Overview and First Print
A few months ago I decided to take the plunge and purchase my first 3D printer. A few of my friends had the Original Prusa (by Josef Prusa himself!) so this seemed to me like an excellent entry to the world of this amazing technology.
The printer is priced at £499 including taxes and with the shipping to the UK it set me back just over £500. It was considerably higher in price than the jumble of eBay i3 printers but I wanted to go for this printer as it’s the original and is made by the guy who started the Prusa concept.
5 days after placing my order the printer showed up at my door in a surprisingly small box considering the relatively large build volume of around 200 x 200 x 200mm.
Opening up the box I was immediately impressed at how well everything was packed inside. There was nothing loose, besides the instruction manual but that’s fine, that could rattle around and cause damage in transit. It’s always good to have a sturdy box with thick cardboard as this package did to protect the contents well from he manhandling it can receive during shipping.
All the parts were securely surrounded with bubble wrap and plastic air bags. I was even more impressed to see that the box actually contained the roll of filament you get free with the printer (on the right in the above photo) such an excellent example of an efficiently packed kit.
Out of the box, you can once again see the efficiency of how this kit is designed. Everything is packed into two parts boxes and a tube for the rods and z-axis screws. The power supply is loose but was still well packed in the big box and the glass and heated bed were well wrapped in bubble wrap along with the main aluminium gantry. The instruction manual has excellent production quality with high quality colour images. This i coupled by an even better online build guide that is a doddle to follow giving clear concise instructions in a number of languages! Good work!
The online guide uses a colour coordinated identification system so you can quickly and easily know exactly what part the guide is referring to. The guide also includes warnings at critical stages to ensure that the build is completed without issue.
I had very little issue building the machine and it only took me an afternoon to have the printer fully assembled and ready for its first print.
The guys at Prusa 3D have even made custom pre made settings for Slic3r so there is no faffing programming the slicing software. Just download it from their website and it’s all set up and ready to go! Awesome!
Also on this part of the website there is the latest version of the firmware for the RAMBo controller board.
After downloading and installing the drivers, firmware and the Slic3r I was ready to start my first print. I headed over to Thingiverse.com and downloaded a simple hex twisted vase.
The glass bed comes pre-applied with glue stick so you can start printing really quickly. I loaded the black PLA filament that was provided with my printer and began printing. As the model started to rise up I was amazed at how nice it looked. The layers of plastic were extremely uniform with very little variation. This print took just under 50 minutes as it didn’t have any infill. I feel that the printer could go faster with a few tweaks to the settings in Slic3r but it’s better to have conservative settings out of the box.
In Depth Look
After I had completed a couple of prints and started to get more familiar with the machine I decided to investigate it more. There were a few areas that peeked my interest in terms of design choices. The first example of this is the limit switches. These are used to home the print head so it knows where it is to commence a print. They are attached to the linear rails with zip ties as you can see in the picture below.
At first I thought this might have been a last minute design or something but if you think about it, it makes sense. Adding an extra part to the nearest 3d printed part of the prusa, the x/z axis part, would mean a considerably longer print time and spreading that over a lot of units really adds up. Having it simply attached with zip ties is better than adequate as it allows for fine adjustment to maximise build area and as long as the zip ties are secure enough there should be no issue with movement.
The Z axis screw rods are attached to the stepper motors driving them with a piece of flexible rubber like tubing which I again thought was quite a strange design choice. Aluminium flexible couplers are very cheap so why not go with one of them. This design choice comes down to ease of assembly in my opinion. The aluminium flexible couplers you can get are a bit tricky to set up right, you have to really torque down on the screws to grip the drive rod and avoid slippage. I have experienced such slippage on one of my other CNC machines. So usin a piece of flexible strong tubing solves this problem by using a lot of friction to grip the threaded rod. The heat shrink then covers this whole joint cleaning up the aesthetic.
Leaving the top of the threaded rod again baffled me. It can wobble around quite a lot when in motion but I have not noticed any affect on my print quality by it. There is a model on Thingiverse for a new bracket that holds both the linear rail and the top of the Z Axis screw in place to stop it from wobbling but still allows it to turn freely in a bearing.
The last design choice that intrigued me was he cover for the RAMBo controller board, it is left completely open at the top which can let dust and debris inside. This could potentially lead to some issues but I haven’t experienced any with my printer and I keep my printer in a fairly well used workshop. This could of course be solved by printing a cover for it and I can see the reason that Prusa 3D did this. it reduces the parts count which helps with manufacturing as they use a print farm to make all the parts for these printers which, by the way, I think is really cool! Check out there YouTube channel (Josef Prusa) for a video of their print farm in action.
The main thing I really am not a fan of is the way that the bed is adjusted. It uses the typical 1 screw in each corner for adjustment but the thumb wheel it uses is not effective. Because of the way that the adjustment screw sits in the carriage trying to lower a corner of the bed with the thumb wheel may not actually do so. You may have to pinch the screw so it sits back down on the top of the Y carriage. There is a file on Thingiverse that solves this issue but it’s something that needs to be addressed. UPDATE: The new version of the Prusa has a non adjustable bed and instead uses a live Z axis and a probe to accommodate any non level parts of the print bed.
Things I Love About This Printer
The main thing I adore about this printer is its simplicity. Up until this point I have used desktop CNC machines which can be very tricky to use and set up correctly and this printer is the complete opposite! The LCD screen at the front of the printer is a joy to use with its clear display giving good feedback about the current print and he tactile rotary encoder allows quick and easy navigation of the menus and settings. The UI is easy to follow and is full of useful features to give manual control of the axis for raising the Z Axis for maintenance etc. The printer can be preheated which is a useful feature not only for changing the filament but also getting the printer ready whilst you slice a file on the computer. By the time you have sliced the model the printer is usually up to temperature, at least for PLA.
The simplicity of the design of the machine carries on to its use. Because all the various material profiles are programmed into the the Slic3r software, it was only 4 prints into owning this machine that I was moving on from PLA to ABS and PET filaments. The Prusa i3 supports pretty much all the filaments you can buy. I was very impressed by this material flexibility. I had great success with ABS and PET along with PLA of course. I have yet to try flexible filament or some of the exotic wood fill filaments and metal fill filaments.
Gallery of Sample Prints
This being my first 3D printer I don’t have much to compare it to but I can give the opinion of what I have experienced whilst using it. Building the machine is easy thanks to the well produced and extensive instructions both online and in the hard copy. Setting up prints is easy thanks to the efficient pre-setup printer configuration for a wide range of materials in the Slic3r software.
The printer is very compact considering it’s impressive cost to build volume ratio an fits easily on a small table allowing it to go anywhere in the home, perfect for a DIYer or maker. The fact that it is made form mostly printed parts means as long as you print a few spare parts when you first get it repairing it is easy. Not only that, but upgrading it is easy thanks to the huge community of Prusa owners who post various upgrades on file sharing websites such as Thingiverse.
All in all, I am very impressed with this machine and I look forward to its many years of service bringing my digital designs into the real world!