When it comes to 3D printers, the product ranges are virtually unlimited. But in our experience, the quality across different ranges can vary immensely.
At DIYODE HQ, we’ve experienced prototyping struggles with many forms of 3D printers. We’ve had ongoing challenges finding a cost-effective printer that would produce on-demand, without any fuss, and without a high failure rate. Until we stepped into LulzBot territory...
Our friends at Core Electronics have extensive 3D printing experience, so we asked them what 3D printer they would recommend. Without hesitation, they dropped the brand: LulzBot. We’d heard the name, read the reviews, but hadn’t yet used them. The guys at Core Electronics assured us of their quality, reliability, and best of all, their technical support. They are also open-source, so you can even print your own replacement parts and improvements if you want to!
We got our hands on a few models, to put them through their paces; and here’s what we found.
There are two different sized printers in the LulzBot range: the “baby” (a LulzBot Mini), and the “big kahuna” (a LulzBot TAZ 6). Both printers follow the same Cartesian-style design. The larger TAZ 6 has options for dual extrusion and other interchangeable heads, which are not available with the Mini. Of course, the print size drastically increases from a fun 152 x 152 x 158mm (2,650cm3), to a huge 280 x 280 x 250mm (19,600cm3)! Don’t get us wrong - the Mini is awesome and works brilliantly, but the size of the TAZ 6 is definitely a lot more useful.
One thing that was really impressive, was that each machine is quality controlled before it leaves the factory. This is evidenced by the model Octopus that is included with the printer, which has actually been printed by your very machine. The steppers have stepped, the extruder has extruded, and the heat bed has, well... heated! It’s by far the best way to know that your machine works, which is really important, since there’s no better way to kill excitement than to find out the equipment doesn’t work!
The set up was impressively fast. The LulzBot Mini comes fully assembled so it, literally, takes a few minutes to pull it out of the box, remove the packing material, and connect it to your computer. The TAZ 6 is a much larger unit, but while it comes in a few pieces, it’s still barely a five-minute job to set up; the instructions are really clear, and all required tools are included. There’s no “construction” really, you’re just bolting the print bed/y-axis on, and plugging the extruder head in; very basic assembly. Then - as per the Mini - connect, switch on, and you’re practically done.
While LulzBot is compatible with all sorts of printer software, they have a pre-configured version of Cura available (Cura LulzBot Edition), which further accelerates the set up procedure. By using the provided version of Cura, there’s no configuration of your printer required. Simply click on the printer you have, and everything is basically ready to go. They even preload the iconic “Rocktopus” model, so you have something to create a great test print too.
Cura is a great piece of software, and with the preloaded printer profiles, we really don’t see too many reasons to use different software; but the option is there should you have a need.
Once we ensured there were no bugs in the system, no loose screws or anything like that, we set about putting the printers through their paces. We found simple models, complex models, and some fun things to print. This was a deliberate “stress test” of the units. Just about any 3D printer can produce a tiny, featureless print, with relative success, but we weren’t looking for an “okay” result; we wanted the prints to be reliable and the results to be great. After all, we’re not just playing around - we’re creating models for use in our projects, and prototypes that we’re going to publish - accuracy and repeatability is critical for our purposes.
Two great features of the LulzBot units are the self-cleaning and self-levelling functions. At the start of each print, the printer will go through the automatic levelling process, as well as multiple cleaning passes on the integrated cleaning pad. Historically, our frustrations with 3D printing and the cause of many failures, was often a result of problems with nozzle clogging and bed levelling (despite going through calibration processes).
We messed about with various settings, from quick and dirty prints to slow and fine prints. In each case the results were exceptional. Of course, we also played around with resolution differences so there are adjustments to the output quality, which you can see in the photos of our Rocktopus models. At first glance they look the same, which is great; but there are minor differences in the resolution of the layers, and the finer prints can take double the time, or longer to complete. However this is the nature of 3D printing. It’s a trade-off between the print speed and the quality of the output. Even the “fast” preset seemed to provide better outcomes than many other printers we’ve previously used.
|Print Your Own:|
The LulzBot/Cura experience really is one of the easiest and most robust 3D printing systems we’ve ever used. However, one bug we discovered was with Cura, where during a very long print, the system locked up. The printer kept printing, but we lost monitoring and interactivity in Cura. We experienced this about 12 hours into a 32-hour print so we were a bit nervous, to say the least. Online research revealed reports from various places, and noted the problem across numerous platforms, so we’re confident the fault did not lie with our own Mac. This issue is probably one major reason to use the onboard SD/untethered printing on the TAZ 6, as it would mean we could restart Cura, or the computer if required, without affecting the print at all. This particular print of ours was being performed by the Mini, so this wasn’t an option; but that being said, it’s important to reiterate that the print continued to completion, so there weren’t hours of print wasted - making it a minor speed bump.
If you’re wondering what took 32 hours to print, it’s the main component of the marble maze that you can see in the picture. The red components were completed on the TAZ 6, while the blue body was completed on the Mini. There wasn’t any other reason for this, other than timing - the TAZ 6 was printing the red vase when we decided to print the maze; it’s just how it happened - they could easily have been interchanged.
Do we love the LulzBot series? Absolutely! In fact, they are now - officially - our in-office printers. We really can’t fault them. So far, our focus has been on solid, repeatable prints; we have concentrated on PLA material, which is the most forgiving and reliable. And we’re yet to have a play with some more exotic filaments down the road, but we will!
|Lulzbot Mini||Lulzbot TAZ 6|
|RRP (AUD INC. GST)||$1795||$3495|
|MAX PRINT SIZE||152 x 152 x 158mm||280 x 280 x 250mm|
|MAX PRINT SPEED||275mm/sec||200mm/sec|
|LAYER THICKNESS||0.05 - 0.50mm||0.05 - 0.50mm|
|PRINTING METHOD||Tethered||Tethered or Standalong (4GB SD included)|
|DUAL HEAD CAPABLE||NO||YES (Optional)|
Of course, we need to give a major shout-out to Core Electronics for their recommendation, they know their stuff.
If you’re in the market for a new printer, or would just like to ask questions:
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