which means that you have a mostly flexible material trying to remain rigid. See the problem? It’s going to flex under load.

A few printer manufacturers have gone out of their way to make sure that load bearing parts, bearings, etc. are placed in metal. These are very not reprap printers. It can’t be helped though, unfortunately the laws of physics trump design ethics.

Stuff that will probably make your printer experience miserable.

A large bed on a printer that doesn’t cost more than 3,000 US Dollars.

The first layer of your print is the most important. It doesn’t matter if you have a raft. The error won’t get taken out in a few layers. The truth is, that any error in a lower layer of your print is likely to be transmitted to a higher layer. So you must have a level bed. Most printers with large beds have a huge piece of aluminum flat stock that’s not held to any tolerance, which in turn has three springs with screws in the center, holding up a circuit board without any tolerance, holding a glass plate without any tolerance.

You are likely to have a bad time. For most of these movements, the smaller the movement the less error you will see. If a cheap rod has a straightness error of +-0.5mm over 300 mm, you are likely to see that 0.5mm at the end of 300mm, but maybe only .16 over 100mm.  When you add in all these cheap mechanisms you start to have an impossible to solve tolerance stack. After all you are trying to keep a nozzle 0.18mm  +-.02mm away from a glass plate at all points. That’s pretty tough. A smaller printer will give you better results than a large printer that costs the same money. Auto bedleveling can compensate some for this.

Also, large prints eat a ton of plastic. Expect to be risking 30-40 dollars on a large print.

Strange Mechanisms

Weird mechanisms won’t help you print better. Again. You are trying to position something accurately and repeatably. Every time something is added to the equation it’s one more thing that can go wrong. So anyone advertising a new innovative mechanism who isn’t simultaneously awarded accolades for groundbreaking work in engineering, is probably selling you a gimmick. If you are into it, that’s fine, but don’t expect an improvement in your print quality. We’ve been designing things that move in a straight line for a long time. It’s known.

Note: I’m not talking about delta printers here, they work for 3D printers specifically because a delta movement is one that can’t handle loads but is very good at fast, accurate, positioning.

Dual, Triple, and Other Bizarre Multi Material Extruders

It sounds amazing in theory, but the truth is that most dual extruder set-ups are useless in practice. Just pause the print, and change the filament. If there is a misalignment between nozzles; it will ruin your print.If the plastic drips out of one of the nozzles; it will ruin your print. If one of the nozzles jam; it will ruin your print. Or if the added weight of the extra extruder messes with your mechanical movement. It will ruin your print. Dissolvable support is nice in theory, but it’s a huge mess and the results are questionable. You’re better off buying good software with the extruder money you saved than you are buying that extra extruder.

Crappy, Cheap, Knock-Off Extruders

The extruder is the magic that makes your printer. To buy a cheap, poorly made knock-off, and then expect good printing operation, is baffling to me. Again, there’s no clever hack here. An extruder is well made or it isn’t. We’re down to physics again. There haven’t been many huge innovations in automated lathe capabilities. It will cost about the same to make it in the US as it will China. So, it’s very unlikely that the import extruder had anywhere to cut cost other than material quality and precision. Just buy a name-brand e3D v6 or j-head, or whatever is well-made and has a quality inspection step.

Seriously, the knock-offs are so bad they crushed the spirit of the designer of the J-head. He doesn’t want to design it anymore. For those of you who bought the knock-offs, go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done.

Cheap, Terrible Components.

Circled in red is 3 hours of my life. On the left is my slightly more expensive solid aluminum pulley.
Circled in red is 3 hours of my life. On the left is my slightly more expensive solid aluminum pulley.

Repeat after me, “I cannot hack physics. Physics doesn’t think I’m clever. It works or it doesn’t. It’s made well, or it isn’t”. Engineers aren’t insane, they aren’t out to hurt your feelings. They aren’t hoarding secrets so they can charge money for no reason. All these things have been scientifically tested to be true or not. It’s not a system you can game, only one you can compensate for.

Every cent you don’t spend on good parts is time you spend compensating for those cheap parts. For example. I spent two hours trying to figure out why my printer was skipping steps every few layers. It ends up the cheap pulleys I bought were at fault. The manufacturer saved some money by injection molding the pulley teeth, and pressing those on an aluminum core. No surprise, the plastic teeth broke. I ordered more expensive, all-aluminum, pulleys from a reputable source, and haven’t had problems since. I saved myself maybe three dollars by buying those plastic pulleys. I ended up spending three hours and an additional ten dollars to fix one pulley. Seems pretty silly to me.

A Cheap Z axis On a Cartesian Printer.

Lastly, don’t buy a printer with a cheap z-axis. Does it look rigid? Does it look stable? Does it look like the most expensive movement on the machine. If the answer is no, skip it. It’s only second to extruder for importance. My printer has two home-depot threaded rods for the Z, likewise, my prints always look terrible in the Z. There’s no way to fix them without upgrading.

Stuff that will make your 3D printer experience really wonderful.

Good filament.

Do we have to repeat the mantra again? Just like with the extruder. You are, at the beginning and end of the day, out to extrude some plastic. So why race to the bottom to buy the cheapest filament you can possibly buy? Find a reputable vendor that makes filament in your country with real engineering specs and buy that and only that. Try

Good Quality Filament on the Right, Cheap Filament on the Left. Both printing at their optimal settings. The good filament print was strong enough to stay together while support material was removed. Don't buy cheap filament.
Good Quality Filament on the Right, Cheap Filament on the Left. Both printing at their optimal settings. The good filament print was strong enough to stay together while support material was removed. Don’t buy cheap filament.

out a few brands, but don’t go buying the cheapest stuff you can. You will fail parts, or jam your extruder, or have a bad time.

Things that typically indicate good quality filament is: An error of out-of-round that’s less than 4% and an size tolerance that’s less than 4%. Or approximately +-.04 mm on 1.75mm filament.  Filament that mentions quality inspection, laser micrometers, and other expensive things thrown in the manufacturing process. Also, if the company can name the source of their stock pellets, point to a datasheet, or give engineering specs, that is a really good sign.  You don’t want recycled plastic for your filament.

Also, the cheapest filament is usually black, this is because you can grind up any color plastic and dye it black. Buying cheap black filament is a great way to get a literal rock or bit of grass in your extruder. Quality black filament will be virgin plastic.

