It's been a while since I have posted here and I thought I would post a review of my 3D printer as well as share one of the 3D print projects that I have completed a while ago.
One of the fun things I learned in college was how to design tools and devices by starting with small parts. Something I have always wanted to do was apply that knowledge to building props and devices. One of the biggest problems with that is making the parts or cases themselves. Without special tools it can be pretty hard to create good looking cases for devices or even assembled components. A couple of years ago, I bought a 3d printer so that I could finally design and build some fun things. The printer is the Creality Ender 3 Special Edition which I got from 3D Printing Canada. The site has great customer service and pretty much everything you could want for printers including parts for modifications/extra options as well as printing filaments of different sizes. I am having trouble finding information on the printer but, from the comparison I did when I bought it, it looks like its a special release of the Ender 3 Pro since they had similar specs. Information on the Ender 3 Pro can be found here: https://creality3d.shop/products/creality3d-ender-3-pro-high-precision-3d-printer
Here is a quick review on some aspects of the printer:
Ease of construction
Moderate difficulty: You have to build nearly the entire machine from supplied parts. This is really nice because it gives you a chance to see how each component fits into the printer and learn a bit about how they work. If you aren't careful though you have to take it apart again to fix problems. For example, I had installed the motor that controls the extruder (moves it back and forth on the horizontal cross bar) backward and didn't realize it until I tried to fit the bar on the frame which required taking it all apart and re-building it.
Ease of use
Easy: I was able to get it printing one of the supplied test models in a few minutes. The recommended slicing software is Cura which is free and comes with pre-stored settings for many different printers and filaments. It also allows for a user to edit/create setting profiles and has many customization options. You can even select a price per unit length for your filament to get an estimate of the cost of the plastic of the print.
Manually levelled - Easy to set up: The Ender 3 came with a magnetic stick-on print bed. I opted to buy an optional glass bed instead. If you are willing to experiment with the print bed temperature settings, you can get good adhesion for parts without using any compounds (glue, double sided tape, etc.) to prevent parts from slipping off the print bed. Surfaces directly in contact with the bed are very smooth as well which can be taken advantage of for flat parts that you want to have smooth surfaces for. Bed levelling is performed using four turn knobs and can be tedious at first but, with a little practice, is very easy. There are also mods for installing automatic bed levelling hardware so that is an option but I have not looked into them.
Excellent: One of the two reasons I wanted this printer is that it is well known for the high quality prints it can produce compared to printers of a similar cost (the other is it has so many modding options). You can still see print details on extremely small parts at the highest print quality setting (I printed a small dog test piece at 1cm tall and it still had all of the fine details of the original size model). On the highest quality settings it is hard to see the lines between the layers as well but they are still visible. You can take advantage of the layer line effect if you are careful enough (see the example print below) so it isn't necessarily a problem. It is possible to remove these lines by sanding (tedious) or using special chemicals (dangerous) but I don't think it is necessary since the prints look fine. There are also crack filling paints/primers that can be used as well if a perfectly smooth surface is desired. There are some print artifacts that I have seen some reviewers claim can happen with this printer but I have not seen them (they may have been addressed by the designers with the newer versions of the printer). There are mods for addressing these issues if they happen. It can print some pretty complex shapes clearly as well. It doesn't handle concave curves well unless you turn them on their side but this appears to be due to how the the slicer I used (Cura) set the printing pattern rather than the ability of the printer itself. Sometimes the adhesion skirt, if printed for extra print bed adhesion, can leave a bit of an edge when it is peeled off. This is easily removed by using a de-burring tool which can be found in the plumbing supplies section of a hardware store or even sanding.
Lots of options: There is HUGE potential for mods with this printer. Many of them can even be printed using the printer. One example is a special support bar for the filament so that it feeds more smoothly into the extruder head. Another is a special cable tray for the printers cables so they are kept neatly out of the way. Other examples include a fan cover that diverts the air flow to prevent things from falling into the processor fan and tool box. There are mods for the extruder cooling fan to provide a smoother plastic flow as well as mods to increase the number of extruders (so more than one colour of plastic can be printed on the same part). These are just some examples. There are LOADS of possibilities.
220mmx220mmx250mm: A decent size. I got a part that was 10in across to print by turning it at a 45 degree angle. Pretty good for if you are making costume parts for a comic con or Halloween costume. Anything larger could be printed in smaller parts and assembled.
There are many different types of plastic that can be used with this printer. Some can release toxic chemicals when printing though so read about the plastics before you use them. I selected PLA because it doesn't tend to release any toxic chemicals (it depends on if it is pure PLA or not so use in a well ventilated area) but there are is another safety concern (that can occur with any plastic used). Studies have shown that 3D printers can release micro plastic dust into the air while printing. These nanoparticles are small enough to pass from your lungs into your bloodstream if inhaled so don't use the printer if you don't have good ventilation and, if you do have some sort of ventilation, make sure you either sit up wind from the machine or don't sit near it at all. I used mine out in a garage with the door half open and a fan blowing past the machine and out the door to encourage any particles to blow out the door. I have used it down to zero degrees Celsius (outside the garage ambient temperature) which requires a hotter bed temperature to maintain print adhesion but the heat isn't that much higher.
Since I got the printer I have wanted to print one of these: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3322199 The maker did an amazing job on this model (and the type 1 phaser model you also have to print for it) and I recommend it to anyone else who wants to print one of these. The model finishing instructions list a paint primer that can be used to smooth out the surfaces prior to painting. I did not use it but still got good results though.
This prop required multiple assembled components and a bit of paining. Model paint can be applied to PLA with no primer before hand with really good results. If you are unsure if you need primer with your plastic of choice or not, simply paint a small test area on a test piece and see how well it sticks if rubbed/scratched after dried. If it comes off really easily then buy a primer.
I printed the parts at the highest possible quality the printer could handle so this gives an idea of how fine the details of the printer are. It took a very long time to print though. The grey body itself took nearly a day! (I didn't sit at the machine the whole time it printed of course but it was tempting to sit there and watch it print). Once you are confident with the machine, you can leave it unattended and check in on it from time to time to make sure nothing is going wrong. Never leave a 3D printer to run without monitoring it from time to time. You never know what could go wrong and it is better safe than sorry. The resulting print, once assembled is pretty cool.
My phaser is missing the intensity setting on the Type 1 phaser. The part for that cannot be printed. You have to buy a clear cylinder and cut the piece for it out so I will have to find the right part before I can finish it. If you look closely, you can see the seam and one of the fins at the back is slightly crooked. This happened because I decided to not glue it together and the two halves of the grey body and silver fins are bit loose because of it (I may mod it to have lights at some point and don't want to re-print the entire thing or try to break glued parts apart again). The "copper" pieces and the black part of the adjustment knob are painted while the rest are the natural plastic colours. The emitter, because of how it was aligned when printed, looks almost like it is steel that was machined on a lathe. This is a
This prop is actually two props in one. The Type 1 phaser can be removed and used as a separate model.
Over all. This is a really cool model. The Ender 3 is also an amazing machine.