A Farewell to Printrbot

It’s with a heavy heart that we must report Printrbot has announced they are ceasing operations. Founded in 2011 after a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the company set out to make 3D printing cheaper and easier. Their first printer was an amalgamation of printed parts and wood that at the time offered an incredible deal; when the Makerbot CupCake was selling for $750 and took 20+ hours to assemble, the Printrbot kit would only run you $500 and could be built in under an hour.

Brook Drumm, Founder of Printrbot

Printrbot got their foot in the door early, but the competition wasn’t far behind. The dream of Star Trek style replicators fueled massive investment, and for a while it seemed like everyone was getting into the 3D printing game. Kit built machines gave way to turn-key printers, and the prices starting coming down. Printrbot’s products evolved as well, dropping wood in favor of folded steel and pioneering impressive features like automatic bed leveling. In 2014 they released the Printbot Simple Metal, which ultimately became their flagship product and in many ways represents the high water mark for the company.

Eventually, overseas manufacturers saw an opportunity and started flooding the market with 3D printers that were cheaper than what many would have believed possible only a few years earlier. Today you can go online and buy a perfectly serviceable starter printer for under $200, even less if you’re still willing to build it yourself. For an American company like Printrbot, competing at this price point was simply an impossibility.

Rather than give up, Brook decided to take things in a different direction. If he couldn’t compete with imported machines on price, he would start building high end printers. A new version of the Simple Metal was introduced in 2016 with premium features such as linear rails and cloud-based slicing, complete with a premium price. From that point on, most new Printrbot products would release at over $1,000; putting them more in line with “prosumer” machines from companies like Ultimaker. For hacker types who got their first taste of 3D printing thanks to a cheap wooden Printrbot kit, this was something of a bittersweet moment.

At the same time, Brook’s natural hacker spirit and love of the open source community lead to a number of interesting side projects that never quite got off the ground. Most recently, he’d been putting the finishing touches on the Printrbelt, a 3D printer with a conveyor belt in place of a traditional bed. Such a machine could finally bridge the gap between desktop 3D printing and true small scale production capability.

When we saw Brook at the East Coast RepRap Festival, he brought along a new machine that the more cynical observer might have taken as foreshadowing. The Printrbot Easy was going to be a modified and rebranded FlashForge Finder, a final acknowledgement that the only way to compete with the Chinese manufactured 3D printers was to sell one of your own.

It’s always sad to see a tech company go under, but seeing the end of Printrbot is especially hard. Built in America with locally sourced components and with a commitment to keeping their machines open source, there was a lot to love about the plucky little 3D printer company from Lincoln, California. Printrbot was the quintessential hacker success story, and we’re proud to say we’ve been in their corner from the start. Here’s to wishing Brook Drumm and the entire Printrbot team success in their future endeavors; we’ll be keeping an eye out.

62 thoughts on “A Farewell to Printrbot

  1. The Malyan M200 and Monoprice’s importing of it took a huge bite out of the low price 3D printer market by coming out of the box fully assembled, needing only checking the bed level to be ready to use. It’s also very sturdy, folded and nicely welded steel, along with a 16 pound weight, makes it quite rigid.

    1. Same same. What a fun exciting time for 3D printing that period was. I can’t count how many hours I spent, redesigning and rebuilding the original printrbot. Sad to see them go…

    2. Back then I was longing for buying one of their printers. Only I couldn’t afford one so I went for building myself a Prusa I2. And I had to learn the 3D printing technique by calibrating everything manually. I even had to level the heated bed once in a while. After I built the printer for the first time, it took me two weeks to actually have a successful print. Of course I made the mistake to start with having the ABS filament as my first one. I worked my frustrations between having delaminating layers and prints that were coming off the printing bed. And only after a few months I started to use PLA and kapton tape and some other stuff. But I guess this is how everything starts after all. Somehow I know that others were just like me and because everybody went for cheaper printers, these professional ones went down. I’m not sure yet if I should feel guilty for it.

  2. Breaks my heart to see this. My first printer was a Printrbot Simple Maker’s Edition. I still have it, but more as a piece of art.

    Whilst the flood of cheap Chinese imports has obviously affected some companies, if you can get product-market fit, you can still compete strongly. I now have a Prusa i3 MKII, and at last count, Prusa has shipped over 90,000 printers in the past two years.

    It feels like we’re still at the ZX80-phase of 3D printing and have a long way to go in basic usability and self-diagnostics in printers. Someone is surely about to make a big leap with the technology any day soon? Starting with knowing when the print has detached from the plate and wrapped itself around the print head :-)

    1. ZX80 days without the ZX80 community. Yeah, eventually xerography will mature and become cheap enough we can buy a Brother printer for about a $100 with more capabilities.

      1. Look, the US really hardlines this lassiz-faire thing. You can’t have it both ways. If you can’t stay competitive in features and price, you don’t survive. Who the hell cares where the company is based or where the product is assembled? It’s not like China decided on their own to be the place where we permanently outsourced all our manufacturing costs. That’s all on us.

        1. “Look, the US really hardlines this lassiz-faire thing. You can’t have it both ways. If you can’t stay competitive in features and price, you don’t survive.”

