Evolution of a Blog

This blog has evolved as I have as a maker. It starts at the beginning of my journey where I began to re-tread my tires in the useful lore of micro electronics and the open-source software that can drive them. While building solutions around micro-electronics are still an occasional topic my more recent focus has been on the 3D Printing side of making.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What Entry Level FDM Printer Would I Recommend?

I was recently asked what entry level FDM printer would I recommend in the price point of around 300 GBP.  The printer would be an XMAS present for a young lad but I think Dad might be interested in some tinkering as well.

The more I looked at this the more I kept coming back to the same printer.  Obviously cost was the first filter but to that I added the following requirements:

  • Active user community for assistance
  • Open design so you it can be modified/enhanced in the future
  • Not tied to a single source for filament
  • Reasonably mature product (e.g. been in the market long enough to iron out the kinks)
  • Sturdy construction - steel frame - for accuracy and durability

When I toss all this together the printer that I come up with is the Wanhao I3 Duplicator.  It comes in two versions with the Plus being 340ish and the regular version 300ish.   The extra cost for the plus gives you smaller printer as they integrated the two parts of the original printer (power supply and controls were in their own enclosure) into a single part.  It also gives you a larger touch screen and moves from a tiny micro SD card back to the more easily handled larger format.  I think it would be a 40 quid well spent for the upgrade.

The printer can be purchased on Amazon where it gets very good reviews.  The Plus is a fairly recent offering but the original version has been around long enough to work out initial kinks (of which there were numerous).  

The printer is based on the popular Prusa I3 design which is probably the most common style of printer in the market.  It was the design of the first printer that I owned, which was a kit build, and which is covered in depth earlier in this blog.

One of my requirements for a printer is that it be open to customization.  While even a closed design can be hacked going into the equation with the printer being open makes it a lot easier.  One of the cool things about having a 3D Printer is being able to print your own enhancements!  Searching Thingiverse for Wanhao I3 Mods makes it clear that there is a lot of opportunity for this given the number of designs already out there.

There are a lot of Wanhao I3s out there in the ecosystem.  In the 3D Printers group on Facebook it was by far the most recommended printer when someone asked the same question that spawned this article.  There is also a group on Facebook for people interested in this printer with 14k members (and one for the Plus with 3k members).  There is also a forum sponsored by Wanhao on Google Groups for their I3 Duplicator (and other printers).  You will not lack for community support if you own one of these printers!  In fact, due to the nature of Wanhao as a low cost manufacturer, most of the support that one should expect will likely come from said community.

Finally, a note on Wanhao.  IMHO, if you look up "Low Cost China Clone Manufacturing" in the dictionary the picture there would be of the Wanhao logo.  I have owned three of their products, a stable FDM printer, the Duplicator 4s, and now I have two Duplicator 7s, a brand new entry of a resin based printer into the low cost market.  Wanhao takes a proven design that is out in the market at a higher price point and clones it for low cost production and they do a very good job of it...in the end!  In the beginning, however, their process seems to be a little rough as they release products into the wild that are, for all practical purposes, beta products.  The user community then helps them debug those products.  They did this with the I3 and some of the early experiences were pretty bad.  They have done this with the D7, and again, some of the early experiences have been definite learnings for them.  They do react with continuous improvements though.  I would caution someone against buying into any new Wanhao product until at least six to nine months have gone by unless they know what they are doing!  In the case of the I3, however, they are well past the intro pain!

Finally, this morning when I got up I was going to post a question to the members of the 3D Printers group on Facebook asking for opinions on the Wanhao I3 printers.  Ironically, someone beat me to it with this post (assuming that you are also a member of the group).  The feedback seems to be coming in as largely positive.

Feedback from the 3D Printing Group on Facebook

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Will - sold to the Dad that might be interested in some tinkering as well!