Ender 3 Review: Is This the Best Affordable 3D Printer?

I recently found out about Ender 3 Pro while browsing budget 3D printers and decided to give it a try. And after using it for a month, I feel comfortable recommending it. As I’m new to 3D printing myself, I’ll keep the review simple so that the people buying a 3D printer for the first time can make an informed decision. Let’s begin.

3D printing is a fancy word for FDM or fused filament fabrication technique that builds 3d objects by depositing a tiny amount of material layer by layer. Modern 3D printers aimed towards hobbyists and creators are small and can even fit on your desk which makes these machines convenient and practical.

In the box

Ender 3 Pro comes partially assembled in a box buried neatly in a layer of foam. If you’ve assembled anything from Ikea then you’d be able to assemble this 3D printer without any problems. The box contains the 3D printer (in parts), micro SD card and reader, necessary tools, scraper, wire cutter, and a few grams of filament. I would point out that the instruction manual that is just a single sheet of paper may be inadequate but there are plenty of super informative videos on YouTube and you can watch those to guide yourself through the assembly process.

Assembling the printer

Ender 3 comes with all the tools that you would require to assemble the 3D printer and it took about two hours to fully assemble the 3D printer while watching an instruction video. Once assembled, the 3D printer is almost ready to print. Before printing for the first time, you’ll have to level the bed to ensure the best results. Once again, you can watch a YouTube video for that.

The Ender 3 is compact and can be positioned on your desk. However, it gets loud while printing so you might want to put it somewhere people don’t hear it all the time. Even though it is a compact printer, you can print a fairly large volume of 220x220x250mm. During my testing, I found that the actual volume of the print bed is around 200x200x200mm which is still enough for most people.

You would have to buy a roll of filament to begin your 3D printing endeavors as Ender 3 only comes with a tiny amount of filament that is barely adequate to print the dog that comes preloaded on the SD card.

Note: Ender 3 power supply supports voltage ranging from 100V to 240 V but you need to switch a flip for the voltage that is used in your country. For example, the US uses 110 V and most European countries use 240V.

Buying Filament

Ender 3 can print a variety of materials that can be categorized into plastics. Some of the most popular materials are PLA, ABS, TPU, etc. All of the filaments have different mechanical properties that make every filament useful for a specific use. For example, PLA is easy to work with and is best suited for beginners, ABS is a stronger material and can be used to functional parts, and TPU is flexible which makes it ideal for flexible prints.

I tested the Ender 3 with PLA and you too can start with this material and start experimenting with other materials once you get familiar with the 3D printing process.

Software

Before we start a print, we need to understand how does the Ender 3 prints an object. Most 3D printers use a set of instructions that tell the printer to go to a location on the bed and deposit some amount of material. This is done layer by layer and all these instructions are stored in a gcode. Ender 3 only reads the gcode files so we need a software to generate that file.

The software is also known as a Slicer takes in a digital 3D model and cuts it horizontally into layers that make it easier for the printer to understand. You can use any one of Ultimaker Cura, Simplify3D, or ideaMaker to slice your 3D models.

However, slicing software can not be used to creating 3D models and you would either have to use 3D modeling software like Autodesk 3DS Max, Blender, or Tinkercad or download existing 3D models from Thingiverse. Learning to create your own 3D prints can be an exciting process in itself and tools such as Tinkercad make it even simpler. If you don’t want to get into building your own models, you can still find plenty of useful models on Thingiverse for free.

Slice the Code

I use Ultimaker Cura Slicing software to create gcode files for any model but you can any slicing software that you like. You can stick to default settings while setting up Ender 3 settings and generate a preview by clicking the Slice button. The Slicer also tells you an estimated time, filament required, and cost of the model. Put the gcode file in the micro SD card that came with the Ender 3 and plug the card into the slot on the Ender 3.

Print Quality

If you assemble the Ender 3 properly, you will get pretty good results without installing any upgrades or tweaking any settings. I encountered a few problems while testing and fixed it within minutes. Mind you these issues arise only because of my sloppy installation or some issue in the slicer configuration and it doesn’t count as a flaw in the 3D printer itself.

