My printer is the MBot Cube dual extrusion 3D printer, sold from mbot3d.com. It is a clone of the open-source MakerBot Replicator, allowed by their copyright terms. You can check out the specs in more detail on MBot’s site (if you can wade through the Engrish), but the important things to me were:
- Dual extrusion (allows for multi-colour prints or support material in a dissolvable material)
- Large print bed (20cm x 20cm x 20cm)
- Good resolution (0.1mm to 0.3mm layer thickness)
- Works with both ABS and PLA
- Ships fully assembled (no fiddling with kits – good for a beginner)
- Very reasonable price, including shipping
I knew that I was taking a risk getting something from China since there were few reviews of this particular printer and getting support from them might be difficult, but I was encouraged to go ahead with it by a friend who already owns a Replicator and could guide me through troubleshooting if necessary. With a limited budget, this seemed like the best option for getting something I would be happy with for a while.
MBot was very good about responding to my initial queries by email about the details of their printer, and the fabrication time and shipping estimate was very accurate. I received my order within about 4-5 weeks, with a shipping cost of about $200 and duties fee of ~$26. Pretty much everything I needed to get started was included in the box. It came with the following items:
- The printer!
- Hex key for the larger hex screws
- SD card
- Metal scraper to remove prints
- Two spindles of 1kg each ABS filament
- Power cable for some other country standard.. but if you have a standard computer/printer power cable it can be switched in easily.
The filament that was included was not in any colour I had chosen, just random. I ended up with a translucent red and a bright green. At least I don’t feel bad messing up prints in those colours!
I found the links for the software on the MBot site didn’t work for me, so I just googled that version of the software. Be warned: do not try to use the latest version of ReplicatorG, it won’t work with the installed firmware. The method to upgrade the firmware through ReplicatorG is also a complete pain in the ass and likely won’t work either. Save yourself a headache at first and just use the older ReplicatorG software. Theoretically, there is a method for updating the firmware more directly, but I haven’t tested that out yet.
Before printing anything, I needed to get the filament loaded. I didn’t know at the time that there are functions in the firmware to do this, so I attached the printer by USB cable and used the ReplicatorG software to first back out the filament nibs that were shipped with the printer and then feed in the new colours. You can see in the picture above the partially black curlicue of green filament as a result of switching the colours.
I also tried printing through the USB cable, but this was an exercise in frustration as it would often time out. My friend explained to me that this is a result of packets being lost due to USB being unreliable, so I switched to printing from the SD card. Happily, I have an SD card reader on my laptop that simplifies that process.
The first thing I tried to print was a cat, which you can find on Thingiverse. As you can see below (click to embiggen), it’s a recognizable cat, but not particularly detailed or pretty. I was fairly happy that out of the box it could do this well. The acrylic build platform seemed to stick to the plastic well, and it was easy to remove the print when it finished (more on this later…).
Problems I saw right away:
- There were holes in the cat
- The plastic looked messy and not sticking to itself
- The printer shuddered like crazy as it printed
Next up.. my various experiments in diagnosing the problems and improving print quality!
If you have any questions about this printer or any of the issues mentioned in this post, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.