For the last couple of years, consumer desktop 3D printer choices in the under $1,000 USD range have fallen into two broad categories: everything bellow $500 USD, and the latest Prusa i3. There are plenty of respectable printers made by companies such as Monoprice and Creality to choose from on that lower end of the scale. It wasn’t a luxury everyone could justify, but if you had the budget to swing the $749 for Prusa’s i3 kit, the choice became obvious.
Of course, that was before the Prusa Mini. Available as a kit for just $349, it’s far and away the cheapest printer that Prusa Research has ever offered. But this isn’t just some rebranded hardware, and it doesn’t compromise on the ideals that have made the company’s flagship machine the de facto open source FDM printer. For less than half the cost of the i3 MK3S, you’re not only getting most of the larger printer’s best features and Prusa’s renowned customer support, but even capabilities that presumably won’t make it to the i3 line until the MK4 is released.
Josef Průša was on hand to officially unveil his latest printer at the 2019 East Coast Reprap Festival, where I got the chance to get up close and personal with the diminutive machine. While it might be awhile before we can do a full review on the Mini, it’s safe to say that this small printer is going to have a big impact on the entry-level market.
If you own a desktop 3D printer, you’re almost certainly familiar with Slic3r. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s an excellent chance that a program you’ve used to convert STLs into the G-code your printer can understand was using Slic3r behind the scenes in some capacity. While there have been the occasional challengers, Slic3r has remained one of the most widely used open source slicers for the better part of a decade. While some might argue that proprietary slicers have pulled ahead in some respects, it’s hard to beat free.
So when Josef Prusa announced his team’s fork of Slic3r back in 2016, it wasn’t exactly a shock. The company wanted to offer a slicer optimized for their line of 3D printers, and being big proponents of open source, it made sense they would lean heavily on what was already available in the community. The result was the aptly named “Slic3r Prusa Edition”, or as it came to be known, Slic3r PE.
Ostensibly the fork enabled Prusa to fine tune print parameters for their particular machines and implement support for products such as their Multi-Material Upgrade, but it didn’t take long for Prusa’s developers to start fixing and improving core Slic3r functionality. As both projects were released under the GNU Affero General Public License v3.0, any and all of these improvements could be backported to the original Slic3r; but doing so would take considerable time and effort, something that’s always in short supply with community developed projects.
Since Slic3r PE still produced standard G-code that any 3D printer could use, soon people started using it with their non-Prusa printers simply because it had more features. But this served only to further blur the line between the two projects, especially for new users. When issues arose, it could be hard to determine who should take responsibility for it. All the while, the gap between the two projects continued to widen.
We’re not sure about the name of this Nixie tube filament meter that [Scott M. Baker] built. He calls it a “filadometer”, perhaps a portmanteau of “filament” and “odometer”, in which case it makes sense. It may not flow trippingly from the tongue and we can’t come up with anything better, but whatever moniker you use it’s actually a pretty cool build.
The filadometer started life as something completely different and utterly typical for Nixie tube projects – a temperature and humidity gauge. [Scott] decided to recycle the eight-tube display to keep track of his Prusa, and in doing so he reveals a pretty remarkable degree of forethought in his design process. The original Nixie display has all the usual trappings – the driver chips, the shift registers, and the high voltage power supply. What stands out is the modularity of his design: the tube sockets and drivers live on a backplane PCB, with a Raspberry Pi and a separate HV supply board plugging into it. The original display had a Model B Pi, so there was plenty of room for a new Zero W. A new printed case and a little programming to capture the filament use from Octoprint is all it took to put this nifty little build back in action. The video below shows the details.
If you own a 3D printer, you’ve heard of Thingiverse. The MakerBot-operated site has been the de facto model repository for 3D printable models since the dawn of desktop 3D printing, but over the years it’s fallen into a state of disrepair. Dated and plagued with performance issues, many in the community have been wondering how long MakerBot is still going to pay to keep the lights on. Alternatives have popped up occasionally, but so far none of them have been able to amass a large enough userbase to offer any sort of real competition.
But that might soon change. [Josef Průša] has announced a revamped community for owners of his 3D printers which includes a brand-new model repository. While clearly geared towards owners of Prusa FDM printers (support for the new SLA printer is coming at a later date), the repository is not exclusive to them. The immense popularity of Prusa’s products, plus the fact that the repository launched with a selection of models created by well known designers, might be enough to finally give Thingiverse a run for its money. Even if it just convinces MakerBot to make some improvements to their own service, it would be a win for the community.
The pessimists out there will say a Prusa-run model database is ultimately not far off from one where MakerBot is pulling the strings; and indeed, a model repository that wasn’t tied to a particular 3D printer manufacturer would be ideal. But given the passion for open development demonstrated by [Josef] and his eponymous company, we’re willing to bet that the site is never going to keep owners of other printers from joining in on the fun.
That being said, knowing that the users of your repository have the same printer (or a variant, at least) as those providing the designs does have its benefits. It allows for some neat tricks like being able to sort designs by their estimated print time, and even offers the ability to upload and download pre-sliced GCode files in place of traditional STLs. In fact, [Josef] boasts that this is the world’s only repository for ready-to-print GCode that you can just drop onto an SD card and print.
