3D Printers are a godsend to the low budget filmmaker looking to create props and even filmmaking accessories. We’ve seen them used on big budget films like Skyfall, where the producers made scaled down 65 Astin Martin to destroy, and we see them in creating all kinds of props and costume pieces in the cosplay world.
But whether you’re looking to design and print your own lightsabers for that Star Wars fan film or to create custom wrist mount for your GoPro, what printer should you get? Well, I have been testing the Robo 3D R1+ 3D printer, and it’s been quite a learning experience, not only in how the printer itself functions, but the realm of 3D printing itself is a heck of a lot more involved than I thought it was. And the time couldn’t be better to get one.
First, I have to say this about 3D printing: It’s the high maintenance spouse of creativity — there’s just so much you have to take into consideration. Honestly, I thought it was as simple as download the 3D model and hit print.
But there’s far more to 3D printing than that, as there’s a host of factors that must be understood in order to get a successful print. These include the quality of your 3D model, the settings on your slicing software, the kind of filament you use, the bed temperature, and even the humidity in the air. All of which make the difference between a successful 3D print, or a failure that looks like comedian Yahoo Serious had a bad hair day. I didn’t know any of this going in.
There’s a whole theory on it and I could write a separate article simply on how to 3D print a model. But thanks to the patient support staff at Robo 3D, I was able to get up to speed fast, and even then, I had to make a few calls to make sure I was doing things right. So the lesson here is, don’t expect to simply hit print.
So the first thing you need to know going in is that if you’re looking for an entry level 3D printer, which will enable you to print simple little models, well, the Robo 3D can do that, but it’s a bit of overkill. The nice thing about the R1+ is that it comes completely assembled in the box. So you can be up and running in a few minutes, in theory.
The A-Frame style construction of the R1+ houses one of the largest heated build plate in any desktop 3D printer at 10 x 10″ / 25.4 x 25.4 cm. The extruder that comes with it enables you to print with 1.75mm PLA or ABS, and it comes with a role of PLA to get started with.
The R1+ comes with a thumb drive that houses the Matter Hackers Matter Control slicer software to 3D print with (see above), but you can use any third-party apps, like Cura, Slicr or even Simplify3D to do the job. There are dozens out there, some are free, some are not. I did try all three listed here, but in the end I came back to the familiar territory of Matter Control. You plug in the thumbdrive and then install the software. Then go and update it from the Matter Hackers website.
You can connect and print via USB, or you can slice your model and save it as a G-Code file on an SD card and slip that into the R1+ to print. I never tried this, however because the R1 also doesn’t have an on board LCD display with which to print from the with the card, so I found the extra steps required a bit of a hassle. But for larger size 3D models, it’s sometimes beneficial to do it that way. Unfortunately, the R1+ doesn’t have a wireless capability, yet. But I heard that the new R2 may have that coming soon.
Once the software connects to the R1+, you’re ready to load the filament and print your first model. The software comes with a library of basic models to try and the first ideally is the calibration circle just to make sure that everything is loaded properly. The R1+ comes with a spool to place your filmament on that attaches to the back side of the A Frame, but when you slide it on to the back edge, you quickly see that it’s been tossed in as somewhat of an afterthought.
Based on a conversation I had with a Robo 3D tech about my concerns, he directed me to 3D model on Thingiverse for a spool rack that fits into the top of the printer, through the slot, and forms the shape of an “H” -like rack with a cross bar, that not only houses the the filament reel, but also can hold some of the tools that the R1+ comes with, should you want them handy (see the image to the left).
I actually printed this as my first model and got a success right off the bat! Very exciting. I put it together and slipped it over the entry point. This really is the best way to hold the filament for this design of printer, and when I had a chance to talk to Robo3D CEO Braydon Moreno and he asked me my thoughts about the design and that was the first thing I brought up. he was quite receptive to my thoughts that this really needs to he the kind of holder for the filament in future releases.
Once you have your filament loaded on the spool, you run it up to the top of the printer and through the round sliding slot. Then down to the extruder, which has a spring tension feeder. Pull it back and then slide it in. You should be able to go a few inches before it stops and then you let the tensioner go to keep it tight against the feed wheel.
