Can A Toy Printer Be Made Great?

Now that the bottom end of the 3D printer market has been largely cleared of those garbage “Prusa i3 clone” models which used to infest it a few years ago, a new breed of ultra-cheap printer has taken their place. EasyThreed make a range of very small printers pitched as toys, and while they’re no great shakes by the standards of most Hackaday readers, they do at least work out of the box. For their roughly $75 price tag they deliver what you’d expect, but can such a basic machine be improved with a few upgrades? [Made with Layers] has taken a look.

These printers have an all-plastic snap-together construction with a 10 cm by 10 cm bed and a set of small geared stepper motors driving their axes. He concentrates on stiffening the structure, upgrading those motors, and because he’s sponsored by a 3D printer electronics company, upgrading their controller.

The motors were replaced first with some NEMA 11 steppers, and then by some over-sized ones which maybe push the idea a little far. By moving the motors to a bracket he was able to free up their mountings to secure a 3D printed insert to stiffen the arms. Perhaps he’s pushing it a little for the video with the electronics upgrade, but we think there’s a happy medium with the smaller of the two motor upgrades and the stiffening.

So if you have an EasyThreed in your life it’s possible to upgrade it into something a little better, but it’s worth asking whether that $75 might be better spent in saving for a better machine in the first place. We’ve been curious about these tiny printers for a while though, and it’s interesting to have some more of our questions answered.

18 thoughts on “Can A Toy Printer Be Made Great?

    1. It was my first 3D printer, and it was actually great as a beginner’s printer. It worked well in teaching me that I needed to stay on top of printer maintenance and bed leveling, and my very first “serious” print on it back in 2017 still sees daily use now, with tight tolerances and perfect dimensions.

      I’ve since upgraded to a Maker Select Plus, and so far it’s held up well and I haven’t thrown a project at it that it can’t handle. Maybe one day I’ll splurge on a “real” 3D printer like a Prusa or similar, but I haven’t felt the need since I got this one.

    2. Even the Select Mini was built better than this. That was the big deal, the MP Mini was a “real” printer at what was then a rock bottom price. This on the other hand is like an experiment in minimalism.

    3. I am, right now, printing something on my Monoproce Select Mini IIIP. I would not call it ‘great’, as it had a number of features like the very inaccurate level sensor which the removal of led to much more reliable prints, but it does at least function. Mostly.

      1. The first and second revisions of that printer did not have the sensor.

        The extruder on mine always skipped randomly. I want to rebuild it through since I went to the trouble of putting in a proper lead screw.

    4. I still use the mini occasionally. The print quality is quite decent. I keep it loaded with PLA while our main printer has ABS and it’s convenient not to switch filaments.

    5. I got the monoprice mini delta, which was a cute way to get an introduction to delta machines. It was a pretty solid second printer for small parts, although the extruder eventually jammed twice to the extent of requiring replacement.

  1. How much is ones time worth?
    $75 printer + XX hours at $0.YY per hour (where XX is large and YY is small)…

    However, people like to hack and therefore we are not really talking equivalent dollars are we.
    Oh, but there is then making a yt video that gets clicks and gets you ad revenue :)

    1. ^ this, spending $75 plus another $75+ in parts and many hours of your free time just to achieve what could have been bought for a little extra is good for Youtube clicks or those with absolutely no spare cash but not particularly practical for most folks.

      As someone points out below, you can likely buy far better printers 2nd hand already.

      1. There are people outside of YouTube who do things like this just for fun too, just to see if it is possible. It doesn’t need to be practical for people to want to do it.

        This seems like something someone would do if they had most of the parts spare anyway and bought the cheapest toy printer they could just to see how it is. There was definitely enough of an audience for Thomas to make the first video on the printer.

  2. I don’t like to be all “just spend more money”, because there are people who should have a 3D printer and just don’t have $200. But when it comes to tools, there’s usually an inflection point where “saving” money just amounts to throwing money away on something that will work against you. Even with a good printer, there’s already enough frustration to deal with at the outset.

    I would think you could get at least a second-hand Ender3 for $75, and I think that would be wiser for anyone starting out. Even if this toy printer is better-made than it sounds, I think the 10cm build volume alone is enough to make life unnecessarily harder.

  3. i still havent found a reason to move up from my printrbot play. i just never found a need for a build area bigger than 4x8x5. the machine is built like a rock. while i would find use for a larger machine, what i have now is sufficient for what i bought it for, which was to print enclosures for my electronics projects.

  4. I would seriously consider picking up a $99 Ender 3 from Micro-Center instead. There are many sales online too, or check your local marketplaces for a used one.

    My first printer was a Monoprice Mini, and it was OK, not great.

  5. $120 will get you a kingroon kp3s @ 180mm³. Do less work to have a way better printer. 109ncm y nema17, 60watt chc, all metal hotend, dual 5015s, bmg clone with cnc machined gears. My quality profile is 250mms @ 12k accel and 4 sec layer time. Running modded factory mainboard and a bttpi. Maybe $250 total and it prints better than 95% of what I see on the yt.

  6. Started with a 2 up from Kickstarter probably over a decade ago, you can take a 3d printer, time, and a few cheap parts and turn it into whatever your imagination can come up with.

    That 2 up became a 3up which was a community mod to turn it into an extrusion framed hbot, then I used that to print a voron 2.0, now I’ve since built a could of voron 0.2’s with that, and upgraded it to a 2.4.

    It’s way more valuable to do this simply to learn and get good at 3d printing, vs just buying something, but if you can afford to do both, might as well 🤷‍♀️

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