Adventures in cheap 3D printing

I will admit, I’m a little late to the party. I’ve had a distant interest in the world of 3D printing for a while now, but until now I couldn’t reasonably justify taking on another expensive hobby. That is, until it ceased to be an expensive hobby. Enter the MonoPrice Delta Mini 3D Printer.

Monoprice is a company I knew best as a great source of cheap and disposable iPhone charging cables. Unbeknownst to me, they also make some relatively inexpensive and unexpectedly high quality 3D printers. Last year they held a successful Indiegogo campaign to put out the world’s cheapest, professional quality, fully assembled, plug-and-play 3D printer. How cheap is the world’s cheapest in March 2018? You can get one today for $159.99.

So what is it like working with one of these printers as a beginner? Great, and let’s get into how it went.

Ordering the Printer

I had been keeping my eye on this particular printer for a couple months after stumbling upon a YouTube video review. It was out of stock, but while riding the bus to work I received an email from MonoPrice that they were back in stock and without hesitation I placed my order. A little more than 24 hours later I had a package waiting at my door.

Unboxing

Opening the box, I found a fully assembled printer which was surprisingly compact and impressively solid feeling from it’s all metal frame. The printer measures about 14 inches tall and about 9 inches from back corner to front face, add another 5 or 6 inches for the filament spool and holder which clips to the back tower.

It has a solid rubber handle for moving it around and all the delicate parts are secured with tape and styrofoam for shipping. Just looking at this machine gave me an urge to fire it up, it looks ready to go straight out of the box and as I soon found out it pretty much is.

First Power

I plugged in the power supply and boom the printer springs to life, which made me aware of the printer’s first sign of cheapness… there was no power switch. To turn it on or off you have to unplug it. The plug itself feels somewhat fickle and I decided it would be wise to get this thing a switch to avoid breakage. There’s also the fact that the main cooling fan is louder than it needs to be and is always on, so trust me, you’ll want to get a switch.

There are a couple options for different price points, first is this Power Switch Button Adapter for PS3 which is the cheapest option I saw at just under $8. Ultimately, I went with the ever-so-slightly more expensive Wi-Fi Enabled Plug by iDevices which comes in at just under $70, because the allure of being able to flip the switch from across the world was too much to pass up, more on this later.

First Print

Ok, now the good stuff, how does this baby print?

Before you can even consider what you will print, you have to consider WITH what you will print. Filament, the material the machine will be laying down layer by layer into the shapes of your dreams and it comes in many types, sizes, and colors. This printer uses 1.75mm filament in either PLA or ABS, so what’s the difference? PLA is an organic and less toxic plastic with a lower melting point that is less prone to warping but results in parts that are relatively less sturdy. ABS on the other hand is oil based and gives off stinky fumes but is more common if you’re making parts that will see heavy use. You can read more about filament here: ABS vs PLA? Which filament should I use?

A colleague of mine who knows a thing or two about 3D printing suggested I go with some high quality PLA filament, he recommended a company called Hatchbox so that’s what I did and I’ve been happy with the decision. I purchased two spools, one in White and one in Black. Loading the filament into the printer is easy and the manual does a great job of explaining it so I won’t go into it here.

This is the point I realized I’m new at this. I don’t know how to use 3D modeling software, or slicing tools, or even what I need to consider before I start a print. Though I would not be deterred and luckily this printer comes with a Micro SD card with a model pre-loaded. I didn’t know what it was, but that only added to the fun. Once the filament was loaded, printing was as easy as loading the MicroSD card into the printer and pressing the LED button next to it. Just as I hoped, the printer began it’s heating process and began to print. I was pleased with the result:

DC0A4678.jpg
A cute maneki-neko cat

Going Deeper

I’ll save the rest for a future post, where I’ll dive into picking slicing software, configuring the printer, generating gcode files for printing, customizing the printer’s hardware, overcoming it’s quirks, and I’ll share a few of my favorite prints for getting the most out of this awesome little printer.

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