We’re going to be taking a closer look at the Afinia H480 3D Printer. If you’re not familiar with 3D printing, it’s relatively newer technology that allows you to print 3D objects using your own setup at home.
The first time that my eyes came across the Afinia and seeing it in action was during a 3D printing presentation. The overall impact from the spectators was a positive one, and in terms of testing the H480 ended up in the mid-field of the Make Tests.
I was happy to also be able to get my hands on one of these to test it out for myself.
Fortunately, Afinia was kind enough to let me borrow the machine for a few weeks so that I could run a few tests and see how well the machine performed.
The Afinia Vs. The UP!
For those of you who haven’t taken notice, the Afinia H480 has a very similar style to the UP Plus 2. After I did some research, I eventually found out that they both were manufactured and designed from the same source. It turns out that UP! is a brand name from Beijing, a China-based 3D printing company. The Afinia is based in the US, but is also a partner of the same company in Bejing. However, when you buy either of these machines, customer service is actually provided by Afinia, and from what I’ve noted Afinia is highly focused on warranties and customer service.
The design of the Afinia H480 is quite compact. It’s made from a steel frame with high durability. One of the things that I particularly like is the direct drive extruder along with a heated build platform. One other positive feature is that the print bed levels automatically. Printing takes either PLA or ABS tape at 1.75 mm. Afinia is an open frame design that uses a moving print bed for 3D positioning. While printing, the print bed moves along the y- and z-axis while the print head moves along the x-axis. I must say that I enjoy the compactness and overall low maintenacne of the printer.
The way the printer connects to the PC is via USB. Unfortunately, the machine doesn’t come with an SD slot or any onboard controls. Despite this, you can still print via the Afinia 2GB internal flash memory. As for the build, the Afinia is 24 cm x 26 cm x 35 cm in size and is easily portable to fit on almost any desk space with a light weight of 11 pounds or 4.9 kilograms. When the printer first came out it was selling for around $1,300, but now it’s selling for just $400 which lies in the mid-range price for most home 3D printers.
I was very pleased when the Afinia H480 3D Printer came in a cardboard box with plenty of protection and padding. This gave me a sense of security and confidence that the machine was delivered to my door without any major damage or repairs needed. When you first open the box, you’ll notice a user manual, and since it was the first thing that my eyes caught it’s what I browsed through first. I particularly liked how the instructions were incredibly easy to follow and very well-detailed. Inside the box should be a printer, the manual, 1 spool of white ABS tape, a power supply, 3 perforated board and finally 3 BuildTak sheets. Addtionally there was a small box that came with multiple tools, much to my surprise. This included snippers, tweezers, a spatula, utility knife, snippers and safety gloves. This only gave me more comfort, knowing that Afinia spent the time to consider safety hazards as well as how to pry off the print from the bed once it’s finished.
The installation is quite simple, and it took me about 60 – 70 minutes overall to set it up, and this meant taking my time and going through the steps line-by-line to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. The first thing the instructions have you complete is installing the filament spool. This requires tacking the holder onto the side of the printer body. From there you thread a piece of the filament through the guide tube and then insert it end into the extruder. Next you can get the printer going by connecting the printer to the power supply and plugging in the USB cable. Pop in the installation CD into the disk drive and walkthrough the installation process. I did this using Windows 7 and did not encounter any issues.
Before you can begin your first print, the printer has to run through a calibration process. This is easily done by flipping the initialization switch found on the front end of the printer or also using the software. This process starts with a mild beeping sound and then calibration by adjusting the build platform and print head. From there it will return to its original starting point.
When preparing the build platform, there are several options:
FR-4 Board -This board is a perforated glass epoxy laminate sheet. The advantage of using this type is that the first layer will push liquid into the perforations thus creating a sturdy mechanical bond. When printing, the layers won’t lift up from one another giving the result of a firm and sturdy print. Keep in mind that the FR-4 board is attached to the print bed from 8 different spring clips which can be easily put into place by positioning the board correctly.
BuildTak – This is a thin and durable plastic that can be bought online and is optimal as a printing surface for when your prints stick to the print bed. You already get 3 BuildTak shots with the Afinia that are fitted to the same size as the bed, but normally you’ll have to cut them yourself if you order them online. In order to install the sheets, remove the lining and then position the sheet on top of the board. From there you can cut it down or just simply smooth it down with a flat surface or the spatula that came with your printer.
Borofloat Glass – This is actually an alternative surface, and you’ll need to buy borofloat glass spearately.
Leveling and Calibration
We mentioned above that when you first setup the printer that it will automatically calibrate itself for you, but there are times when you might need to make some minor adjustments, as is the case with most 3D printers on today’s market. In fact, what’s special about the Afinia is that it comes with lots of advanced features that can be used to level the bed and calibrate the print head and print bed. It’s important to take a closer look at these features. Furthermore, upon your first calibration you’ll need to adjust a few things physically.
