Undeterred by the fiasco of my first foray into modern home 3D printing I once again welcomed the arrival of a 3D printer. This time I was taking no chances. I dialed down my expectations after the first printer, a CR-10S, came in with loose parts in the control box and in the packing box. It was promptly shipped back.
After more research, I decided to try a Da Vinci Jr. Pro ($299US). This is an out of the box, fully assembled, ready to rock 3D printer that looks pretty good... for a 3D printer. It also had one very important feature for me... at least until I learn more about this stuff... auto leveling! Yes... no knob twisting, watching 20-minute videos... no repeated warnings about making sure that bed was level.
This was supposedly 3D printing nirvana... Just push a button and watch it happen... before your eyes. But then again... I am already a bit jaded after having found out that auto leveling in other printers only moves the head to the preset positions. You still had to eyeball and use a piece of paper while adjusting the knobs and holding your mouth just right. My computer can multi-task... I can't. Two things at once get more difficult as I age.
I unpacked the beast, set her up and plugged her in. No need to hook up to a computer but it is recommended the first time to update firmware, so I did just that. From then on you can transfer with an SD card if your printer is away from your computer.
zBrush Sculpted Concept to 3D Printed Bust (Before Cleanup)
I turned it on, stepped back and waited for disaster. I'm eternally optimistic that disaster will strike when it can. Particularly involving a computer, free software, and no experience. There were some initial faints noises... maybe a click or two... couldn't really tell. Then a light flashed on! And promptly went off! Damn... err... darn.
At this point I recall an old saying... patience is a virtue and a gift, of which I have neither, but I managed to wait an eternity. More like 15 to 20 seconds but it seemed like an eternity. Finally, the light popped back on, fans stopped and the cheap, 90's era, LCD control panel lit up almost as much as the smile on my face when I realized all was go at this point! Never made it this far last time.
I followed printed directions that came with it and after going through the push button auto leveling (yes it was easy) and material spool loading I was 3D printing! A character no less...with thin arms, legs and waist. In retrospect it was a horrible model for a first print but at that time I thought it was just print and go. I didn't realize I was about to learn a lot in a short time about 3D printing which is anything but print and go. It printed but didn't look good at all. Very rough.
Blue objects printed with the supplied material. White objects are third-party material.
After this, I learned about layer heights, wall thickness, interior fill, printing speed and other things that improved my prints dramatically. I printed out 3DBenchy... a free 3D print test model... and it came out great. Within tolerances and smooth! I was shocked. It worked! I've had a bad clog trying to use Cura to print the same model but all I had to do was clean the extruder.
Concerning character printing... as of this writing... while not smooth surfaced I have been able to paint them. I found out along the way about Resin printers, a very cool, seemingly pull the model out of thin air, bath type of printer using laser and liquid resin. These are quite a bit more expensive. It is a sci fi as hell process... look it up on YouTube if you have never seen one in action. If nothing else your cool factor will go up a notch or two.
I'm finally having some success at 3D printing. I am really enjoying this Jr. Pro as it has been everything it was billed to be at this point. Works out the box with no assembly... even for me and if you only knew how much the digital gods conspire against me daily you'd realize what an accomplishment that is.
At this point, the prints just keep getting better as I learn more about the quirky little world of home 3D printing. At this point, I am hooked. It can print working latches, gears and busts of characters that I can paint. There are practical, real-world applications, for 3D home printing but mostly for digital artists like myself, it's the ability to fully realize a piece of art from mental concept to physical form.
NOTE: Unlike some of the other XYZ printers this model allows for use of third party filaments.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website.