A couple of weeks ago we looked at buying an off the shelf 3D printer. This is the quickest and easiest way to get started, and it has some other advantages too. One is that you can get some really capable machinery that would be possible to put together yourself, but definitely not easy. A perfect example is the LulzBot Mini desktop printer.
The LulzBot Mini is a mid-range printer, priced at about $1,250 in the USA and usually a bit under £1,000 in the UK. That’s obviously quite a bit more than what you’d pay to build a RepRap, and there are plenty ready-built printers available for less, but the LulzBot is a very good machine and well worth every penny of the price. One thing it scores highly on is convenience; not only does it come out the box fully assembled, but it’s also been calibrated and tested. In fact each LulzBot comes with a 3D version of the company’s octopus logo that it printed itself.
Convenience doesn’t mean a lack of features, and the Mini has a very impressive range of capabilities. It has an auto-levelling print bed, for example; a level bed is essential if you want your prints to turn out correctly, but levelling it can be a finicky job. The extruder nozzle is self-cleaning, which makes maintenance simpler and cuts down another source of print failures. The bed is also heated, so your projects won’t be distorted by warping caused by uneven cooling of the first layers.
The Mini is one of the most versatile printers out there. You can import models from most of the popular 3D design packages – the printer comes with Cura LulzBot Edition but it has wide compatibility. Print size is six by six by six inches – larger than most printers in this price range. It also works with an extensive range of materials. The all-metal extruder can be heated to 300°C (the bed goes up to 120°C), so it can melt pretty much any commonly used filament. Options include ABS, nylon, PLA and polycarbonate, as well as some specialist materials filled with wood, metal or even stone powder. That makes it ideal for art projects. Print quality is very high, too, with selectable layer thicknesses from 0.05 to 0.5mm.
Of course 3D printing is advancing rapidly, and hobbyists are often the ones pushing the envelope. That means it might not be the best idea to lock yourself into a proprietary model. Good news – the LulzBot Mini doesn’t do that. It’s a fully open source design, so it complies with all the emerging standards. That means you can use a huge library of free software with it, or experiment with new materials. You get the accessibility of a ready-built product plus the flexibility and upgradability of a self-built machine.
LulzBot supply the Mini with everything you need to get started – cables, software, cleaning materials and enough 3mm filament to print a small test object. It’s literally possible to be printing within a few minutes of opening the box. Just read the manual first so you know what to expect, especially when it comes to the cleaning and self-test cycle it runs through at the start of each print. This really is amazingly simple to use, and also highly capable. If you need a quality 3D printer you won’t go far wrong with this one.