The first thing you need to do is level the platform by adjusting the three thumbscrews under the bed. Loosen or tighten them until each of the four corners of the print bed are equidistant to the print nozzle. If you ever get a print that is slightly warped or is thicker in one spot compared to another, it’s most likely because your platform level is a bit off. You can recalibrate this either automatically or manually. In order to execute the level calibration, attach the platform probe onto the bottom of the extruder motor and then connect it via a data caba to the back of the Afinia H480 3D Printer. This will allow the probe to measure nine calibration points on the platform to determine the difference in height. It then uses this information to adjust it to the necessary level.
Once the print platform is secure and level, next you’ll need to change the distance between the print bed and the print nozzle. Again, this can be done both automatically and manually depending on how you prefer to calibrate things. For automatic calibration, connect the data cable to the nozzle sensor on the back of the printer body. The printer will then common the extruder to lower the platform until the nozzle touches a sensor, and this causes the nozzle height to be registered as the default height.
There is a drawback however, as the automatic nozzle height adjustment only works when using the FR-4 board. Using BuildTak or blue tape you’ll have to adjust it manually since you’re adding a few inches to the print bed. Luckily this is incredibly simple. All you need to do is center the print head and lift the print bed slightly until it’s roughly a milimeter of distance from the nozzle. One thing that really caught my eye is that you can keep adjusting the bed closer to the nozzle in .1 mm increments using the software without the need to touch any screws. This makes it incredibly easy for both automatic and manual calibration.
Placing The Filament
Before you can begin printing, you’ll need to load the filament into the extruder. In order to make this easier on yourself, I hugged you that up the extruder first and then inserting the tape via the top portion of the print head. The motor should start gradually pulling it in. When installing new filament, be sure to let the software know. Within the Afinia 3D software there’s a command that allows you to select either ABS or PLA tape along with the spool weight. This is used as a tracking system to see how much material has been used and to warn you if you try to print something but don’t have enough tape to finish the print, something I’ve found to be incredibly useful and has definitely saved me a lot of tape. Once you get this part done you can begin your first print.
Afinia 3D Program
There’s no need purchase software with the Afinia 3D Printer since it comes with its own. While there is a wide range of freeware out on the internet, it’s usually best to use the software that comes with the printer since you know it’s compatible with the device you’re using. The program serves as both the slicer and creates the code necessary for translating models into machine-readable language.
Fortunately Afinia spent a lot of time on design and made a very easy-to-use and clean user interface. All of the essential features (unloading, loading, rotating and placing) can easily be done to 3D models. Furthermore, you can even adjust the height and position of the print bed along with quality and support settings.
Afinia purposely pre-adjusted the settings so that beginners can print from the get-go without having to know what exactly they’re doing on the back-end. The simple controls make it easy to function and there isn’t a very big learning curve. However, it’s simple enough for beginners to quickly master. It’s recommended that you slowly adjust the settings in order to see what they do exactly. Keep in mind that slight adjustment may not yield any noticeable changes.
For those that have used different types of slicers when viewing models, you may feel slightly limited by the software. There is a print preview option, but it doesn’t fully take into account how long your print will need to finish, and you don’t have any sense of where supports are placed. Furthermore, you can’t manually turn off supports which can be slightly annoying. The only thing you can do in this case is print your model and wait for it to finish because you can see where supports were placed by the software.
The First Prints
Just by going through a few practice prints will you quickly get a hold of how the Afinia H480 3D Printer functions. On the front there’s a small LED light that tells you the status of your printer. It switches between red and green to show you when the printer is available to print. When red, it may be in some sort of trouble. In the manual there will be a list of different states with their corresponding color to help you identify which state your printer is in. Even though it’s a basic printer, this small indicator is an incredibly nice feature just so you know that everything is running smoothly or if there are any troubles.
The printer also emits beeping sounds that indicate which part of the printing process it’s going through:
First beep – The first sound is emitted when your print file is completely streamed to the printer. Once you hear this noise you can unplug the USB cable if you want to continue without the cord being connection. This is a nice little feature in case you need to use your USB port for something else.
Second beep – The extruder has heated up enough and is ready to start the print.
Third beep – This is actually 3 beeps in a row meaning your printer is about to begin.
Forth beep -This is 5 beeps in a row and this sound is emitted after your print is finished and the print bed has been fully lowered.
While very elementary, the sound coupled with the LCD light are excellent indicators to keep the user informed of what is going on at all times, and this is something I’ve yet to see on other printers even though it’s so simple. Especially for those that like to know immediately when their print is done, the 5-beep sequence can be especially helpful, or if you’re waiting in another room. The sound is loud enough in which you can hear it across multiple rooms.
When I first began using the Afinia H480 3D Printer, I used a perforated board as my surface. However, i soon got tired of this since you’re required to add rafts to your models so that they print with support, and once the print is done you need to remove this. While the task isn’t that laborious, it can be quite annoying and is just an extra step. Overall, it’s just something that shouldn’t have to be done.
