Comparison of 5 different 3D printers


#1

Below are my overall impressions of five printers I own (or have owned).  They are listed in the order that I bought them.  I've included thoughts about the customer support I received from the companies that produce them since, in some cases, customer support is a very important variable:

- CubeX Duo around March 2013-  This printer was complete junk and their proprietary filament was way overpriced.  I could barely get one functional print out of 10 from this machine.  Cubify had ONE technical support person for the entire operation and he was only able to respond to emails about a week after he received them.  The hardware was junk and the firmware was even worse.  The printer was down for two of the three months that I had it even though they sent me two replacements in that timeframe.  It eventually went back to where it came from and I was very happy to see it leave.

- Lulzbot TAZ (the original TAZ) around July 2013- I've not had very good luck getting good prints from this printer.  It seems that others may have had better luck.  Lulzbot customer support was very responsive but they never resolved the problems and I got tired of messing with it considering how frustrating such a high fail rate became.  My particular printer has around a 50% fail rate so I never use it anymore.  I haven't sold it because if I ever need to print something large (up to 12"x12"x12") I'll try upgrading it with the latest components and see if it does any better.  The Lulzbot forum community was okay but not nearly as interactive or deep as the MakerGear group for some reason.

- MakerGear M2 around October 2013-  A very good printer and very good customer service.  Its not as plug and play as the Zortrax and print quality isn't as good but I was so happy when I saw I could get less than 25% fail rates and the print quality was so much better than the TAZ.  The MakerGear community is by far the most involved and knowledgeable that I've experienced so far.  There are some very high end users on their forum which allowed me to gather enough information to redesign my printer with a larger build volume and a heated build chamber.  There forum community is a huge asset due to the high level of interaction and the depth of knowledge.

- Form1+  around October 2015- This printer has excellent print quality and resolution for the most part.  SLA printing is totally different than FDM so its difficult to compare them.  I thought I was in heaven after the first few prints off of the Form1+.  The print resolution is slightly better than the Zortrax when the Zortrax is set on its highest resolution.  

However the honeymoon didn't last very long.  The resin trays wear out over a relatively short period of time (think 0.5 to 1 kg of filament) but you never know when they are done until you start getting failed parts.  Even then you can't be sure fails are due to the tray.  I just replace the $65 resin tray after every half liter of resin if I can't afford the time lost due to a print failure.  Also, parts get very brittle and, with some exceptions, aren't as strong as most FDM prints.  Apples to apples, Form1 parts cost about 4x as much to print as FDM prints.  For reference, think of 1 liter of resin as the equivalent of 1 kg or filament.  1 liter of resin = $150 plus 1 build tray at $65 = $215 per liter.  $280 per liter if you only get a half liter from a tray.  Would anyone pay $215 per kg of filament even if the print quality was better?  Most people don't realize the costs or don't factor that math into their decisions.  The good news is that competitors are offering good resin for a lot less and its possible to refurbish your own trays for around $15 per tray if you have the knowledge and skills to do so.

The Form1+ prints often (not always) have a nearly perfect surface finish (except the surfaces closest to the build platform) so there's definitely a solid market for the printer.  It handles very small parts better than FDM for the most part without any special adjustments.  I will continue to use it for some types of prints.  

The Form1+ has a couple of nice advantages.  It is ultra quiet and there aren't a lot of settings to mess with so prints usually print well.  Given the same layer settings its about 4x as fast as the Zortrax, however, the Zortrax lets you print at 380 microns which helps speed when you need it.

I never really realized how much I value quiet operation until I used the Form1+.  I love the nearly silent operation.  It has no fans and only one stepper motor that you can hear and that motor only runs for short durations so its close to silent.  For an office situation that could be a major benefit since most people could easily work with it 2 ft away without being distracted or annoyed.

 I haven't needed customer service since I bought the Form1+ but they bent over backwards to serve me when I was considering the printer.  My impression is that they have a great company and great support.  I would say the Form1+ is a high quality product except for the tray issue which really hurts its value.

- Zortrax M200 March 2015- I have around 100 hours of printing on the machine so far on which to judge the system and all the prints except one have been excellent quality and with no hassle.  I have a LOT of FDM printing experience so I don't need a lot of time on this machine to realize it's designers have focused on almost all of the right areas to deliver a good printing experience.  The prints were are all way beyond my expectations for a FDM printer in terms of appearance and strength. The supports come off easily compared to the other FDM machines I've used.  I have a feeling my Form1+ may get lonely if the Zortrax proves to be this reliable and produces this high quality of prints on a consistent basis.  With just a little bit of vapor polishing the Zortrax prints will look as good or better than even the best Form1 prints.

The only negatives I've seen with the Zorax so far are the number of iterations required to level the bed (which I don't believe are truly necessary.  I covered that in another post), the bottom side of curved surfaces don't always print well and it takes a REALLY long time to heat up to print (on the order of 10-20 minutes.  I'm not sure why it varies that much when ambient temps are relatively constant and there are no drafts in the area).  I have also seen some warping and delamination on large, tall prints even with side covers on.

