Everything I need to tell you about 3D printing!

The world of 3D printing is opening to even inexperienced hobbyists like myself. The printers are becoming far more affordable if you are up for putting them together and tweaking them along the way. If you drop a few thousand on a printer then it will obviously print higher quality and faster. However this does not detract from how well a lil hobby printer like the Anet A8 can compete. Let me first explain the name, Anet is the brand name of this printer, the model is the A8. This is a chinese clone of the Prusa i3 which is an open source printer design. There are slight differences in the design but overall they are very similar, however the prices differ significantly. I bought my Anet A8 from banggood* for €138, however I had to pay an additional €42 to the Irish revenue. This came to a total of €180 altogether vs the €769 for an official Prusa i3 MK3 kit.

*Note
This is an affiliate link. If you bought the printer via this link I would make 4% with no extra cost to you.

I knew nothing about 3D printing before this, however like most things I do, I throw myself into it and hope for the best. It has work thus far and I’ve found the experience quite enjoyable. One part that I had not thought about was the filament. It can range for €10 a roll to €50 if you were pushing it. In many slicers they will list what gram weight will be used so it will give you an idea. Initially you can print with good quality but a couple upgrades that you print yourself will significantly increase the speed in quality that you can print at. I am going to divide the below section into timelines for what to upgrade, what to buy initially and we can work from there.

Something along the way just sprung to mind. When I bought this I did not know enough about the materials you could print. Primarily most people will print in PLA because it is a lower temp, strong and unlike ABS it does not have a terribly smell. However ABS is the one you see around which you can use acetone to melt the exterior and make it all shiny and smooth. With PLA it requires sanding and a lil work. It all depends on the layer size, if your layers are 0.4mm high they would be very pronounced vs 0.08 high. However the print times are significantly different.

Tools Required

Screwdriver multi set. I’ve taken an image of the ones you will be primarily using. I may have included a couple extra sizes but you need a selection of phillips head bits and some hex heads.

Masking tape. Used to secure the m3 nuts in their holes. Anything sticky will do it but masking tapes leaves less residue.

Zip/Cable ties and a good amount because we both know as soon as you finish cable tidying, a lone cable will appear that needs to go somewhere else.

 

Initial purchases

Below is a look at the box and what is inside.

It will include everything you need, a load of extra nuts, bolts, washers, springs and so on. They are very good at including extras. The most time intensive part of the build? That would be taking of the damn paper from the acrylic frame. Seriously set aside over an hour to get that stuff off. Don’t put it together and then try to take it off, you shall fail miserably!

Note* When putting it together do not cut the belts too close. Give a few inches extra as this will be incredibly useful later on when printing belt tensioners.

Before you start getting your hopes up, go through the trouble shooting video. It is very easy, just follow along as he connects everything up to the motherboard and test it all.

Trouble Shooting Video

There are a couple videos I will link to below which give you a comprehensive build guide for the printer. These are linked from banggood and are what I followed. This is the initial setup, there are a couple upgrades I have suggest above to buy, like the mosfet but I will include another video and explanation on what that is for. For now, to get it all up and running these are the two vids you need.

Note: When assembling the printer, drill out the threaded holes in the H frame that is the carriage which supports the hotbed. The lower plate in the pics below, it has a thread in it which causes serious issues down the road. Due to the heat and movement the bolt will start to move and distort the thread. It will result in it getting stuck and trying to get it out is hell! Himself had to use a vice and tighten it till it would grip enough that he could unscrew it. You won’t need the thread, instead you will use the wingnut underneath to level the bed. This is the thingiverse link to the wingnut covers, it makes it so much easier! I have the large washers on the edges, especially on the front left as the hotend may drip while it is heating which would then stick to the wingnut area.

 

Installation Videos

 

Mosfet + a foot or two of silicone wire.

One of the most important upgrades is the MOSFET which will redirect power direct from the PSU (power supply unit) to the heatbed and the hotend. This prolongs the use of your motherboard and is a very important safety feature. I found a great video below which details how to instal one for your heatbed, this is the same procedure for the hotend. Just insert the MOSFET in between.

