The Ender 3 is Creality’s most popular and successful open-source 3D printer kit. It offers amazing value for money to a newcomer to 3D printing and has a huge community dedicated specifically to it.
Creality has three iterations of the Ender 3, namely Ender 3 standard, Ender 3 Pro, and Ender 3 V2. In this review, we’ll compare each one of them and find out which version is best suited to whom.
The Ender 3 standard
The oldest, most bare-boned, and at around $190, the cheapest printer of the three. It gets the job done, but has some minor hassles. The best thing going for the standard is its price. Check out the detailed review (learn more).
The Ender 3 Pro
With the Ender 3 standard, Creality engineers made some design compromises and cut as much as they could to get it to a low price point. Thus, they created a Pro version, which adds a few quality components, to bring it up to spec for what they actually wanted. At $240, the Ender 3 Pro is priced almost $50 more than the standard version. For that price, we get a few upgrades over it.
Both have the same printing volume, overlook, and specs. But on the Pro, we get a 40x40mm Y-axis. This is the same as that on the CR-10, and the CR-10 S. This is upgraded from the 40x20mm y-axis on the standard version. This provides better stability for the heated bed which moves back and forth along that.
The Pro has better couplers compared to the standard. But they still have some significant play in them. The Ender 3 Pro gets a magnetic, flexible, BuildTAK like printing surface. It makes removing prints very easy. The Pro uses a Mean Well 24V power supply unit. This is thinner, quieter, and better quality than that on the standard. Both the PSUs have the same specs, just that on the Pro, It’s a known good brand.
Z- stop switch brackets on the Pro, come with a limiter. So, you cannot miss the correct Z-stop position when you install it.
The Motherboard on the Pro
Both the Standard and the Pro use similar control boards. That is an 8-bit Atmel 1284p processor and uses the A4988 stepper drivers.
Also, on the Ender 3 Pro, the control board is flipped, thus the cooling fan is moved to the bottom of the frame. So now, there’s no worry that the filament or any print pieces can clog the fan. Unlike the standard version, where you’ll need to print a fan cover to protect the cooling fan, which is on the top. Moreover, now the MicroSD card slot is easier to reach since it’s much higher from the ground.
Firmware and UI on the Ender 3 pro are also changed. Now you can change things like Z-offset, acceleration, Jerk velocity, travel, and even steps for each stepper motor, so you can tune your printer much more precisely. There are no noticeable differences in the print quality in models printed by the Standard or the Pro.
Issues Surrounding the Ender 3 Pro
On Ender 3 Pro’s magnetic plate you can only print filaments that don’t require heating of over 80°C. Anything over 70-80°C, will destroy the plate’s magnetism because of the curing effect. So, you cannot print ABS on this. The printing surface on the Standard is glued to the heating bed and faces no such problem.
The new stepper pulleys for the X & Y axes on the Pro version are not removable and non-adjustable now. So, if you want to add stepper dampeners, which significantly reduce the noise and vibrations, you cannot do it. This add-on can easily be implemented on the Standard version. The 8-bit processors are constrained by memory. Thus some features that can be used with some add-ons are trimmed down, especially if you’re using a BL touch auto bed leveler. The stepper drivers are cheap and work fine but they’re noisy.
The Ender 3 V2
The newest, most feature-packed, and at around $290 most expensive printer of the three. It’s almost $100 more expensive than the standard and for that money, there are many upgrades over it. With the Ender 3 V2, Creality engineers have taken lots of cues from what the majority of people were doing to their Standards and Pros in the community and tried to incorporate those things where they felt it made sense. The most noticeable upgrade is the large HD color screen. Similar to the pixelated monochrome LCD setups on the previous two versions, it’s a scroll wheel setup and not a touch screen.
The V2 comes with a Carborundum glass platform. This enables the hotbed to heat up quicker and prints to adhere better without warping. It combines the positives of both the fixed and magnetic printing surfaces. Prints on glass are easy to remove and the bed can now heat above 80°C allowing the user to print ABS.
The Ender 3 V2 has a similar Bowden extrusion setup. The only visible difference is the fancy-looking hot end case. Also, the V2 adds a rotary knob on the extruder, making the loading and feeding of filament much easier. This is absent in both the standard and the Pro versions where you had to print the knob yourself.
