Well, not quite zero. I’m a computer guy and web developer with graphics, photography, and printing experience. A bit of a DIYer, and a hobby musician. 3d printers have been in the stores calling me for a number of years.

So, when the hole in the tuning knob on my nylon string guitar rounded out and wouldn’t turn the tuning machine anymore, and I couldn’t find a replacement knob that would fit. (You’d think they would be standard by now, LOL) I tried the usual approaches:

  • I tried the old CA and baking soda repair trick, which worked for a day.
  • I thought about making a set of knobs out of wood, which would really take a lot of time and precision to create the mating oval hole which is hard to achieve without a lathe or better yet, a CNC machine.
  • Then I though:

“If I had a 3d Printer, I could just print one”

That’s what finally kicked this off. This series will chronicle my journey from [not quite] Zero to (well let’s be honest) [not quite] Hero in the world of 3d printing. While I feel like I’m late to the party, many say it’s still very early.

Choosing a 3d Printer

Like most people, my first stop was looking at 3d printers on Amazon. That lead me to an article on techgearlab.com

https://www.techgearlab.com/topics/cool-gadgets/best-3d-printer

From that article, I was initially very interested in the FlashForge Finder and was waved off of the XYZ Printing da Vinci 1.0 Pro. Then Gooled for the best 3d printers and read a lot of apparently up-to-date roundups from some other convincingly experienced reviewers, however, many articles raved about printers that were no longer available. The more you learn, the more you refine your criteria. For example:

The TechGearLab article got me interested in the FlashForge Finder for $300. Other articles, round ups, and reviews liked it as well. It is very popular, well regard, and probably a great introduction to 3d printing for schools. However, it only prints PLA.

While PLA is apparently an environmentally friendly, and relatively safe material made from corn starch, the finished print will melt in a hot car at only about 60°C = 150°F and can be brittle, so PLA will obviously not be the best material for all projects. Knowing that, I decided to keep looking.

So far, the criteria was:

  • Print a variety of materials e.g. PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon, TPU, etc.
  • High Resolution for smooth prints
  • Reliable
  • Popular for good Manufacturer and Community support
  • Large Build Volume to be more useful
  • Less than about $500

Q. What makes a printer able to print multiple materials?

A. Some materials contract more than others as they cool, so for those, keeping the lower layer warm until all the layers are deposited requires a heated bed and an enclosure.

There are a number of DIY enclosure approaches that can be set up around any printer, so the printer doesn’t have to come with one, giving me more options.

https://all3dp.com/2/3d-printer-enclosure-5-cheap-diy-options/

The heated bed is a different story. If it doesn’t come with a heated bed, the bed supports may not withstand the heat of an add on, and the power supply may not support a heater either. Also, the “Hot End” has to get hot enough to extrude the filament material. Here’s a quick chart of some of the more popular materials that I would like to try at some point.

MaterialPrint TemperatureBed TemperatureCharacteristic
PLA180°C – 230°C20°C – 60°CEasy to print
ABS210°C – 250°C80°C – 110°CWeathers well
PETG220°C – 250°C50°C – 75°CImpact resistent
Nylon240°C – 260°C70°C – 100°CSelf Lubricating
TPU210°C – 230°C30°C – 60°CFlexible
PC270°C – 310°C90°C – 110°CExtremely durable

https://all3dp.com/1/3d-printer-filament-types-3d-printing-3d-filament/

https://www.matterhackers.com/3d-printer-filament-compare

Knowing all that, trying to weed through the available printers was still a confusing mess.

The desktop 3d printing revolution has been largely driven by the open source “RepRap” community, resulting in numerous designs and kits available today. While originally distributed as a parts list that could be sourced at the local hardware store, now there are fully or partially assembled printers with proper lead screws that are often available at nearly the same prices as a comparable “box of parts” aka “kits”.