 

Rigidity and Mass

MakerGear-M2_3D_printer
The MakerGear M2 has a solid metal frame with precision aluminum plate holding precision rails that are attached to more metal parts. It is heavy, rigid, and likewise, precise.

A 3D printer must position a nozzle accurately. It also needs to do this at a reasonable speed. So it must take the mass of a printer nozzle, ramp it up to a speed, and then ramp it down to a completely opposite speed. The force doesn’t vanish, it is transferred to the belt, to the pulleys, and down to the table or frame. The more rigid the machine is the less it will flex when doing this. It will also vibrate less, which will show up on your prints as less ringing. This is done by having heavy materials that don’t bend in the parts that see force. If your printer has an aluminum extrusion frame, but the manufacturer cheaped out and 3D printed the brackets that hold it together rather than opting for the cast ones, your printer will still have some flex to it.

Also, a ridiculously tall reinforced axis will wobble when the printer is moving. Cantilevers are also bad. It will show up in your print. I like the prusa i3 and the printr bots, but they have a max speed. This is a mechanical nightmare of rigidity and alignment.

Squaring and Alignment

This is something that is very hard to do in most printers. You must be able to square each axis to the other. Or, in the terms of what this means practically for your printer, if you print a large cube, every side should be perfectly square. There should be no parallelograms.

Most printers aren’t designed to be squared. How to square a machine is something for another day, but for now I’d recommend watching some videos on YouTube of machinists squaring their machines to get a feel for it. It’s an art, and most real machines are designed to compensate for it. That’s why a knee mill is more-or-less in the configuration of the ordinate axis drawn for a 3D plot. It’s really intuitively easy to figure out how to tram it. However, once you do something like making a gantry mill, it becomes more difficult. For example, what happens if the whole frame twists a little. You’ll be perfectly square at one end, and out at another.

Delta printers like the Rostock Max V2 from SeeMeCNC won't need as much squaring to function.
Delta printers like the Rostock Max V2 from SeeMeCNC have different alignment needs.

I will mention that this is a little more of a problem for Cartesian machines, a delta machine can compensate for this sort of misalignment a little more easily, as long as you have the rails parallel to each other and perpendicular to the base of the robot. There are some alignment subtleties for these as well.

Auto Bed Leveling in Software

As mentioned previously, it is really important that your bed be level. Even after squaring your machine, you may still get some misalignment over time in your bed. Software bed leveling will adjust for these small misalignments really well and make printing much more pleasant. You still want your bed to be within 0.5mm of the nozzle, but you no longer have to spend hours getting it within .01mm.

Electronics

The machine needs a brain. It would be nice if this brain was reliable, documented, well designed, and supported. For example, what if a wire breaks in your stepper motor cable while the machine is operating. (This oddly specific example happened to me.) If the board has a protection diode, nothing much. However, if the driver chip is sitting there unprotected because a company decided to save 25cents a board by neglecting that part, you are going to lose a driver chip as well. You want to remove as many unknowns from your printer adventure as you can. The electronics are the most complicated part. It may be good to spend money on them.

Also, for a delta printer, a more powerful board like the smoothie-board will give you better acceleration than the weaker Arduino based ones. The math is much harder computationally for the delta machines.

Software

Some people will disagree with me on this one because of their software ethos. But buying better software for my printer has improved my printer more than most of my hardware upgrades. We’re extruding a nonlinear fluid really fast through a tiny hole, and it has all sorts of weird physical properties. The better designed our software is, the better our print will be. My preference is simplify3D. I’ve heard that some of the other specialty solutions exceed it in some areas. Do research and do what’s best for you. That being said. Slic3r is a wonderful piece of software, and I really admire the work that goes into it.

Beginners

If you’re a beginner, you’ve likely been told that you can buy a 3D printer for 300 dollars and that it will be easy by some guy on his eighth printer. You likely have visions of printing that PipBoy Model. Well, you can spend 300 dollars, and it will be a while before you can eek out a good quality print. Like anything, spending a reasonable amount of money well, will net you the best results. Don’t just buy the most expensive printer you can find either; you’ll end up with a Makerbot and have an even worse time. Do your research, check the reviews, and check the parts people are printing.

You will get some things with a higher quality kit, that will make your time much better. Namely, documentation and support.

Documentation

Here is the documentation for the official Prusa i3 kit from Prusa Research. It’s really good. It will really help when you’re putting together your first printer to have no obvious questions. Most of the support question on the #reprap IRC channel are from people who bought cheap kits that are behaving oddly, or can’t tell which way is up with a strange part. Good documentation is always an indicator of good engineer and good management in a company. It’s the least fun part, but one of the most valuable in the engineering process.

Support

Buying that Shenzen Duplicator off AliExpress is signing a release form from any risk on the company’s part regarding problems you may have with the product. What do you do when the electronics have a chip soldered on backwards? What do you do when you get a bent precision rod? A company that ties their name to their product needs to please their customer.

For example, I know Ultimachine will replace a Rambo if it breaks, almost no questions asked. They will email you back with any questions you may have about the board, and provide tailored support. Can you say that for any of the suppliers on AliExpress? Same for e3D. If you have an issue with their nozzle, they will support you. This costs them money. It’s in their best interest then, to make products that don’t fail. To spend the money where it needs to go. This has been my experience, and that of others.  That’s why Lulzbot, Prusa, and SeeMeCNC all use these solutions rather than rolling their own.

Known Quantities

Lastly, when buying and building a complicated machine like a 3D printer, you will almost certainly have troubles. So, you want to reduce the number of unknowns as to where that trouble is coming from. For example. If you have a stepper motor that isn’t turning. If you bought a Rambo board from Ultimachine, you can more or less assume that it’s not the board at fault. That makes it easier to determine that it’s probably a connector, a wire, a mis-wiring, or the motor itself. Now if you bought the five dollar motor off ebay, then it’s maybe the motor. However, if you bought a Kysan motor with a brand attatched, you can probably get rid of that possibility too.

It’s the same as checking whether a computer is actually plugged in before you begin looking for the harder problems. With a cheap kit, that has no support, bad mechanical design, no documentaiton, and no traceable components; there’s just no way to debug a problem with it, other than testing for every single possibility.

There’s nothing mysterious happening in a 3D printer. However, there are limits to what you can get out of one. These limits are set by real physical properties. To harden a rod takes time, energy, experienced people, and maintained machinery. This all costs money. However, if this step is skipped, there will be real, measurable consequences. Consequences that are very well understood by those working in the field of mechanical engineering. So you might have a few good prints out of your Shenzen special. Then the hardened balls in the linear bearing may eat grooves in the un-hardened rods and jam from the resulting metal dust. That’s the reality. That’s why a decent printer costs 600-2000 US Dollars.