The alternative to the perforated board is by using BuildTak. It turns out that the FR-4 board with BuildTak on top of it makes a great printing surface for both PLA and ABS prints. If you do decide to go with BuildTak, it’s recommendaed that you do not install it on the Borofloat glass but rather on the FR-4 board. This comes from personal experience and since the board is perforated installing BuildTak is a breeze. This makes it so that air can’t get trapped in between the board and the BuildTak sheet, meaning nearly 100% of the time you’ll have a nice and flat print surface.
The Print Quality
One of the most important features to look for in a 3D printing is its print quality, and the Afinia doesn’t fall short. All of the tests that I did were ran at a quality of “normal” with 0.2 mm layer resolution. From there I evaluated each model based on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest possible score.
This aspect covers the amount of backlash produced by a printer. My first print consisted of a 6-disc model stacked on top of one another, with each successive disc being smaller than the previous one. While the print turned out nicely, there was a deviation of up to 0.3 millimeters, so I had to give it a score of just 5 out of 10.
Bridging Performance measures the printer’s ability to estimate distance without the use of support material. There are five different distances that I measured on my model, and they ranged as low as 20 millimeters all the way to 60 millimeters. The results were decent with the Afinia H480, yet all the gaps started to show up on the 30 millimeter bridge. This further increased when I looked at bother the 50 and 60 millimeter bridges. Overall, I give the bridging performance a 7 out of 10.
The Afinia H480 3D Printer has a unique feature called the Pause At feature. With this option you can automatically stop the printer during the printing process at specific heights in order to add color to your prints. Beforehand, you’ll need to specify the height at which you want to modify the colors and then enter the settings into the print menu. Once it reached the height that you have set, the print head will move away from the model. From there you can insert the color filament to restart the print and then print in the colors that you wish. When this part of the print is finished, it will stop again and you can replace the color swap once again.
A tip that we want to give our readers regarding this feature is that it may be best to extrude a little bit of filament before pressing the resume button again in order to allow the print head to warm up again. When paused, it will most likely cool down, and if you start printing again right away it may cause some disturbances in your printing process. In any case, be sure not to attach the filament strands directly to your model. In order to prevent this you can cover it by using a spatula or some other flat surface to cover what you’re printing while at the same time plucking the filament using tweezers.
Using ABS To Print
We highly recommend using PLA with the Afinia, and this is what we usually use in order to test the quality of a new printer. Because the Afinia is advertised as using both PLA and ABS, I obviously did a few tests using ABS filament as well. If you decide to switch to ABS, you’ll have to configure the settings to let the printer know. This option can be found in the maintenance menu, causing the temperature settings to change for both the build platform and nozzle.
When printing using ABS filament on my first couple of tests, I realized that sometimes the filament would pop out of the spool holder even though the spool was somewhat heavy and weighed down. I quickly solved this problem by changing to an external spool holder that I had printed beforehand using the Afinia. Other than this, the print quality with ABS filament turned out almost as equally fine as with that of PLA. For experienced users, you should know that adhesion to the print bed can be slightly tricker using ABS, but if you use a good and clean perforated board such as BuildTak, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.
A good tip is that when you’re using both the BuildTak board with ABS, you need to ensure that the distance of the print bed from the nozzle is about .1 mm. This will allow for clean print bed adhesion and good quality prints.
You’ll find that the Afinia H480 3D Printer comes with excellent print quality and some highly advanced features for a beginning 3D printer despite the reasonable price and small size. This mainly includes a heated print bed coupled with automatic calibration of the print nozzle. This makes it incredibly easy for a beginner to get started in the 3D printer world.
When it comes to print quality, there are a few weaknesses such as bridging, but overall you get a very decent print right out of the box. If you’re a beginner and just getting started, you won’t find any trouble getting quality prints, especially due to the fact that the calibration settings are already set to perfection for this type of user. You can also adjust height calibration by using the software, a unique feature of the Afinia. This is great for testing the printer’s capabilites and getting a feel for how it works. With a one-year warranty and excellent customer support, if you come across any problems you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a replacement part or at least getting a partial if not full refund.
Some downsides to the Afinia are that it is really just a barebones printer. For advanced users, you may want to experiment more, but this can only be done to some degree with this printer. After all, it was built for beginners, so we only recommend it to those who are either new to 3D printing or who have just recently gotten started. Furthermore, there isn’t really any direct control over the print bed temperatures or changing where the extruder lies.
One other thing that I noticed is that sometimes the 8 spring clips that are used to hold the build surface in place can sometimes become loose. It isn’t a big issue as you can simply put them back in place after each print, but it would have been nice to get some sort of magnetic clip to make it become a bit sturdier. This is most likely due to the fact that Afinia wanted to give its users the best type of printer possible for beginners while still holding a decent price range, and that’s what they’ve done.
Out of all of the 3D printers, if you’re looking to get started or want to eventually end up in the 3D printing business without the need to worry about the technological features around it, the Afinia H480 3D Printer is an excellent choice. Not suited for the tech savvy individual, its price and automatic settings make it a great starting printer at a great price.