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obsolete
obsolete GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/7/22 4:04 p.m.

After years of standing on the sidelines, I've decided that I want to get a 3D printer. The reason I've held off so long is that I'm not really looking for another hobby. I want a 3D printer that I can use as a tool to help me prototype car parts, reproduce stuff like NLA plastic trim clips and fasteners, and make cool gadgets like a smartphone mount, etc. I understand there's going to be some amount of setup and troubleshooting, which I can handle, but the seemingly endless bug fixing, tweaking, and upgrading that I see folks with lower-end/DIY 3D printers doing doesn't seem worthwhile to me. I hope to be able to print decent quality stuff from the start without a lot of frustration.

The two options I'm familiar with are a ~$200 Creality that seems to involve a lot of screwing around, or an ~$800 Prusa that seems to be more or less plug and play. I told my family that I was interested in a printer for my birthday this year, and I think that something in the $300-$500 range would be reasonable for them to split up as one big gift instead of getting me a bunch of smaller gifts. My wife insists we can go over that budget if necessary, but I think I would feel guilty having something in the Prusa price range just sitting around if I'm not using it that often.

So, given that loose set of guidelines, what does the hive think? 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/7/22 4:05 p.m.

I wrote an intro to 3D printing article a few months back; might be worth a read if you haven't seen it yet. 

RevRico
RevRico UltimaDork
7/7/22 4:18 p.m.

Do you want fdm or resin? Pros and cons to both. Price points are crazy. 

My $200 Anet A8 required rewriting most of its software and was still a pain. My $200 Longer LK4 has been a tank since it came out of the box, and has needed absolutely no screwing around or printing upgraded parts, it just works.

But I want smooth prints, without a need for stability or toughness, so I'm eyeballing the ~$400 Elegoo Saturn resin printer. Huge print area, for resin, cheap, good slicer software, and reviews and forum posts I've seen have all been great. 

obsolete
obsolete GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/7/22 4:25 p.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard :

Thanks Tom. Lots of useful info there. The line "keeping a low-end 3D printer running is a hobby all by itself" is pretty much the reason I don't own an Ender 3 already.

obsolete
obsolete GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/7/22 4:30 p.m.

In reply to RevRico :

The resin printers are really cool, but I think an FDM printer will do everything I need.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/7/22 4:33 p.m.
obsolete said:

In reply to Tom Suddard :

Thanks Tom. Lots of useful info there. The line "keeping a low-end 3D printer running is a hobby all by itself" is pretty much the reason I don't own an Ender 3 already.

That's not been my experience. I've got my Enter 3 set up to be pretty solid when printing PLA and ABS and I just don't futz with it. It's become a pretty reliable tool that supports other projects without becoming part of the project itself.

 

When i got it, I did the following:

- added a Pi running Octopi and a webcam. This has made the workflow really smooth, and previous Pi experience made it quite painless
- added a Creality enclosure (aka tent) to keep things warm when doing ABS. This was a matter of buying one.
- upgraded the tubing, not because I was having trouble but because I got a deal on a batch of nozzles with new tubing and I wanted a stash of spare nozzles
- printed a filament guide, mostly because it was a useful thing to print at the beginning
- added a glass bed. This was a matter of buying one
- added an auto-leveling sensor. I think this was a wash in terms of overall time, as it screws up occasionally and since I'm not changing beds or filaments the leveling was pretty consistent anyhow. This is an example of the sort of modification you make because you're told you should, not because you have a problem.

Everything else is out-of-the-box. The only real tweak I've made was to tighten up some of the wheels on the bottom of the bed, as there was some play that was giving me trouble with leveling. This was mechanically very obvious, I did not need to watch any YouTube videos :)

 

Printing is a matter of slicing in Cura, saving to the Pi (it maps as a drive on my laptop), giving the bed a spritz of hairspray and hitting "print".

If I was always messing with different filaments or trying to get it to do different things, I could certainly spend a lot of time on it.

