3D Printing Experiences and Info

This is a list of tips and links about 3D printing in general. There will be some specific to the Creality Ender 3 and the Monoprice Mini Delta because I own both of those printers and have some bit of experience with them. I will talk about general 3D printing and related topics also.

NOTE: This is a work in progress. It may appear jumbled and there is no doubt duplication. Hang in there while I work through getting the stuff populated.

Section Links

Choosing a Printer

First Ask Yourself ...

Do you really want a 3D printer? Are you sure? Do you have $200 - $300 to get started?

You will need a place to put the printer. The garage is not the right place as it's important for the printer to be in an environment that is also comfortable for you. If it's too cold, too hot, or too humid you will have all kinds of problems using your printer. You will need a sturdy table or desk to put the printer on - plan on a space at least twice the size of the printer. You will need power (not a lot) and good lighting. Most important you will need a place that is accessible yet away from your everyday life so that the operation of the printer will not disturb you or others when operating.

Finally, you should (must?) have a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher in the room the printer is in. You do not want to sacrifice your house because something went crazy with your new printer. Some parts get really hot and are capable of starting a fire if something goes wrong with the temperature control.

What Do You Want Your Printer to Do?

You somehow need to narrow down the field of printers to a select few that will meet your needs. You don't have to figure out what you actually plan to do with it - you won't know until you actually start using it and your friends tell you what they want you to print.

I have a list of criteria that I used to select my first printer:

  • Cost (with shipping) - set an upper limit.
  • Availbility - where is it coming from and how long will it take to get to you.
  • Build size - how big is the build volume and how important is this to you.
  • Maximum nozzle temperature - this will determine which filaments other than PLA that you can use. Many printers can change this later.
  • Heated Bed - it's something you will NEED if you print anything other than PLA. I consider this a must.
  • Frame type - this will determine how sturdy the printer is. The sturdier, the better.
  • Support - how do you get help when something goes wrong. A good support community is priceless.
  • Open source - this one will let the community REALLY help out by fixing issues with the firmware and hardware because they will have access to everything that went into building the printer.
  • Issues - known problems and their solutions. Many minor issues can be easily fixed but it's good to know about them before you pick a particular printer.
  • Setup effort - how easy is it to put together after you get it out of the box? Is it plug-and-play, a semi-kit, or a pile of parts you have to assemble?
Make up your own chart of the questions above that you think are important and add any of your own.

Don't forget to ask around among your trusted friends. You probably know at least some of them who have some 3D printing in their background and there may be a few who are 'closet' 3D printer owners.

In addition to the above I had a specific goal of buying something inexpensive that required little or no tweaking or assembly out of the box. I wasn't sure how far I was going to go with 3D printing (look where I am now!) so I wanted to minimize the impact on my wallet and time.

Narrow The Field

Get the number of possible printers down to a 'few'. Use your 'gut feel' about which ones you could actually live with if logic doesn't weed out the bad ones. Don't be afraid to talk it over with your friends even if they don't have any real interest or knowledge. Sometimes just talking it out with someone (or even your cat or dog) can help you make the right selections.

About Used Printers

Unless its almost new and still in production I recommend you avoid anything used. There are a few exceptions to this but things are changing so fast in this field that only the printers in current production make any sense at all.

Printers developed 2 years ago are already starting to show their age and anything 4 years old (or a design from 4 years ago) is on the verge of being completely obsolete.

If you are a true tinkerer, don't mind digging in to fix things, and get a really good price then a used printer could be just the thing for you.

Pick The One

You're down to just a few choices and have weighed all of the factors. It's time to make a decision. Don't rush it. Once you have made the decision pick a day when you will actually order it. Leave at least a couple of days to let your subconscious verify your selection. You'll know if you've made the right choice after a couple of days.

Ordering The Printer (and Filament)

You probably already know where you're going to order the printer from. Go out there and do it!

You have checked out filament right? You NEED filament to print with. Most printers either come with zero or a very small quantity of filament. It won't be enough. Pick out two colors (one if you're tight on the budget) of PLA filament from Hatchbox, Matterhackers, or some other well known name. You can find more information in the General Printing Tips section about choosing a filament.

NOTE: filament comes in two diameters - 1.75 mm and 3.00 mm. Unless you KNOW differently make sure to pick the 1.75 mm filament.

Expect to pay at least $20 per kilogram (delivered) for good filament. Don't pick some crazy color - it will be the spool that you never use half of.

Make SURE you order filament at the same time you order your printer. I ordered my Mini Delta the day after Christmas and it was delivered EARLY the next day. I hadn't ordered any filament yet! That was frustrating to have the printer and not be able to print anything for another 3 days as the Mini Delta came with zero filament.

