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Prusa MINI+ 3D Printer

This is not really a review of the Prusa MINI+ 3D Printer. There are plenty of full reviews out there. What this is though is a post about my own experience with the Prusa MINI+, at least the first week with it.

First, some background. I am not new to 3D printing. My first post about 3D printing was in 2011. (See them all!) I got my first RepRap working in 2012, and helped start the Milwaukee 3D Printing Meetup the same year. I was using printers at Milwaukee Makerspace, UWM, and other places around town (including at work) and in 2017 I replaced my ageing RepRap with a Monoprice Maker Select Plus. So I went about five years between printers, which is fitting, because it’s five years later and I just got another printer. (I’m not counting the Creality machine I gave to my daughter or the Maker Select v2 I just gave away to someone I know.) So yeah, I get 3D printing. ;)

So while the Maker Select Plus served me well (after a few upgrades) I wanted something a bit better in the quality department. Years ago I spec’d a Prusa i3 at work to replace an ageing (and often broken) MakerBot and I loved that machine. I basically told everyone I knew to get a Prusa if they could. (They got a whole bunch of them at Milwaukee Makerspace.) The experience was top notch for someone coming from the old RepRap/Pronterface world. Alas, I left that job and left the Prusa behind.

Print quality from the Maker Select Plus was pretty good, but I’m hoping for much better quality from the MINI. One important thing to note is that while the MINI has a smaller bed, it can probably print more reliably across the entire bed. I’ve found that cheap printer with large beds don’t always excel at using the entire bed. Part of this is probably leveling. While I’ve been a gruff old veteran who says “Argh! All ya need is a sheet of paper and some patience to level things!” the probing and leveling system of the Prusa is great. (Yes, I know I could add it to the MSP, and upgrade the firmware to support it and… at this point I really just need to print.

In 2021 I started having to print more quality items that were for sale, and sometimes it was difficult to keep up and get good quality prints. I started eyeing the Prusa MINI again. I finally decided to grab one (after selling some other equipment I didn’t need) and it arrived in less than four weeks, which sounds like a long time but I was expecting 6+ weeks. So that’s a win.

As for the actual experience, here we go. Assembling it was a bit of a pain. I’ve put together two Ender 3 printers and it was very simple. The MINI assembly (while not many steps) kind of sucks. Maybe because I expect a certain level of Prusa experience. Luckily you should only have to do it once. (To be clear, I got the assembled model, so it was just bolting the two halves together, plugging in and routing all the wires, and that was it. Still a painful experience.) Remember how I said “you should only have to do it once”? Well…

After assembly the setup and calibration was great. Excellent experience! The machine walks you through the process very smoothly. I then did a test print found on the included USB drive and it looked good. (I used some Hatchbox filament, not the included Prusament.) So yeah, cool! From opening the box to getting a first print was a little over an hour in my freezing cold basement. I called it a night.

The next night I went down with a file I sliced with PrusaSlicer (which is a really nice piece of software) and get ready to print it but… ERROR! It showed an error on the screen. You can then look up the error code online or scan the QR code with your mobile. Seems the hotend thermistor was having issues. I checked on it, including opening up the enclosure to check the wiring, thinking maybe I didn’t secure things. Again, the wiring is a pain. Ugh. Painful. But at least I was getting used to it. So here’s the deal… It was cold in my basement, and this printer is so smart (ha!) it thought the thermistor had failed because, well… if the reading is that low, something is wrong. The only thing wrong was that I have a basement in Wisconsin. I ended up pointing a space heater at the printer until the thermistor read warm enough to pass the check. (It was honestly just a few degrees, but still.)

Okay, that was the second night. Not great, but a little annoying. I get why they do it, but hey, it’s winter in Wisconsin. I know how cold my basement is. And yes, the cold may affect the print quality. I know that.