I don't know how the Zortrax forum community compares to the MakerGear community but I hope this community is similar.  I hope to be a valuable contributor myself as I learn the limits of this printer.

I haven't needed to use Zortrax customer service so I can't say anything good or bad.  However, while trying to decide between the Ultimaker2 and the Zortrax M200 I called a couple of the US distributors to try to figure more info.  I talked to one Zortrax dealer and the sales person said he had a lot of experience with printers but when I started asking him detailed questions he couldn't answer any of them beyond generic info.  Somehow magically got "disconnected" after the last hard question I asked him.  I then called iMakr in New York hoping for better results.  I talked to Maki and he was able to answer most of my questions and he was very pleasant to talk to.  He didn't really sway me toward one printer or the other but I could tell he really uses 3D printers himself and he gave me enough information to help me decide that the Zortrax M200 would probably fit my needs the best.  I chose the Zortrax ultimately for print quality with less tinkering/adjustments required.  I also think Bowden extruders are going to have limitations with flex material that a carriage mounted extruder won't.  A little while after my conversation with Maki, the owner of iMakr in NY called me to see if my experience was satisfactory.  I had a very pleasant conversation with him.  My overall experience with iMakr left a great impression.

After the first several prints on the Zortrax I'm very pleased and I'm confident that I made the right choice.  

  • This printer comes very close to the resolution of my Form1+ when using the highest resolution and the resolution is much better than any other FDM printer I've used. 
  • It has 3x the build volume of the Form1+ although less than then M2 or the TAZ.  However, 75% of my prints will fit within the Zortrax print volume. 
  • Prints cost 1/5th as much as Form1+ parts.  Zortrax filament is priced very reasonably.  I'm willing to pay a little extra to ensure continuity and quality control.  Filament quality often affects print quality as much as hardware and firmware.
  • The printer costs almost half the price of the Form1+, less than the TAZ and quite a bit more than the MakerGear M2.
  • There's no messy post processing compared to the Form1+.  The supports come off of Zortrax prints much more easily and cleanly than they do from other FDM printers I've used.

I'm generally very hard to please but my expectations were greatly exceeded by both iMakr NY and the Zortrax M200 print quality.  I'm a fan.


#2

Just curious what the longest print time on your Form 1 has been.


#3

Thanks for the reviews. I was considering getting a Form+ (not anymore).

I do have an Ultimaker 2. It's quality is not as good as my Zortrax, and like you say, the bowden tube does limit it a bit. It's very fast at printing and heating up though.


#4

Great write-up!

+1 for being able to toggle the lights during printing. 

The wait time before printing is starting to get on my nerves a bit. Like you said, it can take 10-20 minutes to heat up just to print a tiny 5 minute test part. Even better is that if I try printing something IMMEDIATELY after a print finishes (i.e. as soon as the menu pops up again) it'll STILL take another 10 minutes to heat back up. My guess is that this is either a power supply limit or extremely aggressive PID settings in the firmware. They might only have one group of control settings so it uses the same ones for both starting up and printing, but they really need separate controls . I'm really hoping that it's the latter and that it gets fixed because it's using up quite a bit of my time. 


#5

Yeah, the platform seems to take longer to heat up now that it used to.  I know it's good to wait a while for it to heat up completely but sometimes I have it running for 30 mins before I start a print and it still takes a while to finish heating up. 


#6

Kyle... I'm not sure how long the longest print took.  Probably around 8 hours or so.  When they say that the Form1+ is faster than FDM it it probably true when they are both set to the same resolution but a FDM machine set at a course resolution will print 5x as fast.  I think they have updated the Form1 firmware to allow 200 micron prints with the clear resin which should help a lot.  I haven't tried that setting yet.  I pretty much leave it at 50 microns and walk away.

EDIT... The Zortrax is quite a bit slower than other FDM printers I've owned.  I am printing the same part on my Form1+ and the Zortrax.  100 micron layers on the Form1+ and 190 micron layers on the Zortrax and the Form1+ is still about twice as fast.  So, my comment above was incorrect.  However... I'm still printing 10:1 on the Zortrax vs. the Form1+.

The Form1+ is a good machine.  Its just that after you add up all the costs its hard to justify it over a high resolution FDM printer unless you need to make parts that only the Form1 can make.  Small parts like jewelry or very detailed parts typically print much better on the Form1+

If the Zortrax displayed the bed temperature I would put an insulator on top of the bed until it got close to the target temp but not knowing when it might be ready to move I don't want to risk jamming it.  I might try using a heat gun to get it there a little faster.  If the PID coefficients are set too conservative that won't help very much.  If the long bed heat time is due to an under powered power supply then it will help.

So far I haven't had any failed or curled prints with the Zortax.  I'm a very happy camper.  I made some smoked Lexan enclosure panels last night and installed them.  The printer looks really good with smoked Lexan windows.  The prints I've had have been pretty much perfect so I don't know how much the panels will help but they probably will give some advantage for large tall prints.


