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Shopping For a 3D Printer - Advice and Opinions Needed

Snarls

Gravity Tester
Mentor
#1
Hey everyone, I am looking for opinions and advice on 3D printers. I am hoping to finally get my own 3D printer early this winter. Problem is, I know barely anything about 3D printers. I know the general concept of how they work, but I have no idea what makes one printer better than another. So what features should I be looking for? I've heard that certain steppers and extruders are better than others. Then there are self leveling beds and height detection features. What about filaments and filament sizes. My budget is under $500, but I would like to find something around $300 or less. I am more than comfortable spending the time to build from parts, but I do not want to spend weeks tuning the machine to get satisfying prints. Thanks everyone!
 

ZoomNBoom

Senior Member
#3
Hey everyone, I am looking for opinions and advice on 3D printers. I am hoping to finally get my own 3D printer early this winter. Problem is, I know barely anything about 3D printers. I know the general concept of how they work, but I have no idea what makes one printer better than another. So what features should I be looking for? I've heard that certain steppers and extruders are better than others. Then there are self leveling beds and height detection features. What about filaments and filament sizes. My budget is under $500, but I would like to find something around $300 or less. I am more than comfortable spending the time to build from parts, but I do not want to spend weeks tuning the machine to get satisfying prints. Thanks everyone!
About filament size; bigger is better. 3mm filament is cheaper per Kg and should give you a little better print quality because the volume per meter of filament is easier to control the thicker it is. Downside is that the extruder might be marginally more expensive because it needs to be able to give a little higher pressure. Still, go for 3mm.

Self leveling is all about ease of use. Nice to have, no big deal if you dont have it. Likewise for Z axis height detection. The latter is even nicer to have though, as you need to adjust it more regularly.

As for other things to look for; a sturdy frame first and foremost. Having a frame that flexes even a tiny bit under the high loads will ruin print quality and severely limit your speed. Dont underestimate with how much force a 3D printer moves and shakes,especially if you want to print fast.

You need to figure out what materials you want to print; if you want to print ABS, you will realistically need a heated bed and preferably a enclosure around the print area. If you only want to print PLA and PLA derivatives, you dont need those things, and you can save some money not buying them.

You'll need to chose between bowden en direct extrusion. Bowden can lead to more frequent jamming. OTOH, if your nozzle moves and not the bed, the bowden is lighter and therefore allows higher speeds. If you get a printer where the bed moves and the extruder remains static, you'll want direct feed.

What else; you probably want a somewhat popular printer with a support community around it to help out, provide upgraded parts etc.

Lastly, if your budget allows it, consider a printer that can be upgraded to dual extruders. Being able to print dissolvable support material is the one thing I really miss on my K8200.
 

Balu

Moderator
Staff member
Admin
Moderator
#4
I'm just starting with my Tiny Boy mini printer, so I'm interested to learn stuff too here :)

What's the difference between self-leveling and Z-axis-height-detection?

Interesting to read that bigger filament is better. I understand that deviations in the thickness are probably less problematic for bigger filaments (because a small deviation has less effect), but I'd have thought that with bigger filaments, you also need bigger nozzles? The combination between filament, extruder type and extruder nozzle width is one of the things left that confuses me if I ever wanted to build one myself.

One thing that shifted me towards a bowden extruder was the lower mass of the print head. Because as you said, if you want speed you either need a light hot end or keep the extruder fixed and move the bed. And a moving bed makes the adhesion of the material more important, because the object might get shaken loose.
 

ZoomNBoom

Senior Member
#5
I'm just starting with my Tiny Boy mini printer, so I'm interested to learn stuff too here :)

What's the difference between self-leveling and Z-axis-height-detection?
I guess the term "self leveling" gets abused too often to indicate Z axis height detection. To me level is ensuring the bed is perfectly horizontal, so you'd have to probe the z axis in at least 3 places and adjust the bed accordingly.. Not something you'll find on many consumer printers.

Interesting to read that bigger filament is better. I understand that deviations in the thickness are probably less problematic for bigger filaments (because a small deviation has less effect), but I'd have thought that with bigger filaments, you also need bigger nozzles?
No, there is no problem using <0.2mm nozzles with 3mm filament.

