Designing a new 3D Printer

For quite a while now I own a Tevo Tarantula 3D printer and I truly believe that price/quality wise, it’s hard to beat this printer. Especially if you start modding it with parts that you can actually print with it. There is a vast community that is very helpful and friendly for this machine on Facebook and I pretty much love the machine. However, I do see some flaws at it’s core and after working with it for over a year, maybe two, I believe I am ready to start designing my own 3D printer and building it from scratch. This is also the beauty of the Tarantula. It’s cheap and forces you to learn all there is to learn about 3D printing. You can buy a perfect out of the box printer of course, but you will learn very little. Getting a Tarantula to print like a 1000 dollar printer, that will eventually make you a 3D printing god.

That being said, these posts are mostly just a report on my project and an explanation of my reasoning behind the decisions that I made. Most of that is of course, subjective, based on what I think is important. You might disagree with my choices and that is fine. If you want to build your own printer with these posts as a guide, I would love to hear about your experiences with it. This however is NOT for the faint of heart or the technically challenged. This project deals with dangerous voltages and if you are unsure which end of the screwdriver goes where, please DO NOT build a printer yourself because you might meet an untimely death or set your house on fire. I do not take any responsibility for any harm or damage you cause to yourself, your family, pets, friends, environment, shed, house, anything or anyone, by following this guide.

Another disclaimer: I will not pretend this will be a perfect printer. This is all an experiment to me and I am quite sure that when I complete the build, there will be things I will want to modify, improve or change about it. Maybe build a version 2 in the end with the experience of this version so to speak. But the goal is to create a really damn good printer for as little as possible, which means this by no means will be very cheap, but worth every buck you put into it.

Yet another disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated to E3D or any other brands that I might talk about in this series. But you will see me mentioning them a lot as I definitely do like their products. They don’t however pay me to do so. But if you are from E3D or any other company that I mention and you want to send me some products for review and testing, Please do go ahead! You can get in touch on the contact form.

Requirements

So the first thing I did was think of the requirements of my new (to be built) printer and it is actually surprising how much thought goes into designing something that at a glace seems quite simple. Especially if you build it from the ground up and have to take a good look at even every single screw you are going to use, let alone designing new custom parts.

Availability of the parts

So the first and foremost requirement I have is that everyone that wants to follow this ‘guide’ also has access to a (decently) working 3D printer and should be able to build it with parts that you can find in ANY do it yourself hardware store or is available cheaply from for example Wish, Aliexpress, Ebay or you name it, or can be printed reliably and easily on the available 3D printer. (This can be your buddies’ printer too!) So this post series is for all of you that want to get into, or advance in 3D printing in the hardest way possible, by building one yourself from scratch, or you have a working 3D printer and you want to take on the next challenge.

Build volume

Having set the initial requirement (available cheap and easy or print yourself), I turned to the build dimensions of the printer to be. Naturally I wanted a large build volume, but I also had to take practicality in mind. After all, our parts need to be easy to obtain. Next to that, who prints objects with a volume of a cubic meter these days at home? And who really needs it? I for sure do not and the build area on my Tarantula which is 200x200mm, suffices for 99.5% of the things that I print. And those odd few that really do not fit, I was able to cut, print in 2 parts and glue them together. So I decided to go with a standard 200×200 build area just like my Tarantula. It really is big enough and allows me to work with cheap easy to get materials. Another reason to decide to go with this is that it will be easier to design the enclosure. As for height, I never ever needed something larger than 200mm, so I set the build volume to 200x200x200mm. How this will affect the outer dimensions I can only tell after creating the design.

Enclosure

In order to be able to print the more difficult filaments such as ABS, Nylon an others, I really want this printer to be in an enclosure. First of all I think it’s prettier and looks more professional that way, but I can also use this to make the whole construction more rigid, like a car where the body frame serves as both the exterior design, as well as structural integrity. So this printer will have an enclosure for sure, unlike my tarantula, which makes printing anything else than PLA or PETG quite a nightmare. This combined with the stiffness that I require from the frame and not letting it to grow too big, a CoreXY type is in order I believe.

