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How Simple is that!!

So, I got the shipping note that my 2016 Simple was on the way, and I checked the USPS website daily until they said my parcel had arrived and then it was the turn of Parcelforce until I got the note on my doorstep that it was in the local depot.  I phoned the depot to see how quick it could be delivered and they said you can collect it…. I was in the car before the lady at the depot had put the phone down!

So I got my parcel <insert squealing and excitement here>… I knew there was some assembly required, but some serious thought had gone into this.  The bed assembly consists of the X motor, X end stop, mounting plate and the bed, already with the belt fitted and tensioned.  It required the connection of the motor wire and the end stop wire.  Four screws and you’re good to go!

2016-11-27-19-32-03The box contained a neat little spool of filament that sits nicely on the spool holder.  The thread on the spool holder is such that the turning spool will not loosen it, another well thought of idea.

The videos on the website give clear instructions on the first print and showing you round the menus on the touchscreen.

This printer is really an order of magnitude better that the original Simple.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Simples (I have 3) and they are real workhorses, but there is always a bit of tinkering required to get the best quality out of them if you move them around.  There are loads of community mods for the Simple (I’ll call it the v1 from now on), but the 2016 doesn’t really need any.  I’d like to see a heated bed, but with the rails and stuff, that may not be the easiest add, but for PLA it doesn’t really need one.

The Touch Screen LCD make this a truly standalone printer.  No hunting through menus for this printer.  Clear buttons and icons make navigation through the options so simple.

The two wiring looms on the v1 has been replaced with a tidy ribbon cable.  It makes the whole printer look more ‘grown up’ than it’s predecessor.  The ribbon is routed along the inside of the Y arm and runs the connections for the extruder assembly and fan2016-11-26-09-13-46.

The 2 individual Y/Z bearings, joined by motor mounting plate has been replaced by a seriously hefty piece of aluminium.  This gives more stability and really looks the business.

This is so much more than just a printer though.  The new controller board, based on the Tiny G of CNC fame make the printer a lot quieter in it’s movement and the motors barely get more than warm.  The cloud based slicer and repository, with direct ties into your Thingiverse account and your saved items.  All the things you saved as a ‘I need to print this’ can now be dropped, over the air, onto the printer and just printed.  No more, downloading, slicing and printing.  Import the project to your cloud account direct from Thingiverse and you’re off and running.  Once the files are on the printer, you can print without a wifi connection, just swiping on the touchscreen and pressing the print button.

2016-11-26-08-26-11I’ve had this printer a couple of days and I really felt the urge to write about it already.  It is a major step forwards, not just for Printrbot, but I think there will be more people using this technology on other printers.  I’d love to try and retrofit the G2 and LCD to a v1, to see if the performance is just with the controller or the printer as a whole. (If you have one spare guys-you know where I am :-)).

I’m sure I’ll have more comments as I get to grips with it more.

Well done Brook and Team!



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Rafts-will your print sink or swim?

raftI’ve been 3D printing now for a while, getting on for 3 years and, in that time, software has progressed.

When I started, the recommended software was Pronterface and Slic3r, running separately to produce your model.  Now, when you start printing, especially when it’s new and you’re going to change the world with it, you play around with the settings, to get the best print you can.

My first printer was a Printrbot LC Plus and came supplied with ABS.  Now I have to say, ABS as a first print material is like giving someone the best, creamiest cake ever and then spending all the time they eat it telling them how fat they’re going to get.  It looks fantastic to have this new, wonderful device, moving via computer, oozing a plastic thread and then watching print after print fall off the bed.  Once you’ve mastered the temperatures of filament and heated bed, and maybe some ABS Juice, you finally get something… today, PLA makes that first print so much easier…. anyway, I digress..

You load Slic3r and go through the settings, you find the one that says BRIM and SKIRT and have a play with those and then you get to the support material and check the RAFT box.  It sounds such a great idea, a bed of filament that your print will sit on and stick… and then, when your print finally comes to an end and you go to remove the raft…..ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.  It takes as long to get a nice finish as it did to print the thing!!   So from then on, rafts were relegated to the toolbox with the left-handed screwdriver and the chocolate teapot.

Now things change, new versions of Pronterface, Slic3r and the new player Repetier Host come along.  Repetier uses Slic3r, but all wrapped up in a nice, one program interface (to be honest, Pronterface did the same thing, but I could never get my head around where the settings were configured).  Still, rafts were not used, heated beds were used for PLA instead, to save the time of the cleaning.

