The Good The MakerBot Replicator is the most full-featured consumer 3D printer thanks to its dual-extruder print head and the largest print platform in its category.
The Bad 3D printing can be difficult to reap with early-stage technology and fragmented, dumb software, and $ 1,999 is a lot to pay for that experience.
The Bottom Line For those willing to invest time and money, MakerBot Replicator will provide the most powerful access to 3D printing consumers.
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Before considering buying a MakerBot Replicator 3D printer, first ask why you want it. Making plastic doodles can be fun, but the novelty will be gone, especially when you find out how challenging it can be to get some prints. If you want a 3D printer to experiment with, or in a professional setting where color is not decisive, the value of the $ 1,999 Replicator double extruder head can also be difficult to justify. Single extruder Solidoodle 2 3D printer costs just $500.
Still, if I wasn’t concerned about the price, and if I could manage to master the software, hardware and craftsmanship of the printing material, I would have purchased the MakerBot Replicator. 3D printing offers raw, creative potential along with the early days of personal computing. With real-world achievements such as the dual extrusion capability available, Replicator leads the market. Now you won’t find a more powerful 3D printer at the consumer level. Just know that getting the most out of a Replicator will require time and willingness to endure another trial error in order to successfully print certain items.
A brief synopsis of 3D printing:
1.Get a 3D model file by downloading it, either by creating it yourself or by scanning a physical object.
2.Send this file to a 3D printer, usually via a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.
3.The printer then draws 1.75 mm or 3 mm of plastic thread from the coil, printing your design to create layers of hot, extruded plastic.
4.Play in the world that created the actual 3D object.
Unlike the The MakerGear Mosaic 3D printer I wrote about in January , the MakerBot replicator is not a set to create. MakerBot used to sell kits for assembling 3D printers, but the replicator, announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show , is the first genuine prepackaged product.
The replicator comes in a cardboard box that does not need it, but the wooden frame and various mechanical components are well protected by rectangular cardboard supports, some of which contain accessories for accessories. MakerBot posted the content logically to protect the replicator on the go, but it’s also easy to remove. If Apple has reached the highest level of technology product packaging, MakerBot is a promising learner.
The paper guide will walk you through some small steps to assemble your equipment. These steps include securing one cable with a plastic clamp, screwing the printhead to a power-driven sleigh, connecting the attachment points and the plastic tubes that hold the spools of plastic supplies in place, and pointing them into the printhead.
Despite the thoughtful packaging and simple setup of the equipment, the replicator still demonstrates the hallmarks of MakerBot’s indigenous technologies. The body of the printer is made of laser-cut plywood, which is a rare material for a finished technological product. The Replicator legs use small pieces of rubber tubing that you slide on the bottom edge of the printer frame.
MakerBot is likely to use these materials to reduce its costs. The company can also reassure the 3D printing community that, while maintaining the sense of being built in the garage, it has not forgotten the open source lineage (the technology behind the replicator comes from open source Bat University RepRap project ).
From the user’s point of view, rubber legs are annoying because they fall too easily when moving the replicator. Plywood will also eventually bend over time, affecting print quality to varying degrees depending on the temperature and humidity of your work environment.
Any distortion may not be dramatic. MakerBot also advises that it is possible fix it with software . However, as more 3D printers enter the market with deformable plastic and metal housings, MakerBot may begin to feel pressure to use different materials for the replicator. Then again against the competition at the consumer level by large commercial printing companies 3D Systems and (likely) Stratasys , MakerBot may also find it helpful to preserve the handmade magic of its printers.
Even if consumers like the MakerBot wooden frame, I think the most complaints will be about the software.
Technically speaking, MakerBot Industries does not have direct ownership of the open-source ReplicatorG or Skeinforge software required to operate the printer. The company does have influence over their development, though. When I asked MakerBot if the company has any plans to make the software easier to install, I was told, “Yes&We released a Mac/Windows installer in February. We are working on another round of improvements to that this spring to make it even easier.”
Hopefully MakerBot can make installing the software easier. Now the process is intimidating for beginners, and the MakerBot documentation may use some clarity.
The MakerBot guide directs you to the online software installation guide, but this document only applies to installing ReplicatorG. Only after you have installed this program do you need to install a Python software interpreter. Which version of Python should I use? You better look for a separate ReplicatorG wiki page.
Python bridges the gap between ReplicatorG and Skeinforge software, a powerful software package that mostly runs in the background while printing, at least until you need to use it.
Confuse? I was. 3D printing software is one of the biggest drawbacks to use, and it highlights the gap between its technical roots and the mass market ambition.
Take a look at Skeinforge, and you’ll see that it’s capable of controlling 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC milling machines and other fabricators. It demonstrates tremendous flexibility and many customizable options, but is clearly designed by and for engineers.
ReplicatorG can also be intimidating, but the way it helps to set up 3D models for printing is relatively intuitive. A simple graphical interface allows you to scale models and rotate them, to mirror or otherwise re-orient them on the build platform.