Bowden or Direct Drive

I have tried both, and both have advantages and disadvantages. However I do think after many, many hours tinkering and looking at results, that the Direct Drive setup is superior over the Bowden setup. It does make the carriage more heavy and as a result presents its own challenges, but it does allow for higher quality prints without tinkering a lot with the settings. Next to that, it also allows use of more ‘exotic’ materials such as flexible filaments which would simply get stuck in a Bowden setup. So for better control and flexibility in material choice, Direct Drive is the way to go. If you decide you want a Bowden after all, you can still build this printer as my intent is to design it in a way that it would also support that option easily. I will however focus on Direct drive, and for this I am going to use an E3D Titan Extruder as this gave me the best results. It’s not cheap, but it’s good. Even a knock-off will do in my opinion, but if you can get an original, do so.

Hot-End, Volcano or not.

Now the most important part of this whole thing: The Hot-End. This is a part that deserves a lot of attention and should not be skimped on. We want a high quality printer that prints very well, and you can’t do that with a cheap hot-end, because cheap hot-ends are, well, cheaply made, and usually poorly designed. You usually get what you pay for, plain and simple. Since I am going to use a E3D Titan Extruder in Direct Drive setup, it only makes sense to also get a compatible hot-end. In this case that would be an original E3DV6. But nothing stops you from getting a high quality knock-off. I would still recommend buying an original, but let’s face it, they are not cheap and if your budget doesn’t allow you a genuine part, I am not going to judge you. Part of the reason you are following this guide might be costs so that means a tight budget. However do realize that the knock-offs might have more variety in terms of end-product quality which will affect your end result so choose wisely. If you can, be sure to get yourself an all-metal hot-end.

Next up is the type of the hot-end. There is the normal type, and these days there is the volcano type. From what I can see, the volcano type is like a normal hot-end but the heat block is put on it’s side and slightly bigger. With a normal hot-end, the height of the heating block is not that big, which means that the filament needs to melt and get to the right temperature while it passes through the nozzle. This is actually a very short distance and when printing at higher speeds, which naturally also pushes more filament per minute through the hot-end, you might end up that the filament ends up colder than it should be. The volcano type solves this by providing a very long nozzle that screws into the much longer heating block, which allows you much better temperature control, or in other words: guarantee that the filament that comes out of the nozzle is at a constant desired temperature. So I am going with a volcano block type hot-end. In my case also genuine E3D because I have one already and might as well use it.

Power supply

One might think there is not much to tell about the power supply but this actually requires some thought. First and foremost, the damn thing needs to be safe, and it needs to be overpowered for our needs. I don’t like to run things at their limits all the time but instead prefer to stay well within their margins. So I need a power supply that is comfortable with delivering 12V at 30 Amps. That means that I am not looking for a power supply that can deliver 30 Amps peak power, but quite a bit higher, like 40 Amps. So that means I need a 500 Watt power supply at least. Better not skimp on this either. You don’t want your power supply to catch fire mid print because you run it at it’s limit all the time. Sure, a decent power supply has safety measures, but that doesn’t mean you should try and trigger them. So better spend a bit more on this one as well.

Autolevelling

Naturally this machine should have auto levelling of sorts. I have yet to figure this one out though, and it will also depend on the final design before I can pick a proper solution. However, auto levelling is definitely a must.

Summarizing

So in short, this is the shopping list without doing the design part so far:

  • E3D Titan Extruder with pancake motor and mounting bracket (80 Eur incl VAT)
  • E3D V6 Hot-End with the Volcano Pack (125 Eur incl VAT)
  • 500 Watt 12V power supply (around 80 Eur)

This small list covers the most expensive parts for the printer and will set me back 285 Euro’s. Yes, steep and very well above the price for a complete Tevo Tarantula printer, but these are extremely high quality parts and a very complete set that will definitely make the difference. If you decide to get knock-offs that is fine and might very well be worth it as in that case it will set you back about 150 Euro or even less. So worth thinking about. I still advise getting genuine if you can though, as then you also support the company that actually spent a lot of time and money researching, designing and perfecting these products before the Chinese started to make cheap copies, instead of rewarding the Chinese for stealing designs and innovations and turning a quick buck producing half-assed knock-offs. But that is just my thoughts. It’s still a lot of money nonetheless.

So this concludes my thoughts on this for now and I will turn to designing the printer with the base components in mind. This will take me some time and I will try and write about my progress on a regular basis.

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