So do proper research, dispel the illusions, read the reviews, and buy a good printer. Hopefully you’ll have a good experience, and start improving your machine. Maybe, if we’re lucky, you’ll feed the discoveries you make back into the community, and we can all build even better machines.

102 thoughts on “Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers

  1. Good article – but still the problem is understated. I went with one of the machines you mention favorably. But after days of hassle I come to the conclusion that current consumer-level 3D printers are for people who like to tinker with 3D printers, not for people who just have something to 3D print. That does not make them bad, but know what problems you will have to master.

    1. I agree. I spent a fair bit of money on my printer assuming that this would allow me to focus on making parts for projects. Very wrong. Most of the time I have spent on my printer is tweaking the printer itself.
      I wanted a tool and not a new hobby. What i got was a new hobby.

      1. Pretty much the same experience here. I thought a 3D printer would help me with my other projects. However, over the past 6 months, the other projects ground to a halt while I was getting the darn thing to work properly. A hobby in itself indeed!

    2. I bought and build a Rostock Max kit. It’s prints are OK, but not great. I use mine for rough drafts. I have the final draft printed on Shapeways. My printer is just to save me time and money on Shapeways. …Having said that, I have printed parts on the Rostock for my boat, laptop and random things for the house (like strainers for cans of veggies). They’re ugly, but sometimes that’s ok. Abs is pretty strong.

        1. While PLA itself is non-toxic, you also need to consider the additives. There’s more than just PLA in PLA filament: coloring, desiccants, stuff to change the melting temperature, etc.

          Most PLAs are *probably* safe, but if you’re worried then only use filaments that are tested as food safe. The only one I can think of right now is Taulman T-Glase , which is FDA certified as foodsafe (although it’s not PLA).

    3. I am a modest tinkerer. I’ll do it if I have to but prefer things to just frickin work. I’ve gotten Makerbots, Printrbots, and a couple of others to just work out of the box.

      The problem for me is over time the printer starts to ‘act up’. Maybe I’ve been lucky,

  2. My experience with “inexpensive” 3D printers was mostly an exercise in fixing and tuning. I enjoyed building my printer and printing replacement parts for itself, but I couldn’t keep it running consistenty for more than a dozen prints in a row. We had a Stratasys at work, and it always just worked. It’s amazing what $50k will buy you. However, nowdays those used Stratasys printers are dropping tremendously in price, so I bought a scrapped one for $500 and fixed it: https://hackaday.io/project/9203-stratasys-dimension-sst

    It runs fantastically well. I really can’t imagine going back to the inexpensive printers.

    1. Hey!

      I really enjoyed your writeup – can you tell us where you got the machine, again? Was it a local ebay listing?

      I would LOVE to do what you have done, but finding a repairable but scrapped Stratasys sounds like finding a diamond in the street!

      1. Thanks. Yeah, I was watching eBay for any Dimension printer under about $2k, working or not. That’s about the going rate for one. I noticed a local listing for one and I went to look at it. It turned out the place was an electronic scrap place and they get quite a few Stratasys machines through there. I didn’t buy the one I went to see, but I asked about another listing months later. That one sold right out from under me but the scrap place said they had another. Problem was, it didn’t turn on. Because of that, they sold it to me for $500. The short story was one connector was unplugged and one pin in another connector was bent. Getting a hard drive was the hard part though. The machine is awesome. Such great prints.

    1. Hi. As an open source developer myself, I can attest how annoying it is when someone who’s not the developer of a project claims that the project is no longer being maintained. We are not your slaves, and many of us don’t get paid a dime for working on these projects. When we have to deal with people like you, who think that not committing within a specified time frame means a project has ceased development, it’s very very discouraging to us.

      1. I ignore them, and try to have more fun. =)

        Slic3r is really the power behind the reprap, and is my recommendation to students.

        You’ll have free beer and nachos if you visit our town.

    2. not ceased. The developer is just one person, and they’re working on another project.

      But, slic3r does have a horrendous bug where gapfill is not computed correctly, resulting in over-extrusion. This is sad because I love slic3r, but can’t use it when this buggy.

  3. Some of this is accurate , but there is a lot of misinformation in here as well people. Clearly written by an inexperienced owner of a 3D printer whom happens to know just how bad it is , and knows some of the lingo and memes that he is simply regurgitating here.

    But yea, as philosiraptor117 said , dont buy an M3D. They are simply stealing folks’ money. Just a shiny, cute turd is all it is.

    1. Totally true.
      M3D printer is beautiful but really hard to get two successive successful prints… despite the fact that M3D made an amazing job for this project…

      Printer head has no temperature sensor: temperature is computed by measuring the heater resistance, which changes during time … to print PLA I must set the temperature to 260°C, and even with this setting it fails sometime with the filament blocked in the printer head.

      Z axis does a “click” sound when it moves, support says it’s “working as designed”. The head has no way to sense the bed: thus if calibration fails, the printer head may hurt the bed and melt it… The head moves by its own on the Z axis…

      The fan dies after some prints, you must require a new one … Then the fan must be glued to the printer, else it will fall and ruin your print. The problem is that you must change it regularly … Luckily you can buy “compatible” fans elsewhere for cheap.

      The printer nozzle cannot be bought elsewhere that on the M3D store, it cost just $10, but shipment is $50 !
      As for the “mechanical part” and the electronic part (of course you cannot customize it), the software is closed and runs only with Windows, even if the kickstarter project planned to issue a Linux and MacOS software. So you must add a M$ license to the total cost. Octoprint is said to be compatible thanks to some hackers that made a great job.

      I cannot remember how many times I said “THIS IS CRAP !!!” …

      The good point is that I have learned a lot with this printer but don’t expect a “plug and play” printer !

      1. Sounds like my experience with the XYZ DaVinci…closed software that barely works at the best of times, and nonexistant support. Switching to a Simple Metal (which also isn’t perfect) was a night-and-day difference.

    2. Eric hit the nail on the head. This is a huge write up from someone who is familiar with CNC technology but inexperienced with 3D printing and frustrated with his poorly performing RepRap.