Right so time to print! I put in the included USB drive and… nothing. It doesn’t see the thumb drive. Oh hell, now what!? I go upstairs to my computer, insert the drive, and… it’s corrupted itself. Damn. My old printer used SD cards and they always worked. Is this going to be a normal occurrence? I hope not! I reformat the drive, then copy files to it again, and I print. All good. (Note: The drive had been fine since then, as is the other one I use for printing.)

A bit of a rough start, but overall I am really pleased with the machine itself, the experience of using it (apart from the few hiccups at the beginning) and that printing plate is awesome. I was at first worried about the “bubbles” that appeared on the surface, because the (cheap) plates I’ve used with the MSP wear out, but I’ve been told these will last… and they sort of “self heal” after a bit of time. Sweet.

Now of course the real test is when things go wrong. With the Prusa i3 I used at work, it was amazing, but once we had to tear down the extruder to deal with a nasty clog and that was a nightmare. So time will tell as far as how things go when things go wrong. Right now I can pull apart the extruder to remove a clog on my MSP or an Ender 3 in less than ten minutes. For the MINI, well… I don’t know yet. Maybe it won’t clog. (Ha! Just kidding! It will. It’s a 3D printer after all.)

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RepRap Report

RepRap

Here’s a RepRap update, which I plan to do every now and then to track the progress of the RepRaster 5000. (Yeah, that’s the name of it. At least until I come up with a better one.)

The RepRaster 5000 has been fully operational for about a month now, and I have managed to make a few things in that time. Most of my prints have come out okay… not great, but okay.

Pronterface

I’m using Slic3r and a pre-compiled version of Pronterface on Mac OS X 10.6.8. I’ve had one or two STL files that had some issues with Slic3r, but besides that it’s been a fairly solid setup. I’m still using Sketchup for some 3D modeling, and OpenSCAD continues to confuse me.

Slic3r

My first prints were on a sheet of glass taped down to my heated PCB. They turned out pretty bad. Because of the way the PCB was attached to the platform I couldn’t clip the glass tightly into place. Oh, the PCB was also mounted flat(ish) to the wooden platform. I ended up raising up the PCB above the wooden platform, thinking it would help it heat up faster (it seems to) and I’d also then be able to clip the glass to the PCB. This is way better. Easier to work with, for sure.

So now I’ve got the PCB above the wood (spaced with a few nuts and washers) and the glass attached to the PCB with bulldog (AKA “binder”) clips. My first prints on plain glass were hit and miss, and the ratio was not improving. I tried ABS slurry (which is acetone with some filament dissolved in it) but that was messy and still didn’t seem to work that well. I ended up putting Kapton tape on the glass, and then just using nail polish remover to clean the Kapton well before printing. (I’d prefer to use the nail polish remover over the acetone if possible, since it’s less smelly.) Finally, I was getting really good adhesion! (I’m doing two skirt loops 6mm from the print.)

Leveling Nut

The one thing that really helped printing (so far) was leveling the bed, which was completely impossible at first. With just the nuts, there was no way in heck I was going to get things level. Then I found the Parametric Thumbwheel, printed four of them, and at last… a level bed! Again, one of the great things about a RepRap is that it can (often) print its own upgrades. I’ve got my eye on a few other items that might make things better/easier/faster.

I’m at a point now where I feel like I can print things, and while they aren’t the best quality yet, that will change in the future, with more and more tweaking. I’m looking forward to sharing tips & tricks at the Milwaukee 3D Printing Meetup happening July 1st, 2012, and 3D Printing Camp on July 21st, 2012. If you’re at all interested in this stuff, either event (or both!) would be a great introduction.

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RepRap (almost there!)

MakerGear Prusa Mendel RepRap (In Progress)

My project list has had RepRap 3D Printer on it for a long time… way too long. There are a few reasons for this. One reason is that I just don’t get large chunks of time to work on it. Working two jobs, having a family, and doing “other things” keep me pretty busy. Another reason is that I get involved in other projects. Most of the other projects are short-term, quick ones. Like the Arc-O-Matic, or another Drawbot, or some weird art, or small things that take maybe a day or two (or three) but not months.

