In 2013, Printrbot released the Simple and shook up the consumer 3D printer market. At $299, it smashed the competitions’ lowest price points and created a price war on Kickstarter. To achieve these cost savings, Printrbot created and adopted a few interesting tricks — some worked, some didn’t. Surprisingly for such a budget machine, the Simple was still a good printer. Now Printrbot has redesigned the Simple, fixing some of those original problems and adding new features to improve this little workhorse even more.
Redesigned and Renamed
When Printrbot released the Metal Simple in late 2014, they renamed the wooden version as the Simple Maker’s Kit. The new kit comes with a new price point too. At $349, the Simple Maker’s Kit still pushes the bottom line. Although the entire machine has been redesigned, there are four major changes that really make the new version stand out from its predecessor: aluminum print bed, aluminum extruder, auto-level probe, and belt drives. These first two items were optional upgrades to previous models that mostly just improved the reliability of the printer. The aluminum bed didn’t warp with changes in the environment like the previous plywood bed did. Printrbot’s aluminum extruder is a simple extruder design that many are now mimicking due to its ease of assembly and reliability.
Belts and Better Bed-Leveling
The auto bed-level probe that Printrbot uses was first introduced in their Metal Simple line and is now being integrated into all of their machines. Unlike many bed-leveling probes that require contact with the surface to work, Printrbot has employed a novel system using an inductance sensor. The sensor can precisely measure the differences in magnetic fields caused by the presence of the metal print bed. This probe then measures multiple points on the bed surface — to determine how level it is to the print head, and how far from the nozzle the bed should be.
This system eliminates two of the largest problems most novice users have when getting started with 3D printing: bed leveling and nozzle height.
The original Simple used strings as its drive system, a method first introduced to 3D printers by the RepRap Tantillus. The implementation of the string drive on the Simple never quite worked right though, resulting in slipping or entirely unwrapped strings, potentially ruining prints half-way through. The Simple Maker’s Kit now incorporates GT2 belts, a common timing belt used in many other printers. These belts are much easier to tighten correctly and keep the Simple running smoothly.
A Few Minor Flaws
There are still some issues though. Although this is a great machine for beginners, most will find the 4×4×4” print volume quickly will become too small for them. There are upgrades to create a larger build volume, but they — at least to me — seem awkward and impractical.
The machine seems to still suffer from some rigidity issues. There are times that even with the auto-level sensor doing its job, the front of the print can be squished down too tight due to drooping in the axis. Now that the bed is fixed and not adjustable, there is no way to trouble-shoot this issue on the fly. Heat creep from the extruder can also result in poor print quality and extruder jams after long print runs.
All around, the Simple Maker’s Kit is a great starter printer, especially for those who are still interested in building their printer and are on a tight budget to do so. This is a perfect machine for someone who wants a travel printer or one that is easy to take out to do demos. Although they no longer sell the wooden cases for these machines, Printrbot has uploaded the case designs to Youmagine so you can make one yourself.
For those who have older wooden Simples, don’t fear. Printrbot offers a low-cost kit to upgrade your machine to the Simple Maker’s Kit. The printer used for this review was my personal machine that was just upgraded with this package and it remains one of my favorites.