So I finally got a 3D printer! Definitely late to the party, since so many things in FPV drones are 3D printed, but after months of reviews, questions and chats with friends who have been 3D printing for a while, I decided on the Creality Ender 3 Pro for the following reasons:
- Print quality: this little printer has made a big name for itself over the last year.
- Cost: Pro version costs $260 on Amazon, non-pro version is around $230 which many reviews say print just as good and the savings can go towards the upgrades recommended for both.
- Upgrades and mods: lots of them, including a growing collection of self-printable upgrades on Thingiverse. This printer has a strong following.
- Size: small but with reasonable build volume of 220x220x250mm, my RC/drone/computer man-cave is starting to get a little crammed.
Assembly & First Prints
Following a good build video is highly recommended. The steps are not complicated but small errors and gotchas can easily add up leading to much frustration post-build. I followed the Tomb of 3D Printed Horrors appreciating the extra tips along the way. The channel has other great videos on tuning, modding, model tweaks and painting, I quickly subscribed.
The biggest tip I can offer is take your time, do it slowly, measure and re-measure, don’t be afraid to undo or research deeper if something looks suspect. Also most of my pulleys were loose, I tightened them and adjusted the eccentric nuts as recommended in the video.
The printer comes with very little filament, I picked up a role of HATCHBOX PLA which seems pretty good for my initial prints.
Here is a time-lapse of the assembly
I started using Cura as slicing software which is free and apparently quite popular. Quickly learned the UI, find it intuitive, easy to start but with quick access to advanced features. I’ve had some Blender experience from years ago, it is free and seems to have made strides with 3D printing support. It easily imports and exports STL files without messing up scale. Even with my limited skills, I was able to already create a few basic designs and remix existing ones.
Self-printed upgrades (growing list) but I started with:
- Filament guides – top and next to the extruder, helps reduce snag and tension
- Extruder knob – for the occasional manual tweak
- Spatula holder – keeps it handy
- Tool drawer – for my printer I had to scale the width down 2mm, few others said the same
- Deluxe filament holder – my longest print yet, should smooth out the filament spool turning
After market upgrades:
- Borosilicate Glass Print Bed – much better than the bendy magnetic bed and much easier to align
- Bed leveling springs – stiffer than stock, bed stays aligned much longer, cheap and easy upgrade
- Aluminum Extruder Drive Feed – probably premature as the stock plastic one would have lasted a while longer
- Capricorn Bowden Tubing – my stock tubing caused filament to catch when loading, had to take the fitting off each time which was annoying
OctoPrint is another highly recommended upgrade, easy for all who have played with Raspberry Pi before. It allows remote monitoring of the printer and print progress (careful about exposing on the internet). Cura also has an OctoPrint plugin that allows network printing, monitoring, pause and abort straight from the slicer.
So far I’ve printed with HATCHBOX PLA and SainSmart TPU
PLA was easy out of the box and the default Cura Draft profile seems to do a great job. Prints fine at 200°C, heated bed seems optional but it needs help sticking to the glass by using glue sticks.
TPU was a bit trickier and lead me to discover the wonderful world of tuning temperature, extrusion, retraction, shell settings, flow etc. A week into that journey, I was printing TPU models with comparable quality to the reputable FPV stores 😃 Final temperature for the SainSmart is 220°C heating the bed to 60°C, retraction is 10mm with 45mm/s. I still get a bit of stringing on some models but have heard that is to be expected with TPU
Here are the most valuable tuning steps I have discovered:
- Level the bed – plenty of tutorials online using the sheet of paper method, doing this right saves a lot of headaches and with the spring upgrade is not needed very often
- Calibrate the extruder – discovered my extruder was off, especially with TPU. It’s an easy tune and significantly improved my prints
- Find the right temperature – print a temp. tower, little bit of work but will show right away the “good” range
- Tweak the retraction – still work in progress for me, there are few good tutorials, especially important for TPU