But one of the other things that may have slowed me down in this project is… fear. With so many of my projects, they tend to be within my comfort zone, or just slightly outside of my comfort zone, but not way outside of my comfort zone. The RepRap has been (at times) outside of my comfort zone. I tend to like visual instructions. You know who excels at great visual instructions? Adafruit does, as does Evil Mad Scientist Labs. That’s why I love getting kits from them, and supporting them their work.

So this fear I mentioned… at some point I think I got too wrapped up in making sure I did everything right, but here’s the thing about a RepRap, even if it is a kit, you won’t do everything right. Nope, try as you might, you’re going to screw something up. Even if you’ve built other kits, and follow all the instructions, and use the mailing list, and blog posts, and IRC, and Google+… unless you’ve done it before, you will screw something up. (Hell, you might even screw things up if you’ve done it before.) But here’s the thing to remember: part of building a RepRap is learning, and that includes learning from mistakes. Building it up from a box full of parts does one thing, it ensures you can (probably) tear the whole damn thing apart and fix it. With all these new 3D Printers coming on the market that are fully assembled, that may not be the case. That’s one of the big questions I have. Let’s say you buy a 3D-A-Ma-Jig (yeah, I made that up) from 3D-A-Ma-Jig Incorporated, and it breaks… what do you do? What about repairs? What about warranties? Do you ship it back? Take it in… somewhere? This is part of the reason I went the RepRap route, so I would know every part of the machine.

So this past weekend I got a lot done. I probably put in close to 10 hours, and I learned a lot in that 10 hours. Sure, I read blog posts, Google+ comments, and lots of poorly explained “instructions” with no images, but hey, if things blow up, I can replace them. I’m saying goodbye to fear and forging on. I may earn my Magic Blue Smoke Badge, but dammit, that’s a badge of honor, not just among RepRap builders, but hackers and makers everywhere!

So what I’m really saying is, the RepRap is really close to being done.

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Woes in Plastic

Lens Gear

Bleargh!!! Sorry, had to get that out…

I seemed to be able to do nothing right last night at Milwaukee Makerspace. I joked that the only thing I was able to make was a mess. Besides hot-gluing my own thumb (though not my ass) and having many MakerBot failures, I was able to print two things, though even those two didn’t turn out that great. I’m getting a bit frustrated with the MakerBot Cupcake, and the mysteries of Skeinforge aren’t helping.

I’m waiting for MakerGear to ship my RepRap Prusa Mendel, which of course will require assembly, and configuration, and ten other weird things, but hopefully at the end I’ll have better prints than the Cupcake. Don’t get me wrong, the Cupcake is fun, but it’s also frustrating.

So I printed the 70mm lens gear, even though I really need one that’s about 85mm, just because I’ll be using a follow focus next week, and I want to see if this works. The gear teeth look good, even if the print itself did not turn out great.

Bottle Opener

I also tried this bottle opener, and again, while it is OK, it’s definitely not great. It looks pretty sloppy. The weird bits in the centr are the Milwaukee Makerspace logo, which was way too small to even attempt to print. It also filled in some of the hole areas a bit, which I had to remove the plastic from. That may be due to me editing the STL in Sketchup and creating a new STL with my own edits. I don’t know…

I think I need to take a break from printing things for a bit, and work on some other things. Printing takes a long time, and if it’s the only thing I do at the space, I feel like I’m neglecting other projects. (I did work on my Nutellastruder a bit, of course that led to the hot-gluing of my thumb!)

KinectToStl

Oh, we did play around with KinectToStl a bit. Again, the results were not super-impressive, but it was fun to experiment with it. I didn’t bother to read the instructions, so there may be some good times on making it work better, but that will be something to try another day.

Update: The bottle opener broke while trying to open a bottle. #fail