We assemble and test the Snapmaker’s 3D printing, LASER etching and CNC carving abilities.
3.5” Colour Touchscreen
125 x 125 x 125 build area
Heated build plate up to 80°C
Supports 1.75mm PLA & ABS
50 to 300-micron height
125 x 125mm work area
200mW 405nm Class 3B LASER
90 x 90 x 50mm work area
3.175mm shank dia.
Up to 19,000RPM
On a recent visit to the Ipswich Jaycar store, we encountered this three-in-one 3D printer, LASER engraver and CNC mill, which was proudly on display at the front counter. We just had to get one and put it through its paces.
Having one tool on your bench that can do three different CNC tasks is a pretty awesome idea, as it opens your rapid prototyping workflow up to quite a few unique possibilities.
The Snapmaker comes flat packed in a sturdy cardboard and foam filled box. The linear modules, tool heads, control board, and mounting hardware come on one foam packed layer, with the safety glasses, power adaptor, tools and remaining hardware in a second foam tray underneath. This made the entire package well secured and protects it quite well from any shipping damage.
In the package, you get a set of safety glasses, presumably for use with the CNC module, but you also get a set of LASER safety glasses. The standard for class IIIb LASERs does not specifically mandate the necessity for LASER protective eyewear in diffused exposure situations such as this, so it’s pleasing to see that Snapmaker has included them. Eye safety is something we should all take very seriously, even when permanent damage is unlikely.
The kit also comes with a selection of tools such as a scraper, tweezers, hex keys and even a pretty nifty reversible Philips / hex key screwdriver. The kit also comes with CNC carving and engraving tools, and surprisingly, a spare extruder nozzle and heat block.
This kit comes with most of the necessary gear to get you started, with the only exception being some test material to use with the CNC engraver. Lucky this isn’t too difficult to find. We went to our local Bunnings hardware store and grabbed some sample coloured vinyl swatches for kitchen thermoformed doors and splashbacks. These are inexpensive and a great size for testing the machine.
Building the kit was remarkably simple, taking no more than 20 minutes from first opening the box to having the machine working on its first task. The instructions are very concise and comprehensive with step-by-step images showing exactly how to assemble the machine. They even have a scale image of the screws and bolts so you can compare each against the image and be 100% sure you’re using the correct fastener.
The main structure of the machine is made from three linear modules containing a stepper motor and a carriage on linear rails. Essentially, the three linear modules are bolted together and secured to an aluminium baseplate. This construction makes the unit extremely rigid but also incredibly simple to assemble.
Once the main structure is assembled, you simply screw on the tool head you wish to use, connect the appropriate cable to it and you’re ready to go.
We first set up the Snapmaker with its 3D printing module. We went to our goto benchmark print file, the Cali Cat calibration print from Dezign, which you can download from Thingiverse here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1545913
This design is simple and is quick and easy to print, however, it allows you to check that the printer is printing dimensions correctly while simultaneously doubling as a print quality test. It has a few 45° overhangs that can show any cooling/temperature issues, and the flat surfaces show ringing artifacts quite nicely.
We were impressed with the surface quality of the print and the total absence of ringing on the face of the cat print. This absence of ringing stems from the incredible rigidity of the linear module construction combined with the small build area and lack of bedsprings, etc. This means all 3 axis are rock solid and thus backlash and slop are at the absolute minimum.
The white print is the first print using the Snapmaker, alongside a grey print that was printed on a different 3D printer we had in the workshop. Note the ghosting and ringing on the left side of the print and the right ear on the grey print. This ringing is caused by backlash and slop when the machine changes directions sharply. Due to the Snapmaker’s rigidity and smaller printing area, this phenomenon has all but been removed.
The overhangs on the tail were good, however, curling on the edges can be seen. This indicates that the temperature of the default settings may have been a little high in this case. Reducing the temperature would likely help to sharpen these edges. We really are nitpicking here to look for flaws. For the most part, this slight curling is perfectly acceptable for most prints.
The next print we made with the Snapmaker was the popular #3DBenchy from Creative Tools, also available from Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:763622
This print has long been considered the 3D printing benchmark test due to its difficulty to print well. Whilst its certainly no torture test, it does tend to make printing quality issues stand out. Therefore, it’s a perfect test to show off how the Snapmaker prints out of the box.