          Keeping the benefits here, outsourcing the consequences there.

        1. Seems unlikely. There’s nothing on either printer that isn’t: A. Standard hardware you can get anywhere, B. Open source so you can print/machine it yourself, C. Heavy duty enough to last basically forever

          The complete designs for all Printrbot machines is up on Youmagine, and most of it should be printable if you need a replacement (like the plastic bearing holders on the Play).

  3. I own a Printrbot simple metal. It has worked great with caveats. Printrbot had a terrible organization of files on their website. Need the Microchip Flip firmware updater? follow the link to Microchi…..oh it’s moved. Good luck on updating your firmware. Their website was clean and pretty, but it seemed to be laid out by someone with no understanding on how to support a product, a fairly complex one at that. sorry to see them go, but really theres nothing on that thing that I cant buy or machine elsewhere.

    1. The only part of the Simple Metal that concerns me going forward is the Y/Z bearing blocks. If those bearings go, it’s not going to be easy swapping them unless you’ve got a shop press.

      Potentially they could be replaced with printed parts if it came down to it. That’s something I’ve considered in the past.

  4. i bought me a printrbot play (with bed upgrade) before all the cheap printers started coming out. it worked like a dream when i got it and it still does, its been very easy to maintain. might not have the bed area of the larger printers but it does everything i want it to. i dont think any of those chinese printers will be as easy to use.

  5. Awww… this was not the news I wanted to wake up to this morning. I learned 3D printing by building (and rebuilding and rebuilding) a Printrbot Plus which has been pictured here more than once. Brook was always personally helpful and I gave back by contributing a few documents and answering questions.

    Brook always inspired that “Gee, maybe I could bootstrap up something big one day” kind of feeling. Very sad to see such a great company with such a great leader close down.

    Thanks for everything Brook!

  6. “Makerbot CupCake was selling for $750 and took 20+ hours to assemble”

    This is a false statement. The CupCake CNC would take about 3 hours maximum to assemble and it came at a time where the alternatives (reprap/repstrap darwins) would take several months to set up.

    1. No, a Cupcake takes 20+ hours to assemble. The first three hours are the first assembly, then it breaks. Then it’s another three hours of assembly. Repeat….

  7. broke my stone cold heart when I heard this. fortunately I have a simple metal with an upgraded big heated bed and a guide on the extruder to handle flexible filament so I just printed a new one.

      1. The new extruder has very tight clearances to the drive gears, I have no trouble printing Shore 98 TPU, it actually prints faster than any other material, 80mm IIRC with tenuous layer adhesion on flat areas (making nonfunctional test prints for proofing out part geometry).

  8. My local makerspace did an event where you built a Printerbot Simple Metal and got to take it home. Did that and got me into 3D printing back in 2014(?) and still have it in my office.

      1. But I don’t wanna slice clouds?

        also I don’t wanna have my workflow disappear into someone else’s infrastructure and therefore have no guarantee it’ll be available in the long term. An open-source slicer (e.g. Cura) seems to be the perfect arrangement to me.

  9. Do I have to feel bad about having bought an Anet A-6 (Prusa i3 workalike) for $160? No, I don’t. I was never going to buy a printer at $500; I would have built one myself first. In fact, it was when I was pricing parts for one that I discovered I could buy the whole kit for less than the parts. Sorry, but that’s product life. If you produce something that becomes very popular, you have to either follow it down the price curve, or move onto something else. I hope the Printrbot folks are moving on to better things. Their products have brought down the prices of electromechanical parts by orders of magnitude, and I thank them for that.

  10. “For an American company like Printrbot, competing at this price point was simply an impossibility.”

    People will take note that that’s why software and services have moved more towards commercial and business customers not that they can’t be cheap too. They just don’t blink as bad when one ask $1.00 instead of $0.99 for a product.

    “Built in America with locally sourced components and with a commitment to keeping their machines open source, there was a lot to love about the plucky little 3D printer company from Lincoln, California. ”

    Apple days are gone. Start-up and get bought out are the current theme.

    1. Apple days are NOT gone, because Apple got smart and started building its products in Asia, enabling them to follow the price curve. Sure, they had to do some marketing magic to allow their price point to be higher than others’, but that’s just how you do it. Look: you can’t just depend on having a job for life, just from one great idea, no matter how great. Maybe you can make a fortune and not have to work, but if you want to continue working, you have to keep doing new things.

  11. Sad to hear. I started my 3D printing adventures on a kit-built Printrbot Plus. The smell of that laser-cut birch ply… intoxicating. Brook Drumm taught me a lot in that printer. I wonder if tariffs are going to effect this market significantly.

  12. this is very sad, and indicative of everything in life it temporary.
    Interestingly, the guy who designed the stepper motor controller board in the original printrbot was my classmate in college and we worked on micromouse together.

