M3D Micro Printer: The Full Review
image (above) courtesy of M3D website , click image for link
After over 100 hours of extensive experimentation, this is my complete review of M3D's adorable and compact 3D printer.
But first things first...
Supported Materials: ABS, PLA, nylon, professional, chameleon
Filament: standard 1.75mm. 1/2lb rolls fit within print bed and allow you to try a variety of materials and colors. Standard filament rolls also supported. Layer Resolution: 50-350 micron Accuracy: 15 micron X and Y Print height: 116mm (4.6") Base Print Area: 109mm x 113mm (4.29" x 4.45") Print Area Above 74mm (2.91"): 91mm x 84mm (3.58" x 3.30")
Removable Print Bed Size: 128x128mm
Printer Dimensions: It's a cube, 7.3 in (185 mm) per side. Printer weight: 1kg (2.2 lbs) Package weight: 2kg - 2.7kg (4.4 lbs - 6 lbs) USB Compatible
Supported: M3D proprietary software with support of open source software
File Types Supported: .stl, .obj OS Compatibility: Mac (Yosemite 10.9) and PC (Windows 7 and 8). Linux support pending (as of this post)
Unboxing and Installation:
The printer comes in a box only slightly bigger than the actual machine (see above specs), and is extremely well packaged.
The gantry clips supporting the printhead are actually printed by your printer; this doubles as security for shipping, as well as quality assurance for your machine. I think that's a really nice touch.
Image (right) courtesy of M3D Specs page
The installation did not go nearly as smoothly though. I followed the instructions to remove the gantry clips and proceeded to download the software, but the issue came when I connected the printer to my computer for the first time and booted up the software...
NOTE: If you're using an Apple computer to run the M3D printer, the software isn't built natively for Mac, instead using a Mono framework; this that allows for Windows programs to be run on a Mac, similar to a wine wrapper. However, this leads to a pretty buggy program at times while running on my Mac. I haven't yet tried the software on a PC, but I imagine it's a lot more stable.
Once the software recognized my printer it ran through its automated power-on system check, which includes checking connection, and running some short axis motion commands to test gantry movement. A hiccup occured during this process, when I was told by the software that my gantry clips were still on the printer- which they were not- and in order to proceed, I had to remove them. I kept prompting the software to retry but it still believed the clips were attached. A frustrating 30 minutes later, it finally verified the removal of the clips, and I was ready to begin my first print.
I went ahead and downloaded a calibration disk on Thingiverse, MakerBot's online repository of free 3D models made for MakerBots and other FDM printers. I like to download these models for testing because they are community made and built for optimal printing on machines like the M3D. My personal models are built for larger machines and so they're usually too detailed for printing on smaller printers.
Once I got a model to load into the software I went ahead and loaded my PLA filament and selected my printing preferences (no raft and medium resolution).
I hit print and waited...and waited...and waited... and nothing.
Even though the print head was heated and the fan was running, nothing happened. I let it sit for about 45 minutes, and came back to see that it still didn't not start printing. I rebooted and fired up the software again, and this time I had no gantry error and my first print went without a hitch.
After an hour, I finally had my print!
This printer is SLOW, it's very SLOW. With that however comes really incredible resolution on a reliable printer. It took about 19 hours to print out this octopus with articulated legs, a far longer print time compared to most other FDM printers. I can't argue with results though, and my first long print (7 hours), went almost perfectly with only 2 bad print lines (I'm actually convinced they were caused by the software on my Mac, and issues with the caffeinate command used by the software to keep my Mac from falling asleep.) In later prints, there were no gaps in the print.
All in all, within the first 60 hours of printing, I had 0 print failures, which to me is pretty incredible based off of traumatic past experiences with other FDM brands!
The software itself is extremely easy to use and intuitive, great for those jumping into 3D printing who want a plug-and-play experience; however, there are areas where it suffers as a result of this simplicity.
TIP: I realized that while printing, you probably shouldn't be running any processor-heavy programs (3d modeling software for instance), as for some inexplicable reason they cause the printer to pause during the print in my experience. This leads to a higher probability of a print failure, as the filament can easily get clogged.
One example is Moving and Scaling. There are no unit measurements to be found in the software, which makes any manipulation quite aribtrary and sticky. I wish the software would tell me exactly how large the models I'm importing in are, but alas...