      I may even be motivated enough to ask HaD if I can do a follow up article to bring a little better perspective to the issue. I currently opperate 5 printers for my design and prototyping side business, and they are a unique blend of of the shelf and self built printers, Cartesian and Delta , US and Chinese specials.

      1. Nah. Most consumer 3D printers are utter trash. That much is fact. You might take exception to the metal parts requirement bit, because its true that plastic parts might work fine in some cases, but the rest of the above rant is pretty accurate.

        The hackneyed mantra of “3D printers dont just work” is tired and applied only to the original DIY scene – these new companies are profiteering with trashy products.

        Source: A person with 10 years of experience with CNC >AND< real professional 3D printers.

        I have an Ultimaker 2 and a cheap PowerSpec Makerbot replicator clone.

        They both suck.

  4. Words of truth. Three years ago when I had the money for quality I got a cartesian bot through Kickstarter built by two guys, one of whom knew his software. After a year wait I got a machine that was fun for six months before the problems started. And I didn’t need quality prints. Now when I do not have anywhere near the same income I’m spending hundreds more for a SeeMeCNC delta (and I’m keeping my filament in the heated closet with the furnace). And I will have the family cashier/accountant read your comments on filament. Taulamn or other quality suppliers from now on.

  5. Consumer 3D Printing is still in its infancy. The products are not mature. Even the high end printers that cost thousands of dollars (Maker bot) are not reliable. There are good printers out there but tinkering is requirement for almost all of these printers.

    1. I’ve never liked Makerbot 3D printers. Their earlier models had loads of problems. I saw people struggling for years with them and never getting a good print. Their “pro” model just copied what several other 3D printers had already done. And not very well, as they now are known for having print head problems.

      1. The 2+ improved a bit on this aspect. By providing a better feeder, and replacing the sprint above the teflon with a spacer. This last improvement you can print yourself and should safe you some teflon replacements.

    1. +1 for the Ultimaker 2 (I have the 2 Extended). The only issue that I have had (albeit, I’ve only had it for about 10 months) is a clogged extruder one time which lead to very brittle prints – tip: look up the “atomic method.” 3mm filament seems to not be as popular though (and not available in as many colors).

      1. Also +1 for Ultimaker 2. I cannot relate to most of the problems described in the article. But good filament definitely pays off. I also had a clogged extruder from time to time – but I think it might have been due to bad filament.

    2. I’ve been really loving the Makergear M2, which is pictured in the article. Every printer will require some fussing, but this one is pretty easy and has an unparalleled support community.

    3. None are up to snuff.

      I sincerely recommend buying a very inexpensive one instead of an Ultimaker2. Especially if you are not already a 3D designer and are not sure if you will ever be one. I mean, if you dont have a real quality goal, get a cheap one.

      I use a Ultimaker2. I also have used a few other consuemr machines, and real machines.

      The UM2 has the same shite parts as the $400 machines. Same crap pulley wheels, same low quality belts, low quality everything (except the main PCB and enclosure).

      The plastic parts are starting to crack on it… Sigh.. I do NOT recommend an ultimaker 2 based on quality vs price.

      If their price was lower, they would be just as good as a $400 machine.

    4. Bit late to the party, but the two out of the boxes that I’ve had the best luck with (and I’ve had several printers) are an Ultimaker 2 and a Flux Delta (Though I haven’t had that long, and it’s interface isn’t FOSS right now, but it also does laser (ok, not a hugely powerful laser) and scaning (Seems not as good as my DIY scanner… which is broken, again.)

  6. One very useful thing I’ve learned is that the forums (Reprap and Google groups) seem to be populated with either:

    1. People who enjoy forever tweaking printers
    2. Newbies who then believe that forever tweaking is necessary.

    I live in hope that there is another (large) group of people:

    3. People who bought a decent printer, and ‘it just works’ so they’re using it.

    Unfortunately, this group don’t have a need to use the forums, so the rest of us only see the crap…

        1. Pretty much this. I own a 3d printer and am just as likely to outsource to someone who enjoys tinkering with the damned things as I am to try to print something myself…

    1. Honestly, we’re very happy with the printrbots that we’ve purchased. Yes they are slow, yes they are small… But we have two at our makerspace that ‘just work’ for our 50 or so members. They do go down once in a while, but its a machine and needs maintenance like anything else. Printrbot is where I point people to when they as for a first printer, without doubt.

      1. +1. I bought my printrbot for printing brackets for another project I’m working on. I’ve put probably 60 hours on it in the last year and it’s needed the odd bolt tightening but otherwise has been very satisfactory.

      2. Printrbot simple maker was my first – built it in an afternoon, printed “successfully” within 5 min and have been using for over a year now. In quotes above, because now after using better FDM printers, I can see the lack of detail, but I use it for making project parts and prototyping custom parts for my lab, not necessarily toys, etc. …if we need larger or higher quality prints, I use our schools fab lab or shapeways. A perfect marriage…

    2. I probably belong the the 4th group: Bought a cheap and bad printer, brought it up to scratch so I don’t need to tweak it. I just send a print, and it prints :) Also does the odd laser cutting and print with two filaments pretty well.

      The thing is, 3D printing is such a multi discipline subject: programming (firmware and mastering gcode), 3D design, electronics, thermal design, chemicals, mechanics, material knowledge that the learning curve is steep if you’re not proficient in at least two or three areas.

      The most important thing is a willingness to learn, and hack, and plenty of patience. You’ll learn a ton, know exactly how it works and when something goes wrong how to fix it. That’s not something you get with a pre-build high quality 3D printer.

      I’m very happy with my Prusa i3 and printed many useful stuff with it: belts to repair disk drives and cassette players, floppy disk cleaning kit, mounts and brackets for a variety of things, scanner film holder, roller for arts and crafts, stamps, cut foam with a laser so that I could store stuff in a box with a custom fit foam holder etc. and improvements for the printer itself of course :) Housing for a range of electronics projects like a time lapse timer, frequency meter, flash light etc.Brackets for dremel tool, mounting clip for tripod to clip on a monocular, pinhole thing that fits on a dslr camera etc etc.

      1. YEah same i got a cheap $300 printer as well. I relly didnt need to do mutch though replaced the extruder gear witha real one and buy good filement is really all i did, and it works with out any screwign around. One thing i did find out recenty get the dust off your filement or your goan have a bad time with a cloging extrudernormaly when your print is 90% done.

        https://www.3dprintersonlinestore.com/full-acrylic-reprap-prusa-i3-kit

        Mine printing.