To print an object on the Replicator from your computer, you open the design in ReplicatorG and then manipulate the model on a virtual assembly platform. From there, ReplicatorG sends a Skeinforge design that runs in the background to create “gcode”. Gcode is a set of instructions that tells your printer how to print an object. It determines the settings of the printer (how fast the plastic is to be fed, how hot the stacker should be), and transmits coordinates that display each layer of plastic that makes up the 3D object.
You spend most of your time on ReplicatorG, and once you generate gcode for a specific object, you can even edit the code manually within a single application. This can be done if you want to set your construction platform to a hotter temperature than usual to ensure, for example, that a smaller object adheres well to the assembly plate.
Skeinforge interacts directly with you first when you want to install Replicator to use a profile with custom print options. You can create a profile that always prints very quickly, for example, or that changes the default temperature of the collecting plate from 100 degrees to 110 degrees for each print. You can switch between profiles in ReplicatorG as soon as you have done so through the simple drop-down menu. Finding out how different options affect your prints is one of the major issues with 3D printing.
Also, if I can add any feature to the software, though it may also include some hardware setup, I would like you to pause and then resume it in a day or two. You can pause now, but it leaves the heat elements on, which means you can’t leave it for a long time. Some prints may take hours, and the need for a nanny on the printer can take time.
Learning how to use a replicator involves more than just software, and understanding how the hardware is involved will help you understand the unique features of the printer.
The Replicator differs from other 3D printers at the consumer level mainly due to its dual-extruder printhead. No other printer has less than $ 2,000. You can purchase a single-head extruder replicator for $ 1,799, but the double-extruder head (along with a larger assembly platform) is a hallmark of the replicator.
With a dual extruder, you can print one two-color object or two print objects in one print job, each made of a different color. You can also print the same color object as you would for other 3D printers. The extruder motor pushes the plastic through one head at a time, so color mixing is difficult (though not possible). Printing two objects side by side, using both heads at the same time, also fails.
The replicator can store two reels of plastic thread on the back, and installing the spool on the printer directly provides a cleaner working area, since you do not need to make room for the spindle. It also means that you can have two colors or even two print materials on the printer, reducing the number of times it takes to load and unload the thread.
The onboard control panel is another useful feature of the Replicator. With a four-row LED screen and five-button control panel, the control panel offers a level of convenience that you won’t find on many other 3D printers. This panel lets you start the printer’s initial setup and build platform calibration, and manage thread loading and unloading. It displays the temperature of the extruder head and the assembly platform, as well as the progress of the print job.
You can also use the control panel to print directly from the SD card slot on the printer. You will need a computer to upload the design files directly to the SD card, but once these files are there, you can print from MakerBot without adding a PC.
The built-in SD card slot is unique to the replicator, but 3D systems offer Wi-Fi printing in the following Cube 3D printer , will be out later this month.
The last notable feature of the replicator is its large envelope. The 8.9×5.7×5.9-inch replicator lets you create the largest objects of any consumer-level 3D printer. However, successfully reaching the maximum size prints can be difficult because large objects are prone to cracks due to uneven cooling. It would also take hours to print something so big. Despite these challenges, it is certainly better to have a large print option than not.
In fact, printing an object on any 3D printer causes the excitement of the first few times. You can be fascinated by this process by watching the printhead squeeze the material layer by layer for 30 minutes or more until your subject is complete.
In addition, after your fourth unsuccessful attempt to print 2 hours, you may have to go a day.
As it turns out, printing in three dimensions may be unpredictable. Plastic does not always belong properly to the assembly platform or to itself. Otherwise, the plastic does not melt completely properly, giving you unsightly balls, gaps, or wise tendrils that disrupt printing.
Printing in two colors can be both meaningful and useful. To print a two-color object, you need to use ReplicatorG and Skeinforge to merge two STL 3D object files into a single combined gcode file. It is not yet possible to print a two-color object with auxiliary material, but when you create a combined gcode, the process will be the same as printing a single-color object.
Two-color results can look great, and combining experiments hint at the potential of creating objects with nuanced color characteristics. Sometimes two object structures do not merge completely correctly. Otherwise, the two different threads do not fit together well enough.
Setting up software is one way to eliminate printing, and you can solve the problem by slowing the movement of the extruder head or raising the temperature of the assembly platform. You must also maintain a clean and properly calibrated assembly platform.
However, some of the difficulties you may encounter are related to the general characteristics of ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene) or PLA (polylactic acid) plastic filaments. Each material wants to print at a certain temperature and at a certain speed, both of which can change depending on the design of your object.
Other issues, such as when the extruder’s main head interferes with the print that is executed during transmission, which are specific to the Replicator.
To some extent, it is futile to complain about the general problems of 3D printing. Between open source software and industry-standard plastic threads, 3D printing is still in its early stages as a consumer activity. It would also be nice if the old microdisks had more than 1.44 MB, but the technology at the time would not allow it.
As far as the replicator is concerned, two questions about its design can be improved.