The #3DBenchy came out fantastic for stock settings and a second print. We did notice the same overhang issues that we saw with Cali Cat, This confirms that either dropping the temperature slightly or increasing cooling should improve the print quality.
In summary, the first two 3D prints from this printer were very encouraging. The solid construction and smaller build size means the prints have the lowest possible printing artifacts. We are confident that a little tweaking of the stock settings, you should have the printer printing high quality prints.
The build area of 125mm x 125mm x 125mm is on the smaller side but its large enough for the vast majority of designs. With that said, this printer is aimed toward those who are designing and developing projects and thus have the ability to design around the build volume.
The packaged slicing software is fully featured, offering plenty of customising options, but is also fully equipped with basic express presets for those who don’t want to mess around with settings.
If you like to keep it simple, you can pretty much just select what material you’re using (eg. ABS or PLA), what quality setting you want, generate the G-code and save it to a USB. Alternatively. if you like to have full control over the printing process, you can create your own preset and fully customise everything for speeds and temperatures to retraction and layer density. However, if you’re happier with simplify3D or Cura, Snapmaker provides the setting files to use those slicers if you so wish.
Note: We only used non-tethered printing where the G-code was saved to a USB dongle and then printed directly off the USB. This is our preferred method, as printing issues are not introduced via the PC/printer communication link, and the PC is free for other tasks. However, if you prefer, the software also has direct tethered control of all functions.
To test how the printer works with non-proprietary slicers, we downloaded the Simplify3D profile direct from Snapmaker, along with the Yoda Bust from bmoshe on Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:10650. We made a few tweaks to the settings, including bringing the temperature down to 195°C, as well as adding custom supports and a raft.
This resulted in the spectacular results you can see here. The details are very sharp with minimal layer lines visible. The overhangs are now nearly flawless. All in all, we are quite impressed with the print quality of this printer out of the box. This, combined with the ease of assembly, means this is a great printer worthy of space on your bench.
With that said, 3D printing is only one of the tricks the Snapmaker has up its sleeve. We were now keen to see how the device worked as a LASER engraver.
LASER engraving on the Snapmaker is easy - you simply just need to import the image you wish to engrave into the snapmakerjs program. Our first test was to engrave a Snapmaker logo.
There wasn’t much detail in the logo we planned to engrave, so we chose B&W from the import options. If the image you plan to engrave has more detail, greyscale would likely be a better choice.
We used the transformation option to scale the image to print no more than 80mm wide. The program automatically scaled the other axis to preserve the correct proportions. You can also use the transformation settings to position the image, however, we found it much more convenient to click-and-drag the image on the main grid and position it there with the ruler.
Under the B&W settings, we adjusted the line direction so it would move diagonally rather than horizontally, and increased the dot density from 4 to 10. This means the LASER will burn at a resolution of 10 dots per mm. We leave all the other settings as is and select ‘generate G-code’.
It’s then just a matter of copying that G-code to a USB drive and putting it into the Snapmaker.
You then place and secure the workpiece to the work area. We used a ruler to set the printer’s origin point to match the image origin point (centre of the image). That is to say, we measured 20mm horizontally either side of the LASER identifier and 5mm either side vertically. This is done to make sure the image is placed where we wanted. If you’re using the Snapmaker tethered to a PC, there is a preview function that allows the bed to move around the outline of the image where you intend it to be. You won’t need to do this step if you’re using the machine tethered.
Use the Jog mode to adjust the Z height to raise or lower the LASER until the low powered witness LASER pointer has the smallest practical pinpoint. This will focus the LASER to provide the sharpest possible results. Once the LASER is correctly positioned at the desired origin point, you select the set origin point button on the touchscreen and then run the file.
Make sure you’re wearing the supplied safety glasses here. Whilst the chances a reflection will damage your eyesight are low, the consequences can be severe, so it’s best to err on the side of caution anytime you are using any directed and focused beam technology. (Consider it good practice when you get the bug for bigger LASERs!)
Note: Due to the open design of the LASER engraver, there is no way to extract the smoke and fumes directly. We used our Hakko FA 400 solder fume extractors with carbon filters to cut down on the burning smell. If you’re intending on engraving plastics regularly, we would suggest you create a more permeant extraction setup that exhausts the fumes and smoke outside to ensure you’re not exposing yourself to harmful substances.