  13. Ho no :-(
    I bought a printrbot simple metal kit when it was released, and still works like a charm today ! It’s my first and only printer. Since I bought it I increased the print area, added a heated bed, replaced the cooling fan with a blower, installed a metric Z-axis and I recently replaced the printrboard for a duet wifi. Amazing machine ! Talk about easy to hack !
    Although I must admit that I was angry at them a couple of times, it makes me really sad to see them cease their operations :-(

    1. I’ve always wondered what was up with this cloud slicing thing. I’ve even seen blockchain slicing. Why? Buzzwords? Slicing isn’t that resource-intensive, why not do it locally? Or is there some advantage I’m ignorant to?

      1. The idea with the new Simple was that you could upload an STL to your account on the Printrbot cloud slicer (say with your phone), and then print from any machines you had attached to that account. So it made things like print farms or school labs easier to setup/manage.

        But for the individual with a single printer, in reality it was just adding more steps unnecessarily. The cloud slicing was definitely something that kept people away from the printer early on, I think.

    2. Eventually there was a firmware update that allowed the printers to be controlled via USB, so as long as it’s not running an outdated firmware (which shouldn’t be the case, as they did OTA updates) you can just plug it in whenever the cloud aspect shuts down.

  14. This was heartbreaking to see.
    My first printer was a Printrbot Plus laser cut 1405 that shipped after the KS ones shipped
    I think printrbot lost direction when it couldn’t support the existing customers and started new product lines without volume manufacturing. The price points of these machines were even more than what prosumers could afford. Printrbot easy and Play V2 seemed like a step in the right direction. But alas.
    Hopefully someone buys them out and keeps the innovation going.The Goodwill is not lost yet.

  15. Some years ago I purchased their aluminium (greetings from Europe ;-) ) extruder upgrade v2 kits for my DIY printer. It really made a difference. It’s a shame that they had to go out of business.

  16. Built one of the wooden PBJrs back in the day, had a Simple, and under my desk right now is a box containing a Simple Metal kit (a “scratch-n-dent” mixed parts kit) that Brook sent me a year or so ago to use and see if I could mix it up with parts from the old wood Jr. Great guy, good company – they’ll be missed.

  17. Simple Metal was my first printer and it’s still going strong in the lab. The hotend was shit, though. Replaced by E3D. Brook always was way too much about “Made in the USA”. Were does he buy components from? Where’s the power supply from? The world is a global marketplace, we have to live with it or die. Brooke chose the latter.

  18. Well, I’m going to be that one guy.

    It was kind of clear they were jumping the shark when they started going after that cloud stuff instead of addressing the somewhat obvious issues with their printers.

    They had some good points in some areas, but in other areas they were just too slow on the uptake.

    1. This. As an Printrbot Simple owner, I’m not sad to see this company go. Brook had a good and loyal fan base, but he opted to ignore them. He tried to do too many things without first fixing the core problems. I got off the Printrbot bandwagon back in 2016 when I realized that Brook was never going to focus on doing the right thing because he was too busy trying to do too many things.

  19. Bought PB Jr kit back in 2013. While the printer ended up dying last year, it was a great learning experience and a great introduction to a new hobby. Sad day. :(

  20. Looks like the support web site is still up even though the main site has most of the pages removed. We can only hope the firmware for the printers (hex) are open source like some of the other tools.

  21. Aw, this is a sad day. My first 3D printer was the Printrbot Plus kickstarter kit (I doubt anyone but Brook could assemble it in 1-hour — it probably took me 4 hours just to organize the various parts before starting the build, which took much of two weekends). I’d been lurking in the reprap forums for years before finally using the Printrbot+ kit as a way in. That thing was amazing at the time, as it eliminated the effort required to source parts and demystified the process of building one’s first reprap. And from what I hear the later Printrbot machines were very nice.

    Here’s a video I made back then of the first attempts at printing with the Printrbot+. It’s such a cobbled together piece of kit, but by the power of zip ties, rattling nuts, and open-source software, it did function:

    And then a week later I finally got it to produce recognizable objects, and threw together this little video to celebrate:

    6 years later I’ve moved on to a Rostock Max v2 (as well as a Wanhao Duplicator i3 v2). Both print at much higher quality and speed than my old zip-tie-and-plywood Printrbot+ and invert that printer’s ratio of time spent printing vs machine maintenance. But the Printrbot was a great learning experience, with an active and very helpful community. I used that thing to print many a useful item, including the camera mounts for the DSLR-kinect apparatus used to shoot much of this Fitz and the Tantrums video (https://vimeo.com/64352316).

    I’m about to pass on that still-functional Printrbot Plus (now running with e3d v6 printhead and auto-leveling) to a friend’s kid. Hope she learns a ton trying to keep it running! (I’ll help).

  22. Thank you printrbot! I still have one of the original simple metals, and it’s still going strong. Quality product. Wishing Brooke the best. He’s a nice guy that I got a chance to meet at Maker Faire.

  23. I’m fairly new to 3d printing and way, way up their in years and I have enjoyed buying early Printrbots and rehabbing them, even the ones with string drive. I have both a Makergear M2 and an Ultimaker 2 but for pure hobby enjoyement I just enjoy working on and watching wooden Printrbots at work. The rehabbing is really enjoyable but I keep fantasizing that somewhere out there is a treasure trove of wooden replacement parts – don’t like remaking them in plastic.

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