The combination between filament, extruder type and extruder nozzle width is one of the things left that confuses me if I ever wanted to build one myself.
Nozzles can be changed fairly easily (on most hotends) and you will want several sizes and change them depending if you want high speed/large objects or high accuracy. Material also plays a role, you dont want to print PLA wood with a too fine nozzle because it will clog. PET will become opaque if you print with a too fine nozzle. And you dont want to print flex pla with a too large nozzle, because it will droop all over the place.

As for the extruder type, the printer type will pretty much determine that; if your extruder moves, even in just 1 axis, bowden might be the way to go if you care about speed. Otherwise, direct feed just makes more sense.

One thing that shifted me towards a bowden extruder was the lower mass of the print head. Because as you said, if you want speed you either need a light hot end or keep the extruder fixed and move the bed. And a moving bed makes the adhesion of the material more important, because the object might get shaken loose.
If it gets shaken loose just by moving, then its not sticking nearly well enough. typically its the nozzle that will hit some built up filament that will make the print come lose. Best tip I ever got to make your prints stick: forget the blue tape for PLA, forget Kapton tape for ABS. Get some hair lacquer spray. One thin coat will last for many dozens of prints with any material I ever tried and stick fantastically. At least on my heated bed, when it cools down it does come off more easily.
 

Snarls

Gravity Tester
Mentor
#6
I will be starting a build thread to my Folger Tech 2020 in a couple days. I have started building it.
Good to hear you picked something. Looking forward to the build thread!

About filament size; bigger is better.
Good to know. I see a lot of models with 1.75mm filament out there. I will look for 3mm models, but if I end up with 1.75mm how easy is it to upgrade to 3mm?

Self leveling is all about ease of use. Nice to have, no big deal if you dont have it. Likewise for Z axis height detection. The latter is even nicer to have though, as you need to adjust it more regularly.
How often do you have to level the bed and how long does it take? I would rather not have to spend a good deal of time before every print making adjustments to the printer.


You need to figure out what materials you want to print; if you want to print ABS, you will realistically need a heated bed and preferably a enclosure around the print area. If you only want to print PLA and PLA derivatives, you dont need those things, and you can save some money not buying them.
I will probably be using mostly PLA and also I have been looking at flexible PLA. I do want the ability to use ABS though, but it is not a deal breaker.

You'll need to chose between bowden en direct extrusion.

Lastly, if your budget allows it, consider a printer that can be upgraded to dual extruders. Being able to print dissolvable support material is the one thing I really miss on my K8200.
I'll probably go with bowden so I don't have to worry about swinging the mass of a direct extruder around. Dual extruders for dissolvable material sounds nice, I really don't care too much about printing in two colors though.

With regards to sticking the print to the bed, I once used the printer at my school and it required painting the glass bed with a clear gel like glue. It basically glues the plastic to the glass and took half an hour of prying to get off. Maybe we used too much, but I hope the printer I get secures the print in a way that is much easier to remove.

I'm just starting with my Tiny Boy mini printer, so I'm interested to learn stuff too here
I like your Tiny Boy thread Balu. It is an interesting kit, but the printing area is too small for me. Should be fine for most RC parts, but I like to tinker with a large variety of things that may require larger prints.
 

ZoomNBoom

Senior Member
#7
Good to know. I see a lot of models with 1.75mm filament out there. I will look for 3mm models, but if I end up with 1.75mm how easy is it to upgrade to 3mm?
Not very easy. I guess it depends on the printer, but you may need another extruder (at least another hobbed bolt) and hotend, and you may need another stepper motor too.

How often do you have to level the bed and how long does it take? I would rather not have to spend a good deal of time before every print making adjustments to the printer.
Not that often, although once more, it will depend on the printer. For instance on my K8200 the thumb wheels that level the bed tend to shake lose with time. The hot bed may also warp a little with temperature, so you may want to check when switching between materials that require different bed temperatures. But other than that, it should only be when you do maintenance, like cleaning (and thus removing) the nozzle or something.

