I never feel like I have enough space in my workshop. The promise of consolidating tools to make the most of limited space drew me to the Snapmaker Artisan, a plus-sized 3-in-1 tool combining 3D printer, laser engraver, and CNC machine.
Jacks of all trades may be masters of none, but it is also true that a tool does not need to be a master of its functions to be useful. For many jobs, it enough to simply be serviceable. Does a machine like the Artisan offer something useful to a workshop?
Snapmaker was kind enough to send me an Artisan that I have by now spent a fair bit of time with. While I have come to expect the occasional glitch, having access to multiple functions is great for prototyping and desktop manufacturing.
This is especially true when it allows doing a job in-house where one previously had to outsource, or simply go without. This combo machine does have something to offer, as long as one can give it generous table space in return.
What It Is
The Artisan is a large dual-extrusion 3D printer, CNC router, and diode-based laser engraver. To change functions, one physically swaps toolheads and beds. Very thankfully, there are quick-change fixtures for this.
Driving the Artisan is Snapmaker’s software Luban (GitHub respository). Named for the ancient Chinese master craftsman, it is responsible for job setup and control. For laser and CNC work, there are convenient built-in profiles for a variety of paper, plastic, leather, and wood products.
The unit is enclosed, nicely designed, and — while I have come to expect the occasional glitch — serviceable at all three of its functions. The size and stature of the machine warrants some special mention, however.
The Artisan Is Big (And Also Small)
As far as desktop machines go, the Artisan is bigger than most. Ideally, it wants nearly a square meter of table space. That’s big, but compared to the space required for three separate machines, one square meter doesn’t look so bad.
Fitting It In
Most tables and workbenches are only about 70 cm to 90 cm deep (28 to 36 inches), which is a bit shy of the Artisan’s footprint.
One option is to build a custom table. Personally, I connected two sturdy flat-top utility carts together with some 3D-printed adapters. This also provided storage underneath for the toolheads and beds.
The touchscreen control box (which normally sits alongside the enclosure) can be relocated. Doing so reduces the width needed to as low as 70 cm, allowing the Artisan to fit sideways on most standard tables and workbenches. Not ideal, but workable in a pinch.
Keep Rear Access In Mind
The rear of the Artisan houses the exhaust port and ventilation fan. There is also a cable bundle that goes to the control box. The enclosure’s back panel can be removed, making the rear of the machine a bit easier to access for cleaning and servicing.
We’ll talk about ventilation later, but wherever you plan to put this machine, be aware there will be some need to access the back during assembly, and possibly also when cleaning up after a particularly dusty CNC operation. The enclosure, by the way, does a fantastic job of keeping CNC waste bits on the inside.
Be also aware that the rear of the machine is not 100% sealed. When laser engraving, laser light can escape from an uncovered ventilation port, or from gaps in the cable fixture. This should be taken into consideration when planning location.
I will say that the mechanical design, packaging, and assembly documentation of the Artisan impressed me. Parts were secure, directions were IKEA-level clear, and it was honestly kind of a joy to put together.
The Artisan uses sturdy linear modules designed to keep dust and debris away from inner workings by sealing them with thin metal sheets. Take care not to press on these areas during assembly. There’s a warning to that effect, but the linear modules are quite heavy. It’s easy to put a fingertip where it shouldn’t be when handling them.
Snapmaker has made combo machines before, but the Artisan has a number of advantages over its predecessors:
- It includes an enclosure which is suitable for all three functions.
- It has a considerable 400 mm x 400 mm x 400 mm work area (although 3D printing is limited to 356 mm x 356 mm x 356 mm on account of needing space for the dual extruder toolhead.)
- The big winner is quick-change hardware for swapping out the toolhead and beds.
Snapmaker’s previous combo machines had a large number of individual screws involved when changing beds and toolheads, so quick-change hardware is a very welcome feature.
Things It Can Do
Besides all the usual operations that a CNC router, 3D printer, and diode laser can do, here are a few capabilities I think are worth mentioning:
This feature (as well as huge print volume) sets this machine’s 3D printing somewhat apart from others. It’s true that dual extrusion heads are often more trouble than they are worth, but Snapmaker’s auto-leveling dual toolhead has a clever XY offset calibration method to ensure extrusions line up properly. This makes two-color printing — or printing with special support material — much faster than if one were relying on filament swaps through a single nozzle.
This functionality comes at a cost: the 3D printing toolhead is proprietary, expensive, and heavy. It’s capable, but don’t expect to break any print speed records.
