There has been much hype surrounding the Ender 3 since its launch in March of 2018. In those 3 and a bit years this inconspicuous little printer has seemingly taken the world by storm, arguably becoming the most popular desktop FDM 3D printer ever. Creality themselves give numbers of around the 800,000 units sold for their version 1 machine, and with last years release of version 2, it will surely continue to be a hit among the 3D printing community and first time 3D printing hobbyist alike.
If by now you’re not sure of what the Ender 3 it actually is, or maybe you are new to the hobby and never heard of it before, it is a desktop FDM 3D printer made by hobby electronics company Creality. Targeted as a budget 3D printer, it features a 220mm x 220mm x 250mm heated build plate, 1.75mm Bowden extruder set up feeding a MK8 hotend, and aluminium extrusion frame.
This particular Ender is the ‘Pro’ version, essentially it’s 90% the same as the standard model but with a few juicy features added on for good measure. Visually, a C-MAG flexible print bed with magnetic backing is the most noticeable of the upgraded parts, replacing the standard glass bed. Less obvious upgrades include an improved Mean-Well power supply and beefed-up Y-axis frame, the size of which has been increased to a 4040 profile instead of the twiggy 2040 that comes on the standard spec machine.
The main driving force behind its huge popularity is however the out of the box performance, which is nothing short of astonishing given its price. Despite the chicken feed price tag it is able to produce high quality prints on par with machines usually costing orders of magnitude more. To use a car analogy, this would be like a Subaru WRX going up against a BMW M3, it may not be as fast but its damn close and its certainly nowhere near as expensive.
Missing Out The First Time
At the time of purchasing my first 3D printer, in the form of a Creality CR-10, Ender 3’s were still months off hitting the market, they would eventually be released the subsequent year. Given this fact at the time, I missed out on a chance to buy one. Would I have actually bought an Ender 3 in place of the CR-10? Probably not. But not because I didn’t think the Ender 3 wasn’t worthy, rather I was wanting the largest possible build area that I could afford at the time, which turned out to be the CR-10, but this is a story for a future post.
When the Ender 3 did eventually drop and the hype-train pulled into the station, I still kept up with developments, following the community at large, lurking on forums and on Facebook pages. In doing so I convinced myself more and more that this would be a great addition to my collection given the chance. So there had always been an interest in this machine since its launch, fast forward to this year (2021) and an ideal purchasing opportunity presenting itself, it should have come as no surprise that I would snap up on of these Pro’s for myself.
An Offer Too Good To Refuse
How this Printer ended up in my collection was from a mix of a long-term personal interest with the Ender 3, a clever targeted marketing campaign from a large online retailer (they know who they are), and a healthy dose of impulse buying.
It wasn’t in my scope to have a new machine for my workshop, but with the recent introduction of the Ender 3 V2, retailers and stockist are flogging off their stock of the now superseded V1 machine and doing so at prices which would make an Anet A8 blush. When the marketing email pop up in my inbox for a heavily discounted Ender 3 Pro, it was just too good of an opportunity to pass on. It was as if it were a sign from the almighty himself, that I should – neigh I must – without delay, buy myself an Ender 3 Pro. Hence a few clicks later, I parted with a chunk of my hard earned and awaited delivery of my new printer.
Ender 3 Vs. CR-10
Having owned a CR-10 now for several years, I knew how good the machines coming from Shenzhen can be. This trusty printer has been a dependable and reliable machine for the best part of 4+ years, with issues only arising as a result of my own tinkering, having too much ambition but not enough ability or talent to match. To say my expectations were high about the Ender was an understatement.
In my mind, the Pro was always going be compared to its bigger brother, in fact I envisioned the Ender to be more like a scaled down version of the CR-10, but in reality the two printers are quite different in their design. Apart from sharing a typical FDM setup and various hardware components, the design layouts and architecture are unique for each.
One area where the Ender is far superior is in the way the machine has been packaged with componentry being attached to the frame or cleverly hidden out of sight. Unlike the CR-10 with its separate control, display and power supply box, there is no detached box of electronics tethered by a wiring loom on the Ender. The Control panel in underneath the build plate, power supply mounted to the frame, display fixed on the front of the base and the spool holder attached on top. There’s something oddly satisfying about being able to pick up the printer with one hand to move it around.