Now you’re ready to print. Robo3D recommends printing at the standard temperature of 210° C with a bed temperature of 50° C. And here’s where things get interesting. You have to make sure the print will stick to the glass printer bed. To do that, Robo 3D suggests either glue stick, or my personal favorite … hair spray! AquaNet Extra Super Hold to be precise. You can use third party printer sheets out there, or even use printer or masking tape for some grip, but the hair spray works the best, according to Robo 3D. And it does.
The printing isn’t annoyingly loud, but it isn’t silent either. You can definitely hear the print head move and forth in concert with the print bed itself. That’s largely due to the open nature of the A Frame. I wish it was covered with a door, not only to keep it quiet, but also to keep the air temperature and humidity consistent. But at this price point, you can’t have everything.
I was, however, lulled into a false sense of security with my first successful print. I got excited and chose something more complicated. And it failed. Not once, but three times. The model kept slipping off. I tried more hair spray. I tried the glue stick. I tried the hair spray and the glue stick. Nothing was working. So I called Technical support and we walked through the settings and concluded going with a raft was the best way to keep the model stuck to the bed. A raft is few layers of filament that gets laid down as a foundation and then it prints on top of it. He also recommended putting the print bed temperature up another 5 degrees, and that worked. (See what I mean about how high maintenance 3d printing can be?)
I have to say here that Robo 3D really needs to consider their tech support team a feature of their product. It’s hard to do that because you don’t want to say “call us when the 3D print fails” because that’s kind of negative, but their support team is unbelievably knowledgeable. True 3d print enthusiasts who print all the time and not some worker with script that looks up your problem in a book and gives you a canned generic response. They work with you. And they’ve also made it easier to get in the call cue with an appointment interface on the Robo3D website that’s kinda like making a Genius Bar appointment at Apple.
They can also call you via Skype, so you can do a video conference and show them just what’s wrong with a camera or mobile device. One support guy even had me send him the model I was working with and he fixed and and sent it back with the properly sliced G Code. Seriously, these guys go the extra mile. They also have a solid selection of video tutorials that can help you get up and running.
Simply put. With the help of their staff, being a beginner myself, the Robo 3D works, and works well. It’s got a huge print bed, far larger than most desktop models on the market, and it prints great. I really like it. I’ve printed props from Star Wars, Star Trek, parts for costumes, as well as several rotating GoPro wrist mounts that work fantastically. I even printed and assembled a helmet from The Martian (that one was a pain). I even printed a replacement top for my dog’s treat jar!
But this is no plug and play endeavor. It’s not like Apple’s “it just works” mantra. I wish it was. There are plenty of videos and forum posts on the interwebs about how to hack and improve the Robo3D to give you a better print. But honestly, my experience was as such that I really needed to buy into that, save the spool holder that I needed to print.
I will say this: The Robo 3D doesn’t work well with any filament provider on the market. I had some that I bought that simply failed every time I tried it. Ironically, it was the cheapest filament I could find that gave me the best results. So I’d start with the filament that Robo 3D recommends and then branch out from there.
But I’m hooked on 3D printing, not only because of being able to great better production value for the film projects I make, but also because it’s just plain fun to do. It could have easily gone the other way, and that’s honestly no fault of the Robo 3D printer. It’s just the way 3D printing is, and if I had to learn that lesson with a printer, I’m glad it was the Robo 3D R1+. I’ve gotten the learning curve out of the way, and now I can see just how capable the R1+ really is, and how it will grow with me. At least until the R2 comes out! Braydon tells me there’s some amazing new features on the way including printing from your mobile device.
For about $800, it’s a worthy investment to use to create the props, costumes and even cinematic tools you need. They are available at Staples, Best Buy, Amazon.com, and at Robo3D.com (check their refurbished section for great deals).
- Large print bed
- Heated print bed
- Works out of the box with no assembly
- Wide variety of 3D print utilities can be used
- Knowledgeable and helpful support staff
- Great value for the price
- Useless print spool attachment, had to print my own
- Printing from SD is a bit of a hassle
- Open face design can get a bit loud
- Some filament brands simply don’t work well
4.5/5 stars, 5 stars for support staff.