So my new 3D printer arrived today. I went with the Artillery Genius, since it seemingly had the best blend of features and physical characteristics.
So far I like it, although wow the out-of-box experience could be a lot better. Not from the printer so much as from the software that drives it.
Assembling the printer was very easy, and leveling the print bed took like 10 passes before I got it right but once I did printing the test cube was also very easy. The printer itself is pretty great. Also ridiculously quiet:
The state of 3D printing software is pretty terrible, though. I had no idea how much Makerbot Desktop was making things a lot easier compared to the state of the art elsewhere.
With Makerbot, you plug in the printer, turn it on, and run the software, and the software immediately sees your printer, connects to it, and lets you with a single button start slicing and printing. The UI is reasonably intuitive, and it lets you dig into the settings to fiddle with the print characteristics. It’s pre-loaded with a bunch of printer profiles and can detect which printers are available, both on serial and on your network.
With the Genius, I decided to first try Cura. I was presented with a Makerbot-like interface, but the configuration engine only had built-ins for a handful of printers other than Ultimaker’s. Which makes sense, I mean, it’s Ultimaker’s software and they only support other printers as a courtesy to the community, really.
My printer came with a profile for slic3r, but Cura didn’t know what to do with it. There are supposedly Cura profiles on its website, but its website is currently down (with a message that Google Translate indicates is basically “this site forgot to pay its hosting bill,” oops). So, slic3r it is.
When I imported the profile to slic3r it set up a separate profiles for quality, filament, and printer; I only wanted the printer profile. Deleting the quality and filament profiles weren’t that hard, but making new ones was pretty frustrating, as the slic3r manual is very poorly-written and doesn’t even show all of the current options, or describe what any of the options are good for. Searching for information on, say, infill patterns or whatever only sent me to an endless cavalcade of YouTube “tutorials” which all talked about the same three settings without going into any useful detail, with a bunch of “hi guys! I’m gonna get right to the point, right after I ramble about my girlfriend for 20 minutes” sorts of things.
Actually getting the profiles to save and take was also annoying, and the configured geometry wasn’t even correct for the printer, so I just have to assume that what else it imported from the provided profile is Good Enough for now. I’m no newbie to printer stuff but I’m feeling very overwhelmed by all this. No wonder this still seems like it’s hard to get into — it is!
Anyway. Profile put together, and it was time to try printing! So, I wanted to connect via USB, but I couldn’t find the options for that. So I found the Internet connection options. But I couldn’t figure out how to actually connect to the printer over WiFi (sadly this is a place where I can blame the printer — the configuration page for that is completely obtuse and doesn’t seem to do anything that it says it’s going to do, and of course none of the web searches I tried turned up anything about how to actually set this up, just a bunch of unrelated “how to assemble this printer” videos with no actual printing taking place).
Poking around some more I found the serial connection options, and got an obtuse list of low-level device names. I had to try connecting to each one in turn, and some of them claimed to work, and others didn’t, and I had no idea which, if any, of them were actually my printer and not, say, my keyboard’s firmware programmer. Because I totally want to be sending GCode to that!
Anyway, I tried printing over any of the connections which seemed to work, but all I saw was slic3r putting the file in the print queue, with no indication of where the print queue was or how to start it, if even possible.
So I tried the PrusaSlicer fork of slic3r, and while the UI had a nicer shininess to it, it didn’t really fix any of the problems, and it didn’t even try to support USB connections.
So I decided to do it the old-fashioned way, and print via .gcode file loaded onto USB stick. To everything’s credit, this worked really well. It’s just annoying and fiddly to set up.
Anyway, while I started printing a spinny fidget I poked around in the advanced settings and found a hidden “expert” setting to “show controller tab.”
So, I checked that, and restarted slic3r, and lo and behold, now there was a view of the print queue, which I was able to add prints to:
Of course, then it immediately connected to the printer and started causing UI errors, both showing up in the error log on the queue (on the right) but also they appeared on the printer’s display panel. Fortunately, the printer itself didn’t stop printing at all, it just messed up the UI until I disconnected.
Anyway. After the spinny fidget print finished, I reconnected slic3r to the printer and the “print this” button appeared, and it seems to be controlling the printer just fine now.
But, sheesh, talk about a difficult setup process.
When I first got my Makerbot, the Desktop software didn’t exist, and everything was via ReplicatorG. That process wasn’t like amazingly simple but even then it was still a lot easier to get going with than this. But that still had the benefit of a pre-configured profile for my printer. Also Skeinforge was incredibly slow and hard to configure, so I don’t miss that slicer at all.
Still. As much as Makerbot has become the villain of 3D printing, it’d be great if the opensource printing community were to try emulating it a bit better.
Oh, and a complaint about the printer itself: for how much people talk about how amazing the print bed is for easy print removal (supposedly it should Just Release as soon as the bed cools), I’m having a hell of a time getting my prints to come off. So far the only luck I’ve had has been by superheating the print bed and then scraping it off with a bench scraper. I think next time I’m at Daiso I’ll have to buy some cheap spatulas to sharpen, or something, although sharpening my bench scraper might help in the short term. I was worried about scratching the print bed surface but so far it seems pretty scratch-resistant.
Anyway. In case it helps anyone else, here’s my Artillery Genius slic3r profile, and my complete config bundle (including my print quality settings). It could probably use some work but it’s hopefully a slightly better starting point than what came on the USB stick.
Edit: And while I was tweaking some more print profile stuff, slic3r crashed, taking the in-progress print with it. Sigh. I guess that’s another reason to get the WiFi stuff working, assuming it uses something OctoPrint-esque. (Or maybe this is a good excuse to get the Palette and Canvas Hub, which is actually OctoPrint-based.)
Edit 2: Looks like no, there is no wifi at all, it’s just something they have in the firmware for “future use” or something. Who knows. Looks like this is a very good excuse to get the Palette + Hub, indeed.