My new 3D printer - impressions of the Creality Ender 3 (HPR Show 2581)

Dave Morriss


Table of Contents

Introduction

I have been thinking of buying a 3D printer for a year or so. I had thought of getting a Prusa i3 MK3 in kit form, but although it’s cheaper than the built form this printer is not cheap, and I doubted my ability to build it. I was also unsure whether there was a real need for the capabilities of a 3D printer in my life, and whether such a purchase was justified.

I had noticed the Chinese Creality CR10 printer in the recent past, and wondered about buying one of these at about half the price of the Prusa. This is a good-sized printer which comes fully-assembled as I understand, and it has had many good reviews.

When the Creality Ender 3 was released in April 2018 for around half the price of the CR10 it looked worth the risk to see if I really needed a 3D printer. So I bought one (from Amazon) in June.

As I write this (2018-06-10) it’s been less than a week since it was delivered, so this is a very preliminary look at the printer.

The Creality Ender 3 printer

The Ender 3 is a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Cartesian printer with a heated bed with a 220mm x 220mm x 250mm printable volume. It originates in China and arrives in a partially disassembled form. Assembly is not difficult and takes perhaps an hour or two.

Overview

The frame of the printer is made from aluminium extrusions and metal fittings which have a high-quality finish. Many other parts are made from metal, and a few from plastic, but there are no 3D-printed parts in it. The X and Y movements are controlled by stepper motors which drive toothed belts. The Z axis is controlled by a single threaded rod. The moving parts are supported by what seem to be hard rubber wheels which ride on the frame.

As can be seen from the pictures below, the printer is quite compact: there is a metal box containing the main controller under the print bed, with an LCD panel and control knob to the right of the unit. The power supply is attached to the frame behind the rightmost vertical extrusion.

The spool holder is mounted on top of the frame (in step with the compact layout) and the filament feed (extruder) consists of a motor driving a small gear and a pulley system to the left of the frame. Filament is fed through a Bowden tube to the moving “hot end”.

The printer will print from a micro SD card which can be inserted into a slot on the front of the control box. There is also a micro-USB connection for a PC or laptop.

Assembly

The printer comes well packed in a surprisingly small box.

Boxed printer
Boxed printer

A small amount of PLA filament is included and the enclosed instructions are largely pictorial.

Unpacking the box shows a number of pre-assembled parts. The bed, controller and extruder are already assembled for example.

Contents of box 1
Contents of box, part 1

Contents of box 2
Contents of box, part 2

Tools are included, and all of the bolts and screws are packaged in labelled plastic bags. There is an SD card with detailed assembly instructions, though we found the instruction leaflet was sufficient to allow us to build the printer.

Building did not take very long, though there were three of us to hold things and interpret the instructions.

Almost assembled
Almost assembled (Bowden tube not connected)

There are many assembly videos on YouTube, as well as blogs about the process, so I will not go into any more detail about this here.

Assembly issues and observations

  1. The X axis belt was already fitted and well tensioned. However, fitting and tensioning the belt on the Y axis was difficult, and it was later found that the slack belt resulted in poor print quality

  2. Feeding the filament through the extruder and Bowden tube for the first time was difficult. The filament should be cut diagonally, but it still snagged as it left the extruder. We found that temporarily disconnecting the Bowden tube allowed it to be fed in without trouble.

  3. We didn’t have any problems inserting the microSD card but there are reports of it missing the slot and ending up inside the control box.

First print

There is a pre-sliced object on the SD card, but we didn’t use that.

We used Ultimaker Cura as a slicer in the first instance, optimising the parameters for rapid printing rather than precision.

First print
First print was a small “coin” my son had designed in Fusion 360

A 1Kg reel of PLA was delivered a few days after the printer, and we started printing items like a DIN Rail fitting for my Raspberry Pi 3B+. The quality was good, even though we still had work to do to optimise everything.

DIN Rail fitting
DIN Rail fitting for a RPi 3B+

Usage issues and observations

  1. Levelling the bed is a bit tedious, but it has to be parallel to the Y axis. There are four levelling knobs under the corners of the bed. It is necessary to lower the hot end to a corner of the bed with enough space under it to insert a sheet of paper. The nozzle should gently touch this but not impede its movement as it is slid back and forth. This check and adjustment then needs to be carried out on each corner. Moving the nozzle around the bed is done by using the LCD control panel.
    I have seen one review of this printer on YouTube where the reviewer ran a procedure that automatically positions the nozzle at each of the four corners. This feature is not available in the firmware on my printer but I have found a GCode file on Thingiverse which performs this action.

  2. Adhesion to the bed was a problem. When printing with the supplied filament it was too strong and removal of the object from the bed was difficult. Later (with new filament) things kept detaching. We found that a glue stick applied to the bed was needed to make the item adhere. The optimisation of this stage is ongoing. Better bed levelling seems to be helping significantly here.

  3. Problems with the bed being warped have been reported for this printer. There is no very obvious warping on mine, though we have not yet checked it thoroughly. Some users are adding a glass top to the bed, and various add-on adhesive surfaces are available. This is something we are looking into.

Conclusion

There are upgrades for the printer. Belt tensioners have been made available for the CR10, and these are almost compatible with the Ender 3 - a situation which is likely to change soon. Also, there is an attachment for the hot end which helps direct air from the fan onto the nozzle. Alternative firmware is also available which can be flashed onto the controller. See the Thingiverse link for more information about printable enhancements.

This is a great little printer at an amazing price. There are a few issues with it, as mentioned, but overall, in our experience so far, it’s a really good printer for a beginner.