Then Cura came along.  Originally for Ultimakers, it soon joined the ranks of the Open Source printer controller software.  Again though, not a main player in my arsenal.

Eventually, with the latest version, they added the profiles for my Printrbot machines and, to the average 3D printer, I probably seem to have more than normal but, as I help with Technical Support for them, I like to know the kind of issues people may face… Anyway, Cura is now the recommended software for Printrbot and I was having trouble printing some pins for a print I was doing so, out of shear desperation, I selected raft from the pull down box and told it to print.2015-04-29 20.07.57

Well, I wasn’t expecting what happened next.  It started with an outline and then widely spaced lines in the Y direction.  Then it moved to a 45 degree fine line and then a complete layer in the X direction and then, finally, another complete in the Y direction.  I watched the whole thinking when’s it going to start – how many layers is this thing.  And then, finally, the print finished.  I took it off the bed with some trepidation and applied a bit of pressure to the first pin… it popped off, so smoothly that I dropped it!   They all came off, so easily.  Then I tried it with some bigger prints and, every time, the print just popped off the raft.

I have to say Cura, you’ve converted me to rafts, especially for smaller pieces that may have trouble sticking.  If you haven’t tried it, give it a go… you’ll be surprised.

2015-04-29 21.50.58

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But Windows 8.1 doesn’t recognise my printer :-(

Okay, so you’ve got nice shiny Windows 8.1.  You’ve installed 3D Builder and done some funky stuff with embossing and resized and now, it’s time, 3D Builderyou want to print it.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of holding something in your hand that used to be an idea… So you go to the Print option and….. there’s no printer.  You don’t understand, you have Slic3r and Repetier and you’ve printed a tree frog from Thingiverse, so you know it works, but why can’t you print your new, fantastic design?

Well Windows support isn’t available for every printer yet, Makerbot, Printrbot, they’re in there, but not a lot of  the others.  So what can we do?  3D Builder uses Microsoft’s own file format .3MF, which Slic3r can’t open but, and it’s quite a significant but, Microsoft use an online version of Netfabb to fix files that need fixing.  So, this is what we do…

page 1We’re going to start with our design.  No, this isn’t one I prepared earlier, I just opened one of the pre existing designs that 3D Builder has.  Then we need to save it.

We don’t really have a choice what file type to use as MS only have the 3MF extension, but we don’t care, because that’s why we’re reading this!

So we have our wonderful new design for a single floor dwelling, lets call it house, and we saved it to somewhere on our machine that we can get to.  So then we go to Netfabb Basic.  NetFabb is a fantastic bit of software.  You can repair and scale and slice and I use it mainly to repair the bad designs I do…

You can actually find the free version here.  So open it and then go to Part and then Add Part and, in the dialogue box, page 5browse for your 3MF file and load it in.   Once you have it in the box, you can go straight back to Part and then Export and then select STL.

Save the file back to your machine and now you have a file that you can load into Slic3r or directly into Repetier and slice and print to your hearts content.

It’s a slightly long winded way to get round Windows not recognising your printer, but the ease with which you can add embossing and other cool stuff in 3D Builder means its certainly worth a bit of time to have a play with.

There is also a cool video series by Microsoft all about 3D printing and using 3D builder that you can find here




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Getting Out Of The Wrong Side Of The Bed?

Okay, now with everyone using microswitches and servos or induction sensors, this may seem a little late to the game but, for the ones that don’t (yet) or want to stick to simple ‘back to basics’, I’d like to talk about making sure that the bed is level so you get good prints (maybe not first time, but in single digits!).

Home position on Printrbot Simple

Now, mechanically, what our printer is doing is laying down a layer of plastic, lifting the configured layer height and then laying down some more.  We really need the first layer to stick well (and all the others to stick to each other) as otherwise your print will come off the bed.  So if you’ve carefully made sure that, when all the axis are home, you can just get a piece of paper underneath, if you haven’t checked that that’s true in all the corners, and the middle, then it’s a bit of a gamble what’s going to happen next!.

So let’s start by homing all axis.  Now depending on your printer, where this is will vary a bit.  On the Printrbot Simple Makers edition (and like most RepRap machines), this is on the front left corner of the bed.  So adjust this Z stop screw to make sure that you can just fit a piece of 100 gram card under the hot end.  Starbucks give away some cards to use in the Apple store for songs, games and other stuff, these are an ideal size for this.  So once that is adjusted, then go to X Max.  Now here, we use the corner adjusting screw to make sure the height is right.  Then we go to X Max, Y Max and adjust the corner screw and then, finally, X Min, Y Max.  And that should be out four corners.

