I’ve been interested in 3D printing for quite a while. I was introduced to it back in the early 2000s when there were only two printers at Purdue. The stereolithography printer was over $100K and made some incredible parts (I only saw the machine and its output – I never did anything with it). The desktop printer was $30K and not near as cool, but I got a chance to work with it a little.
Fast forward 11 years or so and 3D printing is possible at much lower prices. I started paying attention to the products coming out or getting going on Kickstarter. The prices were a bit high, but there were some lower-cost printers on the horizon. I followed Makibox for over a year, waiting for the A6 to see the light of day. It was only $350 shipped and the output looked good. Once it started to ship I checked out the forums to see what owners were saying. I was not impressed.
I decided to keep researching and came up with some ideas for how to consider choosing a printer:
- Price – Printers are expensive – I have to be able to afford it, but you tend to get what you pay for.
- Printing materials – The two most popular materials are ABS and PLA plastics. They both have strengths and weaknesses I won’t get into in this post. PLA seems to be the most popular now. It does not require as many features on the printer as ABS. It’s also possible to print nylon, PET, wood-based plastics, and other thermoplastics.
- Open source vs. proprietary software and control – Most desktop printers are derived from reprap open source printers, but some are completely turn-key from a vendor. The reprap-based printers can use several different software available online and can be tweaked by the user, but require more technical savvy. Turn-key printers tend to be all proprietary, which may restrict them to certain materials and capabilities, but may be considered easier to use.
- Print size – How big of an object can the printer make?
- User community and user comments – Read what users say about the product. How easy is it to use? How does it hold up? etc…
- Vendor/Manufacturer – What do users think of them? How long have they been around? Where are they in the world? What kind of support do they offer?
- Number of extruders – Most printers have one extruder, which means it can print with one material and color at a time. Some have two extruders, which means that they can print with either two different colors or material types (or both of course).
After researching for months I came up with what I believe is the perfect combination of the above – the Makergear M2.
- Price is on the higher side of the average for desktop printers. I purchased the “kit” version, which lowered the price considerably.
- Prints ABS and PLA. ABS requires a heated bed, which is not available on many printers (including Makerbot’s newest printers).
- Uses open source electronics and software. They have an option for commercial software if you want an easier start up experience. This means that using other materials is a possibility. Each material has different extruding needs (temperature, speed…), which can be tweaked with software choices.
- Large print area – 8″x10″x8″
- I was really impressed by what I was reading on the forums and reviews.
- Makergear is in Ohio and most of the hardware is made in that region!
- Single extruder, which is fine for now. Makergear has said that a dual extruder is in the works and will be field upgradable.
Once I opened up the box I realized that the “kit” should really be called “partially assembled.” I had watched videos online and read stories by kit buyers and I was expecting a lot of work. Makergear assembled the hard parts and it only took me ~5 hours to completely assemble it – taking my time and double-checking every step. The next day I calibrated it (leveled bed and set z-stop) and sent a test print. It worked great!
Next, I thought I would do something a little harder – Yoda. I did not really know what I was doing, but I jumped in. I decided to go with Repetier Host for software and use some M2 presets I found online. Unfortunately, those presets were not good for Yoda. It was a disaster – I knew it would happen because I am learning, but ouch! It was printing nearly a solid object and half way through it slid off from the center of the bed, but kept trying to print.
The next day I did some more research and figured out how to print Yoda hollow and make sure the PLA fan turned on at the right times (to handle the overhangs better – like his chin). I also decided to go with painter’s tape on the bed rather than heating it. The print was fast and amazing! I’ve printed a few of other things since Yoda and everything has been great.
I’ve made two simple objects of my own design so far and printed them with no issues. In the next posts on 3D printing I’ll mention modeling software and the process involved in printing one’s designs.