If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw one of my recent tweets about 3D printing. Since last week, I started an intense journey into the world of 3D printing with the arrival of our Prusa i3 MK3 kit. I shared about the assembling process and first prints in this Twitter thread, but that was not even scratching the surface of all the things we learned in this first week!
This post talks about our pain points, things we learned by trial and error, and how was the overall experience of assembling and calibrating a new Prusa i3 MK3 kit as a newbie into 3D printing.
Choosing a 3D Printer
What first got me into 3D printing (think: gateway drug) was the passion for electronics. As I started to have more ideas of little gadgets and other stuff to create, and as I saw other people’s creations, I realized we could open up a new world of possibilities with 3D printing. Custom cases, little toys and all sorts of custom decor. What’s not to love about it?
Maybe you thought “the price”, but seriously, there are 3D printers of all prices. Basic models for less than a couple hundred bucks. And you can even create one from scratch! There are various derivative printers based on the open hardware and open software work of Prusa. You can create a Prusa clone or something else.
I’m not giving you advice on which printer to buy. Go check some Youtube videos, read about it, consider what you plan on doing with it. My husband did all the research (he is actually the one responsible for getting us into 3D printing in the first place) and chose the Prusa i3 MK3 because it had all the important features, it’s open hardware and open source, and it’s a great price (specially if you go for the kit, as we did). We also had to wait a lot more because there was a queue to get the new model, but it was totally worth it! Seriously, I even think waiting has helped us a lot as newbies, because we used these months to educate ourselves on 3D printing, at hardware and at software level. Luckily, there’s a lot of great open source software nowadays for creating and working with 3D printing.
Kit or Assembled?
If you want something that is just “plug and play” (almost, as they usually still require some calibration anyways), you should consider buying a printer that is already assembled. They are more expensive, however you will spare a lot of time and effort into putting everything together – even with the best manual ever, it’s still quite hard to assemble everything right. It is definitely possible thou, so if you want to spare some money and you are not in a hurry (meaning: you will have time and patience to assemble things carefully) you should go for the kit.
The best thing about the kit is that it teaches you A LOT about the machine, and since it is open hardware and open source, you eventually might build something else with parts from it, or maybe it will just help you get a better understanding of how it works, mechanically speaking. If something breaks, if something doesn’t seem right, you will be in a much better place to understand what happened, and maybe fix it. Remember when I said it’s open hardware? You can download the parts and print them in your printer (or a different one, if yours is broken and you need a spare part).
That all being said, I’m so happy we went for the kit! We both learned so much, and even though it was hard, I enjoyed assembling (with the help of my husband) it. When it was finished and the first test print was coming out of it, we were really proud and happy 🙂
Assembling the i3MK3 kit
The assembly instructions that come with the i3mk3 are extremely detailed and very well structured. Plenty of photos and detailed step instructions. All parts are into separate bags, organized according to the step it’s gonna be used. This helps immensely! Have a look at the online version of the manual, chapter Introduction, to see the general instructions and how the kit looks like. If you’re curious, follow along to see how the assembly unfolds.
It’s a good idea to have the online manual open at your phone, because the images there are in high resolution so it’s much better to see the details than in the printed version.
I believe the main advice for this process is to BE ALWAYS EXTRA CAREFUL. Read the steps more than once, do things with patience and be gentle when dealing with rods, bearings and specially when tightening screws. Remember this is not Ikea furniture, it’s a fine machine with sensitive components, sensors and mechanical parts. Here are some other practical advice for less pain:
- It’s very important to use a plain and sturdy surface for assembling the printer on top of it.
- Don’t rush. It’s better to have a good night’s sleep and come back the next day if things are getting harder than expected.
- Pay extra attention when tightening the belts. A loose belt can lead to layer shifting, and this happened to us after we though everything was fine and even had some printed models! We had to disassemble part of the X-carrier in order to access the belt and tighten it.
Calibrating the i3MK3
After the printer is completely assembled, it’s time to start calibration. Good calibration or Excellent calibration is what separates you from good or excellent prints! Let’s not even talk about bad calibration, because that won’t get you printing anything. It is that simple, yeah.
The i3MK3 does most of the job through the wizard, but you need to pay close attention when the Z-calibration starts. This will set the distance between the nozzle and the heatbed, so the nozzle will get very close to the heatbed’s surface. You have to watch it so it won’t scratch / damage the heatbed. If the nozzle starts to “hold” the paper in place, you have to turn off the printer immediately. When this happens, usually means your Pinda probe is too high. You should lower it just a bit and try XYZ calibration again.
First Layer Calibration
TLDR: the included calibration tool for the first layer calibration is not the final answer, but it can be used as a base. You have to fine tune it manually.
Our main PITA was the First Layer Calibration. I think it was so difficult because as we didn’t have previous experience with 3D printing and we never saw how a first layer should look like, we simply couldn’t decide which numbers were getting better or worst results. Even looking at the online manual, it was hard to tell the difference when comparing the little square piece that is printed in this calibration. So we quickly found ourselves running in circles, going back and forth with the numbers clueless!
Eventually we figured it was much better to use the Prusa logo’s first layer to work this calibration. You just have to stop the print when it’s close to finish the first layer (you will know). I will share the detailed manual process I used here in a separate post, but this is basically how I did it:
Protip: use a digital caliper to measure the layer thickness. For the Prusa logo you should be getting 0.20 mm because it’s being sliced for a 0.20 layer height (sort of a “draft” mode) – even though this can be influenced by other things like the extrusion, temperature etc… use it as a goal to look for, and then fine tune based on print results.
One week of printing on the new Prusa i3Mk3
Today it’s been exactly one week since we started printing. And today we got our best print so far. Here’s the lovely triceratops head (it’s in the SD card that comes with the printer):
This isn’t yet the fine detail mode, so we know we can get even better quality prints. Hooray!
And here’s some of our previous prints (including some failures):
We are pretty happy with our progress so far, looking forward to trying new materials and big models! You can rest assured I will be posting a lot about 3D printing in the near future, as it became my new obsession 😀
If there’s anything else you would like to know about my experience so far, please leave a comment and I will be happy to answer! <3