    3. I’m in camp 3 (sort of). I bought a Mendel90 kit, assembled it, spent maybe 10-15 hours getting to know the workflow, setting up Slic3r and reading some of the extra information on the reprap forum with respect to bed adhesion etc. The only tweaking I’ve done has been to make a filament holder that fits the spools used by my local filament supplier and to change to running it from Octoprint.

      Now it just sits downstairs in a spare room on a desk. When I want to use it (maybe once a week) it gets switched on at the wall, I go back to my PC start the bed pre-heating through the web interface for Octoprint. While this happens I open the .stl in Repetier Host on my main PC, slice it, save it the gcode, upload it to Octoprint and hit go.

      The printer doesn’t run full time and I’ve had the occaisional issue which required me to take the idler wheel off the extruder and clean the pinch wheel, but that’s about the extent of it, beyond keeping the rods clean and lightly lubed.

      Maybe 10-20kg of filament through it in the past 3 years with very few issues. It completed a 31 hour print that was nearly 700g of filament just a couple of weeks ago.

      1. I assume you are happy with the route you’ve taken? It is my intention to start self-sourcing parts for a Mendel90 in the near future. I figure that if I start accumulating parts it might motivate me to find a local source for the ACM frame.

    4. I don’t see mentioned anywhere the biggest myth of all – that spending more money past the “not the absolute cheapest crap you can find” level actually translates to any better quality of anything in the printer. It really doesn’t. It’s just fleecing the snobs.

      1. This. And this is pretty much what this article was about with a few snob standard almost true engineering mantras thrown in. I hope someone will write a better one that doesn’t pretend it’s about money and instead sticks to the real issues.

    5. Got the first version of Printrbot Plus 3 years back and have been satisfied since.All metal construction,auto bed levelling.Works with Repetier and Slic3R.Never had a failed print unless I forgot to pick supports in the software or my nozzle clogged from shitty filament i purchased off amazon.Needs oiling /greasing and nozzle changes once every 6 months.Noisy as shit.But just works. Average 2 prints a week.

  7. ive had nothing but good luck with my printrbot play. i got the y axis upgrade and heated bed upgrade from the get go. i figured a 4x4x5 print area would suck, so expanding that to 4x8x5 lets me print most of the things i planned on printing in the first place. that being project enclosures and various widgets for hope repair. ive even managed to print high performance ducted fans with it. its marketed as a beginners model but it meets all my needs just fine.

    thinking about getting a 3rd party laser upgrade so i can print circuit boards (using the spraypaint method), so that this one machine can do every cnc task i need it to.

  8. The RepRap variants don’t really have an authentic product line, but having an all metal kit does allow one to use a heated build chamber (turkey roasting bag) for flawless ABS. It is a personal choice, but I found PLA produced parts too weak for practical use, but it is good for support material as it dissolves easier than ABS.

    The above picture of filament shows a moisture problem (common mistake). Filament should be dried by heating in a 60W light bulb powered dryer box, or make use a desiccant in your storage containers.

    These days one can buy a full aluminium and steel clone for around $400
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Full-Aluminum-frame-Prusa-I3-3D-Printer-MK8-Sanguinololu-Unassembled-Metal-Part-/281803274175

    The $23 RAMPS 1.4 + Mega kits already have dual extruder support, so for around $120 you can upgrade to a metal “Chimera” dual extruder (PTFE lined extruders will not jam as often like all-metal ones), and stepper+feeder. Note, since this style of head has less mass it can build much faster. Most people find it easier to work with a 0.4mm nozzle and 1.75mm filament, as anything finer is irrelevant given plastic parts will distort as they cool.
    Typically I keep upping the velocity until a positioning error occurs (tensioning the belts is important), and back it off by 20%.

    The 2mm pitch belts one can buy come in metal belted urethane or glass filled rubber. The metal belted variety have around 6 times less stretch per meter than the glass type. However, you will still have to adjust the current limits for your specific NEMA 17 motor with your power supply to maximize the holding torque (there are around 20 different common NEMA17 motors being used).

    The build quality is better than most plastic kits with the i3 types, and regularly oiling the screws/bearings (every few hours) will make it last a very long time. I chose the reprap prusa style because maintenance has to be regularly done, and most of the parts can be printed if necessary.

    Finally, one will find that placing the entire printer on top of a 4″ foam cushion will make it whisper quiet, a fume extractor box to outdoors will be necessary, and keeping a replacement RAMPS control kit around is handy.

  9. I’m disappointed. Spending more money on parts yields a higher quality printer. Yes, this is true. This is true of virtually everything everywhere. This is a lazy statement to make. Where is the BOM for this quality printer? I know I can go buy a stratsys for $XX,XXX and get a good printer. That is no surprise.

  10. I live both rural and not in a 1st world country. I find the 3D printer to be an amazing tool for those applications where I can’t order a special plastic widget or mount from the EU or US or when I am simply prototyping. I can order stuff but between the months to deliver and the risk of loss in transit and random arbitrary postal taxes the ability to design and print same day really pays off.
    I have an Airwolf3D from when that company only had the one printer style, It still works great as does the filament, though it was hell explaining the kit to customs. I cant speak to customer service, the printer has always just worked except for one bed levelling error where I was in a hurry did the last turns in the wrong direction and ripped the kapton tape with my nozzle, my fault.
    I use OpenSCAD, Slic3r, and Printrun; they are not perfect but they are what I can afford and if you can handle printing and acetone goop gluing ABS parts as well as having a big stock of assorted screws you can get quite a few things working. If ABS and glue wont cut it you can print and use that part to make a plaster mold for recycled aluminum or zinc.
    When your supply chain is sometimes longer than that to the ISS, when satellite or HF communications and a Cessna sometimes make sense, the problems of 3D printing begin to be overshadowed by the problems it can solve.

