How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My 3D Printer

So, you’re thinking about finally buying a 3D printer? All the cool kids have one. Plus, how hard can it be anyways? Well, before you pull the trigger, it might be best to read this cautionary tale of one user’s experience in getting started with his first 3D printer.

[Scott Hanselman] is a programmer and teacher who started out with zero knowledge of 3D printing. In his informative (and somewhat humorous) blog post, you can follow along with [Scott] hour-by-hour as he unravels the some of the common mysteries that almost everyone will encounter with their first 3D printer.

His adventure begins with the frustration of z-axis calibration, an important part of any 3D printer. Some of the newer printers are automating this step (as well as bed-leveling) with sensors and clever software, but even then it might need small tweaks to lay down the all-important first layer. By hour five with his new printer, this slight annoyance turns into disgruntlement, as he finds that although there is tons of documentation on-line, a lot of it can be outdated or simply unhelpful.

In the end, [Scott] got his printer up and running, and learned a lot along the way.  We bet you can too – with a little effort that is. As the quality of printers on the market keeps going up, and the price continuing to fall for an entry-level printer, now might be the perfect time for you to get started. But you might want to read [Scott’s] journey to help manage your out-of-the-box expectations.

55 thoughts on “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My 3D Printer

  1. I can definitely relate to his problems. My printer is still sitting here waiting for me to load in a new roll of 1.75mm abs filament, which I bought in the hope that the pos direct-drive extruder the printer came with can actually extrude properly faster than 5mm/s without it “skipping”…

    Holy sh!t don’t buy 3D printers from aliexpress!

    Don’t do it!

    DON’T!!1!1!1!

      1. I think I’ll follow that advice, I actually managed to print a new geared extruder which worked for a couple small prints, but it delaminated in multiple areas and there’s only so much epoxy I can coat the thing with, so I put the original piece of crap back together. I also did notice the filament rubbing against an edge on the inside of the hot-end too, I’m wondering if that’s actually the source of my problems… in either case it seems like I just need to invest a little more money into the bloody thing.

        1. I have one cheap hotend from eBay. No instructions mentioned it, but if your hotend has a metal tube with an inner diameter a lot larger than the diameter of the filament, you are supposed to put a piece of teflon tube inside it.

          1. I might have a similar hotend, but none of the pictures of my printer show such a tube. The top half of it is a good bit wider than my filament, and halfway through it transitions sharply into a smaller diameter.

            After a bit more research, I found that I do indeed have a reprap MK4 J-head and that it’s supposed to have that teflon (or ptfe) liner. I might just buy a new one, since mine also happens to be leaking out a black goo whenever I start using it…

        2. Right after getting you bed level, nothing will give you as many problems as a poor extruder/hotend.
          and some days I’m not sure if a bad extruder/hot is more of a problem than a level bed.

          1. I’m using a bulldog lite extruder and hexagon hot end.
            Apart for user error (didn’t push the filament into the hot end and found it spiralling out the side) “most” of the time it works ok (purchased mine from ooznest in the uk)

          2. I’ll second the hot end issues. Nothing screws up my prints worse than inconsistent extrusions. I have to run mine really hot otherwise the hobbed bolt strips up filament instead of pushing it through.
            The beds level, by my z homing is also inconsistent. A lot of restarting prints because the first layer was messed up.

          3. I never found the bed leveling to be that hard, although my printer has relatively high elevation (it’s on top of my mini-fridge lol) so I can just lean over in my chair and line up my line-of-sight with the bed, and eyeball it fairly accurately. Bed adhesion is my 2nd big problem, but as a temporary measure I dab some hot glue around the base halfway through a print if it’s fairly large. I’m also wondering if putting stick glue on top of my kapton tape is helping or making things worse…

    1. just a question you may have allready tried this.

      Have you atempted to up the power to the stepper on the extruder.
      extruder power use is a fickle thing just a tad to little and it skips to much and it gets to hot or noisy nosy is just noisy no damige just anoying.

