I’ve wanted a 3d-printer for a while. So as part of my intention to start trying to build more things and branch out from just creating software, I decided to buy one.
I used the following criteria when I was deciding what to buy:
- It had to be a learning opportunity – it’d be pretty easy to buy a closed source device which was neatly packaged up and “consumer ready”, but I didn’t think I’d learn a lot about 3d printing from that.
- Low cost – before buying this machine, I knew next to nothing about the practicalities of 3d printing. I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into a 3d printer, and quickly discover that either it wasn’t quite what I wanted, or that maybe it wasn’t any good. I have a couple of expensive electronic white elephants and I don’t need any more.
- Large print area/volume – I wanted a minimum of 200mm x 200mm for the print bed area. I know from experience that compromising on this really limits what you can build.
- Heated bed – my research told me that if you don’t have a heated bed on your printer, you’re going to need to get one pretty quickly. It’s possible to print without one, but it’s a lot easier if you’ve got one.
- Positive reviews and community support– I wanted something that I knew at least some people had got to work.
So I didn’t care about what it looked like, and I didn’t mind having to put it together from a kit.
I decided on buying the Sintron Prusa i3 kit from Amazon as it met all my criteria.
- There’s a huge RepRap community;
- Reviews on Amazon at the time of my purchase were all good;
- It has a heated bed which is about 20cm x 20cm;
- It’s one of the the lowest cost kits that I could find – I could have sourced the parts individually and potentially got it cheaper, but I was happy enough to pay a bit more to get everything in one box;
- There are a huge bunch of Prusa i3 tutorials on YouTube, so even before buying the kit, I had a pretty good idea of how to make it and what kind of results I’d get;
I knew I was getting a kit, so I got what I expected when I opened the box!
But it was a bit disappointing to not have printed instructions in the box (or even a link to where the instructions might be). However, fortunately I was able to piece together how to do it from a couple of different sources I found. Neither are perfect matches for the kit I was supplied with, but they were close enough to let me build the machine.
I also used this video series on YouTube to guide me through construction and how to do my first print.
I tried printing in PLA first – PLA stands for Polylactic Acid, which has a melting point of about 185C. This is supposedly one of the easiest materials to print with, so I thought it was a good starting point.
- The canonical first thing to print is the 10mm x 10mm x 10mm cube, which is available on Thingiverse. I downloaded the STL file.
- Next, I downloaded Slic3r. This is a program which opens the STL file, and slices the 3d drawing into many horizontal layers. You need to:
- Enter details of the material you want to print with – in my case, 1.75mm PLA;
- Enter the temperature you want to print at – for PLA, I went with an extruder temperature of 185C, and a heated bed temperature of 60C.
- Enter the speed that you want to print at – there were many options in Slic3r, and I left them as the default for my first print.
- Each of these layers is converted into G-code, which is a way of instructing the printer to dribble melted plastic in a particular shape in the X and Y axis, and then lift the extruder by a very small distance in the Z-axis to print a different shape. Eventually each of these different layers will form the 3d print which replicates the object in the STL file;
- Finally, I downloaded PrintRun, which connects to the printer and sends the G-code instructions to the printer.
As a reminder – these are my initial experiences. I have a couple of hundred hours of printing experience under my belt now, and I’m not doing things exactly the same way now as I did for my first print. For example, I use ABS as my primary print material now rather than PLA, and I use Cura instead of Slic3r.
The PLA cube printed well – which was enough to confirm the printer was a good purchase. I was certainly happy that I had only paid about 250GBP for a functioning printer, and had learned a lot about how these machines work.
I’ll blog next about some improvements I made to the printer which expanded the machine’s usefulness.