  11. I bought the “Monoprice Select i3” last month for $350, plus another $37 for the all metal nozzle upgrade from Micro-swiss and have yet to second guess my purchase, and it already has over 160 hours of print time on it. It reliably prints at 60mm/s and travels at 80mm/s (Or more) with more than acceptable quality for most structural and some aesthetic projects. With 6 bolts and 5 connectors, and leveling the bed, there isnt much that can go wrong in the way of assembly and setup. And the nozzle upgrade isnt difficult either (really only ‘needed’ for ABS printing, the printer prints PLA out of the box beautifully)
    Layer adhesion is great as well, leading to some decent strength. I designed and printed a 520mm folding quadcopter that weighs in at 1.5kg (AUW) and it flies great.
    Now sure, if everyone and their son could afford a $3000+ printer, we’d have them. And they’d be nearly flawless…right? I mean they better be for that price…
    But for now, Ill just stick with what works, and when it doesnt, is cheap to fix. (160 hours without issue thus far is pretty respectable in my humble opinion)
    And this isnt my first venture into 3D Printing, either. I come from the RepRap world, specifically the older Prusa Mendel i2 I built out almost 3 years ago.
    Hackaday, I appreciate the article, and these are some good things to watch out for, however you are doing more harm to people wanting to get into 3d printing, than you are helping in this particular case. A $400 printer will more than meet the expectations of beginner and intermediate makers/hobbyists. Getting them psyched out that they need to save up $3000 for a printer isnt exactly a motivating thought :/

    1. I took the same path on the Monoprice Select i3 as a Christmas present to myself after finally (after 4 years) admitting that I wasn’t going to find the time to build one. Steep learning curve since I was starting with no prior 3d printing experience, but that included understanding slicing options, materials, AND the machine itself and I could get OK prints with PLA and defaults right away. Bed leveling was nasty until I made a set of these http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:874155 and really started paying closer attention to that first layer.
      With the heated bed, ABS goo in a baby-food jar, and an old Mac Mini (CRT) box set over the whole thing I’ve gotten fairly reliable ABS prints. The biggest issue with ABS has been guessing the final print variances needed due to the material/temperature combinations in use.
      I’m certain nothing I print would be considered “high quality” in many circles, and I wouldn’t want my life to depend on them working, but this printer was a gamble on low cost of entry, being able to get some real-life around-the-house usable things (electronics cases, robot parts, silly things too), and learning about the process and tools involved. So far, I’m getting exactly those things. We’ve got parts in use on an FRC robot (motor mount base, limit switch cam, supports in aluminum tubing) and I’ve created an adapter to use an old projector lens (that I’ve been holding onto for about 5 years trying to figure out how to use it) on my DSLR. I’m beginning to understand where the limitations on this particular machine are so I can decide whether to avoid, solve, or replace them. And I’m only in for about $420 for the printer and a couple rolls of material.
      Moral of the story : don’t be put off by the article and “what do you want from a 3d printer?” is the most important question to ask. Inexpensive meets my immediate needs with some room for future improvements.

  12. Gerrit nothing you typed has any merit, on the cheapest prusa i3 (plywood frame) PLA everything, Chinese nozzles from ebay, and 17 dollar PLA off of ebay you can do this (click on name). It’s not cheating physics we aren’t building space planes here it’s a PLA 3d printer. Yah it required about 40 hours of tweaking but it’s totally possible to print as well as a 2000 dollar FDM printer with “junk” parts.

    Nice one shilling for the overpriced 3d printer market.

    1. Our makerspace ended up with a donated MendelMax because the gentleman who bought it, bought it to print and not to play with. He spent quite a long time, never getting the results that he needed. Then he just went shopping for someone selling an assembled and working 3D printer within driving distance so he could go test it himself.

      He now has a working 3D printer, and we have a 3D printer in our space. It is NOT something I’d want. Lots of strange problems, including issues due to using two Z motors rather than one motor and a belt.

      The results that are acceptable to you, may not be acceptable to someone else. So I hardly see how you, or anyone, can make a blanket statement that applies equally to everyone.

  13. Most people who claim they have good quality prints on their machine are wrong. There is a huge difference between a Good print, and an Acceptable print (acceptable being the lower bar that most people have). I have purchased several prints from people claiming that they have high quality, good prints, when upon arrival I find the prints are inaccurate, low quality, and in general unusable as a mechanical part without heavy modifications.

    3d printed parts are not bad in all situations. you do not need, or even want a heavy aluminum part when a lightweight plastic part can get the job done. This means parts that move should be either 3d printed, or designed out of lightweight material. anything that doesn’t move, or moves very slowly, should be designed from a strong and sturdy material (you can 3d print at 100% infill if you know how).

    Most Current 3d printer designs are terrible. The Prusa i3 design has several design flaws that are easily fixed through better engineering of components, or larger components.
    For example, the X axis. when you tighten the X axis belts, the tension on the x-ends translate onto the z axis linear rails. those 8mm rails were rated to withstand a load in the z axis direction. So these rails get bent inwards from the tension on the x axis. In addition, when the x carriage accelerates or decelerates the inertia is translates onto the z axis, causing those rods to vibrate and ring.
    There are similar issues with the y axis. It is not built to withstand the load that is put on it. It is slightly stronger than the x axis, but the heavier bed removes that advantage.
    The y axis should probably be on 10mm rods, and the Z on 10-12mm rods.

    As for the bearings, most applications we use those 0608 or other radial bearings on are fine, as a rotational load/idler that is not required to be precise. if you try using them for linear guides, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you use aluminum extrusions for your guide rails, you’re gonna have a bad time.

    As for “strange mechanisms”, you are a bit misleading. While some designs have very bad mechanical designs and alignment issues, some are very good. The mechanism printrbot uses for their x and y axis is very efficient. CoreXY is very efficient. an Ultimaker style gantry is very efficient. Each has their own design challenges, but when engineered properly are very rewarding.

    1. Ultimaker has some problems with the belts it ships with, and for $3400 its a bit pricey.
      People could consider the “UltiFaker 2” design clone if the price is a show stopper.
      Again it is fine for those making concept models out of PLA, but a low cost Delta style build volume is usually better.

      Please post a photo of your prusa i3 problem, as the x-axis linear rails aren’t likely secured properly on your unit if the two metal 6mm or 10mm z-axis rods are bowing under the X axial load.

      1. The Prusa i3 design uses 8mm rods on the z axis, and any tension on the x axis belt will bow the z rods inwards. Any movement on the X axis will be a load perpendicular to the movement of the z axis. an 8mm rod is not made to handle that load or mass. those 8mm rods are designed to handle a load along the axis.
        remember we’re trying for accuracies of <0.5mm, often around 0.1mm. Even the slightest deflection can ruin a print.