      Alternetly i wouldnt mind printing you out an extruder i have nylon and abs on hand.

      nylon will need cleaning itl be stringy i’m a bit skiddish about pushing my hotend much higher heat wise prints are hella strong just need cleaning of strings.

      abs hardly strings.

      I can do pla to but for an extruder i find over time it becomes brittle and i’ve never wanted to try an extruder print with it comes out verry claen and strong at first just the nature of pla may work for years may snap in a month.

      Reply here if ya want the help :)

      1. Thank you very much! I did print a wade geared extruder I found on thingiverse (prusa i3 adaption thing:65939) but it didn’t completely solve my problem as the stepper still kept “skipping” (making a ticking noise but not actually turning and pushing out filament.) So I did turn up the pot on the stepper, and it worked for a little while. I was dumb though and didn’t print out a spare extruder piece right away like I should have, and it delaminated. You might be right about pla, as that’s what I used up to this point, but I think there was also poor layer adhesion throughout the print.

        I’m definitely interested in your offer, I think a properly printed abs geared extruder would solve most of my problems. I think today though, I’ll try this abs filament and see if the printer is happy with that (abs is supposedly easier to extrude, and I’m also switching from 3.00mm to 1.75mm.)

        1. I only really had delamination with some cheap pla off of ebay. Couldnt believe the difference when using quality pla.All my parts are Pla including thee geared extruder.Abs smells nasty and makes me sneeze a lot.

          As for the skipped steps, i notice that the extruder draws more power.After time when it warms it needs more current and starts skipping. Solutions are numerous,but what worked for me was keeping the stepper drivers and/or motors cool.My step-stick has 3 heat sink crammed into together on that one driver with a fan.Now it never skips.On the motors heat-sinks keep em cool. Going to try better drivers when they arrive to bring the noise down from fan.

      1. God, I used to hate people like you. Why be a part of the problem and not a part of the solution? Doesn’t HaD have enough people who bitch about the content? Why won’t you just shut up and leave space for actual constructive comments?

        Maybe I’m getting old and bitter. Maybe I’ve been coming here for far too long. But for some reason I can’t place, and I hate to say this- but these types of trash comments are beginning to become more and more aligned with the way I feel about the conent. HaD store? No problem. Hackaday.io? Neat, I was one of the first people to sign up. I’ve even met a bunch of the staff in California when I stayed over the summer. But damn, I feel like everything I’ve seen here in the past few months has come straight off of Reddit first. This used to be the only site I frequented daily, and now… I only come when I remember to, catching up on days or hacks at a time. Am I becoming what I hate most, the cancerous user who is loyal, yet degrading? Am I becoming the girlfriend to HaD that has been with this site for so long, but just wishes for things to be the way they used to be? Man, I remember when people would bitch about posts not being hacks and nobody cared. Hell, I supported a comment like this weeks ago and got flamed by the damn author of the post! I’m looking at you, Brian.

        Maybe It’s time I moved on, and left this glorious site to the next generation of HaDers. I think content here is being replaced with features, and HaD’s focus has been shifting from what made them famous in the first place. Maybe I should do the same thing, and shift my attention elsewhere.

        Sorry guys. Total shitpost. In other news, I totally love this link. This is the kind of stuff us prospective 3D printer owners want to know before we make the leap!

    1. Well said Daid303. Selecting the right 3D printer for you is another can’o’beans entirely. But over all, the quality vs cost vs frustration trend seems to be improving rapidly. Do you have any advice on how one goes about picking a 3D printer? The only compressive 3d printer round-up I know of is the one done by Make magazine each year (I couldn’t find anything that was free and online to include in the post).

      There’s also the “build it yourself” path, such as a reprap. Not a bad option if you are comfortable with sorting out even more problems. It’s what I did, but granted, that’s not for everyone. There is something to be said for building your own tools. Because once you’ve build it, you know how to fix it! And that can be golden.

    2. There will always be exceptions. For example, my first printer was a Solidoodle 4 which I had paid $1000 for. Biggest piece of crap. I thought it was just me being new for over a month. I couldn’t get any prints to actually print reliably and never ever trusted it enough to walk away for even 20 minutes. And when it did succeed the prints looked awful. Being new, I just thought this was just how it was.