There are a number of open source designs along with their clones that are being offered on Amazon, which enjoy good community support. The advantages are that you can replace or upgrade any component without having to start over with a new printer. The better designs have more clones, and larger communities which can help resolve issues quicker.

Finding a popular open source design by a great manufacturer is the best of both worlds. Which manufacturers are any good? FlashForge, MonoPrice, AnyCubic, Creality, QIDI Technology, TEVO, Wanhoa, JGAURORA, Lulzbot, Other?

To untangle that web, I decided to tabulate the relevant available models from manufacturers of some of the more popular and well rated printers that I could find. In doing so, I also learned that:

  • On designs with beds that move in the Y direction (front to back), a “Dual Y Gantry” greatly helps with precision.
  • On designs with heads moving in the Z direction (vertically), having “Dual Z axis Lead Screws” greatly helps with precision.
  • For flexible materials like TPU, a Direct Drive (on-head) feeding system like the “Titan” greatly helps, and also helps with retraction on all materials. In particular, if a “Bowden” system has a long or oversized Extrusion tube, then the precision of the retraction suffers.
  • Designs where the head moves in both X and Y directions (horizontally) are generally able to print faster than designs that have to move the heavy bed back and forth along with the object being printed.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find any single printer that satisfied all of the requirements out of the box without modifying. Thankfully, the open source design that brought affordable desktop printing to the masses (initially as a list of parts), makes upgrading possible. You just need a little research, patience, and be willing to install the mods yourself.

The closest models I could find were the:

Make and ModelDirect Drive or Tube DriveZ Axis Lead ScrewHot End Temp / Bed Temp
Monoprice Maker Select V2DirectDual240°C / 70°C
Monoprice Maker Select PlusDirectDual240°C / 70°C
Monoprice MP10 MiniTubeSingle280°C / 110°C
Monoprice Maker Ultimate MK11DirectSingle260°C / 100°C
Monoprice Maker Ultimate 2DirectSingle260°C / 100°C
Creality Ender 3 ProTubeSingle255°C / 110°C
Creality Ender 5 ProTubeSingle260°C / 125°C
Creality Ender 5 PlusTubeDual260°C / 110°C
Creality CR 10STubeDual270°C / 100°C
Creality CR 10 V2DirectDual260°C / 100°C
AnyCubic i3 Mega SDirectDual260°C / 110°C

Some models also have:

  • Filament Detection
  • Pause / Power Cut / Resume
  • Special Removable Coated Spring Metal or Glass Plates

Unfortunately, some models do not have UL or CE certified power supplies, thermal overrun protection, or adequate driver cooling, etc. Read the specs and reviews carefully for this.

On paper, the AnyCubic i3 Mega S seems to be the closest I could find among the popular models with good ratings without going pretty far over the $500 price. Once you break the $500 barrier, an official and highly popular “Original Prusa i3 MK3S” seems the best buy with it’s high quality components, included software and settings, saving a lot of time, frustration and wasted material.

Make and ModelDirect Drive or Tube DriveZ Axis Lead ScrewHot End Temp / Bed Temp
Prusa i3 MK3SDirectDual300°C / 120°C

https://all3dp.com/1/original-prusa-i3-mk3-review/

Miles Scott over at All3DP makes a pretty good case for Prusa over the clones.

https://all3dp.com/buy-prusa-clone-original/

If we look at the reviews, even on the popular and well rated clones, people seem to have a lot of trouble with poor quality parts; so much so, that the conventional wisdom is that, if you run into ANY troubles in the first 30 days, to go ahead and initiate a return with Amazon before the return window closes, as there seem to be way to many lemons getting delivered to customers.