#7

it's the PID settings... I have a first gen Zortrax and when I had the older firmwares everything was a lot quicker. I think it started with 0.0.3 or 0.0.4 and suddenly all got very slow.


#8

I just did the heat gun method and it definitely helped. I took the side panels off to avoid hotboxing the steppers, then I kicked on the heat gun and held it at a distance where I could still hold my hand under it for a couple seconds (to avoid cooking the paint on top or overheating the carriage). I held it on until the bed displayed ~90% then shut off the heat gun and put the panels on. The total time from start to print was a bit under 5 minutes, so definitely a significant improvement. 

Insulation would probably work as well (along with having lower risk). I think it'd be fine as long as you take it off when the plate is around 90%. 


#9

Hopefully they will fix the PID settings sometime soon.  Considering how well the printer is printing I won't complain.  This is the way I wanted it to be 4 printers ago ;-)


#10

it's the PID settings... I have a first gen Zortrax and when I had the older firmwares everything was a lot quicker. I think it started with 0.0.3 or 0.0.4 and suddenly all got very slow.

It can reach at temperature probe correct digits even in 2 minutes but the point is to heat evenly top of the aluminum platform surface not bottom :slight_smile:

Best Regards


#11

Just because the oven is at 350F doesn't mean the chicken is cooked.. :D


#12

I have a fix that almost halves the heating time.  :)


#13

Good point Martin.  It would be tough to tell what the optimum heating rate is without using a thermal camera to see so I'll have to just trust that its that way for a reason.  As well as my printer is printing its probably safe to assume that Zortrax is heating the bed slowly to increase adhesion reliability.  Thanks for bringing that up.  

I suppose the number of hours I spend getting a quality part is the most important variable and not how long just one part of the process takes.  Not having to worry about print fails and having very high quality prints every time takes days and even weeks out of a development effort over time compared to some of the other printers I've used.

Thanks

It can reach at temperature probe correct digits even in 2 minutes but the point is to heat evenly top of the aluminum platform surface not bottom :)

Best Regards


#14

22 hours into a 5" tall ABS print and its looking good.  I'd say I've probably had the printer running for at least 40 hours over the last 3 days and not a single print fail yet.  Before experiencing it myself, I would have thought someone was lying if they told me their $2000 printer printed a tall and long ABS part for over 20 hours without any issues.  I did make some 1/4" thick Polycarbonate enclosure panels for the sides which help keep the build volume a little warmer so that may have helped some.  

I'm lovin this machine more every day ;-)  


#15

Tshulthise, I love seeing your posts (since you have experience with other printers) - they keep reinforcing that I made the right decision to go with Zortrax.  :lol:


#16

Mind if I ask, who was the reseller you called out west? A little curious because in Octave if one of our sales reps does not know something they call one of our technicians or myself. 

-Michael


#17

Michael,

It was not Octave.  I said "out west" but that's not correct.  I just called the number again from my call log and it was a company in Chicago.  Sorry about any confusion that may have caused.  I edited the post to take out the "out West" reference.

Tony


#18

Yeah, I ordered from dynamism but I really shoulda gone with 3dproshare (if you're in any way involved with a university, give them a call before ordering anywhere else). Dynamism seems more like they just thought that it'd be a cool thing to sell even though they don't really have experience with it. Not to mention that their filament (all of two colors) is way overpriced.

With that said, I was EXTREMELY unimpressed with iMakr. When I called i was greeted with a flat and slightly questioning "Hello?" I wasn't even sure I had gotten the right place. I could hear the hubub of people, so I could tell that their number rang straight to the sales floor instead of to a dedicated help person. I said that I had some questions about the Zortrax, and the response was "Uh... we're kinda busy right now... I think he's talking to somebody... Could you call you back in, like... 5 minutes?" I had no idea who I was talking to nor who "he" was, but I had no desire to find out. I politely said ok, hung up, and called Dynamism. 


#19

I talked to two people at IMakr... Maki and the owner.  They were both really great.  Maki was able to answer almost all of my questions.

I ended up buying my printer through Amazon because they could get it to me in two days for just $20 extra with my Prime membership.  When I opened it I saw that it was distributed through Octave.  It looks like Octave offers some good products.  I later noticed that buying the filament directly from Zortrax is really cheap for the regular ABS... just $20 a spool.  I'm pretty sure I'll be going through a lot of spools with this machine.  still going strong with no failures yet and I keep it running almost full time.


#20

I talked to two people at IMakr... Maki and the owner.  They were both really great.  Maki was able to answer almost all of my questions.

I ended up buying my printer through Amazon because they could get it to me in two days for just $20 extra with my Prime membership.  When I opened it I saw that it was distributed through Octave.  It looks like Octave offers some good products.  I later noticed that buying the filament directly from Zortrax is really cheap for the regular ABS... just $20 a spool.  I'm pretty sure I'll be going through a lot of spools with this machine.  still going strong with no failures yet and I keep it running almost full time.

Add to cart and check shipping. As of now Zortrax only ships DHL. Basically adds $10 a spool. (but it only takes about 4 days from china)