      I started looking at upgrades to make it more reliable and had a cart full of parts over $600 when I stumbled on the cheap Chinese CTC dual extruder printer for $550. I figured wth and ordered it. It is now my main printer. I have very little trouble with it, prints of many many hours succeed without issue, and the prints look great and comparable to the prints I get from the Makerbot 2X ($2800 printer) we have at work.

      So, in my example, I got a better printer for just a little more than half of the SD4 price.

  2. He’s lucky he started off with a Printrbot. I’ve been fiddling with my MendelMax 1.5 almost endlessly since I got it. There’s always another upgrade to print and install to fix some issue with print quality. I got a Printrbot Simple mostly to print parts for my MendelMax (I know, weird) and it is absolutely wonderful in comparison. With the autoleveling probe I really only have to worry about bed adhesion, which is hardly a problem when printing PLA on alcohol-wiped blue tape.

    1. I recommend trying to keep your firmware up to date if you use marlin and are a masochist developer, they accept pull requests from everyone and their dogs without actually checking the code, we get to see some fun stuff, like the axis Z speed being used in the (cold) extruder somehow which results in a broken filament and a full dismantle of thing to remove the resulting mess, or more recently when a new delta printer company committed code that made the printer behave like a delta printer, independent of what you had configured, complete with menus for adjusting their machine and a random test string on the display

      /rant

        1. was not clear enough in the post… not blaming the printer firmware for your problems, just agreeing with you on that software in general is a problem and warning about the crap we see on the open source scene

  3. I bought a Qu-bd Two-Up recently, which is a similar price point to the Printrbot Simple in the article but with decidedly cheaper construction, (largely made of cable ties and laser cut mdf). It’s fair to say that it started out pretty rough, but over the last two months I’ve replaced the hotend with an E3D V6 (probably the biggest single improvement and the mounts nearly all worked with it straight up). Replaced the gantry, carriage and extruder (now a geared extruder) with my own designs, added a endless loop (100lb spectra line) pulley to take the gantry sag out, and I just today finished an auto leveling servo probe. So it’s starting to come together to a quite reasonable printer, although if I was charging myself for my time I’d still be better of spending on a better one, but that’s learning for you.

  4. I will patiently wait a couple more seasons until SLA Printers are the default when it comes to 3D printing. There are already some SLA solutions outh there, but I doubt I get a great experience for that price. As long as those hot snot printers are around, I have no urge to buy one. It looks so damn ugly all the time. I want Shapeways quality at home and that point is not in sight yet. Not even for shapeways is the printing process a trivial process. The time of setup and arrangement is not to neglect. So I guess I have to wait… and I’m totaly fine with it.

    1. shapeways wise the arangement is of the parts is just a method of getting as much done with one run as we can.

      theres no meterial wast if you print just one item or 30 in the build space.

      i’m thinking you’ll see the Z-printer style rigs hit home before SLA . the companys see more opertunity for proffet in those most likely.

      ink head + fill head + meterial + hardener.

      pretty prints tho.

  5. I still have a Makerbot Thing-O-Matic and a Cupcake. Extruders are still busted in both of them a Mk. 4 and Mk. 8 respectively. Swordfish cleaned up the Thing-O-Matic for a while and it acted like a Replicator 1. Both produced an ungodly amount of 0.35 mm clogs. The only solution for reliability was acetone, plenty of canola oil, and keep the F^%*#* things moving from one print to the next.

    The only 3D printer that works on all occasions in my inventory is the Prusa Mendel with an old J-head. 1 clog in 5 years. Absolutely beautiful reliability. Positively ugly resolution compared to more modern printers.

    Now let’s drop the bomb on why the Mendel is more reliable: I had the hot end sent out for a PVD coating.