If you’re new to 3d printing:

  • It may not be feasible for a newbie to find all the problems in the first 30 days.
  • The savings in material from trying to get things dialed in will likely pay for most if not all of the initial printer price difference over time.
  • It would be hard to find a more popular model that is better supported by the manufacturer and the community than the “Original Prusa i3”, and it’s open source as well.
  • The reliability over time will also likely pay for itself in not having to buy or upgrade parts. Plus, there’s apparently enough to learn about 3d printing without fighting with a set of unreliable parts.
  • In a couple years, you won’t have to buy a new printer for the latest upgrades, as Prusa has historically sold upgrade kits to bring previous models up-to-date without starting over with a whole new machine.

If you’re interested in becoming a fabrication expert, perhaps there’s a case to be made for the school of hard knocks. Apparently, with a lot of research and practice, you can get amazing quality from many low cost printers. However, if your goal is some useful prints or you would rather focus on your own designs, then perhaps having things worked out for you in a bunch of expert configured presets is of more value to you.

In October, Prusa unveiled their new Prusa Mini, which looks quite promising. I could live with the build volume, and it comes pre-assembled with all the Prusa benefits. However, with the backlog of orders, it didn’t look like I’d be able to get one before sometime in the Spring, so I revisited the available options.

All that said, I thought about ordering a Monoprice Mini Delta to get started while I get all my workflow and accessories in place. Why?

  • It’s an inexpensive starting place
  • Monoprice has a good reputation
  • Prints pretty high resolution
  • Deltas have a light print head, so they can print fast and look cool
  • It’s small and moves well, so I can easily take it outside to print stinky materials
  • It’s a popular model
  • There are a wealth of answers on the unofficial wiki https://www.mpminidelta.com
  • Somebody even reported getting it to successfully print PETG

However, after reading the reviews, the Monoprice Mini Delta seems to be hit and miss these days. You might get a good one, or you might not, and support apparently isn’t what it use to be. The recent reviews are expressing a lot of frustration.

I also learned that other than PLA, most materials print better with 2 head mounted fans; one to cool the heat block, and the other to cool the filament that has just been extruded. Several models seem to be missing this feature.

I like the idea of a light print head and a stationary print bed. Too much moving mass can cause ghosting and other print artifacts, so I’m looking at alternatives to the i3 design. One is the Creality Ender 5. Even though it’s got only a single Z axis lead screw, there are DIY supports to help mitigate the issue to some extent. It does not, however, have a filament sensor to pause the print job when the filament runs out. That is not an expensive or particularly difficult fix, however, it got me looking at the mods people do to the various models.

I really wanted to like the Ender 5, however, by the time you add up the recommended mods, you start to get pretty close to the price of the Original Prusa i3 MK3S, which already has those features out of the box, plus the Prusa ecosystem. Looks like Prusa is the “Apple” of the prosumer 3d printer space these days.

Still, what other Delta printers might be available?

I found the AnyCubic Kossel Linear Plus, for which the reviews seem quite good on the latest iteration. So, I thought I’d get the AnyCubic Kossel Linear Plus for all the reasons I was going to try the Monoprice Mini Delta, at roughly the same price when considering the out of the box mods required on the Monoprice Mini Delta like glass build plate and upgraded power supply. They had a great Black Friday Sale price. Sadly, they were sold out.

They still had the AnyCubic Predator at a great price, but that seemed a little larger than I wanted.

Then I stumbled on the FLSun QQ-S Pro, which was between the two AnyCubic Deltas in size, construction, and price. So, I finally clicked buy on the FLSun QQ-S Pro. FLSun doesn’t have their website up yet. Their support is primarily through Facebook, which is a little strange. Call me old school, but I really don’t want a Facebook account, so we’ll see how that goes.

Of course I spent Saturday hunting down a bunch of accessories, which I’ll share with you next time. Looks like my work is just starting. The FLSun QQ-S Pro comes partly assembled. Final assembly looks like it should go pretty quickly and easily. Then there’s setup:

  • Getting OctoPrint setup and talking to it
  • Bed Leveling and Z offset for that perfect first layer
  • Calibration, Test prints, and getting it all Dialed in

Stick around it should be fun.

Next Up in Part 2: Accessories

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