Some Things You'll Need When Your Printer Arrives

The only tool you will need is something to open the box. All of the printers I've researched came with all of the tools needed for assembly (and repairs). You may find that other tools you already have are helpful or better for the job but what is included is usually up to the task.

If your printer did not come with a pair of small flush cut wire cutters (many do) you will need a pair. You will need this to cut the filament at an angle with a nice clean cut so you can properly thread the filament into the machine.

A tape measure or ruler at least 1/2 meter long (and it should be metric if possible) may be needed to check for consistency between the side rails at the top and bottom. My Ender 3 definitely needed some adjustment to get them even.

You may need supplies to clean the bed surface. Check with the manufacturer to determine what you will need. Some say to use rubbing alcohol, others (Ender 3) say to just use soap and water. It's best to use a lint free cloth but I've been using paper napkins (I have lots of them around) and had no problem.

I highly recommend you have a note pad (and something to write with) dedicated to your printer so you can write down notes and ideas as you go. If nothing else you can use it to make a list of those things you wish you had and ideas for the future.

A notebook and pen (or pencil if you wish) to log your prints. I use a steno pad and I have found it VERY helpful to log every print I've made. Just a date, what I'm printing, what filament I used, and any extra information about the print. I also record how the print came out - particularly if there are problems.

Having someone to help, especially if they have done this kind of thing before, is not a bad idea. It's not necessary but it can make things go faster. Of course if the person helping is not familiar with the process and insists on giving advice it could take longer.

You need an area where you can spread out the printer and components while you put things together. If you have 2-3 times the size of the printer to work in you should have no problems assembling your printer.

Some Extra Tools and Other Things

In addition to things I've mentioned above, there are a few extra tools and things that I have found useful:

  • Flashlight - A good thing to look under that print head when you think something odd is happening.
  • A small ruler - I had a couple of 15 mm (actual 6 inch) plastic rulers around and found that they are useful from time to time.
  • Tweezers or small pliers - You'll need this to grab that small piece of filament hanging from the nozzle. KEEP YOUR FINGERS AWAY FROM THE VERY HOT NOZZLE!
  • Green (concrete) Painter's Tape - Some time down the line you'll want to experiment with PETG or some other filament. Some filaments just won't stick to the normal bed or will try to bond with that bed. A layer of tape is the way to go.
  • Glue Stick - to help that unusual filament type stick to that tape.
  • Paper Towels - you don't need a whole roll but at least a few sheets to fold over a few times and wipe off that glob of filament that has oozed onto the side of the nozzle. Make SURE you fold it over several times to insulate your fingers from the nozzle.
  • Miscellaneous general tools - screwdrivers, pliers, etc. It's hard to say what you will actually need here. Just use what you have.

Unboxing and Assembly

Your printer has arrived and you have your space for the printer all set up (if not, go get it ready and come back here when you're done).

Open up the box and check to be sure everything is there. There SHOULD be some instructions right on top to guide you. Don't unpack anything until you do look over the instructions thoroughly.

If your printer happens to be completely assembled skip on to the next topic after you get it out of the box.

STOP! Did you go find AND WATCH videos (more than one) on how to assemble your printer? If not go do it NOW. I'll wait.

You should look at your unboxing and assemble at least a couple of times. Do NOT depend on the manufacturer's videos. These usually get made before the first printer gets shipped and are never updated afterwards. Find an independent video as they will probably have insights on things to watch out for during unboxing and assembly. They frequently will show you a better way to do some of the assembly.

Take your time. If you have a limited amount of time to work on this find a good place to stop and come back later. It's not worth doing it wrong and then having to do it over later. It's good if you can have a means of playing (and pausing) your favorite assembly video as you assemble your printer.

Make sure you have everything you are supposed to. Check the instructions. What gets packed with the printer for instructions is usually very basic. Look for more extensive instructions on the SD card that comes with the printer.

Be deliberate with your efforts. It should not be a race. Watch where everything, especially wiring (the voice of experience), is going to make sure things aren't crossed up.

I assembled my Ender 3 in less than a couple of hours but stopped there and grabbed some sleep. I've found that it's ALWAYS a good idea to let your subconscious mind mull over something this complex so it can alert you to something stupid you did without realizing it. I recommend you build it one day and then start on getting it working the next.

Handling Filament

There is only one thing that can really go wrong with PLA filament - a tangle. The one sure way to avoid a tangle is to be SURE that the end of the filament is always in one of three places:

  1. Tied down on the spool. Usually poked through a hole on the side of the spool or taped down.
  2. In your hand. DO NOT LET GO!
  3. Threaded in your printer.
I didn't make up this list - it comes from a YouTube video I watched long ago (3 months?). Somewhere in the links I'll list it.