Mosfet instalation

Print the mosfet mount and remember, never ever drill through the acrylic frame. Ignore all the fools who say it will be fine, if you crack that frame you are screwed. They are brittle and you won’t be able to fix it without some serious help. This just slips underneath the motherboard mounts and hangs down.
www.thingiverse.com/thing:2157909

 

Hotbed Upgrade + 2 meters of silicone wire + Fork Spade Terminal

There is a clip at the back of the hotbed which has a lot of strain on it. The bed will travel back and forth as it prints, the wires are pulling it back and forth. Due to the nature of this clip it cannot hold up to those stresses for long. I was using my printer for months before I made this upgrade but it is so stupidly simple. No soldering required! This gent explains exactly why you should do it and how to. It is a great video! Two fork spade terminal connectors are used to connect the silicone wire to the hotbed. You should use them throughout the build to connect silicone wire to the mosfets. Use a dab of solder if you have the tools to do so.

Mosfet instalation

 

Fan upgrade

I see mentioned around a lot is the upgrade of the PSU. If you have the money then by all means buy a replacement one. I see horror stories of people saying they caught on fire but I take that with a grain of salt. I did notice however that it heated up a bit. A computers PSU has an inbuilt fan and this one needs that too. I had a look at my stash of various fans and found a couple old intel stock fans, because no self respecting person actually uses stock. By a stroke of luck they fit perfectly in the holes of the mesh around the PSU! It keeps it consistently cool and I have had no issues.

 

Fire Extinguisher + Fire Alarm

It sounds dramatic doesn’t it. Think about it though, you are dealing with a device that will have a hotend that reaches temps of at least 180C if not up to 230C. The hotbed temp for PLA is 60C but for ABS is is 110C. You need to have a fire extinguisher. In my local Tesco/supermarket they are only €13. If you do not have a fire alarm in the room, get one. I have one placed just above the printer so I can know immediately.

 

Glass Panel

The original print surface is fine but honestly the faster you get onto a glass surface the better. You clip the class on using some bulldog clips, the ones you use for paper. This means no tape, you just clean the surface off with some alcohol (to remove oils) and then use some cheap hair spray and cover the glass in a couple sweeps. Don’t make it drip, just enough that you would use in hair… well maybe not in Texas hair but normal folk. It sticks onto the glass and you won’t have the print lifting off. I bought this one from Amazon(UK).

 

Software

First program you need to even print is a Slicer. The term literally refers to slicing the file into layers. If an object is 10mm high and you print at 0.1mm height then there will be 100 layers. There are many types and these all have their positives and negatives. I would suggest using Cura which is made by Ultimaker. It is a free software and from what people are saying, it is nearly on par with the paid counterpart S3D which is €150. S3D is great but for a novice it is in no way worth forking out that money, especially when that is near enough the cost of a printer! The software is easy to use and will do everything you want it too.

 

Frame Upgrades you can print

I’ve been thinking of the best order of printing you can achieve. I’ve revised the order a few times but I think this way round will make life a little easier. The first print you want to get done is a spool holder. The one that comes with the anet does not roll with the movements so first print off the Parametric Universal Spool Holder. These are the business. You do not need the bearings but they make it glide like a hot knife through butter when you have them.

I’ve designed a new spool holder which incorporates the mount for the bowden extruder and the x axis brace! I would suggest using this over the ones I had initially linked below. they put unnecessary strain on the frame. They put a lot of weight on one section that will make it twist. My own mount sits on top of the frame and presses down. You can find the design here.
Top mounted spool holder.

Once of the most annoying issues I came across was the heatbed lifting up on the left hand side. It turned out that this was due to some of the bolts undoing themselves due to the vibration. The easiest way to sort that out is to screw it down. You can do this with a couple frame braces. You need to get your hands on a base plate first, I used some 18mm MDF. Download this thingiverse file. Print two files named: frame_brace.stlframe_brace_2.stl Once you have these done, take apart the printer and put these in place. Be careful when doing so and make sure you don’t force the acrylic to warp. Now get the board underneath, do everything up so it is perfectly straight and screw those frame braces to the board.

Next up is the Hulk Frame brace, this thing is freaking amazing! One of the best braces out there. You will see significant changes in the movements on the X axis (left to right). This requires a lil turning when you put it on the build plate though.

We need to get a nice bit of tension on the belts so you get a more smooth print. Later on I will link replacement belts which cost next to nothing but make a huge change in how smooth the prints are.