        1. Hmm, I have heard of some linear slides being sold that were not case hardened steel, but bearings will usually quickly cut up the softer steel surface. In general, we see less than 0.25mm surface ridges as that is the layer height used for smaller parts. Unless my German made vernier caliper is wrong, the object width is <0.1mm from top to bottom of the calibration cubes.
          https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:24238

          If there is a runout error, than it is a consistent one that has become an intrinsic property calibrated out in the firmware settings. If a problem ever came up we just assumed it was the belts, and it went away on tightening. Out of curiosity I checked for runout using a Dial Gauge, but failed to get anything significant on the machine. It is probably an issue with some suppliers shaft straightness not being "optical" quality.

    2. I am genuinely curious why the ultimaker, corexy and printrbot are considered good designs. I find the ultimaker design has frequent problems with slop because all the moving parts are attached to eachother with a complicated belt system. I’ve never used a printrbot but it just looks like it would wobble off the table from the x axis momentum. The y axis bearings look too close together to be stable. I am no engineer though, so I am curious to learn

      1. I have an Ultimaker+. I don’t know why they didn’t ship with belt tighteners, but I bought mine fairly early on and many of the upgrades I found and applied from Thingiverse became part of the official Ultimaker+. The belts developed a bit of looseness, I installed tighteners, and not had a problem with belts again. The rails should be treated like a lathe – regularly cleaned and reoiled. Otherwise, dust may build up on them, turning to a sticky oily mud that will mess up your prints. I use light sewing machine oil, and it works beautifully.

        The print head problems that I have had are fixed in the new head designs with a heat sink immediately above the hot end, like the E3D V6.

        A friend of mine has a PrintrBot, I thought the same thing, but it produces beautiful prints.

  14. I can pretty much agree with most of the things in the article.
    I’ve had luck so far with my filament. I guess it was mostly cheap chinese filament that was resold by my filament supplier at a margin. However, that’s also okay, because if it’s bad filament, there’s always someone to complain to.
    I never really got 3d printed parts for the printers themselves. 3d printed parts have one advantage: They can be quite precise if the printer they are originating from is properly calibrated. They’re no good for taking load, though. PLA is rigid, but it will deform when it gets even slightly warm, and is prone to cracking when stressed. I find it almost completely useless for anything that’s not decorative. My go-to material has been ABS. It’s cheap, but reasonably suitable for light loads. However, it will creep over time under constant load, and it’s somewhat flexible. ABS is a class of polymers, so depending on the ratios of acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene in your concrete mixture, it might be somewhat more flexible etc. Warping is a problem, but heated beds help. Nylon is a great material, but it’s not much fun to print with. It takes up moisture quite well and this causes lots of problems. You also have to go rather slow.

    Some things to add to the list of recommendations: With “traditional” reprap-style printers (y moves build plate, z moves x axis, x moves print head), the x-axis has a quickly moving and rather heavy print head. This necessitates very good z construction that can take the forces of the moving print head without deforming too much. Otherwise, everything will be quite wobbly. For faster movement speeds, these forces can be quite high so that even aluminium extrusion is just about okay. (As an approximation, you can consider the deformation of a rod the length of your z-axis that is held at one end; the other end is effected by a force that’s computed by multiplying the weight of your print head by the acceleration or deceleration of the print head). Print results definitely get better with improved rigidity.

    Also, I’ve enjoyed my heated print bed quite a lot. If you are qualified and competent, I can very much recommend going for a high-power heated bed. This won’t be low-voltage, though, so you’ll have to deal with mains voltage and know how to do this safely. My heated bed has 400W and is switched by a decent solid-state relay complete with a snubber circuit. I run it rather hot, but it’s usually warm enough to start printing when the nozzle has warmed up as well, which takes about a minute or two.
    I’ve always wanted to encase my printer, but the required additions to improve rigidity have made the envelope rather unsuitable for an enclosure.

    1. The reality is similar to what the author here writes, but actually worse. 3D printers are a scam., Low quality fake business people stealing open source ideas and then selling shite barely working products they barely had a hand in designing.

  15. The first try at a 3D printer was a Soliddoodle, Kickstarter. I could not get that working well at all and finally gave it away to my son to play with.
    My printer is a Deltaprintr, again a Kickstarter version and it has given me a great deal of enjoyment, along with a number of teething problems!
    Having no heated bed it does not handle ABS well so I’ve standardized on PolyMax PLA and that works so much better that normal PLA. I agree that good filament is worth buying! Have a look at the PolyMax.
    The Deltaprintr is not perfect but has done a lot of work and mostly just goes.
    I’ve found the Deltaprintr forums a big help, but as with all the printers I’ve had experience with, good documentation is a big lack.
    The best print I’ve done is a couple of violins designed by hovalin.com and they have caused a lot of interest.
    http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1243462
    You can see the print quality is not perfect but it is quite ok,
    A friend of mine got a Kossel Mini kit from Ebay for under $370 AU and assembled it. He is having great fun playing with that, Not a bad effort as he is not really technically minded in that area.
    I think the cheep delta printers are a good start, and can provide a really good intro to the world of 3D printing.
    Like anything, you can get better, but price alone is not an indication of quality.
    A local store is selling the identical kit for $649 (reduced from $699).
    Reading this article may put some people off and that is a shame. Yes, it would be great to get a “real” 3D printer but that is out of the question for most people so the reality is there is a market for the low end machines. Juts like and appliance or tool, you can get much better but not many people can justify spending a lot of money on a good machine.
    Don’t get put off by this article but if a cheep 3D printer is all you can afford, go for it. Use it as a learning tool and maybe upgrade later if you find your interest continues.

  16. I dunno. Maybe its just me but I don’t get people that buy off-the-shelf 3D printers…

    I liken it to when computers were first really taking off and your options were Gateway2000 or a pile of component boxes. You could pull out your credit card and wait 3-6 weeks for some large cow-spotted boxes to show up on your doorstep or make a day of driving to the closest real computer shop, clear off the kitchen table and get down to it.

    Maybe it’s the elitist in me but at my last job there was a guy that was considered the resident ‘computer geek’ because he spent $4500 on a liquid-cooled Alienware and all I could think was ‘for $2500 less.’.