The Mechanical Upgrades on the V2
The V2 has the same 40x40mm y-axis rail as on the Pro. But here, we also get a built-in belt tensioner that is screw-driven. So now you can easily make tiny adjustments until the belt is at exactly the amount of tension you want. Unlike in the previous versions, where the belt tensioner mechanism is just 2 bolts on the side. The belt is pulled by hand and the bolts are tightened to tension the belt. It gets tricky to get the perfect amount of tension on the belts.
The Y-axis motor is now covered with a shroud, so that debris and fingers don’t get stuck in it. The power supply is the same Mean Well 24V unit as seen on the Pro version. But here, it’s concealed underneath the frame. This decongests the printing area and makes it safer. Cables are well managed and look neat and clean, partially due to the PSU being mounted underneath. There’s also a toolbox integrated into the machine body.
The Motherboard on the V2
The Major differences are with the control boards. On the V2, we have a significant departure from the motherboards of previous iterations. Here we get a 32 bit ARM processor, so it’s faster and no memory constraints are experienced. The stepper drivers here are the Trinamic TMC22208 drivers which are absolutely silent. All the printers use Creality custom boards which are designed in-house.
The control board placement is also flipped and it has the same advantages as on the Pro Version. Also now, the V2 uses a MicroUSB cable instead of the outdated MiniUSB used on both the Standard and Pro. The UI interface is updated to run on the color screen. This improves the user experience.
Issues Surrounding the Ender 3 V2
The new hot-end nozzle case does look good however you will find that the cooling fan is harder to reach. Thus cleaning or changing the fans, which is a simple task in previous iterations, is not easily possible here. The Ender 3 V2 missed out on Auto bed leveling and carries forward the 4 point spring-loaded adjustment wheels.
But the biggest issue is the fact that the V2 still comes with basically the same Bowden extruder setup as seen on all the Ender 3 iterations. The Bowden extruder setup being the single biggest complaint with the Ender 3 printers.
The Ender 3’s price is incredibly accessible for what it offers. All printers in the Ender 3 lineup consist of capable machines at different price points. There are some well-thought upgrades, like increasing the width of the Y-axis rail to 40x40mm on the Pro, the silent board, and in-built belt tensioners on the V2.
And there are also some that make little sense. Like the bigger screen on V2. Having a bigger screen does not contribute to improving the print quality, and the LCD screens of the previous versions worked just fine. Moreover, if you’ve attached a Raspberry Pi on your printer and control it remotely using OctoPrint, you’re really not looking at the screens much anyway. Instead, this money should’ve had spent in replacing the sub-par Bowden setup with a Direct-Drive setup.
Furthermore, some old units of Ender 3s come with outdated Marlin firmware, which doesn’t have Thermal Runaway Protection enabled. This is a critical safety setting that prevents fires. The newer units have rectified this issue and now even the Ender 3 Standard units come with a silicon sock on the hot end, which helps insulate it and updated firmware with TRP enabled from the factory. Thus, make sure to buy the newer units, and even if you get an old one, you can update the outdated Marlin firmware by flashing a bootloader like Arduino UNO.
Which one is best for you?
The final verdict. This question narrows down to two factors, namely your budget and your willingness to DIY.
If you’re a total beginner and want a hassle-free 3D printer out of the box, and if you can stretch your budget just a little bit, the Ender 3 V2 is the best recommendation for you.
But, if budget is a concern for you, if you’re fine with doing hacks, tweaks, and mods and searching solutions on your own, then you should go with the Ender 3 standard. Because you’ll get all the basic functionality of a 3D printer at a very low price and if you’re a beginner, you’ll learn a lot of things doing stuff yourself, engaging with the community, and improving your machine over time. It’s a nice learning curve.
The Ender 3 Pro is not recommended because its price increase is not justified. Many upgrades can be just 3D printed by you, and the swappable parts will cost you less than the price difference of the Standard.
All images are taken from Creality’s official website. Technical information on the Ender 3 Pro is referred from Nexi Tech’s review. Technical information on the Ender 3 V2 is referred to from 3D printing Canada’s review.
Harsh Pawar is a student of Mechanical Engineering. Specializes in the Mechatronics domain. Alongside this, He’s an avid runner and an auto enthusiast