Its not much work you know, just slide a piece of paper underneath the nozzle and turn the adjustment wheel until its correct. Auto Z adjustment is mostly useful if you are printing remotely, its one less thing to worry about or walk to your printer for. The first weeks/months of your first printer, you're not likely to want to printer far away anyway, you'll likely be staring at it for hours while it prints ;).

I'll probably go with bowden so I don't have to worry about swinging the mass of a direct extruder around.
You'll have other things to worry about then, there is no free lunch. Also dont overstate the mass of the extruder, its not that heavy (depending of course on design), when compared to the moving bed. Especially a heated bed with mirror on it. Also consider that having one object move in 3 dimensions makes it more suspectable to errors accumulating. Its easier to build something sturdy and accurate if you only have to worry about 1 or 2 axis. I assume thats the main reason many high end machines have moving beds, despite the fact it reduces your print surface.

Dual extruders for dissolvable material sounds nice, I really don't care too much about printing in two colors though.
I dont care about colors either,but dissolvable support material has to be awesome. So many things Ive wanted to print, but then I looked at the amount of support material id have to dremel out (can be a real PITA) and decided not to print it.

With regards to sticking the print to the bed, I once used the printer at my school and it required painting the glass bed with a clear gel like glue. It basically glues the plastic to the glass and took half an hour of prying to get off. Maybe we used too much, but I hope the printer I get secures the print in a way that is much easier to remove.
Got one with a hot bed then. You make it stick and unstick just by regulating the temperature. On large prints, after it finished and the bed cools, it will literally make a crackling or popping sound, and I can just take it off. While hot, its like glued to it.
 

Basscor

New member
#8
If you want a DIY printer kit, a Prusa i3 is usually a solid choice so long as you can grab a 3mm hot end as noted by Zoom. they can be found many places and you can ge at whole kit for under 500 if you shop around. If you want a nice prefabbed printer the M3D Micro sounds like a good option: https://printm3d.com/ but it's on the smaller side.


In regards to the prints sticking, I recently switched to a zebra plate and it works very well for PLA provided you the bed leveled correctly: http://www.printinz.com/zebra-plates/

The one drawback is that since it is a semi-flexible plate, you have to have a rigid and flat plate to clamp it to.

Haven't tried ABS on it yet, broke the thermistor on the heated bed :(
 

Maingear

Flugzeug Liebhaber
#10
I just got a taz 3 with all the parts I need to upgrade to a taz5. It may be a little over your price range, but is open source, uses quality parts, and easily upgradeable. Community support is huge! I highly recommend going to a local makerspace and picking their brain, they will probably let you use the one they have.

I used this guy to buy a used 3D printer.. http://i-t-w.com/3dprinters/
BTW, he did a Ted talk. https://youtu.be/CQnXaShzuHw

Taz Forums- https://forum.lulzbot.com/viewforum.php?f=7&sid=b9f537ecf68e95794be98f9b33187dc8


Justin
 

Snarls

Gravity Tester
Mentor
#11
Thanks for the info everyone! Right now I'm just shopping around for different models. I really like the Prusa i3 models and the Folger Tech 2020 that markyoe got (not sure if that is an i3). I'm keeping an eye on markyoe's build log in the mean time. I will probably not choose what printer I get for another month or so, but I still encourage people to share their advice or lessons they've learned.

One question I do have right now is whether the extruder requires something to pull the filament off the reel and feed it into the extruder. The printer I used in school once had a tube to guide the filament, but the tube was lost and we had to feed manually pull the filament off the reel to give the extruder some slack. It was really annoying because you could not leave the printer unattended.
 

markyoe

Senior Member
#12
I really like the Prusa i3 models and the Folger Tech 2020 that markyoe got (not sure if that is an i3)
One question I do have right now is whether the extruder requires something to pull the filament off the reel and feed it into the extruder. The printer I used in school once had a tube to guide the filament, but the tube was lost and we had to feed manually pull the filament off the reel to give the extruder some slack. It was really annoying because you could not leave the printer unattended.
Yes, the Folger Tech 2020 is an i3 style printer. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I think a direct drive extruder pulls the filament itself and a bowden has something that feeds it to the extruder. The Folger Tech 2020 has a direct drive, so we will see how that goes.