The part that most people hear when they hear the phrase “3D Printer” is the “3D” part. What you really need to hear is the “Printer” part. As in “I just purchased a printer and, instead of a solid-state unmoving device like my LCD screen, now it has to go through a mechanical process to produce output with all sorts of moving parts that can break.”
So I’ve avoided getting a 3D printer, even though they are awesome in a bunch of ways.
I finally broke down and got a printer for one big reason: I decided that there was enough organizers for my stuff to be printed that I’d come out ahead, so even if the thing flakes out after a while and I get tired of fixing it, I’d still be happier and come out ahead compared to endless 3D prints sent away, plus I always felt weird sending random interesting Thingiverse designs from other people to Treatstock.
Furthermore, there are a bunch of other reasons to own your own printer, instead of using a site like Treatstock that will let you use someone else’s Ender or Prusa. Some of these reasons represent considerable annoyance on my part:
- If you are printing something that looks like it might be too much work for somebody on one of the services, they’ll suddenly be out of filament because, obviously, it’s better for them to be “out of filament” instead of dealing with a customer who might file a complaint either because the printer person was mean or just because the printer person failed to deliver on an impossible mission.
- There’s a lot of neat stuff in the space, advantages of a 3D printer really, for print-in-place hinges and gears and stuff. And a lot of things are easier when you can do snap-together parts with dovetails. But these sorts of parts dialed in is hard when your cycle times are measured in weeks.
- You may not get the same printer every time and thus, any adjustments might be off anyway.
- They won’t always have the perfect color for you. Or if you want one particular rainbow of colors, you’d have to go through multiple providers.
- There’s a lot of interesting stuff you can do with 3D printing atop cloth, switching filaments, et al. that’s too hard to specify to someone else.
- There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with a general-purpose light-duty tool-holder.
I ended up deciding to get an Ender 3 v2. My reasoning was something like this:
- The install base for an Ender 3 is huge. This means that there’s a ton of mods, most of them seriously questionable and/or dangerous and/or poorly thought out out there… but it also means that there’s a lot of information out there. And some of the mods are actually pretty solid looking.
- The Ender 3 is vaguely kinda sorta open source. My impression is that Creality isn’t super-happy anymore with the results of open-sourcing their printers. If I look at the pull requests and issues on the github for the Ender 3 repo, I can see why, honestly. Nontheless, there are at least a reasonable set of diagrams with which I can use to maintain my printer myself.
- It’s not so expensive that I’ll be afraid of screwing with it, breaking it, or whatnot. If I got a Prusa, I’d probably keep it stock the whole time.
- The Ender 3 v2 has a 32-bit ARM board so I won’t be wanting to replace the controller card right away.
- Creality makes their printers out of 2020 extrusion, which means that if fits into the tinker-toy aluminum extrusion infrastructure.
The setup and stuff.
My friend the Crafty Sorceress and I synchronized swatches. She got a Prusa i3 with a multi-material-adapter in kit form, I got the Ender 3v2. And we both joined a livestream and were yapping while we built up our printers. We started around 1:05 PM.
I mostly followed the RuiRaptor build guide except that I got a pair of 1-2-3 blocks and some clamps and used that to fastidiously square things instead of trying to use a square. The Z axis stepper did require a bit of love to get it all angled properly.
It was mostly together by 5, but I was having problems getting the whole works leveled properly. I hate leveling. I suspect that I’d be a tad bit happier if there was a “manual level” mode because I scraped the nozzle against the bed a few times while trying to figure it out and I very clearly want to get a bed leveling sensor right away. I also had a bit of a time getting it to extrude, I had to do a pull, which might have been coupled with scraping the bed.
If I hadn’t screwed up the leveling, I suspect the first print would have been at least mostly OK. Also it took longer because I did want to open up to check to make sure that all of the interior bits looked at least reasonable.
- It arrived set to 220v instead of 115v, so it was good to check.
- The bed has some sort of coating on it. It looks like a sheet of relatively flat glass that they’ve then applied a resin-ish sort of thing on top of. Apparently it’s also a bit of a problem to clean; the marketing material suggests that alcohol or acetone might work but there’s some posts on the official forum that suggest that you want to use nothing harsher than water. I’m going to assume that the bed is, over the long-term, a consumable item.
- You should probably back up the card that comes with the printer before you try to use it. There are apparently some excellent failure modes there that will wipe it, as I discovered by realizing that one of them had been triggered and the card was empty.
- The Ender 3 v2 board will backpower the USB port, which is kind of a problem when you are using a Pi.
- The stepper drivers, as advertised, are silent. The fans, on the other hand, are not. This is probably kinda OK because it’s a lot easier to swap out fans than stepper drivers and then also if you are going to swap out the fans, you are going to be otherwise modding the printer.
Have I printed something actually useful that isn’t a test piece or a printer accessory yet?
Of course not.
The first object was one of the supplied gcode files, which got screwed up at the end. Then I got Octoprint working so I didn’t need to deal with SD cards. Then I started printing calibration bits, which took a while. Then I finally got it to the point where I could print a calibration cube and a vaguely acceptable Benchy, and then I could finally print a clip to mount the Pi Camera atop the Pi so I didn’t need to look over at the printer anymore, and now I’m starting over with the calibration process and hopefully I’ll be able to go back to printing real things again.