Model: Ender 3 Pro
Price Range: ± 300 CAD
Build Volume: 8.6” x 8.6” x 9.8” / 220 x 220 x 250mm
Enclosure: No stock enclosure. Although I built one to maintain stable temp.
Print Platform: Heated (max 110˚C), sprung manual leveling via 4 corner adjusting wheels. Stock bed is removable magnetic flexible print surface, but I print exclusively on a glass sheet.
Print Resolution: Min Layer 0.1 mm (so it says, I’ve never printed less than .12mm) stock extruder nozzle 0.4mm (accepts .2-.8)
No of Heads: One
Connection: Micro SD card slot, mini USB port.
Materials: 1.75mm PLA, ABS, TPU, (PLA Wood, PLA Metal, Carbon fiber with nozzle change)
Ease of Setup: The Ender 3 comes with assembly required. The base, with the bed and Y axis is assembled in the box but the frame, gantry, screw drive, stepper motors, and extruder as well as belts and power supply and other bits n bobs all need to be carefully assembled and checked for square and operation. Asymmetric bearings on the moving wheel parts also need to be adjusted to fit snugly to the extruded aluminum tracks. There are limited instructions in the box, fortunately there is a lot of material online including build videos and lots of advice (a mixed bag) on calibration and assembly tips. Included in the box is a set of actually decent tools (mostly hex keys) to fit all parts of the printer (not Ikea throw away stuff) which is a nice touch, along with a few extras of some of the likely small parts to break or wear out.
I found the setup to be acceptable (for me it was fun). The hardware is good quality and the build quality if the unit in general is high. Holes line up as they should, threading is clean and the fit is good. I felt that I learned a lot about how the printer works in the assembly process that has served me well in the ongoing maintenance and repair over the life of the printer. That said, it does require care and some general knowledge of how to work with tools. It would be easy to strip one of the many small machine screws or to assemble any given part incorrectly that might damage the part or prevent smooth operation. It took me about 3 hours to assemble completely from a closed box, going slowly and carefully, and including adjusting the gantry a few times to make it square with the frame and adjusting the bed for level. In terms of frustration I rate it a “one beer build”, very low frustration level. However it is certainly not plug-and-play and I would not recommend this for younger folks without some help / supervision.
Ease of Use: On the software side the relationship with Cura is seamless. Once the printer profile is loaded into Cura it’s very easy to open a model, set some simple parameters and save the g-code to a micro SD, pop the SD card into the Printer and use the well designed menu system in via the onboard LCD to choose the right file and hit print. I appreciate that Cura allows me to quickly choose from some simple presets that got me up and printing with little knowledge on the first day, but also allows very detailed control of printing so as I’ve learned more I’ve been able to grow into more advanced settings. As I said I find the printer software menu well designed and intuitive and the single interface knob/button which rotates to move the selection and pushes to choose the selection is simple and effective. It’s a little like using an old casino digital watch where you need to remember the menu hierarchy in your head to navigate it, but it’s easy to remember or print out and hang on the wall.
Leveling The Bed. This printer is not auto bed leveling, which is a factor to consider. The user must manually adjust the bed to make sure it is square with the print head. At first the process feels awkward but with practice one gets better at it, and it becomes less frequently needed. The basic process is to disable the stepper motors and manually move the print head around the surface stopping at various places (particularly the 4 corners) to check that the print nozzle is the correct distance from the print surface. Bed too high and the print nozzle grinds into the bed, bed too low (too much gap) and the first layer fails to attach. I level using a piece of paper as a feeler gauge which I can quickly slide between the nozzle and the print surface. If the paper will not fit between then that corner of the bed is too high, it the paper slides effortlessly between the bed is low, when there is a slight drag on the paper but it fits it’s just right, anyone who has adjusted their own valves on an engine will understand. At first I would have to go all round the bed, adjusting and re-adjusting the corners as any change effects readings elsewhere on the bed, this can be annoying. I would also print out specific test patterns between each leveling session to check my work. Now I don’t do any of that, I can check level on the bed in under 5 min and once I check I just plow ahead with a print, no test necessary. I am using a glass plate build surface which I do not remove, this helps by being pretty flat and consistent, even so it’s not “perfect” but I have learned about how “perfect” it needs to be to get great prints without much bed leveling fuss. Initially I needed to level more often, probably a combination of things settling in and my nervousness, these days I can go weeks without leveling the bed, maybe once every 10 prints I’ll check and usually it’s good. There are digital leveling kits available as add ons for this printer, it’s a hall sensor that attaches to the print head and some software to run it that allows the printer to map the build surface and adjust to any z height changes automatically. I did consider adding this but as I’ve gotten better at leveling it’s just not enough of a problem to justify it for me.
Except… for clearing clogs or leaks at the hot end. This is one annoying part of the manual leveling, If I replace the nozzle for any reason, like a clog, then I do have to re-level as the height of the nozzle relative to the build plate might have changed with screwing in a new one. It makes having a clog a tiny bit more work to recover from, but really no biggie.
I have had to replace parts over the life span of the printer, usually with better parts. I upgraded to an all metal extruder body which works better than the plastic one it ships with. The Bowden tube setup had started moving in it’s end fittings eventually which effected retraction and messed with print quality, I put a better than stock tube in for less than $15 CAD, it’s been solid so far.
The printer is loud, when idle with fan noise and especially when printing the stepper motors play a whimsical tune quite loudly. Mine lives in a separate building so I don’t mind but I would not want to sleep in the same room as this thing. Because my shop building is an unheated shipping container I built an enclosure for the printer to keep a consistent temperature through the winter (and to avoid dust) I have a small thermostat hooked to a tiny heater that never lets the chamber get below 10˚C through the freezing winter. I get much better prints with the enclosure. In summer when it’s hot I switch the heater to a fan to keep the temp in the enclosure below 35˚C. I find anywhere between those two temps I print PLA very well.
As I live in the forest we loose power regularly, this printer has an auto restart function which will pick up right where it left of which is appreciated. However, there are no sensors for common print failures or running out of filament, so if there is an error the printer will keep plugging away and usually make an epic mess.
Print Quality: Over all I’ve been very impressed with the quality of this printer. Prints are clean and smooth, walls are straight and it always does better than I think it will at overhangs and unsupported spans. I print a Benchy every once in a while and they always come out without flaws, and are comparable up to ones from any other printer I have seen.
Print Accuracy: I am Happy with the accuracy. I have had some issues, that needed addressing like the loose Bowden tube and a slipping extruder which effected the print quality. But the printer is pretty modular and replacements are available. I currently have a dip in the bed travel which I have yet to diagnose, as it’s toward the back I’ve been able to print around it, I’ll look into that next. It does require looking after but when working it prints very well. So far has worked well with a wide variety of filament brands. I have pushed 10-12 rolls of filament through so far, or about 4000M.
Pros: Big Build Volume, relatively inexpensive, good quality prints, robust community and information available, lots of aftermarket upgrade support and replacement parts easily available. Quality build of frame, motors and mechanism, switchable power supply (110/220). power failure recovery, decent print speed, good interface, micro SD input is simple, no computer necessary to print.
Cons: Not plug-and-play. Manual bed leveling, some of the smaller parts of the printer are cheaply made to hit this price point and will need to be upgraded with any heavy use, loud, needs occasional looking after. Large object, will not fit easily on a desk, requires large enclosure.
General Impression: I’m very satisfied, not sure what more I could want in a printer, except dual print heads. Best for those who don’t mind a little tinkering, but that’s probably true for the whole field of 3D printing.
Anything Else: It has a picture of a dragon on the front, if you are into that sort of thing.