Time to upgrade my printer

So, I’ve had a Makerbot Replicator Duo since late 2012; I bought it used at a significant discount (“only” $1200!) and it’s served me pretty okay. But over time, better, cheaper printers have come along, and my Replicator has gotten pretty unreliable. Actually it’s been pretty much hobbling along for the last several years:

  • The heated print bed stopped heating, due to it shorting out due to a well-known design flaw in the print bed connector1
  • One of the last firmware updates made it only compatible with Makerbot’s own proprietary software, which was very soon discontinued to upsell newer Makerbot versions
  • The left extruder stopped working at some point; the right extruder barely works
  • The hot end really needs new nozzles but the design is such that replacing the nozzle is very easy to crossthread/ruin the hot end2
  • And really it’s never been all that great, it was just pretty much the only game in town when I bought it

So anyway, yeah, this upgrade is long-overdue.

Replacements I’m looking at

Here’s my considerations:

  • Must support standard open 1.75mm DRM-free filament and standard GCode produced by any slicer. This is the one absolutely firm requirement, and I can’t believe this is still a thing one needs to be specific about.
  • I’d like multi-material support (or the ability to upgrade to that), as when I had it working on my Replicator I was able to do some really neat stuff with it and I only scratched the surface of the possibilities
  • Being able to print a wide variety of materials would be great too (PLA is required, TPE would be very nice, PETG and nylon would be nice, and ABS has some advantages as well)
  • Print volume of at least 220⨉150⨉150mm (i.e. not a downgrade from the Replicator)
  • Footprint that’s no larger than, and ideally smaller than, the Replicator (around 20"⨉13")
  • Direct-drive extruder preferred (rather than a Bowden)
  • CoreXY-style positioning (i.e. not using a sliding gantry for the Y axis)
  • Heated print bed with a removable (ideally magnetic, but clip-on is fine too) flexible surface (for easier print removal3)
  • Able to receive gcode via USB or Wi-Fi (i.e. submit a print from my computer without having to fuss with SD cards)
  • Under $500 for the printer itself, under $1000 for everything together
  • Automatic leveling would be nice (but not urgent)

These days any printer can be upgraded to multimaterial via the Mosaic Palette, so there’s no need to buy a printer with native multimaterial support; however, printers can do better jobs of supporting it or their own native upgrades (in terms of space/mounting/etc.) so it’s still worth looking at specifics.

Similarly, printers which don’t have built-in Wi-Fi can be communicated with via an Octoprint, and Mosaic makes a cheap Octoprint server that also makes it easier to work with a Palette, so that’s probably a nicer upgrade than whatever native Wi-Fi option is available for other printers anyway.

I’m considering a few different models to replace it:

  • The Prusa i3 MK3s: seems to be the gold standard of hobbyist printers right now, with good reviews and a huge volume.
    • Pluses: big build volume (250⨉210⨉210), has a native multimaterial upgrade available, automatc bed leveling, available Octoprint-enabled Wi-Fi add-on, filament sensor, various outage/failure detection things (safety features!)
    • Minuses: kind of expensive ($800, plus another $300 for the multimaterial add-on), uses a sliding gantry, pretty big footprint (around 20"⨉22", not even counting the depth needed for the gantry!)
  • The Prusa mini: similar build quality to the i3, but in a much smaller form factor
    • Pluses: decent price ($350), nice compact form factor, reasonable build volume4 (1803), lots of other niceties
    • Minuses: no support for the Prusa multimaterial unit and no specific accommodation for Palette, uses a Bowden extruder and a Y-gantry, and there are cheaper printers with the same characteristics and just as good reviews
  • Creality Ender 3 Pro: very well-regarded entry-level printer; comes with a bowden extruder but there are third-party upgrades available
    • Pluses: even more decent price ($270ish), big build volume (220⨉220⨉250mm), very popular for modding, and external footprint is very compact (around 17⨉16")
    • Minuses: uses a Y-gantry
  • And the Ender 5/5 Plus:
    • Pluses: More rigid frame than the 3, uses CoreXY-style axes, has the same direct drive extruder upgrade available, and an even larger build volume (220x220x300 for the 5, 350x350x400 on the 5 Plus)
    • Minuses: Large-ish footprint (22x19" on the 5, 25x26" on the 5 Plus), bowden extruder (but upgradeable)
  • Artillery Sidewinder X1: A lesser-known newcomer to the field but it’s getting a lot of good reviews from YouTubers
    • Pluses: Large build volume (300x300x400) while maintaining a small-ish footprint (16"x22"), direct-drive extruder, comes with Wi-Fi built in/included (not clear if it’d be compatible with the Canvas Hub though), and has one of the better glass surfaces out there (with a very nice thermal-contraction release mechanism which seems even better than the flex surfaces)
    • Minuses: Y-gantry, not clear if it supports direct USB printing (they only show SD and USB memory stick support), and the print surface is a non-removable glass plate (but apparently it’s very easy to work with and releases prints like magic); also the Maker’s Muse review is somewhat negative in ways which makes me suspicious of the other reviews that pointed me in this printer’s direction in the first place…
  • Artillery Genius: A smaller version of the Sidewinder X1; basically all the same pluses/minuses as the X1 except the build volume is 220x220x250 (which seems pretty standard now) and an even smaller footprint

There’s also a few other printers out there, some of which have specific mounting solutions for the Palette, some of which have other tradeoffs between size/cost/capabilities, and so on, but those are the main ones I’m considering. But there’s of course other ones out there I would consider as well! I am very out of touch with the current state of the art!

I think with all the above my favorite is the Artillery Sidewinder X1 (modulo the issues Angus ran into), but I’m not at the point of making a decision just yet.

What to do with the old printer?

Anyway one of the reasons it took me so long to decide to upgrade is that the Replicator works Well Enough for the small amount of printing I do (but I think I’d do a lot more printing if using this weren’t like pulling teeth), and also I have no idea what to do with my old one.

It’s not a printer that I think anyone would want to buy in this day and age; it’s not that reliable, and it’s extremely fiddly by today’s standards (especially with how much kludging it takes to keep it working). And for that reason I also wouldn’t feel comfortable donating it to a thrift store.

It’s got a lot of great components in it which could be used to build something else (robotics or someone could maybe hack it into a nice CNC machine or something). I sure don’t have the time/mental bandwidth to do that with it though, or the space necessary to have a setup for it anyway.

Maybe I should just sell it as a parts machine on Craigslist? Or maybe there’s a local (Seattle) educational thing I could donate it to, with the understanding that it’s not a turnkey, working printer? Or maybe I should just strip it down to parts and sell those on eBay?

Well whatever, I can figure that out later.

  1. It’s also one of those cases where an expensive/unserviceable MOSFET blew out in order to protect a 20-cent fuse… great design, there 

  2. Speaking from experience… 

  3. To heck with painter’s tape, and even moreso Kapton 

  4. Less width than the Replicator but more depth and height, so definitely workable for me 


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