Turbo_Rev
Turbo_Rev Reader
7/7/22 10:45 p.m.

The Ender3 really isn't that bad. Not nearly. I printed a motor shim for the z-axis stepper motor. That was the only "fix" I've applied. Other than that, I haven't had a problem with mine yet (2 years). I put better leveling springs, a few printed knobs, and a cable chain on mine but those are not vitally important.

These guys have thousands of hours using Ender3's. They're focused on printing guns but their guide is very, very good:

https://ctrlpew.com/the-complete-getting-started-guide/

RacetruckRon
RacetruckRon GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/7/22 11:26 p.m.

Ender 3 gets a bad rap for messing with because you either get the people that tweak every little thing to try and make them print like a 30k Stratsys machine or the mouth breather that call Phillips heads the "cross screwdriver". I have 3 Ender3s that have needed very little maintenance in their several hundred hours of print time.
I always recommend a metal extruder, Capricorn Bowden tube, spare nozzles, a mirror tile cut down to fit the bed and then to leave it the hell alone. 

That being said the Prusa is really nice and definitely a nicer machine. I'm a cheap ass and I'm not very patient so I bought a couple Enders so I can print more than one thing at a time. 

obsolete
obsolete GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/8/22 3:08 p.m.

Thanks guys, good perspective on the Ender 3. I'll spec one out with the suggested upgrades and see how it stacks up vs. others.

Does anyone have thoughts on the Anycubic printers? They were mentioned a few times in the comments on Tom's article. I looked around their website a bit and found the Kobra Max--it stretches the budget a little bit, but the huge build area is really tempting. Actually, the price seems really competitive vs. an Ender 5 Plus. I know large objects can be made from smaller prints and assembled, but the idea of printing a whole custom radio faceplate or shifter surround for the center console of my car as a single piece is interesting. I can't find a tent for it, though.

I think I want a tent, because this printer will live in the garage, which is insulated and has heat and A/C but is also dusty and home to several spiders.

Turbo_Rev
Turbo_Rev Reader
7/8/22 3:22 p.m.

In reply to obsolete :

Would also build an enclosure.

You can build an enclosure fairly easily. Or find a printer already enclosed, although that usually means same volume but higher price. 

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4329191

That's a DIY enclosure for an Ender5 that uses IKEA parts. There's enclosure like that for other printers, you just gotta check. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
7/8/22 6:44 p.m.

What's a honest estimate for the cost to get started printing FDM semi-structural parts in PLA?  ABS?  * without DIYing the crap out of everything 

 

I'm super gunshy about this due to my experience with home level printers circa 2010 but I'm almost at the point where I am willing to give it a shot.  I imagine it has to be easier to deal with than my Maslow

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/8/22 6:53 p.m.

We bought a Solidoodle back in the day so I totally understand the hesitation.  The cheapest Enter is night and day different.

I'd say $300 would give you enough to start with. All prices from Amazon because it's easy to look up.

$189 Ender 3
$45 for a couple of spools of filament
$10 for a pack of spare nozzles
$18 for a glass bed (official Creality, or you buy a cheap mirror)
$20 for a Capricorn tubing set and a metal extruder

That's enough to get you printing reliably in my experience. Heck, I don't even have the metal extruder.  For ABS, you might want to jury-rig some sort of tent/enclosure. That can be as simple as a frame of PVC tube with a space blanket taped over top.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
7/8/22 10:05 p.m.

Thank you Keith.

Looks like a tent is $57 from a 10 second google.

So if my calculator is right...  $339 all in.  Dang that's cheap.  That's like 10% of what I paid for the last one I messed with!  And literally cheaper than many of the parts that come off the machines at work.  Pretty low risk in that sense.

Did you compare against many other machines before getting the Ender?  I'm looking for the Miata of home printers in this sense in the sense that it is "the answer".

 

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/9/22 1:15 a.m.