  6. My local makerspace had a course in OpenSCAD about a year ago that I took and learned to make prints. A few months later they had a course in building a Printrbot from a kit. It was well worth the extra expense to have people who had built one on hand to help with putting it together and getting a few prints out. Since then I’ve upgraded to a heated bed and am churning out prints left and right with few problems. Even modified octoprint to turn on and off the power supply and mounted a USB camera and LED light on the bed so the timelapse movies look great.

  7. Is anyone experimenting with these time-of-flight sensors for automated bed leveling? I bought one (before the newer better ones came out) to experiment with to create an auto Z table for my laser cutter. With some tricks, they are actually quite accurate. Mine, the VCNL4000, really relies heavily on the surface it is pointed at and its accuracy at small distances is not that great.

    But these new ToF sensors featured here on HaD just recently appear to solve a lot of those problems.

    I definitely need to (and will) experiment with this, but wondered if anyone else has already?

  8. I’d recommend anyone starting out with 3d-printing to visit their local hackerspace, or other community where people with experience. There is still a certain amount of somewhat obscure tips&tricks that come in handy from time to time.
    Access to people who know your type of printer might also be a smart factor to consider when deciding which printer to buy/build.
    http://hackerspaces.org

  9. I got a MBot 3D Cube Kit for Christmas (actually it arrived on NYE). I had it built in a couple hours, minus several key bearings and set screws (the company had sent two of the same parts bag, with different labels). Waited through the holiday, then next day figured out the bearings and set screws come from the R/C car world, and found exact replacements at a local hobby shop. Picked up a spool of PLA from a local vendor and was printing on the 3rd day.
    Biggest problems I have had are: the company complained about the cost of mailing the missing parts, so they’re useless; the printer is a Makerbot clone, with some refinements, so it has a lot of the MB limitations, uses the same firmware (so incompatible with Cura, Octopi, etc).; the instructions were out of date, and took some creative thinking to figure out (especially with the missing parts); generally mediocre print quality. I hated the ReplicatorG software (I’m on a Mac), so I copied the settings into MakerBot Desktop, which works OK, but I can’t seem to grok the profile editor options to get the quality I want. I print right on the included build plate, with rafts, which always works. I cannot get a print to stick without the raft (I have added a filament cooler) with glue stick or blue tape. The x-end has cracked in 2 places, and is currently held together with tie wraps. I found a Replicator x-end on Thingiverse, but it was an older revision and I lack the 3d design chops to mod it. I print a toy or two for my kid several times a week though! Also made a replacement handle for the crock pot, a new part for an IKEA lamp, a DS stylus, lots of upgrades for the printer itself, so it’s not that the prints are no good at all, even long print jobs come out fine (did a big spool homer that almost filled the platform, took over 5 hours and looks great). I need a class on 3d printer “tweaking” it seems.

  10. I think the “problem” with 3d printers is that people think they are going to be useful, when in fact they are a complete waste of time and money at this stage of the game. Now commercial grade 3d printers that none of us can afford, they are BARELY becoming useful. By that I mean they can aid in prototyping. For any other application is more practical to use something like a CNC machine or injection molding ect….

    Consumer grade cnc machines…. they are for playing around with. Your parts won’t be precise, or strong, nor will they look nice and that’s if you spend hours calibrating things to where they work correctly. If you don’t invest all that time you’ll usually just get a blob of disappointment.

    Here’s the deal with new technology. When you can buy it in a generic store like Walmart then it’s perfected. Otherwise wait a while.

    1. I use my printrbot simple metal 3d printer heavily. For objects that pla or abs or nylon is strong enough, for rapid prototyping where tolerance or material isnt vital, for making stuff for the kids to have fun with etc.
      I also have two mills (bridgeport interact cnc and a arno universal manual), a wire edm, engine lathe, hydraulic surface grinder, portable cmm etc, not exactly hsm grade equipment.

      There is a lot of attitude on both sides of any discussion which crosses between worlds as it were, yes the people thinking their printer can knock out 0.01mm accurate prints in pla are a bit deluded, but equally you have the professional machinists who just dislike the whole idea of being able to click print on something so just dismiss it outright and find any excuses to rubbish it they can. The 3d printing forum on pm is a joke for this reason, at least 70% of the posts in there are the latter baiting the posters, equally the printrbot forum is full of people believing they can hit 0.01mm tolerances and measure that accuracy with a pair of cheap digital calipers off ebay.

