MakerBot Replicator 2 4th Generation Desktop 3D Printer Review

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I had been ecstatic for quite some time to get a MakerBot Replicator 2 4th Generation Desktop 3D Printer from everything that I’ve read. What was initially holding me back was the high price, maintenance necessary to keep up optimal printing and just a couple of negative reviews that I read even though the overall view was positive. Given that, my purchase of this 3D printer was actually an impulse buy as I knew I had to try it out. A few days later the printer arrived at my door and I couldn’t be more happy that I finally took the plunge. At the time of this review I’ve been using the printer for about a week, and it’s been a really great printer so far. The MakerBot Replicator 2 Printer that I’m reviewing is the 4th generation. This printer is much more ideal for the typical consumer that wants good prints with a large build space, but doesn’t need to spend the extra $1,500 for the 5th Generation printer.

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The Unpacking

makerbot-2-replicator-4th-gen-8The MakerBot 2 Replicator 3D Printer arrived in a neatly-packed cardboard box within just a few days of placing the order. This is to be expected with Amazon Prime, so it didn’t say anything about the service of the company itself, although I had heard from a friend that I need nothing to worry about given their superb customer service. The first thing you’ll notice when opening the box is the owner’s manual. I browsed through it just to get a feel of how much detail and care MakerBot puts into their printers, and I was quite impressed with the level of detail that they go through. Below the manual you’ll need to remove a cardboard layer that contains the actual printer. I found that there was sufficient protection and all of the internal parts such as the belts, gears and rods were nicely secured by using plastic, zip ties, and snap-on bars. I quickly inspected each piece and there didn’t seem to be any damage done during shipping. I’ve reviewed a few printers in the past, and it’s not at all uncommon that something gets damaged during the shipping process. While the companies are usually more than happy to replace the piece, it’s a little bit annoying that I have to wait a few more days for it to arrive, so I was quite happy that they took the time to package it nicely.

Assembly & Setup

Considering that the owner’s manual was at the very top of the box when opening it, I immediately had the impression that the manufacturer wants the consumer to read it before anything else. I was quite happy in the end that I did this instead of just going at it like I normally do. There were a few specific details that I might of missed, but all-in-all the assembly was pretty straightforward and easy to follow. The manual went in great detail about each step. There was slight confusion about when I would need to connect the USB cable from the printer to the computer, but I eventually figured out that you don’t ever have to do this, it’s just an option if you want to print directly from your laptop. It took me about 2 hours to install and reading the instructions, but it will probably be a bit shorter for you since I took my time. Even though I normally go at it, I figured that maybe this time I should read the manual in more detail since this printer isn’t cheap. The printer uses fused filament fabrication technology with a build volume of 28.5 cm in length, 15.3 cm in width by 15.5 cm in height. The layer resolution prints as small as 100 microns with a positioning precision of 11 microns in the x and y axis and 2.5 in the z-axis. All of the XYZ bearings are water-resistant and oil-infused bronze. And for those of you curios enough to know, the stepper motors are at a 1.8 degree step angle with 1/16 micro-stepping.makerbot-2-replicator-4th-gen-1The Importance Of The Build Plate

After assembly of the MakerBot 2 Replicator, I powered on the unit and followed the setup instructions on the LCD screen. It walks you through every process of calibrating the machine and leveling the build plate. Once that’s done you’ll need to feed the filament to the extruder head. In my personal opinion, leveling the build plate is by far the most important aspect of getting a 3D printer to work properly. If this messes up, there’s a small chance that your prints will actually turn out okay. Leveling it properly will ensure that the extruder heat prints the plastic at the right amount and also in the right places and directions to produce a quality piece. If you find the build plate to be too far away, the plastic will be a bit “stringy” and won’t adhere properly to each successive layer underneath it. Another reason is that the plate on the MakerBot Replicator 2 4th Generation Desktop 3D Printer is made of acrylic. Even though it’s sturdy and difficult to break, if its not leveled properly and you make enough prints, it will warp over time from targeting heat in one given area and remaining cool in others. You can always replace it for about $100, but I prefer to save myself the extra money, especially if you plan to use the printer often. I also suggest that you use blue painter’s tape provided by the manufacturer on the plate to protect the surface and make taking off prints easier since they tend to stick to the plates. You can find a pack of 10 of these strips for under $10.

