Hello, all (few dozen remaining) readers. Yeah, I've been away a while because I didn't think I had much to add. Well, the last few weeks I've picked up a new hobby (no points for guessing it - I'm assuming you've read the title of this post) and several people have asked for more detail about the upgrades and other things I've done. Instead of emailing it to each person, I decided to post here for all to see, watch, and pick apart.
If you don't know what a 3d printer is, you're probably reading the wrong blog. It's ok, Facebook is right over there; and Instafacegram is right next door. For the rest of you...
Picking A Printer
I've been looking for an
excuse reason to buy a 3D printer for years, but couldn't quite rationalize justify it until recently when my cousin told me he was printing PPE for first responders and other folks on the front lines of the COVID19 pandemic. Being cooped up and still able to help out? Sign me up. So, the next thing to do was learn everything I could, starting with what printer to buy. I'm on a small mailing list with a lot of other geeky types and I know several of them have 3D
printers so I asked for their advice. Ultimately I decided on a Creality Ender 3 Pro, mainly because of the larger Y-axis gantry and better power supply. At under $250 it's a great entry-level unit that will still print well enough to use for a while. I also figured it would be an excellent learning platform considering how broadly they're loved and supported by the community. Not long after buying it, I was into add-ons and upgrades: some it printed for itself, while others were bought on-line. Most have been well worth the investment and that's where I get most of the questions. So let's dive in.
I'll go into more detail below, but for the tl;drs out there. All prices are on Amazon (links are direct, not affiliate links) unless specified otherwise.
- Octoprint (free) on a Raspberry Pi 4 (Amazon: 2GB RAM:$45, 4GB RAM: $60. Microcenter is $10 cheaper than Amazon, but only has them in-store, so if you have one near you: $35 and $50, respectively). My recommended plugins are listed below.
- Bigtreetech SKR Mini e3 v1.2 ($38) - v2.0 just came out with some minor improvements, so if you want to splurge, it's (an extra $7).
- AntClabs BLTouch self-leveling sensor (Amazon: $53)
- Better filament snips ($8)
- Tempered, treated glass bed (Amazon: $20; Aliexpress has these too, but I haven't tried any so can't attest to the quality.)
- Dual-screw, all-metal extruder assembly ($15)
- Stiffer bed leveling springs (16 for $8. So you have 12 spares, for this maybe?)
- Exacto-like knife with comfy handle ($8)
- Capricorn PTFE Bowden tube ($7)
- Bigtreetech Smart filament break sensor ($20)
- High accuracy scale ($15)
- Raspberry Pi camera with night vision ($16) with 1m cable ($5)
(IOW: Not right on the printer.)
Octoprint on a Raspberry Pi 4
What and why
If you're looking for a way to both simplify your printing experience, but also expand the capabilities and really see what your device can do, this is the first thing I would do. I've had Raspi's for years, starting with version 1 (which is still humming along in the basement). The Raspi2 is a DNS proxy, The Raspi3 was running home-assistant, but died a few months ago, and I have a Raspi0 managing and watching my garage doors. Just like with the printer, I've wanted a Raspi4, but didn't have a good reason until now. The 4 has plenty of power and mine is actually running two Ender 3Pros (long story) without any effort.
Octo, which is free, will manage your printers, keep track of prints, allow for on-the-fly adjustments, alert you when a print is finished or there's a problem, and a LOT more. The basic functionality is phenomenal and the add-ons make this a no-brainer. I have a Raspi camera attached to the cross-X bar at the top of my printer so I can monitor it remotely and it takes a picture after each print before saving the details. I got the one with GB of RAM, but you'll be fine with 2GB if you want to save a few $.
- Filament manager - Track spools including remaining filament; know how much is left in that spool on the shelf. Better still, set it up to use Postgres so that multiple Octo instances can share. This is one of my favorites.
- Bed Visualizer - If you have an automatic leveler, like a BLTouch (more on that later), this will generate an image of your bed topology, which is a HUGE help in knowing why things aren't sticking, and choosing where to print small, sensitive items.
- BLTouch plugin - for managing that automatic leveler
- PrintJobHistory - Save details on everything you print, including the photo I mentioned earlier.
- Pushover - get alerts sent to your phone, computer, watch, fillings in your teeth, etc. (I'm kidding about the teeth - or am I?). I've been using Pushover for years to get alerts for other things, but even if you have to create an account now, it's simple and well worth it.
- Cancel Objects - Lets you cancel an individual item being printed without stopping the whole job. Like when one of those frames starts to peel, I can cancel that one, remove it from the bed then let the printer continue with the other. You may need to tweak your Slicer's settings, but that's explained well in the plugin itself.
- Cost Estimation - get a good idea of how much that print is going to cost before you start.
- Octoprint-WideScreen - If you have a widescreen monitor this is a better layout
- Smart Preheat - Adds a preheat button to get the bed and nozzle up to temp faster
- TemperatureLegendMover - Moves the temperature legend to where you can see it. Minor improvement, but well worth it.
Internal Upgrades You Buy
Dual-screw, all-metal extruder assembly ($15) - The loaner CR10S-Pro comes with this, but I wasn't sure how much of a difference it really made. I did notice that it seemed to extrude more smoothly and that the filament had fewer bite marks, for lack of a better term, in it, so I figured I'd give it a shot on my E3P. Boy was my skepticism shot down. My printer was working well before I installed this, but this turned it into a rockstar. Those visor frames I keep talking about? They come out absolutely flawless: no burrs, no stringing, no blobs.
Bigtreetech Smart filament break sensor ($20) A break sensor will stop the print if your spool runs out or the filament breaks. You can build one with the Z-stop switch you liberate when installing the BLTouch, but that won't help if the filament stalls. For example, one spool I finished recently was wound poorly, so it kept getting tangled but since the printer didn't know that it kept going as if nothing was wrong. This sensor would have (should have?) detected the stall and paused the job. I have the sensor wired into the SKR Mini E3 but haven't gotten it working yet, which is why it's in the nice-to-have section. Once I get it working it's likely to move up to the big league.