Now, sometimes, when you get to one of the corners, there may not be enough adjustment in the corner screw to get the level right.  When that happens, we need to adjust the Z Stop screw and then visit all the corners again.  And again until we have the bed level.

Then, as a final check, we move the head to 1/2 X Max, 1/2 Y Max (the centre of the bed) and check again.  Now, if all the corners are flat, then the centre should be right as well – as long as the bed is flat.  If it is bowed at all, then the middle will be out and we will have to investigate why then  bad isn’t flat and look at ways to make it right.

Bed Levelling is very important to overall print quality.  Spending a little while getting this right will save time and disappointment in the long run.

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Building with Dragon Hall Tech Hub

It was a Monday in the London Hackspace, during a 3D Printer Meetup, that I first heard of Dragon Hall from James Dellow. He’d come along for a look to see what is was all about and to see how it would work with the young people at Dragon Hall. Now James had got himself a One-Up 3D printer and asked if I would build it for him. I’ve built more that a few and was glad to see someone else’s design.
The long and short of that was it ended up, with the use of a Printrbot Simple wood kit, as a much more robust, longer Z axis, Simple, but I diverse.
The guys from Dragon Hall ordered 3 Printrbot Simple kits from the US and the plan was that I would work with them to build them and then, going forwards, we would introduce some simple CAD and follow the full 3D print process from CAD through to holding the idea in your hand.. In my mind, one of the things that makes 3D printing so incredible.

2014-03-25 19.48.47 And then then kits turned up. Three of them, in a box, six team members, we’re looking at two to a printer (to  start with!). So we get to phase one, un-boxing. What the guys weren’t prepared for was the separating the  wood pieces and sanding off any rough edges. That kept them occupied for a while, amid complaints about the  quality of the cheap knives I’d picked up at the last minute. Finally we were ready for the first part of the  construction. As always, when you have groups of people doing the same thing together, competition sets in.

For the first stage, I wanted to get the base complete and, even though they were looking at the same sets of  instructions, you wouldn’t have believed it.  It was a good thing that I had a load of extra zip ties.  Nothing  major, but some things have to be the right way round.  So wire cutters and zip ties saw a lot of action during  the first (and second) sessions.

By now the team competition was in full flow and, as chance would have it, the team that had raced on had to redo the most, so by the end of session one the slowest and steadiest team came in first.

2014-04-08 19.08.27

For session two, it’s Y axis time… lots of cable ties, lots of bearings and, as we’ve almost come to expect, lots of room for error.  We were down a couple of people this week, but the guys rallied on and, after twice as many cable ties as come in the kit, by the end of the session we had something that looked like a Printrbot Simple.  These were the 2013 model, without the aluminium extruder and the wooden sliced version does take a bit of putting together.  For some reason, people think that 1/4″ is the same as 6mm.  Heads up, it’s not… it’s 6.35mm so when you build the extruder, by three slices in, your filament path is 1mm out.  Doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s enough.   Bits of sandpaper to the rescue and everything was together ready for wiring.

We missed a week for Easter and then we were back for the final session.  Due to scheduling conflicts we were down to 2 of my regular team plus another couple of stand-ins who wanted to learn 3D printing.  We were rocking…

Wiring was run, checked (re-run!).  Endstops were triggered, connected properly and tested again, motors were run and, my slow and steady team (only one team member left at this point) was up and printing…The Winner!

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Team two, ably assisted with our extra people were next and finally, the printer I was working on – only because the short notice scheduling change – was running as well.

But just building isn’t all you need.  We had to get Repetier downloaded and then configured.  I have some Slic3r settings I use, some I put together for a slow and steady print and some by Naomi from RoboSavvy, faster and more adventurous.  Then it was welcome to the world of Thingiverse.  What do we print?  How big is it?  How long will it take?  What colour filament do I use?  All essential questions in the tech age of 3D printing!

Considering there were differing levels of mechanical skill, the builds went surprising well.  Those guys worked really hard and, I know there was some skepticism about 3D printing, but I think now, when the build has been completed, all those doubts have been put aside.