I certainly can't claim to have researched the field deeply. My choice of the Ender 3 was due to the fact that they seemed to be everywhere, there was a lot of info available and then Newegg offered a really good deal that was cheap enough to make it worth the risk. We have high end printers at work that I can use for the cost of filament, so I just needed something I could use to verify my models before going to the effort of getting into the queue and retrieving the parts. As it turned out, I haven't had to have anything printed on the work printers since because I can do "good enough" at home now. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
7/9/22 4:35 p.m.

Ok, before I pull the trigger... hardware is only 1 piece of the equation.  What is the software like?  Not CAD - I have plent of that, but the CNC/slicer/g-code/whatever "printing" software is needed? 

I'm assuming the Ender has its own microprocessor to run the process, or does it neede to be tied to a host computer for the duration of the print?

RacetruckRon
RacetruckRon GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/9/22 4:45 p.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

Cura or Slic3r (now Prusa Slicer) are both really powerful and free options.
Don't bother with Simplify3D I bought it 6 years ago when the others weren't as refined. They haven't updated Simplify3D in that time and have been promising a new version that existing users would have to buy for the last 3 years. Big nope there. 

Turbo_Rev
Turbo_Rev Reader
7/9/22 10:42 p.m.

Prusa Slicer is about as good as it gets and is free. Your slicer only needs to be able to export the file type your printer reads. Once the file is in the printer (by usb cable or SD card), you can access it via the printer's screen, press start, and it'll print using whatever settings you established in your slicer. You can tune settings from the printer on the fly but that's something to learn about later. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/9/22 11:09 p.m.

I've been using Cura myself. 

The printer speaks gcode, which is basically a series of standard instructions like "move x axis 0.5mm" "extrude 0.1mm of filament" etc in a text file. Those are likely not valid examples but it's something like that :) Gcode is pretty universal, it's used by plotters and laser cutters and embroidery machines and and and. The slicer translates your 3D model to gcode. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
7/9/22 11:17 p.m.

Ok sounds pretty straightforward, and less of a pain in the ass than A) the two older Stratasys machines we have at work, which require a dedicated PC to run and B) my Maslow, which requires a PC to run as well.  I.E. the software that interprets the G-code and commands the CNC is based on the PC, and connects to the 'controller' via USB and it must stay plugged in/operational for the duration of any work.

Turbo_Rev
Turbo_Rev Reader
7/10/22 10:15 a.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

Most machines will still run that way (plugged in to a PC) but it's kind of a non- optimal set up, for the reasons you've alluded to.

One thing that is a cool use of the usb port is running and monitoring your printer remotely (look up octoprint) but that's a setup you can toy with later, if you're so inclined. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
7/10/22 10:23 a.m.

I could totally see myself going down that rabbit hole... I have more than a few decommission Pis laying around at this point I could repurpose for that.  Then again, everything I do with a Pi turns out to be 100x the effort I wanted it to be, so I do my best to try and avoid new projects :)

Ooooh but I do have an older android sitting around that would be perfect for that.  Dammit.

 

Anyway, thanks for all the help, I'll gather up a shopping cart later and hopefully pull the trigger on everything today.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
7/10/22 11:22 a.m.

Would any of you mind taking a quick look at this and make sure these parts are good and I'm not missing something important?  Thanks 

Ender 3 with the glass build plate: https://www.amazon.com/Creality-3D-Tempered-Upgraded-235x235mmx4mm/dp/B09ZLLR985

Metal extruder and Capricorn Tubing: https://www.amazon.com/CREALITY-Upgrade-Capricorn-Upgraded-Extruder/dp/B08KY3PT5L/

Random pack of spare nozzles: https://www.amazon.com/Hardened-Temperature-Resistant-Compatible-Makerbot/dp/B089ZY11DD/

Spool o' Filament: https://www.amazon.com/Creality-Printer-Filament-Dimensional-Accuracy/dp/B09LH898SZ/

Enclosure:  https://www.amazon.com/Fireproof-Dustproof-Temperature-Protective-445x565x685MM/dp/B0827Y9YTH/

 

 


Are there any additional parts needed to run ABS or PETG?  