      To anyone else thinking about it who runs commercial grade machines but wants to have a dabble, ignore the rubbish being said by both camps and give it a whirl and find out for yourself. For me, used within its limitations its a added string to my bow, far from a complete waste of time.

  11. I like this article, I have the same printrbot & its very true to life too. I found early on that the official setup guides were not for me, and instead a cigarette rolling paper between the hotend and the bed worked better because you can feel when it just starts to snag to set the height and see if its too deep by the fact it tears it from fragility of the paper. Once I got z dialled in, sprayed my masking tape with hairspray I was away even though I was still at that point using a unheated bed.
    I must have done something wrong software wise too as I still dont have issues with repetier host and use it to this day, although I use it under a linux host with mono and the pc its hanging off stays on 24/7 doing other jobs anyway. Ninjaflex was a pain until I made the insert to take up the clearance as per the adafruit guides. My cooling fan crapped out really quickly as the bearings went nasty in a few hours use, but I just bought a high quality noga fan and replaced it and found I could use less fan speed to get the same results as a added bonus.
    I have put 30+ kg of pla, abs, nylon and ninjaflex through mine so far. I use it as a complement to a workshop full of full sized metalworking machines as a complementary process and to teach the kids things and have fun too, but I might be a odd use case in that I already had a need for it before I got it and had some expectations and knew the realities of what was possible with the process but just wanted to try it for myself & I am glad I did instead of reading all the conflicting opinions.
    It did walk round a bit but I just used a clamp to hold it down and I found if I ran it *really* fast, the table didnt have time to vibrate enough to move before it changed direction and corrected itself.
    I also for a while was considering making a hotend to fit in my cnc milling machine as its got more capacity, until someone suggested the reason that would not be as good as a seperate lightweight machine was the speed. And they are on the money, the mill can do 200ipm moves, but the printrbot can move and change direction far far faster than that, because of its lightweight components.
    I think the reasons the printrbot doesnt come with a fan shroud, feet, bottom and filament guides is to force you to have to make them, as they are relatively simple parts to get right and trigger off that sense of accomplishment.

  12. I just got an “assembled” prusa i3 have been at this bitch for over 10 hours completely rebuilding come to find out I have no jumper shunts and need at least 8. My servos are full stepping and the resolution is coarse to say the least.

  13. The best printer on the market is Lulzbot TAZ. Why, it can print it’s own parts . They use over a hundred printers working all day every day to build parts for their printers. Read the book and if all else fails call them , they will support you if there are any snags.

  14. Buying based on price is a way to buy everything a second time just to get it to work right. A good 3D printer controller is $100 and up. Spend less than that, and the less you spend, the more grief it’s likely to be. Buy a hot end that’s not shit, and from a genuine supplier of the part from the designer, not a knock-off that generally can’t follow the print because that requires competence and doing things right.

    3D printers are probably the most complicated devices a consumer can buy right now and most kits out there are shit. I advise against it unless you really want to commit to it. Frankly, if you want a recommendation, Ultimaker, or better, Ultimaker 2. If you aren’t willing to spend that amount of money, you might not want to know how much time it will take to get a kit working right with a cheap kit.

  15. Ok I’ll leave my small experience here…I purchased a super cheap reprap on alie****press.
    I believe they are not that bad BUT : these guys sticks kapton on the jhead preventing it from beeng cooled (and of course there is no fan on it by default)
    also their K-extruder is absolutely shit : pla/abs waster
    the documentation is totaly out of date and inaccurate : pure rubbish (but you can find way documentation on youtube anyway)
    Everybody told me the Melzi clone is crap : actually I believe it is incredibly reliable for what I do…flawless so far.
    The Psu isolation is crap : turn off a light or use halogen lamp and boom : you lost the connexion with the computer : use an old ATX psu instead, I would say…
    The J-head clone is not that bad but it could be better …you got what you pay for.
    finally…I used to believe a 3D printer is expensive….I don’t believe anymore that is true.
    The major issue with such a device is it is COMPLEX.
    I sometime have the impression I learn to pilot a plane…but hey…I am not an engineer like it seems most HAD readers are…but you know what..? I learn …it is hard but I learn

  16. I was surprised that Scott hanselman would use a Raspberry Pi… wth! not running windows ? How could a microsoft marketing worker use Linux ? .. well at least he hooked up a Microsoft Webcam on it.