This technology is, and I’m sure a lot of people agree, the way forwards.  When I was at school (and I’ve told this story a million times), the choice was woodwork or metalwork.  Now, with Arduino’s, Raspberry Pi’s, 3D printing and all of the other technology of the last few years,  the young people of today are the inventors and techno geeks of tomorrow and we should do what we can to encourage this.

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Big Red One…


Okay, there it was… I’d had the ‘A Parcel Has Been Shipped to You’ email and when it comes from guys at Printrbot, you know there’s going to be some fun toys in the box..

So I got home and there was the box, sitting there, patiently, just waiting…

I resisted the urge to just rip the box open and took the time to put my bag down and take off my coat…. okay enough stalling, I ripped the box open.  Alright, not quite ripped open, but the excitement was definitely there.

So there it was, hiding in its box.  My initial reaction was it’s heavier than the 2014 Simple I have but then, after I engaged my brain, of course it would be, it’s more the size of the Junior than the Simple which the large 150 x 150mm build area.

So then it came out into the light.  The Big (shiney) Red One.

Big Red One
Big Red One

First impressions are, not surprisingly, impressive.  Nice solid 12mm Z axis rods guide the aluminium bearing blocks smoothly.

The main body of the printer is just 3 pieces, justifying the name Simple.  There’s the Bed, the Y axis arm and the body.  The running gear is GT2 belts and everything just feels solid.  This is a real tool, with everything in its right place and moving nicely.

I’m not saying that the wooden simple was not a tool, I used mine all the time for making pieces for printers and fixing stuff but, when you compare the two, this is a deadly serious printer.  Like comparing your Ford Focus to your Ferrari.

This also has an induction sensor to run the bed levelling process, but it also doubles as the Z stop.  So no wasted hardware on this beauty.

Induction Sensor
Induction Sensor

I haven’t got to the printing stage yet, but until then, this is not going to be a ‘cluttering up’ thing sitting on the side.  It has it’s own style and, if it performs as good as it looks, will be a must for any office, den, workshop or even living room.

More feedback after we get to printing.   I just can’t wait.



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Getting Started with 3D Printing – getting a printer



image courtesy of Printrbot inc


I know we had seemed to go past this already, but with the announcement from Printrbot about the imminent release of their Metal Printrbot Simples into the wild, I just wanted to touch on the awesomeness of Brook and his 3D printing vision.   He went from Kickstarter to incredibly successful company in a few short years…  Brook, I just want to say, congratulations and keep it up.

Now, as most people will look at the picture and think ‘I want one!’, lets start a little closer to home.  The Printrbot Simple (wood version) is available now and is, in my opinion (and Make magazine), the best value 3D printer you can buy.

I’ve looked at quite a few, some cheaper, a lot more expensive.  The one thing I feel about this new technology, and I love it, no mistake (I will happily talk about this stuff for hours!), once you start you will want to print a lot of stuff.  Most of it may be junk, a lot of the first ones will probably look like it was made by a spider on speed, but you made it, yourself, on such a cool little machine.

So, did you buy it assembled?  did you make it from a kit?  Is it your first go with a printer or just your first own printer.

My though would always to build it yourself.  The reason for this is that it is leading edge technology.  We want it to work every day, without fail, but it doesn’t always go the way we like.  If something happens, we know how we put it together and we know how to take it apart if we need to.

If we just took this out of the box, it will always be ‘the printer’, like your desktop printer.  you don’t know how it works, it’s just the thing that you click print with and see what comes out.  Don’t get me wrong, however you get your printer, you will love it, it’s the process and the output that is awesome but, for the day something goes wrong, being able to fix it gets you printing quicker.

So what printer do you want?  When people tell me they want a 3D printer, my first question is ‘what do you want to print?’  If their answer is, ‘I don’t know yet, I just want one’, my answer is ‘Do you really want one?’.  People look at 3D printers as gadgets, fun tech toys to play with, still awesome, but more likely to be dropped when the next toy comes along.

If someone tells me why they want to print and what they want to print, then we can start the serious conversation.  Size of print area, what sorts of filaments they want to print with.  You can see in their eyes the passion they have for design and how they can turn their ideas into things they can hold in their hands.

And that is what all this is about.  We are taking an idea, a thought, a sketch on a napkin and turning it into something we can touch, in our own homes, using 3D printing.

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So you’ve got your printer, what do you do now….?

Okay, so the first thing people ask me about 3D printers is, “so what do I do with it now?” and my answer is normally “anything you can imagine”.

There are websites, such as that have loads of useful (and a lot more not useful) designs for you to download and print.

Did you get your printer as ‘I must have one of those’ or more of a ‘If I had one of those I could….’?  If it was the former, maybe you have more money than sense, or maybe you have a designer hidden deep inside that was controlling your inner self.

If it was the latter, then this is where you come into your own!  You have Tinkercad or Sketchup or for the more numerically inclined, OpenSCAD.  If you have money, a lot of money, then you will need something like Solidworks.  There are so many design tools that you can call on to bring those idea to life as a piece of plastic.

Over the next few blogs, I will try and give you some ideas for turning ideas into real things to play with.

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So how do we print something?

So we’ve got our printer, we’ve got a load of nice colourful filament, so what are we going to do with it?

The first thing we need to do it to print something.  Anything really, we just want to see for ourselves, what this 3D printing thing is all about.  This may not be your first printer, but indulge me a little.

A successful 3D print really just comes down to a couple of key points.  You want the first layers to stick firmly to the bed and you want the filament to flow smoothly and constantly on demand.

The first is, to be quite honest, a bit tedious but, if you don’t do it, you will probably regret it.  We need to level the bed and set the Z-zero (Z0) height.

So, with our printer connected and powered on, we tell it to send all axis home.  This should be to a position of 0,0,0 (we always give such coordinates in the order of X, Y and Z).  With the bed in this position, we should just be able to fit a piece of paper between the tip of the nozzle and the bed.  If not, adjust the Z Home screw to make sure you can.

Once Home is sorted, then we send the printer to the maximum X extent.  And then, when it’s there, we adjust the bed levelling screw (there should be one in each corner) to make sure that we can still only fit our paper there.  Once that’s done, we go to Y extend and do the same and then send X home (Y is still at maximum) and do the same.  Finally, we go to the centre to make sure that all is still okay.

You may find, half way through the process, that you don’t have enough bed levelling movement to compensate.  In this case, we go back home, adjust Z home down a bit and then correct with the corner screws again.

Once that’s all completed, we need to look to the filament flow.  There are 2 main extruder types (if you have another type, I apologise, but you are probably in the minority).  These are a Wades type extruder, it has a smaller gear on the motor, driving a larger gear with a hobbed bolt (this is a bolt with teeth in the middle).  Or a direct drive extruder.  This has a small hobbed drive gear directly on the motor.

In both cases, there will be an idler bearing that pushes the filament onto the hobbed part on the drive train.  This idler should be adjusted so that the pressure is firm, but not too much.  If you tighten it too much, it will tend to flatten the filament, which will then make it more difficult when it comes to enter the hot end.  On the other hand, if it’s too lose, it won’t provide the pressure needed to make it work as it should

In order to check this, heat the hot end to the working temperature of your filament.  For PLA I normally use about 195 and ABS about 220.  This will vary between manufacturers and even colours, so you will need some trial and error.  Try and extrude 50mm and watch the gears turn.  If they turn but nothing comes out, tighten the idler.  increase it in small increments until the filament comes out smoothly and then I give it an extra 1/2 turn on the screw (this is optional and you may not need it).

Finally, load up something like this 25mm calibration cube, slice and print.

Hopefully it will look as you expect, you will have printed something and you are well on the way to playing with this fantastic new toy.

Next time we’ll look at some open source control software and where to get things to print.

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Getting Started with 3D Printing?


I got my first printer back in October 2012.  I’d been left some money by my dad, which was a pity because he would have loved this technology.  He always loved gadgets and, when I started, he would have been over to see it before I’d put it together.

It was a Printrbot Plus (  Lasercut birch ply, metal bits, wires.  I loved putting it together and the first time it printed… that was it, I was hooked.

That printer is now half way through being converted to a dual extruder model.  Two colours or different materials.  Sounds geeky, those who know would love the tech.

I also have a Printrbot Simple.  It started as a Beta and now is upgraded to the latest Simple production model.  Brook Drumm from Printrbot is very good to his Beta testers and as soon as the beta moves to production, he makes sure that the testers get the production stuff.  The same as happened with the dual extruder, beta to production.

If you wanted to get started now, you can still grab a Printrbot Simple, for £300 in the UK or less if you’re in the US.  The build area isn’t as big as some, but to get started, you can’t beat it.

If you want to see what it’s all about, before spending the money, pop along to the 3D printer meetup, every other Monday at the London Hackspace.  Next meeting is the 3rd Feb and then every two weeks.