Do you have to seal your filament for storage somehow?  Or the spool during use?

 

RacetruckRon
RacetruckRon GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/10/22 1:02 p.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

Add in an Elmers Glue Stick, it helps with bed adhesion for PLA. Other than that it looks like a good starter list. 

obsolete
obsolete GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/11/22 3:40 p.m.

Thanks ProDarwin for picking this thread up and continuing to ask good questions while I was too busy to keep up with it, so I can continue to learn. And thanks everyone else for the helpful answers.

I've been doing more research--I got enamored with the "huge build area" printers like the Ender 5 Plus and the Anycubic Kobra Max for a while, but it seems those are largely targeted toward cosplayers who want to print entire adult sized helmets. That's neat, but I don't really need to do that. I think the biggest thing I ever want to print would be 9" square, which is just slightly over what an Ender 3 will do. That has me looking at the CR-6 SE (9.25" square), Ender 6 (9.8" square), CR-10 V3 (11.8" square), or Anycubic Kobra Plus (also 11.8").

There are bunch of features I'm still trying to decide how much I care about:

  • Bed material. The Kobra comes with a textured glass bed that I've read works very well. All three Creality printers I'm looking at also come with one too; I haven't read anyone raving about its quality, but I have read some complaints about it not being flat. Some people seem to love the flexible PEI beds, which I think can be retrofitted to any of the above printers, but I'm not sure whether that would be an upgrade or not. I've read that they can be hard to keep clean and that the coating is easily damaged.
  • Direct drive extruder vs. Bowden tube. Apparently direct drive is better at printing softer filaments like TPU, which I don't think I have a use for, but you never know. I guess I could print bushings? Direct drive is supposed to produce cleaner prints with less stringing, but can also apparently compromise accuracy due to slinging a heavier print head around. Really wondering how much this matters on a printer like a Kobra or CR-10 that's also slinging the whole bed around.
  • Automatic bed leveling. The Kobra's LeviQ system is supposed to be best in class, all the reviewers seem to like it. Of the Creality printers I'm looking at, only the CR-6 SE includes automatic bed leveling. If I want to add it to one of the others, I would need to add a BL Touch or CR Touch and flash the firmware to support it.
  • Speed and frame design. The Ender 6 has a much more rigid frame and moves the bed vertically instead of horizontally (CoreXY system). It claims much higher print speed than any of the others, although reviews say that quality drops off noticeably at higher speeds, so I'm not sure whether it's really worth it. The Ender 6 is also semi-enclosed, which is nice, although I'd still want to enclose the top to keep dust out.

Unless there are good reasons I should really want direct drive or CoreXY, I am leaning toward the Anycubic Kobra Plus. It seems like a good quality product that works well out of the box and has a pretty generous print area. If anyone feels like that's the wrong choice, let me know.

Turbo_Rev
Turbo_Rev Reader
7/11/22 4:10 p.m.

In reply to obsolete :

The only two things I've ever really cared about are print bed material and auto leveling. 

I always use a smooth glass bed with glue stick. For everything. Nothing has preformed as well for me. Painter's tape is a distant second. The Ender brand textured glass is probably okay but it's just never worked for me. So, at the end of the day, I usually discount this "feature" entirely. 

Auto leveling is nice but it hasn't been a deal-breaker. Using the Ender3 as an example again, I replaced the springs with stiffer ones and the number of times I need to level has diminished considerably. I'm talking a few different prints at a week a piece before leveling again. Z-axis tuning also helps cut down on the number of times a bit. 

That said it is a really nice feature. Mainly depends on how much they're charging for it.

I've used printers made from folded steel and the "gantry" style ones like the Ender3 and haven't noticed much difference in print quality from rigidity; absolute worst case, you can probably find printable fixes for any printer that isn't rigid enough. Print speed is adjustable in every slicer I've ever seen. 

I would say that besides the two I mentioned, the only other features that really sway me are what materials can it print, print volume, and price. 

 

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