The software also uses millimeter units and has no way to convert models built in other units; for example, if you're building in inches, which I primarily do, make sure to convert your model's units before importing it into the software. Scale is arbitrary, so again if you want to scale something to a specific size, you should do it in another software package. I recommend NetFabb Basic for this task; it's an excellent free file repair tool for Mac and Windows that can also scale, slice, and do unit conversions, all the while repairing 3D models for printing.
Lastly, the model viewer is a bit too basic. It allows you to spin around your object freely without snapping, but there are no zoom or specific rotate buttons to see the other angles of your model in the printer. This can be frustrating when you're trying to get your model placed in a specific way, especially the model is complex.
All in all these issues are not deal breakers, but for someone who works in other software for other printers, the GUI features seem a bit arcane and occasionally frustrating. If you're model is sized and ready to go in the right units though, you don't even need to worry about these little annoyances.
The printer itself is adorable, compact, and perfect for small apartments. It's not a very safe printer if you have small humans or animals that might want to get inside of it. The exposed fan does make it a louder machine when running, but the hum doesn't really bother me or Sarah, and we're comfortable leaving it printing in another room for long periods of time.
The important bits and parts are fully inclosed in plastic inside the base of the printer. I got the clear-framed printer (they have a rainbow of colors to choose from), which lets you see all the machine's insides; this visibility is also helpful when troubleshooting.
Calibrating the print bed is so easy that I can't imagine not having automated calibration anymore. I still remember the days of twisting the screws on the Makerbot, while using a business card to test the gap distance- OH MAN, that was tedious.
Well no more! You can calibrate the printer with a click of a button, something I like to do every few prints, especially if the printer was powered off in between builds. It takes roughly 10 minutes to do this, and I recommend printing the built-in test square to make sure it's printing well.
TIP: I tend to drop the print head a bit lower than the automatic settings, because I've found it reduces the chance of warping when printing with a raft.
So far, we've only printed in PLA plastic, but ABS and experimental filaments (like color-changing and flexible ones) are also offered on the website. (We'll update the blog as we test other materials.) PLA is the easiest material to print with, as the ABS tends to warp much more (Structurally speaking though, ABS is a much harder/stronger plastic). ABS is also challenging for this paricular machine because the printer housing is fully open and the print platform is not heated, exposing this temperature-sensitive material it to temperature changes and fluxuations. In a nutshell, it is not ideal.
The filament is loaded and stored underneath the print bed; this is integral to the compact, all-in-one design of the printer. As anyone who's used these types of printers before, proper filament storage is very important to a successful print, so I really love this feature, as it provides a space to keep the filament away from the outside elements while providing a way for it to unspool in a controlled manner during printing.
TIP: I've found that building rafts for models that require a lot of support material tend to warp faster than building the part with no raft. If you're building a part that starts out with a block of support, build it without a raft, at least when using PLA.
Part Cleaning/Printer Maintainance:
Cleaning the support material off the parts is relatively easy compared to other printers, but because it is PLA, a hard but brittle material, I recommend wearing gloves and using pliers to reduce injury from sharp splinters of support.
As for printer maintainance, it's important to keep the machine covered up or in a dust free enviornment when not printing. Even though most of the machine parts are inclosed, the z-axis and x/y axis are exposed, and any dust in the bearings can lead to failed prints and stress on the motors.
Other than that, there is no special maintainance other than to occasionally replace the print bed surface. I recommend purchasing their maintanence kit, so you can replace whichever parts you need when issues occur.
The M3D website has a very active online community and great support. Tutorials for printer use, as well as how to replace certain parts, are on their website. You can get a 1-2 year warranty for your machine, and the company will help you ship it out, should there be an issue with you can't fix.
For the price, it's the best desktop printer out there. While slow, there's no arguing with the quality of the prints.
If you're a designer that needs to make quick, high-quality prototypes of small objects such as jewelry, toys, etc., then this is a good choice for you.
If you're worried about reliability and ease of use, this is also a great choice, once you get the hang of inserting the filament and the interface, of course.
Lastly, if you're thinking about getting this printer for its size, then I would absolutely do it. It's currently the most attractive, compact device of its kind on the market. It was also a Kickstarter project, so if you want to support a small company and their innovative design, this may be the 3D printer for you.
I <3 this printer... On a scale of 1 to 100 Laser Kitties, I would give it 85 kittens and a laser pointer.
If you have anymore follow-up questions about this printer, go ahead and comment below - OR - contact us via the contact page and we'll get back to you as soon as possible!
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