After many month of owning my Printrbot Plus I am finally up and running. As you may know, Printrbot was created by Brook Drumm and started as a kit on kickstarter in 2011. I bought my printer after the Printrbot kickstarter campaign ended and my printer (Printrbot Plus) embodies some upgrades not available with the original Printrbot kickstarter (heated bed, ability to print PLA, etc.).
Through my journey of setting up my Printrbot Plus kit and getting good quality prints, I realize there are two paths you can take as a hobbyist interested in 3D printing. You can purchase a high-end, high-cost consumer printer (e.g. Makerbot) and get an experience that is closer to using an appliance. Or you can purchase a kit or printer that uses commercial and open source software which is more of a tool and requires you to get to know the hardware and software intimately in order to get good quality prints. Ultimately, the path you choose depends on what you are looking to get out of 3D printing. If you don’t care or want to know all the nitty gritty details of 3D printing, an appliance if more appropriate for you. If you like to tinker, suffer from the Maker mindset, or want to really understand the printer hardware and software details, a tool approach will serve you best.
I have to admit that I was a bit frustrated that I was not able to 3D print immediately after I assembled my kit and had to fix an issue on my printer (I left a gear set screw too loose and it was causing my y axis to slip/drift therefore resulting in prints that were at about a 45 degree angle when they should have been 90 degrees). And if you asked me while battling my printing issue shortly after assembly, I probably would have opted for a printer that is more of an appliance. These appliance printers come fully assembled and somewhat tested/calibrated. They use proprietary software that is streamlined for the hardware and generally allow you to get decent prints within an hour or so of unboxing the printer.
My Printrbot Plus kit took me about 15 hours to assemble and another 10-20 hours or so to calibrate and experiment and get a good print. You should investigate the instructions available for your kit. The Printrbot is definitely not difficult to assemble, but it is a bit of a puzzle at times because the instructions are fairly high level and more based on pictures rather than text providing details. Also consider whether there is any support for the printer you are considering. Although I did not use formal support, Printrbot does offer free email support and the people that work for Printrbot (met many at Makerfaire in San Mateo) are super helpful! I was spending a 15-30 minutes here and there to get my printer calibrated and tuned, so it took many months. Below is a functioning whistle I printed using a design (STL file) from thingiverse.com.
Looking back, I’m really grateful that I built a kit. It allowed me to get familiar with the hardware components of a 3D printer and, most importantly, made the machine much less intimidating. By the time I had assembled the machine, I understood which motors controlled which axis, how everything was wired and how to assemble and disassemble everything. I realized that, if necessary, I could dismantle any portion of the machine and rebuilt it. It turns out that shortly after initial assembly I had to disassemble a portion of the machine to be able to tighten the gear that controls the Y axis (front and back movement of bed). During initial assembly I had not tightened the Y axis motor’s gear set screw tight enough and it was slipping during printing.
Writing this blog reminds me that, for me, being a Maker is so much about the journey (learning about 3D printing, meeting interesting people online and in person) as much as it is about the destination (getting good quality 3D prints).
If you are thinking of getting into 3D printing, I’d recommend you buy a printer to have at your home. That way you can spend a bit of time here and there as learning 3D printing takes time and is an iterative process. The more time you spend in front of the printer the better. Ultimately, I’d highly recommend the Printrbot printers and Printrbot kits for any Makers or DIY enthusiasts. Regardless of the 3D printer that you buy, make sure you pay the few extra bucks to get a printer with a heated bed and ability to print both PLA and ABS.
Have a happy journey and, ultimately, happy printing!