At the recent Vancouver Maker Faire, Graeme brought his newly received M3D micro 3D printer that he had backed on Kickstarter (and waited nearly a year for) and it was too compelling to not consider getting one for myself. The Kickstarter price was as low as $199US if you got in early. Now, it’s $349 and available in a bunch of different colors.
I’ve been wanting a small and compact 3D printer to take to the various presentations and demos that I regularly give. I think the M3D might even fit in my carry-on luggage too.
So let’s dive into what the M3D is and how it works.
Firstly, when it arrived, I couldn’t believe how small the box was. Once I opened it up and took off the bubble wrap, it was even smaller than I remembered from Maker Faire.
The printer was well protected in it’s packaging and the print head was taped nice and firmly to the frame and held in place by some 3D printed parts that were apparently made on the actual printer I received – a great way to ensure it’s working.
The quality of the printed parts was immediately impressive and as good as any 3d print I’ve seen.
Once I installed the software and connected the USB and power supply to the M3D, it lit up and my computer recognized it.
The software is a little sluggish on my Macbook and a little better on Windows. It’s still considered beta and has seen a number of updates in the past few weeks.
One of the features I like about this printer is that you can use two different methods for filament.
Under the print bed (which slides back and up) there is a filament tube for using M3D’s filament spools. It tucks neatly under the bed and really makes an already small printer even more compact by hiding the filament.
I did have a minor problem loading the internal filament but solved it by popping off the print head cover and manually guiding the filament into the print head (it was catching on the entrance).
You also have the option of using external filament and there is no shortage of spool holding options online that you can print. There is a filament hole on the print head for feeding external filament in although you can’t have an internal spool loaded at the same time as an external spool.
I bought a few extra spools of M3D filament and really like the “Deep Shamrock Green” PLA I ordered. I plan on respooling the M3D spools or using external filament but the color selection M3D has is decent and the spools are only $13 each. They offer ABS and PLA currently and given the tiny build area, ABS should be okay to print with given that the M3D doesn’t have a heated bed.
Each spool has a ‘cheat code’ which you enter when you change filament using the supplied software which then automatically adjusts the settings for that specific type of plastic and color – this is something that I haven’t experienced before and it seems like every manufacturer (that sells their own filament) should do.
The software recommends printing with a raft and support material but I’ve had great success with those options turned off.
The first few prints have greatly exceeded my expectations, especially considering the price point for this printer. Add the fact that you don’t have to level the bed, calibrate the extruder or any other configuration which is typically required with most 3D printers I’ve encountered.
I even tried the famous rook with the internal staircase and double helix.
The helix didn’t turn out as nice as other machines but the rest certainly did. It’s a pretty challenging print and the M3D did pretty well.
Obviously, the build area is pretty small but carbon fibre rod’s mean the gantry system is surprisingly minimalist and you can print decent sized objects on the M3D:
Here’s a roundup of the things I liked and didn’t about the M3D:
- the price! Only $349!
- integrated spool holder with option to use external filament
- clean design and minimalist gantry/extruder system just works
- it’s tiny! It literally fits on the build plate of most 3D printers and weighs little
- autocalibration/bed leveling – this is HUGE for people new to 3D printing and the M3D does it automagically
- buildtak covered build plate – makes it easy to pop your print off the bed. Not sure about longevity of the plate’s ‘stickiness’ but I opted to buy the replacement set (3 for $15) when I bought the printer
- Did I mention the price?
- beta software – seems to be really slow on my high end MacBook Pro…navigating to load a model can be excruciatingly slow
- no lighting other than the logo on the bottom – would have liked to see an intergrated LED light strip in the frame or even a single LED on the print head
- no advanced mode for users in software – I can assume this will be coming either from M3D or the community will sort out a Slic3r profile for advanced printing
- it’s surprisingly loud for such a small footprint – the fan sounds like an air conditioner or a vacuum cleaner (listen to the video above)
- it requires a tethered computer – definitely putting an LCD screen and memory card slot in the M3D would have jacked the price up so be prepared to dedicate a computer when you want to print
- it’s slow – the rook printed at medium quality too nearly 4 hours versus ~45 minutes on most other printers with similar settings
With the current race to the bottom in pricing of 3D printers, it’s refreshing to have a machine like this live up to the hype and work quite well considering the price. I spent $410US for the printer, 3 spools of filament, a spare nozzle and 3 extra buildtak sheets. I saved on shipping by sending it to my US mailbox but did have to pay $63Cdn tax on the printer when I brought it home.
When you factor everything this machine can do, at the price it’s being offered for, it’s quite a great little printer. I have no problem recommending this machine as a great 3D printer for those just starting out with 3D printing and the price is definitely right.
Buy the M3D micro 3D printer (affiliate link)