The Print Quality & First Print

After calibration of the build plate is finished, you’ll be instructed to make your first print that’s already stored on the included SD card that comes with the printer. This is the best way to test and see if the printer is setup properly and is fully functional. I recommend going with the forever bracelet and the nut and bolt to test it out to see things in fine detail. This will give you a strong idea of what the MakerBot 2 4th Generation is capable of. The software is not included, but you can easily download this directly from the manufacturer’s site at no cost. It’s easy to use and is print-only software, meaning you can’t create or edit files. If you want to design your own prints, there’s plenty of other 3D CAD software. While I personally don’t have much experience in this area, I’ve heard good things and you can easily find free designs online. Just keep in mind that if you do decide to tackle CAD software, there will be a high learning curve if it’s your first time using them. If you need a recommendation, I highly recommend Blender. It’s freeware and comes with plenty of options.

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When the print finished, I was quite impressed at how fine the detail was. I didn’t notice any scraped edges like I do notice on the printers. They were quite smooth and no stringiness was leftover when the print finished. Above I mentioned I was a little hesitant due to the few negative reviews that I had read, but I’m guessing that their print quality was off due to improper calibration of the build plate. This printer prints as small as 100 microns. While other printers can go a bit more detailed, they usually have a tough time at smaller microns and even when they’re set at a 100-micron level they’ll have difficulty.

The printer is quite fast and my first build took around 2 hours. Some people tend to complain about the noise, but it’s not that loud. If you go in the other room it’s hardly noticeable. Out of the 37 prints that I did the first week, I had 2 failed prints. However, this wasn’t the fault of the printer but rather a defect in my design since I’m still getting used to using CAD software. I realized that in the first case, i was beginning to print a part and that due to my poor design there would be an unsupported section. I saw this and stopped the print. The second failure was due to my own forgetfulness. At home I have an Ultra USB 3.0 to SATA Adapter so I wanted to create a docking station to easily hot swap my SSDs. During the design, I realized I needed width that was 1mm larger. When I wanted to change this in the design software, I was sidetracked by adding other features and completely forgot to widen it. The piece turned out to be of excellent caliber given all things otherwise. If you’re looking for a good place to find free 3D print designs, I highly recommend Thingiverse. You’ll find plenty of STA files along with their reviews, and this will definitely save you a lot of time and effort from designing.

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I recommend that you use PLA plastic since it’s biodegradable and made from corn, and also the fact that it’s a bit easier since its melt behavior is much more predictable that ABS. However, it is slightly more brittle than ABS. PLA plastic will snap immediately whereas ABS will bend back and forth before it breaks apart. One thing that might change your mind is that when printing, the ABS plastic smells like burning plastic whereas PLA has a faint stench. Using either will produce high-quality prints, so be sure to test both before making a final decision.

Final Thoughts

After testing the MakerBot Replicator 2 4th Generation Desktop 3D Printer for just a week, I’m quite content and impressed with how it turned out. I knew that before going in that printers need a lot of maintenance and replacement on somewhat frequent basis, further increasing the cost of ownership. It’s been a short time, but no extra calibration has been needed after the initial setup (even after 35 different prints), and that’s what MakerBot intended to do with all of their printers – give enough time for printing and less time for messing with the printer, and I would hope that this would be the case for a printer that costs $799. However, this is much cheaper than more expensive printers (upwards of $2,000) that produce prints of quality less than or equal to the ones you’ll get with the MakerBot Replicator 2. The next step up is the 5th Generation Desktop Printer, but I don’t recommend this unless you’re going for prints of upmost quality and have $2,300 to spend. I originally bought this printer with the goal of printing some fans and air ducts for my computer. My list has now grown to 60+ times that I want to make since I’ve been getting excellent quality. This is great, since I know that I’ll definitely be using this printer a lot and getting the most out of what I paid for. My initial worries were put at ease and I couldn’t be more happy with this printer.

Update: It’s now been 2 months with this printer and I still haven’t found any errors or defects. MakerBot has done a great job in answering any questions that I have. I will continue to update this article If I happen to find anything.

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