The Creality ender 3 is one of the most popular open-source 3D printer kits on the market today. Its amazing value-for-money pricing and huge community support make it a perfect buy for a newcomer to 3D printing.
This review showcases its strengths and weaknesses of the Ender 3 and why it has held its place as the go-to 3D printer for beginners to start the journey into the world of 3D printing.
Things going in favor of the Ender 3
Out of the box, it comes partially assembled with parts nicely laid out. Tools are included, and it comes bundled with a USB card reader and a Micro SD card with some sample test prints to get you started printing immediately. Assembly can be done within an hour or two.
There’s not a single 3D-printed part in this kit. Everything being either sheet metal, aluminum extrusions, or injection molded plastic. Something other manufacturers miss out on. The build volume of 220 x 220 x 250mm is enough for beginners and is even larger than the Prusa i3 MK3. Everything is attached to the frame itself, so it’s very compact.
V-rollers and V-slot extrusions are seen here on all axes. If kept clean, these will not cause any problems in the future. It has the Resume Print feature, i.e., the ability to resume printing even after a power outage or lapse occurs. The 24V power supply that the Ender 3 comes with is encapsulated, which means no exposed mains voltage. This is safer than other printers like the Anet A8 or the Tevo-Tarantula.
Tight tolerances are printed without errors. The Ender 3 can print at a much finer 0.1mm layer height, and the level of detail on these prints is breathtaking. But with these settings, it takes everything longer to print, but the trade-off is worth it as it almost makes the layer lines invisible from the naked eye.
A heated bed is something where Creality made a major upgrade. With its 24 V power supply, the bed gets heated fast and can reach maximum temperatures of around 110°C. The Creality CR-10, on the other hand, takes forever to heat up and can only reach a maximum temperature of 85°C. ABS filaments benefit hugely from having a heated bed.
It uses the popular Bowden extrusion setup, where you have the extruder motor push the filament forward, connected by a PTFE tube to the heating element. Hence, this setup allows you to print faster.
Issues surrounding the Ender 3
The instruction manual that comes with this is very 2-dimensional. It is hard to understand where and what to install. You have to browse forums and video guides to follow through.
Ender 3 misses out on auto bed leveling, making the machine much easier to use. The slight price increase would have been totally worth it. But instead, we get 4 points spring-loaded bed with some comically oversized bed leveling adjustment wheels. Great for fine adjustments, but the rear ones are quite difficult to access despite their huge size. No auto bed leveler means you need to make sure the bed level is fine each time you start printing.
The bed is not magnetic. It’s a BuildTAK inspired plastic bed held by clips. The absence of a magnetic or a glass bed means some prints will be challenging to remove.
The power outage resume function sometimes malfunctions, like the nozzle will stop at the correct location but will not resume printing.
Its affordability aspect can be a double-edged sword. Hence, cheap pricing means that quality control can take a hit. The V-rollers sometimes need a little adjustment, as they can come tight rolling from the factory in some units. Easy to adjust with the included tools.
But the major issues show up on the Bowden extruder.
The Bowden extruder on Ender 3
Printing flexible filament can get tricky as the ender 3 has shorter PTFE tubes when compared to something like the Creality CR-10.
Initially, on some starting points, the PTFE tube can pop free from the coupler. As Bowden-style extruders build up a lot of pressure in the tube, if they’re not up to the task of being held in place with the couplers, the tube can just let go. However, in some units, the coupler included was not up to mark, and the PTFE tube supplied was quite slippery and soft.
The test prints from the SD cards are straightforward and safe. It’s hard not to nail them on the first try. But the moment you load a more complex design, the machine shows signs of struggle. The prints show a high level of stringing and under extrusions.
“It turns out the PTFE tube in the Ender 3 butts up against the nozzle in the hot end. If it’s not perfectly flush, then molten plastic can pool in the gap. This ruins the already average flow accuracy of the Bowden tube design.”
-According to Angus from Maker’s Muse. (learn more)
Are these drawbacks a dealbreaker?
Those in the know will have already diagnosed these issues. But a newcomer might have a bad experience initially. After all, the Ender 3 is priced for that “My first 3D printer” market. But these issues are not at all deal-breaking.
Almost all parts are swappable, and due to its open-source architecture, there’s a huge community backing the ender 3, and they are very eager to help you at every step.
Some upgrades to overcome the shortcomings of Ender 3
The Ender 3 encapsulates the open-source philosophy beautifully. The same hindrances are faced by many, so there’s a collective effort to solve them. There are plenty of videos, resources, and even dedicated forums providing you with unique and frugal ideas to deal with the problems on your own. Also, all parts can be swapped with better ones, and some frugal solutions can even be 3D printed on the Ender 3 itself to improve its overall ownership experience.
Some of the most popular upgrades on the ender 3 are:
- Use better quality filaments like Prusament. The filament that comes with this is of sub-par quality and will only last 1/3 of the print. So it is advised that you invest in some good quality filaments so that your prints come out nicely.
- Noise can be decreased by installing some motor dampeners, replacing the stock fans with some more silent Noctua fans, and replacing the stock control board with Creality’s silent boards. Better stepper drivers on these boards mean less motor noise.
- The plastic print surface on the bed can be replaced with Creality’s glass or magnetic bed covers. This will allow parts to be easily peeled from the surface and leave them with a better finish. Ditch the plastic clips in place of some nice metallic ones as the plastic clips wear out faster.
- Replace the PTFE tube with precision Capricorn tubing and get aftermarket couplers with nice aggressive metal teeth to really grab onto the PTFE tube. This upgrade alone can fix the issues surrounding the Bowden extruder.
- Swap out the stock extruder and hot end for something else like Dual-gear extruders and a
- Enclosure, cable chains, radiator covers, and lots of other parts can be 3D printed for your Ender 3 from Thingverse. These are also nice upgrades to have and can be a fun project to DIY.
- Update the outdated Marlin firmware by flashing a bootloader like Arduino UNO. This increases safety as the older version of Marlin doesn’t have thermal runaway protection.
- Run OctoPrint on your Ender 3 by using a Raspberry pi 3 and a camera module. OctoPrint will allow you to control your 3D printer remotely.
This machine is definitely for the Hobbists and DIYer’s. Being a kit, it’s well worth the price savings over a ready-to-run machine. As a stock machine, the Ender 3 works just fine and provides a nice learning experience for beginners. If you like to hack, tweak and mod and intend to stick with your ender 3 for a long time, you can upgrade it to your wit’s end. Due to its affordable pricing, great performance, swappable parts, and a huge community around it, Ender 3 gives you the best value that other printers cant give in this price range.
For most people, the ender 3 will be an excellent choice, and it’s a 3D printer we wholeheartedly recommend for beginners and experienced users alike.
All images are taken from Creality’s official Ender 3 product page.
Harsh Pawar is a student of Mechanical Engineering. Specializes in the Mechatronics domain. Alongside this, He’s an avid runner and an auto enthusiast