We tested the machine with various settings on a few different surfaces, from paper and cardboard to the splashback material and even a leather wallet was tested.
The verdict is, this LASER engraver with its modest 200mW 405nM LASER is very capable of engraving many common maker materials with just a few limitations. Unsurprisingly, it can’t engrave onto metallic materials. We tried a Copper clad board and thin aluminium, and neither were marked in a meaningful way by the near UV LASER.
It is also incapable of marking transparent materials such as acrylic, glass, and plastic as the UV wave can travel through them without transferring much, if any energy, into the material.
We were surprised to see that the LASER was capable of engraving into glossy surfaces such as this grey splashback sample. We were expecting the high gloss surface to cause the UV wave to scatter and reflect off the surface. However, the engraver had little issue marking the surface, which is hard to get on camera but is quite visible in person.
FIRST CNC ENGRAVING
Upon entering the CNC carving section of the software, we are greeted with a message stating that the CNC carving features of the software are still in an Alpha phase. Whilst the software is fully capable of carving out of the box, Snapmaker is still in the process of fleshing out the carving software. As such, the feature is currently a little clumsy and difficult to navigate at the time of the review.
With that said, however, with a little practice and experimenting with the software, it is very possible to get some good results.
The main thing we wanted to test with the CNC was if it were possible to carve out single-sided PCBs. Unfortunately, the EagleCAD PCB program we use here can’t easily export a PCB design as a scaled image to perform a full test. If you use KiCAD PCB design software, or similar, that can export directly to a scaled vector format you could try for yourself.
As a proof of concept, we used the Snapmaker to carve out the DIYODE logo onto a 1oz copper clad board, which the machine handled perfectly fine, proving that it was capable of milling a PCB. We did notice during this test, however, that the PCB and spoil board was not perfectly flat. This meant we needed to set the plunge depth quite deep, and the jog height quite high to account for this deviation in level. This isn’t so much an issue, but it does mean that the clearance between traces needs to be quite high with the bits provided by Snapmaker. None the less, the results are encouraging and seem to indicate that the machine should have little issue creating single sided PCB designs, provided sufficient clearance is designed into the board.
We do have to mention that there is no enclosure with the Snapmaker. This means, not only does the mill function make quite a bit of mess as it cuts through the material, but it is also extremely loud. This is certainly not a tool that you will want on your workbench while milling. When cutting an FR4 PCB, the dust and chips coming from the machine can be a mixture of fibreglass and copper. Neither of these are things you want to be breathing into your lungs. The copper particles can also play havoc in an electronics lab environment. For these reasons we only used the mill functions in an open garage environment.
We moved on from the PCB possibilities and tested the machine with the splashback samples with similar results. The difference in the height between the part and the workpiece is inconsistent. This means, whilst the tool bit may be deep enough in one section to cut completely through the top laminate layer of the material, in one section it is unable to make it through the same layer in another section, as shown here.
This can be a result of an inconsistent surface of the material we are trying to mill. An inconsistency in the spoil board surface or even a mixture of both. As with the copper clad board, our solution was to set the plunge depth deeper and have the tool raise higher before jogging. However, this creates rough edges along the cut when using the provided engraving bit.
We switched to a 30° V-shaped bit that we had available and gave it another try with some more promising results. The cuts along the edges were significantly sharper, however, the same issue with inconsistent cutting depth presented itself in the exact same areas, when cutting from right to left. This seems to suggest that the variation is caused by the machine itself and not the material we are using.
With that said, for cutting logos, text and other lower detail designs, the machine is more than capable. It has fantastic X and Y accuracy and is only let down by the Z height variation, which can be adjusted in software. The current Alpha state of the software makes the process a bit of a challenge, but with that said, the device is still very capable and should have little problem engraving and milling common maker materials such as plastic, wood, acrylic, etc. We wouldn’t recommend attempting to mill metals with this mill due to the lack of an enclosure, and we expect the low power and low RPM motor isn’t really up to the task.
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS
If you’re in the market for either a LASER engraver or a small 3D printer, you can’t go wrong with this device. It is a very capable machine providing exceptional quality results and a simple user experience. With a little tinkering and patience, the CNC milling results will likely be equally as good.
Of course, the three in one design also enables you to keep your workbench free for other equipment.
Snapmaker available from Jaycar: www.jaycar.com.au
- Snapmaker 3-in-1 TL4400 $1349