The Prusa i3 MK3 is, for lack of a better word, inescapable. Nearly every hacker or tech event that I’ve attended in 2018 has had dozens of them humming away, and you won’t get long looking up 3D printing on YouTube or discussion forums without somebody singing its praises. Demand for Prusa’s latest i3 printer is so high that there’s a literal waiting list to get one.
At the time of this writing, over a year after the printer was officially put up for sale, there’s still nearly a month lead time on the assembled version. Even longer if you want to wait on the upgraded powder coated bed, which has unfortunately turned out to be a considerable production bottleneck. But the team has finally caught up enough that the kit version of the printer (minus the powder coated bed) is currently in stock and shipping next day.
I thought this was a good a time as any to pull the trigger on the kit and see for myself what all the excitement is about. Now that I’ve had the Prusa i3 MK3 up and running for a couple of weeks, I can say with confidence that it’s not just hype. It isn’t a revolution in desktop 3D printing, but it’s absolutely an evolution, and almost certainly represents the shape of things to come for the next few years.
That said, it isn’t perfect. There’s still a few elements of the design that left me scratching my head a bit, and some parts of the assembly weren’t quite as smooth as the rest. I’ve put together some of those observations below. This isn’t meant to be a review of the Prusa i3 MK3 printer, there’s more than enough of those already, but hopefully these assorted notes may be of use to anyone thinking of jumping on the Prusa bandwagon now that production has started really ramping up.
For one reason or another, the World Maker Faire in New York has become the preeminent place to launch 3D printers. MakerBot did it with the Thing-O-Matic way back when, and over the years we’ve seen some interesting new advances come out of Queens during one special weekend in September.
Today Prusa Research announced their latest creation. It’s the resin printer you’ve all been waiting for. The Prusa SL1 is aiming to become the Prusa Mk 3 of the resin printer world: it’s a solid printer, it’s relatively cheap (kit price starts at $1299/€1299), and it produces prints that are at least as good as resin printers that cost three times as much.
The tech inside the SL1 is about what you’d expect if you’ve been following resin printers for a while. The resin is activated by a bank of LEDs shining through a photomask, in this case a 5.5 inch, 1440p display. Everything is printed on a removable bed that can be transferred over to a separate ‘curing chamber’ after the print is done. It’s more or less what you would expect, but there are some fascinating refinements to the design that make this a resin printer worthy of carrying the Prusa name.
Common problems with a masked SLA printer that uses LEDs and an LCD are the interface between the LCD and the resin, and the temperature of the display itself. Resin is not kind to LCD displays, and to remedy this problem, Prusa has included an FEP film on the bottom of the removable tank. This is a user-replaceable part (technically a consumable, at least to the same extent as a PEI build plate on a filament printer), and Prusa will be selling those as spare parts on their store. The LCD is also cooled; one of the major drawbacks of shining several watts of UV through an LCD is the lifetime of the display. Cooling the display helps, and should greatly increase the lifetime of the printer. All of this is wrapped up in an exceptionally heavy metal case with the lovely hinged UV-opaque orange plastic lid.
Of course, saying you’ve built a resin printer is one thing, but how do the prints look? Exceptional. The Prusa booth at Maker Faire was loaded up with sample prints from the machine, and they’re of the same high quality you would expect from the Form 3D printers that have been the go-to in the resin printer world. The Prusa SLA also works with big-O Open resins, meaning you’re not tied to a single resin vendor.
This is just the announcement of the Prusa resin printer, but they are taking preorders. The price for the kit — no word on how complex of a kit it is — is $1300, while the assembled printer is $1600, with the first units shipping in January.
There’s little debate that the Original Prusa i3 MK3 by Prusa Research is just about the best desktop 3D printer you can buy, at least in its price bracket. It consistently rates among the highest machines in terms of print quality and consistency, and offers cutting edge features thanks to its open source iterative development. Unless you’re trying to come in under a specific budget, you really can’t go wrong with a Prusa machine.
But while the machine itself can be counted on to deliver consistent results, the same can’t always be said for the filament you feed into it. In a recent blog post, [Josef Prusa] explains that his team was surprised to see just how poor the physical consistency was on even premium brands of 3D printer filament. As a company that prides itself with keeping as much of the 3D printing experience under their control as possible, they felt they had an obligation to do better for their customers. That’s why they’ve started making their own filament which they can hold to the same standards as the rest of their printer.
Their new filament, which is aptly called “Prusament”, is held to higher physical standards of not only diameter but ovality. Many manufacturers simply perform spot checks on the filament’s diameter, but this can miss bulges or changes in its cross-sectional shape. On your average 3D printer this might cause some slightly uneven extrusion and a dip in print quality, but likely not a failure. But the Prusa i3 MK3, specifically with the Multi Material upgrade installed, isn’t most printers. During testing even these slight variations were enough to cause jams.
But you won’t have to take their word for it. Every spool of Prusament will have a QR code that points to a page which tells you the exact production date, length, percent ovality, and standard diameter deviation of that particular roll. An interactive graph will even allow you to find the filament’s diameter for a specific position in the spool, as well as determine how much filament is remaining for a given spool weight. It should be very interesting to see what the community will do with this information, and we predict some very interesting OctoPrint plugins coming down the line.
Prusament is currently only available in PLA, but PETG and ASA variants are coming soon. You can order it now directly from Prusa Research in Prague for $24.99 per kilogram, but it will also be available on Amazon within the month for help keep the shipping costs down.