  17. A couple weeks ago I picked up a Chinese knockoff Makerbot Replicator dual-extruder on eBay for $550 (It’s gone back up to $700 now… A shame.) I had no idea what I was doing, and still barely know what I’m doing, but it hasn’t been giving my much in the way of problems, and it’s been turning out good useful parts.

    At this point, I’m just trying to fine tune everything for maximum quality; Adding a thick borosilicate glass plate to ensure the entire printbed is super-level, doing test prints to determine the best temperature and speed settings for all the filaments I have, experimenting with various alternative slicing engines, etc.

    I need to save up and get Simplify3D, and get my hands on some more exotic filaments (PETT, Nylon, TPE, dissolvable support materials, etc.) to really continue my adventure in 3D printing.

  18. I knew 3D printing was going to be complicated, but I wanted to jump right in. I thought by getting a M3D printer I could get some decent prints and dabble a bit before committing to the price of an expensive machine. I bought it used first off so that saved me some money. It printed just fine, everything was great. Then a new version of the software came out, it messed up everything. Now even manual calibration doesn’t even work. It was making goopy blobs everywhere. You can’t even import G code from cura anymore. Uninstalling and reinstalling doesn’t work for me either. Stay away from this printer. It is the (Apple) version of 3D printing. As in you will only use MY software, MY filament, MY proprietary parts and if I catch you with other software I will render your machine unusable until you delete those other programs from your computer. I know in all industry you must exploit, monopolize, and enslave the consumer/user of your products but these people went too far. I don’t think it a coincidence that I uninstall blender and my machine works a little better without adjusting anything.
    And from reading other people’s rants about software messing up their machines to parts purposely made to break and wear out. It does seem that this is all useless and your spending way too much in the end for something that is sub par and not even tangible or even marketable. Then you have shapeways marketing on this whole dissapointment scene.

    We need the IBM of 3d printers to emerge. Where you can put any part you want together to make to your liking, and software from individuals that brings it all together to make a well working dependable machine. Th print head that YOU like, the heat plate that YOU like. I want to make it bigger, I want to take my old parts and make a small one for my child. It’s like we went all the way back to 486 type computers. Where you bought a sound card and you rolled the dice to see if it would work. Same with the games. An you had all the specs the game or device required. Then plug n play came and then all games and programs worked just fine.

    Then you have 3d printing and look the program can’t auto detect parts and know what there used for. The software can’t calibrate your machine. Lol you could attach your phone with its gyroscopes that are contained within it and move it around an I bet it could tell you exactly where it’s been even including the gravitational pull in your exact location and how to alter your extrusion rate so THAT wouldn’t even effect your print. I mean come on man you guys are doing this on purpose to these people and it’s just wrong. How can your phone be smarter than a mechanized poop machine. Your machine should be just as smart an the software smarter. Your not allowed to make things for yourself and defiantly not manufacture things for additional income. Everything would have to be analyzed and given a tax value every time you print. Go now prove me wrong, go make IBM of printers. And watch as the hackers sent by big corporations take it down. I say let’s go for it. It can be done. Just think about it for a second. The current situation does seem pretty stupid.
    A man can make a motorized chariot that can sense an xyz axis, a motor cycle type vehicle that can keep itself up. A smartphone with gyroscope sensors that you could use to pilot a drone if you want. But you can’t make software that will detect anyone’s machine and make it print right and that’s free to have. You developers make the human race look pretty stupid. So much in fact that I hope we don’t find intelligent life out there. They might kill all you to put you out of our misery.

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