These are some of the problems that I faced

Doggy Print: Filament ran out in the middle of the print and that resulted in a skipped layer that made the print fail at the position. To fix this problem, make sure you check the filament left on the roll before you begin the installation.

It even fell off after a while.

Spinning top: I accidentally bumped the printing bed that resulted in a shifted layer. Make sure the printer is not touched at all while it is printing.

Giant AirPod: This was a multipart print and I saw a lot of stringing that should not exist. I tweaked a few settings in the Slicer and the stringing disappeared after that.

This is how it looked after I assembled it, sanded all the imperfections, and painted all over.

Pokeball Hinge: The hinge printed with moving parts and the moving parts got stuck. I tried to fix it by applying force but the print kept breaking instead.

To fix this, I realized the print was stuck by design and you need to print it solid to add strength so that the moving part release upon force. This may not be the case for every print, the next failed print will tell you why.

Caliper: I printed this caliper and it broke instead of moving because layers were stuck again. I printed this calibration thing to check how much the layers were sticking and I found out that I had to tweak a few settings in the Slicing software to make it work. After that, it worked like a charm.

Lightsaber: I now know to do a test print if it has any moving parts to check if the print will work or not. I wanted to print the lightsaber so I printed the test first and to my surprise, it wasn’t perfectly cylindrical which couldn’t have been a slicer problem. This was a loose belt on the X-axis and after tightening the belt the test came out perfect and so was the lightsaber.

Here are some of the prints that showcase the capabilities of the 3D printer

Lithophane Box:  You can print detailed images to the side of a box on your 3D printer and it looks honest. These are lithophanes and you can click this link to create your own lithophanes.

YouTube Play button: I made this 3D printed YouTube play button as a part of a Raspberry Pi project that flashed the logo every time the subscriber counter updated. Neat.

Octopus: This print demonstrates that you can print anything with moving parts that won’t require any assembly afterward.

Baby Yoda: I printed this tiny Baby Yoda because… you know… This is the Way.

Benchy: Benchy is like one of the prints that you have to print once you get a 3D printer. It’s sacred.

Vase: Most Slicers have this mode called ‘Vase Mode’ that allows you to print detailed prints without any visible imperfections. However, things printed in vase mode are pretty delicate as these are only a few millimeters thick.

Paper Bag: Same concept as the Vase but looks like an actual paper bag. Really cool.

Earphone holder: I’m still hung up on wired earphones because wireless earphones still can’t compete in the audio quality. This 3d printed earphones holder helps keep the wires tangle-free and neat.

Printing Speed

While these prints look awesome when finished, every object took a few hours to a few days depending on the size of the print. The average speed that I print these objects is around 60mm/s to 70mm/s. Ender 3 does advertise high printing speeds of up to 180mm/s but it’s best to stay in the sub 100mm/s range to ensure the best quality.

Details

The most common way of identifying a 3D print is from the layer lines. While the standard layer height 0.2mm, you can increase the quality of your model by changing the layer height to 0.12mm. It would take more time but the quality is considerably better.

Tech Specs

Technology FDM 
Power Supply Universal
Print Volume 220x220x250mm
Machine Size 440x410x465mm
Weight 8.6Kg
Max Printing Speed 180mm/s
Filament Diameter 1.75mm
Filament Type PLA, ABS, Wood, Carbon Fiber
Layer Thickness 0.12mm – 0.4mm
Mode USB or microSD
Max Nozzle Temperature 255℃ 
Max Hotbed Temperature 110℃

Final Verdict

Using Ender 3 for the past few weeks has been an amazing experience and the printer offers a lot of value for your buck. Even though the printer isn’t plugged and play, learning to eliminate problems is fun in itself. Once you tune the printer, printing becomes effortless and fun. If you want a budget 3D printer and still expect decent prints then Ender 3 is a decent choice. There are not many competitors that can match the quality and print volume of Ender 3. You can buy one from Amazon or the Creality Store.

Buy Creality Ender 3 Pro on (Amazon | Creality Store)

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