PCBs via CNC engraving
Stainless Steel Marking with the 10W Diode Laser
The 10W diode laser can cut and engrave various materials, and it turns out can also mark stainless steel. Despite the wavelength of laser not really being the correct tool for the job, I was still able to mark some steel flasks.
This process doesn’t handle curvature well (the laser loses focus and causes inconsistent results) and the heat over time buckled the thin steel. Other than that, a little wipe with oil afterwards looked promising!
Precision Paper Cutting
The laser is capable of very fine control, and cutting intricate patterns into paper is something it excels at. As an experiment, I created a light box with a laser-cut shadow mask. Cutting a mask like this by laser is much faster and more accurate than doing it by hand.
I created this as one of the projects for which I used the 3-in-1 machine as much as possible to get a feel for it’s capabilities.
I generated the image (“Kitten in a workshop sunbeam”) with the help of Midjourney. The lighting mask was done with a combination of GIMP and Inkscape. I designed the enclosure to snap onto the back of a cheap IKEA 5×7 photo frame, and printed it on the Artisan.
Cutting paper creates smoke, so be sure to have ventilation set up. Also, keep laser power as low as possible to do the job. Otherwise, stray scraps of paper get scorched by the laser which causes extra smoke.
It’s pretty gratifying to use a single machine to perform multiple functions.
Ventilation and Cleaning
On the back of the enclosure is a ventilation port with a small fan. When 3D printing it can be advantageous to turn this fan on to ventilate the enclosure, depending on the material.
When using the laser module, one will definitely want to attach the vent hose to send smoke and fumes elsewhere. Laser cutting and engraving can create nasty smells and smoke, and some operations and materials are worse than others. Engraving is not too bad, but cutting wood or plastics is the worst. If both you and the machine are indoors, the little exhaust fan won’t cut it. The best way to deal with this is by adding a strong inline fan, and vent it all outside.
When CNC cutting, a handheld cordless vacuum makes cleanup much easier, and being able to access the back of the machine by removing the rear panel helps reach tricky areas.
As useful as the Artisan’s functions can be, and as convenient as it is to have them combined in a single unit, it’s important to know what it cannot do, and what it will not replace.
It is not a toolchanger
The Artisan is really three separate tools. Being a 3-in-1 doesn’t make mixing and matching functions any easier or more practical. One cannot easily 3D print an object then laser-engrave a serial number, nor easily print an object then CNC bore out a precise hole. But you can do these functions separately, just as though you were using three separate tools.
It won’t replace a CO2 laser
I had hoped this machine might be able to take the place of my (much larger and heavier) CO2 laser cutter, but that’s not to be. Diode lasers and CO2 lasers have different wavelengths. Their energy is absorbed differently by different materials, which means they do different jobs. Both will cut paper and engrave wood, but acrylic (for example) is a different story. A CO2 laser will beautifully slice clear acrylic, but a diode laser’s beam will pass right through it.
No air assist on the laser toolhead
Air assist is a laser beam accompanied by a jet of compressed air that helps blow debris away, and control potential flare-ups. Air assist is most useful during cutting operations. If one is primarily doing light engraving, or working with lightweight objects that an air jet would blow around, lack of air assist is not a concern.
If you’re fussy about dust…
The first time I CNC cut MDF was also the last time the inside of the machine was 100% clean. At least the enclosure does a good job of keeping it contained.
It’s not foolproof
There are a few things the operator is expected to know. The machine should be shut down before toolheads and beds are changed, as they are not hot-swappable. Re-calibrating toolheads is occasionally called for to address glitches. All this and more is the operator’s responsibility.
As a safety measure, opening the enclosure door during operation causes laser or CNC operations to stop. But when testing this function, I found that it takes a good moment to kick in. Be aware that the door sensor does not react instantly.
The software is helpful, but has limitations
I don’t think Luban will ever be anyone’s favorite software. It does things its own way, and I have run into some glitches while experimenting. But once I witness a job starting properly, I can relax. Most issues are solved by re-calibrating a toolhead.
All that being said, as long as one can provide enough table space and ventilation (if needed), the Artisan provides an efficient way to combine three tools into one enclosure.
The Artisan might be big, but it’s smaller than three separate devices and it does a serviceable job of its functions. The full enclosure and the quick-change fixtures are extremely welcome features. The software makes job planning reasonably straightforward, but experienced users may find themselves longing for favorites like LightBurn, PrusaSlicer, Cura, or others.
Would a 3-in-1 tool like the Artisan be of use in your own workshop? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments!