I have access to a MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D printer at work and I found it very easy to use. The problem is that the Replicator Z18 runs about $6500 and is outside the budget of most home users so I thought I would review MakerBot’s entry level 3D printer.
MakerBot – The Company
MakerBot is headquartered in New York and was founded in 2009 by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer and Zach Smith. In 2013, the company was acquired by Stratys, a well-known player in the 3D printing industry. MakerBot has sold over 100,000 desktop printers worldwide. The subject of this review, the Replicator Mini+, is the 6th generation printer released by the company.
MakerBot also founded Thingiverse, an open source community and repository for 3D printed items an associated files for ready download and printing to MakerBot and other 3D printers.
Replicator Mini+ Main Features
This 3D printer evaluation describes the features of the MakerBot Replicator Mini+ and highlights some pros and cons documented by home users.
The Replicator Mini+ is the entry level printer offered by MakerBot. At a price of $1299.00 this model competes with a number of printers in the same cost range:
- Sindoh 3DWOX DP200 – $1299
- Stanley Model 1 – $1299
- Dremel 3D40-01 Idea Builder 2.0 – $1257
The printer housing is constructed of ABS plastic with powder coated steel reinforcing members and includes an on-board camera with 640×480 resolution
- Print volume: 4″ x 5″ x 5″.
- Filament: 1.75 mm PLA
- Print layer resolution:100 um
- X-Y positioning precision: 11um
- Z positioning precision: 2.5 um
- Software: MakerBot Print; MakerBot Mobile
- Support file types: STL; OBJ
- Print Bed: unheated Grip Surface
Stand Out Features
One nice add-on is the on-board camera that allows users to remotely monitor their builds. Some of the other printers in this price range do not have this feature. If you are not one to sit in front of your printer while your print job is finishing, this feature will come in quite handy.
The build plate of this unit comes factory leveled making set up a breeze and includes MakerBot’s Grip Surface sheet. The Grip Surface helps printed objects stick to the build surface without having to add glue or blue painter’s tape before each build. I personally like this feature quite a bit as cleaning your build plate of glue residue after every few builds and reapplying glue to the print surface is kind of a hassle.
The Smart Extruder+ includes jam detection and out of filament notification features. Mounting replacement extruders is very easy – simply lock in place with the built-in magnets. If you purchase the service package, extruders are replaced no questions asked.
One thing I found somewhat puzzling is that MakerBot does not ask that old or worn extruders be returned. It seems to me that many of the extruder components, like the magnets, for example, could be re-used to drive down the cost of replacements – $199 a piece – and help the environment.
The MakerBot software is very easy to use. On the Replicator Z18 that I have access to I readily uploaded and printed a component that I designed in TinkerCad.
One feature that is lacking on the Replicator Mini+ but included on other similarly priced printers is an LCD touch pad interface screen. Without the touch screen, the user has to interface with the printer via a USB-connected computer or the smartphone app.
The build platform is not heated which limits the print materials to PLA filament. This is not an issue for most users as PLA can be used to print a multitude of objects. However, being limited to one print medium may stifle creativity a bit as there are dozens of filament materials that can be used with fused deposition 3D printers.
Another concern I have with the filament is that the printer is designed for MakerBot’s custom, 0.5 lb filament rolls and has a sticker on the machine warning users that the warranty may be voided if non-MakerBot filament is used. The unit has a built in filament roll holder designed specifically for the smaller MakerBot filament rolls. More savvy users will be able to print up an external filament mount mechanism to enable printing with larger, non-MakerBot filament.
Warranty period of 6 months compared to 1 year for other printers in this price range. For the price, one would expect a warranty at least on par with the competition. I’m guessing that the limited warranty period could be a way for MakerBot to sell more service contracts.
As mentioned above, the build volume is limited to 4″ x 5″ x 5″. To put that into a little perspective, the width of the average adult hand is about 4″. Other printers in this category have larger build volumes almost twice the size of the Replicator Mini+. Given price point and other limitations of this machine, I consider the limited build volume a fairly significant drawback.
Common ‘Pros’ noted by users include:
- Ease of use – essentially plug & play, intuitive software
- Web cam
- Generally nice looking design
- Grip Surface print bed
- Factory leveled print bed
- Fairly fast print speed
- Good resolution – print quality
- Wi-Fi option
- Custom slot for mounting filament roll – though it’s designed specifically for MakerBot filament.
- Smart extruder detects when filament runs out and pauses print
Common ‘Cons’ noted by users include:
- No touch screen interface
- Noisy operation
- Wi-Fi requires same network so cannot view print operation unless at home
- Cost of MakerBot filament – comes in small custom rolls for the same price as larger 3rd party filament rolls
- Replacement extruder costs – some users reported failed extruders in a relatively short amount of time
Having used the larger Replicator Z18, I can attest to the easy to use software, quality of prints and ‘no questions asked’ service plan. I also believe the Replicator Mini+ is built as solidly as the Replicator Z18.
For same price, however, the Sindoh 3DWOX DP200 includes all the features of the Replicator Mini+ as well as a heated print plate, larger build volume, 5″ touch screen interface, built in filament slot for 1.54 lb rolls and 1 year warranty. Isn’t competition a great thing?
My recommendation is to check out other printers before shelling out 1300 bucks. See my previous post on printers under $1000 to see what else is available.