If you let go of the end of the filament it is very possible that it will get in a tangle. This happens when the end of the filament gets under one or more other layers on the spool. The filament now has to 'flow' under those layers and will eventually get stuck causing chaos at the printer.

There are ways to fix a tangle and there a couple of really good YouTube videos showing the process. The best thing is to not let it happen.

Once you are done with a spool of filament and have removed it from the printer be sure to put it in the zipper bag with it's pack of desiccant. Seal it up squeezing out as much air as practical. Put it up on a shelf so the cat can't claw at it.

Getting Ready for Your First Print

*** Do NOT turn on the printer yet! ***

You're ready for the first print. The printer is sitting in front of you and it's blank screen is quietly awaiting for you to awaken it. It's almost time. Insert the SD card that came with the printer into the appropriate slot. CAREFUL! I know it's possible to miss the slot on the Ender 3 and have to remove the cover from the electronics box to retrieve it.

Turn on the power switch (if it has one). You should be greeted by a happy LCD screen that last saw the light of day half a world away.

Open your filament if you haven't already and place it on the spool holder. DO NOT unfasten the end of the filament yet. On some it's taped down. On others the end is stuck through a hole in the side of the spool. Leave it there for now. Make sure the filament is facing the correct direction on it's way to the printer.

Prepare the filament for threading into the printer. Unfasten the end of the filament from the spool (hang on tight!). You want to cut off any bent or damaged filament. Use your flush cut wire cutters to make a bit of a point on the end. You want the pointy part to be on the outside of the curve the filament wants to make. This will help the filament travel through the Bowden tube without much restriction.

It's now time to start threading the filament into the printer. Consult your printer instruction manual for specifics. There is a lever arm to squeeze on the extruder which will open up the space to feed the filament into the extruder. Feed about 5-10 centimeters for now and release the extruder lever arm.

Leveling the Bed

If your printer has automatic bed leveling you can skip down to 'Loading the Filament'. Consult your printer instructions to be sure.

This is the one step that gives most people trouble. The process is very similar for most printers and there are quite a few videos out there that show you how. Some are better than others and after you watch a few (I recommend at least 3) you'll know which one best matches your printer and makes the most sense for you.

You will need a shim that is about 0.1 mm thick. It just so happens that common 20 lb. printer paper is almost exactly 0.1 mm thick. How convenient! You don't need a clean sheet - you can use any scrap, unmangled, and clean sheet. You only need a strip about 5 cm wide and half the width of a standard page long. A little bigger is OK.

Follow the instructions for your printer and the videos you have watched. Don't rush this. Getting the first layer to stick to the bed is CRITICAL! If the nozzle is too close it won't stick. If it's too far away it won't stick. Take your time to get this right.

By the way, DO NOT PUT YOUR OILY FINGERS ON THE BED SURFACE! Oops, you probably already did. Clean the bed according to your manufacturer's instructions. I've found that cleaning the bed surface every so often is good practice.

Again, leveling the bed is the most important thing you can do to get your printer to work properly.

Loading the Filament

Now it's time to load up the filament. You must first heat up the hot end (or nozzle) to an appropriate temperature. For PLA that is usually 185C. You may have to check your specific printer for instructions but if your printer is running fairly vanilla Marlin firmware (most do) then press the knob once to get to the menu. Select 'Prepare' (press the knob again) and scroll down to 'Preheat PLA' and press the knob again.

On the main status display you should see an indication of the nozzle temperature. Above the 'nozzle' symbol will be the target temperature (it should be 185) and below it will be the current temperature. Wait for the temperature to get up to at least 183 before moving on.

To feed filament squeeze the release lever on the extruder and push the filament through the Bowden tube. It should slide easily - at least until you get close to the hot end. When you hit a firm restriction the filament is likely at the nozzle. Different printers may have small bottlenecks but you'll know when you've come to the nozzle. If your Bowden tube is white in color you should be able to see the end of the filament as it moves through the tube.

Once you hit the nozzle (actually the top of the nozzle) you will need to gently push through some more filament - probably about 5 mm. Don't force it - you will only bend it back at the extruder end and have to cut it off and start over.

I expect you have been looking for filament to ooze out of the nozzle. If it isn't push a bit firmer on the filament. Don't be surprised if some other color comes out of the nozzle. That proves that your hot end was tested back at the manufacturer.

DO NOT USE THE FLUSH CUTTERS TO REMOVE THE OOZING FILAMENT! Many nozzles have been damaged this way since the flush cutters are perfectly capable of cutting into the soft brass of the nozzle. Tweezers are best but I've used a folded up section of paper towel. NEVER use your fingers. Remember how HOT that nozzle is!

Make sure you get ALL of the oozed filament off of the nozzle. What you don't get off now will surely become part of your print later.