When it was finally delivered, opening the box and removing the black foam packaging, it was a nice surprise that the printer was, for the most part, semi-assembled with only a handful of parts to be put together. Anything not assembled was well labelled and prefabricated in such a way that the completion of assembly could be done relatively quickly. It wasn’t a brain busting activity to follow the 12 or so steps in the illustrated manual, however in saying that there were far less steps for putting together the CR-10.
Initial thoughts and opinions about the Ender were positive. While I haven’t had it for a long enough time to properly pressure test it or push the machine to its limits (say with a 2 or 3 day print), from what I have seen thus far it is truly impressive. Considering that this is an out of the box machine and considering I have mainly been using default slicing settings in Cura, the finished products that it is able to produce is fantastic to say the least. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is as good as the CR-10, but it would be within 90-95% of the quality of its larger sibling. But then taking into consideration the fact the Ender 3 is less than half the price of what the CR-10 was, it is a truly an amazing feat.
Another notable feature of the Pro, is the quick warm up time. Being so used to my other machines, that seem to take an eternity to get up to temperature, the Ender takes no more than 5 minutes max to be ready for printing. I had never taken into consideration warm up times prior, but now seeing it quickly get up to temperature firsthand I am amazed at how it changes the experience and interaction to the machine. It really does set a benchmark for a reasonable warmup time.
Overall, the printer has a good feel to it, with decent levels of component quality and once fully assembled, feels solid and sturdy. However, there are some areas where it obvious there have been compromises in order to keep it budget friendly.
The printer only features a single Z-lead screw, while I acknowledge this is a common practice for manufacturers to only use a single screw in a way of saving on the overall cost, it would have been nice if both sides of the gantry were driven by leads screws. There is also no top support for this single Z-lead screw, a standard feature on a CR-10.
The covering over the power supply is also a bit questionable in its quality. While its nice to actually have something shielding the user from this potentially hazardous part of the printer, the covering looks and feel like it was made from recycled milk bottles. Being so thin and flimsy, I question how long the plastic will actually hold out and last.
While on the topic of electrical safety, there have been instances of the XT60 plug, the yellow plug connecting the power supply to the printer controls, melting or even catching fire. This is definitely a serious safety issue and whether or not this has been rectified by Creality on the later builds of Enders I cannot confirm. From a safety point of view, one of my first priorities is to replace the plug with something I know to be higher quality that can handle the current.
Other than these few sour points, this remains a more than capable printer, despite the fact it is now the ‘old model’.
Future Plans For The Ender 3
While there was no plan to get this printer in the first place doesn’t mean there won’t be a plan for its future. The Ender 3 will definitely be part of my machine collective and hopefully for a long period of time, much in the same way the CR-10 currently has been.
Like the Cr-10, there is little chance this printer will stay in its standard form, so long as the most important criteria is still met, that being print quality must not suffer. In fact the intention will be to push this Ender to see how far the print quality can go, how high can the bar be raised though means of changes, modifications and alterations to the standard configuration.
Without a doubt, the Pro would still do just fine being left alone and unmolested, however as there is an ocean of resources and products available for building upon the already rock solid base, why not aim to increase the performance?
The list of potential mods and hop-ups for this printer is seemingly endless, some are bought and others printed on the machine itself, the question then becomes how far to push the envelope when it comes to making these changes and modifications and what will it cost versus what will be gained. The trick will be to make improvements with each subsequent upgrade, just because something is added or modified it is in no way a guarantee that there will be an improvement to go along with it.
While I won’t be going into the specifics of what these intended mods will be, know that whatever is done to the Ender will be documented according and shared on the blog in a future post/s.
Does the Ender 3 Pro meet my expectations, especially given its an old model? Well of course! It’s no wonder why this printer for the last few years has dominated the hobby 3D printer market, it is simply so much bang for your buck. The quality of prints produced is astonishing for a machine at this end of the price range. To put this in perspective, only one year ago the price of a Geeetech i3 pro B was more or less the same as this Ender 3 Pro is today, only difference being that the Ender 3 is a vastly superior machine in almost every way. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to buy your first printer, or maybe add another to the collection, don’t wait any more as there is no excuses. For the price you will not get better.