First, the construction of the construction platform in a wooden frame contributes to a more accurate overall appearance. This also seems to provide convenient attachment points for the drive frame of the printhead X and Z axes. There is a problem when you need to replace the Kapton tape on the build platform.
The Kapton tape is an insulator and this helps the ABS to join the construction platform. You need to wipe it between prints using either acetone or rubbing alcohol. It is also tear-sensitive, especially if you use a tool to tear off the finished prints from the assembly surface.
After the caption is broken enough, it must be replaced. MakerBot kindly includes a roll of 120mm tape in the replicator window, but the added frame prevents access to the build platform, making it difficult to accurately load large sheets of tape accurately. I had a roll of 25mm Kapton tape left over from MakerGear Mosaic’s 3D printer, and those narrow strips were much easier to apply smoothly. The fact that I had to use six pieces of 25mm tape also did not interfere with good adhesion.
MakerBot says it is working to improve the re-use of the Kapton tape. As a short-term fix, I suggest adding a couple of rolls of 25mm tape to the box.
Another issue mentioned above concerns the second extruder.
The two extruders attach to the same printhead assembly that you connect to the drive sleigh with a pair of hex screws. Extruders are level (or should be), but when the path of the extruder drives the blank head over incomplete printing, sometimes the second head can amplify printing errors by falling on broken plastic threads. The idle head can also stain the object when it goes to the surface if there is a different color left on the head.
MakerBot Replicator 3D test print gallery
Solving problems with the transfer of the main machine is much more difficult when applying a new tape. The mechanism of raising and lowering each extruder head on its own will certainly increase the cost of the printer and possibly lead to other complications. The heads of the extruder are threaded, so technically they could be unscrewed, but not just with the current design.
Regardless of whether your print has a general 3D printing problem or a replicator-specific problem, part of the call to one of you, or perhaps the appeal, involves spending time experimenting with the printer.
I had a lot of success in my first few prints on Replicator. I printed three model projects on the SD card. I also printed the two-color CNET logo I created Google SketchUp .
After the second day of printing, I found that objects often do not adhere to the assembly platform. I changed the Kapton tape, cleaned it with acetone between each print, and finally, with the support of MakerBot, made sure to calibrate the platform as close as possible to the extruder head without touching. All of this solved my problems for most prints, but there are still some objects I found in Thingiverse that I couldn’t print successfully.
The fact that others have printed these objects tells me that this can be done, it may just be a matter of setting up the printer. What these settings can be, I have not found. Some Thingiverse lists have their own settings, but not all. Even when they do, applying custom settings does not guarantee success, perhaps due to the build environment or a specific printer.
The point of retrying and 3D printing is that it takes some time. Printing times vary depending on the size and complexity of each object, but some objects may take 10 hours or more, especially if you use a full support structure (thinner, lattice-supported grille; Skeinforge automatically calculates the support structure if select an option and you tear it off when you finish printing).
Even for short prints that fail early on, it takes time for the software to process gcode (the longer the print, the longer the processing time), and the assembly platform and extruder heads heat up. Twenty minutes or more between trials is not common, at least, and in three or four attempts the time spent on experiments increases even with small prints.
Some people like the opportunity to dive into new technologies like this. If not, MakerBot would not have such a passionate community on its Thingiverse website (15,000 user-uploaded plans and calculations available for free) otherwise. You will also find plenty of online help available from MakerBot and its members. The information is useful, but it’s also scattered across Google groups, wikis, MakerBot’s own documentation, and more. Finding help in itself can become a hobby.
If I decided on one of these reviews, 3D printing is an inspiring activity, although it can be frustrating and time consuming. It also seems to be growing in popularity. Crafters, hobbies and design professionals are likely to integrate 3D printing into their procedures, and this is an obvious training ground for the arts and sciences. It has the potential to become one of the next-generation technologies that children receive naturally.
That doesn’t mean I would buy my daughter a $ 1,999 3D printer and tell her to go to town. I might have thought of buying her a $ 500 model, but the replicator is too expensive to simply roll. However, I would like to vote in favor of funding the purchase of a high school replicator.
For professionals and amateurs, your needs and your budget will be different. Unless you care about multiple colors, or you can’t spend time using the full-replicator, a more affordable 3D printer, or even custom 3D printing services, such as Shapeways would be a better alternative.
3D Systems will release its highly-publicized Cube 3D printer in a few weeks. A $ 1299 single color printer, the Cube is directly consumer-oriented, more so than a mix for MakerBot professional-enthusiast consumers on their radar. If 3D Systems is able to discover software experience and improve some of the uncertainties associated with 3D printing, it can be a success. I’m also curious to see what kinds of compromises are associated with $ 500 Solidoodle 2.
If any of these products offers a much improved experience from the replicator, I can review my rating. MakerBot Replicator is currently the best 3D printer for less than $ 2,000. It’s not a toy, but rather a complex, exciting platform to create. If you have the time to invest money in learning how to use it, you will certainly be rewarded.