Unloading Filament

I know, it's not time to do this yet but it is important to know how so when the time comes you will be ready.

If your hot end has cooled down below 185C then you will need to warm it back up. You should already know how so I won't say it again here. Once the hot end is warmed back up what you will do is squeeze the extruder lever and PUSH about 1-2 mm of filament in. You then IMMEDIATELY pull the filament completely out of the extruder. DON'T LET GO! You will get a VERY fine hair of filament following the end. Keep pulling until you get it ALL out.

Cut this off with your flush cutters (just like when you did to load the filament) and tie it down to the spool.

If you had to reheat your hot end go in through the menus and select 'Cooldown' to turn off the heater.

To avoid having to reheat (or cooldown) the hot end just be there when your print ends and do the removal right away.

Put your filament in the bag and seal it up.

Printing the Sample

On every supplied SD card there will be a sample print. Follow your printer's instructions to get it started and watch the magic happen.

DO NOT do anything special for bed adhesion. The 'Build Tak' like surfaces that come with most printers will work great without anything special being done to them. No tape, no glue stick, no hair spray - just the bed.

Although most sample prints are nearly foolproof there are times when things don't go well. Most disasters happen right away on the first layer. I always watch the first layer print because I know if that has problems the rest of the print stands little chance of success.

If you have done your leveling correctly and cleaned the bed surface your chance of success with the sample print is very high. The manufacturer REALLY wants this first print to be a success so this particular print has been highly tuned to work right the first time every time.

You'll probably watch this for several minutes and then start getting bored. That's normal so set a timer to come back every 15 minutes to check on it. This is not something you will need to do for every print. My time between checks has stretched out to an hour for multi-hour prints and I've only had an issue once (so far).

When the Print Finishes

Just sit there and bask in the glory of your first successful (hopefully) print. If you're really up to it you can remove the filament if you're there when the print finishes.

Although it is possible to get the print off of the bed right away it is best to let the bed cool down below 30C. It will pop off easier at that temperature.

I've been using single edge razor blades (actually the same one for quite a while now) to get under the print and just help it unstick itself from the bed. It's not good to pry with one of these razor blades - you don't want to break the blade, slip and cut yourself, or damage the bed surface. Just ease it between the part and the bed. There is a nice handle you can print for these blades that works great - and makes this much safer.

Most printers come with some sort of scraper tool to help with removal. The one that came with my Mini Delta is nearly worthless. The one that came with the Ender 3 is much better but still not optimal. They both work well with larger prints after you have gotten a start with the razor blade.

When both the bed and nozzle temperature have cooled down below 30C it's safe to turn off the printer. I've jumped the gun at 40C sometimes because I was in a bit of a hurry but you should get it down to 30C if you can.

Things to Do BEFORE Every Print

This is a short list of things you MUST do before every print. I don't always follow it and sometimes it costs me.

  1. Check the bed level. Skip this if you have automatic bed leveling.
  2. Make sure the bed is 'clear'. Did you remove EVERYTHING from the bed from the last print? I sometimes forget the purge strip and on rare occasions the skirt from the previous print.
  3. Is the bed CLEAN? I've found that alcohol is NOT the best way to clean the Ender 3 bed - soap and water works best and is the recommended method. It's easy to remove the bed surface and take it downstairs and give it a cleaning. You do not have to scrub (and probably shouldn't), just wash it off.
  4. Is the filament loaded? An embarrassing omission.
  5. Is anything in the way of the hot end and/or bed movement?
  6. Is there any glob of melted filament hanging down from the nozzle (filament boogers)? I've found that the best time to catch these is just before the hot end lowers to the bed to start printing. I use a folded up paper towel (at least 4 layers) and just quickly wipe the nozzle. Remember: It's HOT
There are probably more but if you do these every time you will eliminate the most common silly mistakes.

Revisiting Printer Selection

It's been over a year since I got my Ender 3. A LOT has changed since then. At least one new configuration (core xy) has been introduced. Reasonably priced resin printers have appeared. I'll try to cover the highlights.

Core XY

This is a different approach to moving around the print head. It has advantages and of course some disadvantages. It's an interesting design variant. Note that the Ender 5, even though it looks like other Core XY printers, is NOT a Core XY printer.

Resin Printers

These printers present a very different method of printing. They offer the ability to print highly detailed parts. There are several disadvantages with these printers. The most significant in my mind is the fact that the resins are toxic and require special handling. Printing is also really slow and the print area is currently severely limited in affordable printers. There also some components that have a limited life.

New Printers

Prusa and Creality (and others) have introduced new printers. A few completely new manufacturers have appeared. Some are quite good, others not so good, and some are outright bad. The choices now are more diverse. How you choose has not changed though. Do you homework and pick your criteria.