    I guess thats probably why I don’t have a 3d printer yet… takes some time to research and settle on a Mendel90 then come up with a list of local sources to try and get the cost down so I can spend more on the important bits (electronics and hot-end). Still need to find a local source for the ACM sheet after giving up on metric rods and resigning myself to McMaster…

  17. Had some interesting adventures in 3d printers ever since that makerbot cupcake cnc wood box arrived at my doorstep. Some of the funniest engineering fails I have seen so far were the extruders on the (for some unknown reason) popular UP Mini, and the printbed design on the Multirap Multec M420. The extruder motor on the UP Mini is basically almost in direct contact with the nozzle heater, so after a few minutes of printing, the soft filament just starts to wrap around the poorly designed drive gear, and if you manage to dodge that bullet, prepare for partial demagnetization due to overheating motors.
    On the Multec machine, they did a good job on using alu profiles, lasercut steel and alu parts, proper nuts and bolts, quality motors and even solid linear rail bearings for all 3 axes, acme rod for z-axis with proper couplings. So nothing to complain too much about there, except maybe the less than ideal x-y-axis stacking.. But the print bed is a fricking 3mm aluminium plate measuring 200x400mm with NO structural support except for the 4 set screws. That thing bends like a flag in the wind making consistent drawing of the first layer basically impossible… WHY? They can’t tell me it would have broken the price of that printer to add a few more extrusions and send out a more solid bed.

    Sometimes I wish I had an endless supply of “Mechanical Engineering 101” books to send to every one involved in the design of these machines and/or a way to add warning signs to every picture, listing or advertisement for these printers.
    With media pushing “the revolution” and retailers who just don’t care, i feel really bad for all the people who have no idea that they are actually buying (an expensive) ticket into Frustrationland….

    1. Actually, I think it is weird that everyone calls the mechanism that feeds filament an “extruder”. It isn’t extruding anything, the hot end is extruding. By one definition of extruding, anyway.

      “to shape (something) by forcing it through a hole”

  18. I’ve had my Printrbot Simple Metal for 18 months and it’s been a very good experience. I built the kit and, coupled with Cura’s great software, it works nicely. It’s not perfect, but then this is not a $2000 printer. The few failures I’ve had are down to cheap filament. Even then, a bit of tuning seems to get me there. Happy camper.

  19. About 2 years ago I bought a prusa I3 kit. I bought the kit because I love to built small intricate things (its a curse). Even though I was meticulous, spending no more time than I absolutely could allow myself before becoming frustrated, the printer is by far not perfect. I know where some of the problems are, but in reality its quite the exercise to break it down and rebuild it, and knowing how had it is to do some things, I am not sure I could ever fix it perfectly or, heaven forbid, not include other problems. Over and above the build it took me 2 months, yes 2 MONTHS, to get it printing even close to respectably.

    Was I unhappy? Of course not, its why I bought the printer. For me it was a fun experience. I feel I know a lot more about these things. Is it for everybody? I doubt it very much.

    The article rings true in many areas, and in some just doesnt tell you how much you are going to battle and swear. But once you have that thing lined up as well as you can, and she prints her first good print, its like the day you first child came into the world. Once the setup is reliable and you know what to expect from the device, I would say the biggest factor for me was the quality of filament. The variations in quality for me were much worse than any other issue I have faced. Cheap stuff is cheap for a reason – believe it, and it will ruin your day when you have to keep pulling the extruder and cleaning it.

    So the things I learnt were:
    1. Be patient – treat it like an adventure and enjoy the journey.
    2. Dont over stress the printer – let it run slower, it gives better prints. I know speed is nice, but it will affect your print.
    3. If you think your base layer is slow enough, make it slower. It really is the foundation of your print. Make sure it is right.
    4. Dont buy coloured filament. The clear filament bonded layers better, survived longer and were much stronger, regardless of manufacturer.

    Thanks for a great article.

  20. I could have used this article before buying an acrylic Prusa on the Chinese Market with shitty filament. I’ve used it a few times and now it’s all clogged and not working (god the connectors for the motors aren’t even good, they keep falling of the controlling board, just imagine what could happen when one of the motor’s cable for the Z axis fall down during a print).

    Shame on me.

  21. After reading the article and most of the comments, one thing is clear – as in all cases, it must be clear why you are buying the 3d printer.

    If you buy the printer to learn about 3D printing – how it works, what it can achieve, then a sub $600 printer will be perfect. You care about the path, end result will be achieved.

    If you buy the printer to achieve a certain quality of _results_, and want it to ‘just work’, then you have to make sure your budget and machine quality requirements are appropriate. For you, the path is what must be traveled to reach the destination. i.e you want to be in Hawaii, and you really don’t care what airline or airplane gets you there.

    The important bit is to balance your expectations against your budget. To get $5000 printer results out of a $500 printer, you may need to invest $4500 of sweat equity and replacement parts.

    ** yes… I had higher expectations for the article too. I was expecting a more detailed breakdown of the various strengths and weakness of the various printer types and what new users should look out for or take into consideration.

  22. I purchased a Cobblebot printer and frankly, it was the worst purchase I have made in my 50 years. It took over 1.5 years to get the printer, then pieces were missing which they sent 3 months later. Couldn’t wait that long, so I bought the (wheels) myself at $80 extra cost. Instruction manual, despite being written by English speakers is absolutely horrible. I had to constantly assemble, then re-assemble because the instructions were so unclear. After 2 weeks of nightly work and a few 1/2 weekends, it’s still a work in progress. Poor design. Very amateurish. Don’t buy this piece of junk.

  23. Hi, I love the Buildabot 3d Printer. It is solid, and performs reliably.
    I have also a Ultimaker 2 (V good, expensive)
    A Makerbot 2x (total rubbish – send it back – never worked properly)
    An Orca 0.41 from Mendelparts (V good)
    I have also made a reprap Isaac (CNC cut version – not great, but a good learning tool)
    A HP dimension colour – reliable, but expensive to run
    and finally a Objet 30 resin printer – very expensive to run, and clogs easily. great prints.
    I would say the print quality on my Buildabot and Ultimaker is as good as my HP dimension.

    1. Hey, Ail Luc!

      I recently re-built my old Orcabot after it was disassembled and flat-packed for a few years.
      I really need some help regarding the firmware updates or anything else you might have for it as I can no longer find anything online – mendel-parts is offline.

      I would really appreciate anything you might still have regards this awesome printer (including if you have your own firmware I can tinker with on my unit)

      Thanks in advance!

  24. NIce article, I had made similar conclusions before buying; My Fisher delta kit worked fine once I realised the hot end was budget & limited the mm3/sec in slic3r so the extruder drive didn’t skip. The self levelling is good feature. It has made excellent bits n bobs for home & some shape prototypes for work.

    Also many thx to the slic3r development people, without you all I would never have taken the plunge.

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