X belt Tensioner – I did notice with this one that it was pushing against the rods and it was grinding too much. I put something between the screws and the rods just to be safe. Apart from that it is a great design.

Y belt tensioner – One of the coolest prints at the start was seeing a printed bolt actually screw in perfectly.

This is a fan duct, the standard one is okay but it doesn’t direct flow like you need it too. I have tried the full ring and the semi circle duct but they don’t work as well as this “Mistral 2.1” duct. It curves round on both sides and really does the job!!

 

Upgrades to buy

Below I will list recommended items that you can buy over time. I will be linking to aliexpress sellers, I have no affiliation with but are the ones I have either bought from or with whom I would suggest someone buys from. I judge this via the seller rating and the prices listed. I have personally chosen to go down the more frugal route.

Linear Bearing

The sound difference when you swap these out for the older metal ball bearings is insane. I never realised how much they rattle till I replaced them. These in the mounts that are pulled up and down the bars. They need to have no friction so they are smooth. Igus Drylin RJ4JP-01-08 are a type of linear bearing that is made from hardened polymer, the movement up and down creates its own lubricant. This means they will wear out over time but we are talking years. I bought mine on Aliexpress for €1.64 each. You will need 7 altogether. Four are used under the heatbed and 3 are use by the hotend. I bought 8 just to be sure. (General Listing)

Timing Belt

I’ve found these belts to really make a change in the more delicate prints. The belt is quite tough and the grooves are well defined. This means they sit into the gears better and you won’t have slipping. I bought from this seller. It contains 5m which is well over what you will need. It came to €4.52 with shipping. (General Listing)

Bowden Upgrade

This upgrade only costs €6/$8 but removes 150g off your X carriage and allows you to print at far higher speeds but much better quality. I wrote up detailed info with links to parts and the upgrades I created for it, here.

Spare parts

I had a hotend break on me at one stage. It required having to find people nearby or order from the UK, all of which took over a week.
*Update 8th Feb 2018* A huge note about polarities. I just received two fans, a hotend and an extruder which have the plugs and wires on the wrong sides. The plugs have two bars on the front, the left one should be positive (red) and the right on should be negative (black). I checked the board on the fan and it shows the wires are the correct colours but the plug is wrong. Something to bare in mind! The plugs on the board are correct.

Hotend Fan

If your fan breaks, you cannot print. You need the fan to cool the plastic, otherwise it won’t come out right.

I bought a few of these they are €0.99
goo.gl/PztPrw – General Listing

Extruder Fan

Standard direct drive extruder and heatsink (what you get as default).
This fan will cool down any metal near the extruder, otherwise it can decrease the lifespan of the extruder if it heats up too much.

I bought these for €0.72
goo.gl/gaRzqo – General Listing

Nozzles

Your nozzles can get clogged and honestly with how cheap they are online you may as well just buy spares and leaves the unclogging till another day. The default size for the Anet A8 is 0.4mm however you can go down to smaller sizes. The optimum layer height is half the nozzle head, though you can still do smaller prints with it, they will just not be as exact. Get some 0.2, 0.3, 0.4 and maybe even some 0.5 if you want to play around. For the default hotend you need v8 nozzles and if you upgrade to the J-Head you will need v6.

J – Head Nozzles goo.gl/JY4rnJ – General Listing

Hotend for standard Anet A8

This product I bought includes all of the wires needed. The only issue is that the thermistor’s plug is different. I removed the plastic by unhooking it and simply pushed them onto the pins on the board. I’ve had no issues and who can complain for €2.74

goo.gl/xw2ZE4 – General Listing

Hotend – V6 J head

J head Hotend + Teflon + the lil adaptors that screw in. Complete set.
€5.55
goo.gl/28cFuT

I suggest buy a replacement J head which includes the heatsink, may as well be safe and be ready if it breaks.
€3.04
goo.gl/Db757y

Teflon Extruder Throats

The above hotend includes this but you may want to keep a couple spare. As you will see in the image, they are a section that screws into the hotend and up into the extruder mount. These can get damaged but they can also get clogged.

These are for the MK8 hotend: MK8 M6 * 30mm
€1.03 for two
goo.gl/pZg4sC – General Listing

If you have the bowden setup with the JHead extruder you will need: V6 Throat Bowden Teflon Tube
€0.30 each
goo.gl/cJHKUWGeneral Listing

 

 

 

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