Learning How to 3D Print

The Research

Last weekend, I started doing research on 3D printers. It’s crazy to think that 3D printing has already been around for 10+ years! So, like with anything in the tech world, the longer it’s available, the better the technology gets and the lower the price gets. Who knew that you can get your very own entry-level desktop 3D printer for around $300? So I started researching all the different types of 3D printing, different methods of printing, different types of filament, the different physical characteristics of filament, etc. I’ll spare you all the details, but I ended up settling on a printer that was released in 2020 (last year, at the time of this writing). So it was relatively new, and the price point was just what I was after. There were lots of benefits to this printer and having a large community, software availability for Linux, and a sub $500 price tag were my top 3 criteria.

The Build

There will likely be people out there who would chalk this one up as a negative thing for the Creality Ender 3 V2, but I personally didn’t mind. There was a decent amount of setup before you could do your first print. Now, keep in mind, I’m brand new to 3D printing, and I had almost no idea what to expect. Some printers like MakerBot and some others are ready to print right out of the box. However, because there is so much assembly on the front end, I think it helped me gain a better understanding of what everything does, where everything goes, and how it all works together. That way if (when) anything breaks or wears out, I’ll know what it is and how to replace it. So first up, get everything out of the box.

Just beneath the top layer of foam was the first layer of printer components.

The Instructions

It’s all too easy to criticize some instruction manuals, but this manual, I think was fair. It got me most of the way there. The only thing I had to go beyond the manual to figure out how to do was bed leveling, because the way I was doing it was going to take me legitimately 2 hours. The pictures were pretty clear, but you did have to pay very close attention to them! Some of the parts were EXACTLY the same, with the only difference being where holes were drilled. I did have a couple of times where I put a part on, then realized I had to take it right back off because there was physically no way to assemble the next part with the previous part still on.

These are all the parts (mostly) flat on a table. Soldering iron is not included or required for assembly. It just happened to be on my desk.

Note: The soldering iron was not included or required for this assembly. It just happened to be sitting on my desk.

Step 1

Install the Z-axis profile (left). This was pretty straighforward. The only thing that was a little tricky was the Z-axis limit switch. Once you figure out the method used to attach it, the same method is used to attach other components the same way.

The Z-axis limit switch was particularly trick to get installed. Once you know the method used to attach, the rest of the components use the same method.

Step 2

Once the left Z-axis profile is up and the Z-axis limiter switch is installed, you’ll want to install the right Z-axis profile. In the manual, all this happens in one step.

Step 3

In the photo above, you can actually see the Z-axis motor kit and T-type screw have already been assembled and installed. The T-type screw came with a protective rubber sleeve. You’ll want to remove that before installing.

Step 4

Install pneumatic joint, XE-axis kit, and synchronous belt. Sounds complicated, but it’s not that bad. I did have to run a search for the pneumatic joint, just because I was unfamiliar with what it looked like and how big it was. Once I saw a photograph, and not a drawing, it was easy to find. 2 pneumatic joints are included with the printer and they’re both in a small pouch with some other parts. So if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for, it can feel like it might be missing or something. Once the XE-axis kit is assembled, you roll on the nozzle kit from the END. At first glance, I was under the impression I’d have to remove one of the wheels on the nozzle kit to have it hook over the edge of the XE-axis it. Great news, you don’t have to go through all the trouble. Simply slide the wheels over the end of the gantry bar. By the time you’re done, you’ll have something like the pics below.

Gantry installed.

Step 5

Install the X-axis tensioner. This one, for me, was pretty confusing. The way the illustrations were drawn made it seem like I was missing a pulley wheel that went on the right end of the X-axis profile. Turns out, by the time I’d finished this step, the artist just drew the X-axis tensioner belt unnaturally curving around an invisible part that wasn’t addressed. Once I put that together in my head, the rest was easy. I kinda group a few of these steps together and skipped ahead just to see if the next steps would give me clues on how to complete my current step. That method seemed to work for me.

Steps 6-9

By this point, your build should be really starting to look like the picture on the box. The only steps that really remain are applying the gantry, which just screws into the top of both Z-axis profiles, install the material rack, and plug in each of the components. Once you follow the wires and look at each of the connections, it’s pretty easy to hook up. Each of the connections are pretty dummy proof. Once you install the screen on the right side of the base, you’re almost ready to print!

First Boot Up

My First Mistake

It was bound to happen, so I guess it was best to go ahead and get it out of the way before I even printed anything. I’d assembled everyhing and just turned on the printer. it was idle, just sitting at the start up screen. Awesome, no problems. Next came the step where I needed to level the print bed. There are wheels under each of the corners of the print bed that adjust the hight of the bed to make sure it is level. Right out of the box, who knows what level they’re at. Unfortunately, there’s no real warning in the manual, so I figured out how to ACTUALLY level the bed after I’d layed a huge scratch into the bottom edge of my print bed. I hit “auto-home” which sent the nozzle to the bottom left corner of the print bed. I adjusted that corner, then with servo motors engaged, told the nozzle to move to the other corner of the bed. It started scraping its way to the other corner and there was nothing I could do. The motors started grinding and popping and then it hit the clip on the bottom edge that holds the glass in place. It was so awful, but now at least I know to ALWAYS level the be with servo motors DISENGAGED.

Get On With It Already! Let’s Print!

The SD card that comes included with the printer has two default “test” files that are already on it. They come in the form of .gcode files. .gcode is essentially the result of slicing software, but it’s path instructions for the nozzle. Where should it go and when it should start and stop the flow of print filament.

First Print

The two test files included with the Ender 3 V2