LulzBot is known for their exceptional engineering, upgradability, and commitment to open source — but not for portability, nor for having a space-saving footprint.
Now, the team has released the LulzBot Mini to help those who don’t have the desk space required for their larger Taz, but are looking for many of the same features.
The Mini features an all-metal frame, making a rigid and stable base that contains the majority of the mechanical parts of the printer. Like other LulzBot machines, the Mini uses Igus polymer bearings that don’t require added lubrication, resulting in a long lasting, maintenance-free operation. The Mini has a 6″×6″ build area and uses a PEI (polyethylenimine)-coated borosilicate glass plate that’s heated for maximum material compatibility. All cables are neatly routed through cable chains, which help protect the wires from accidental snags. A fantastic spool holder swings out from the side of the machine and solidly locks in place when in use.
Two Big Improvements
The Mini also features two major upgrades from previous models. First is LulzBot’s new Hexagon all-metal hot end. Unlike plastic-lined hot ends, this one’s capable of reaching temperatures up to 300°C (572°F) — so you can print in materials like nylon and polycarbonate. And while most metal hot ends can’t print reliably with PLA and PLA-composite filaments, the Hexagon does not suffer from this issue, printing extremely well in my tests.
The second significant addition is LulzBot’s first implementation of an auto bed leveling system. The Mini not only levels the bed, it ensures that the nozzle is at the right height by touching the tip to four conductive points in each corner. To guarantee that the nozzle can properly conduct, the machine first goes through a cleaning phase — heating the nozzle and rubbing it repeatedly against a pad mounted behind the build plate. After this process is complete, the print starts, but the Z-height is adjusted constantly to keep the nozzle at a consistent distance from the build plate.
LulzBot has created their own version of Cura printing software to power the new Mini. Ultimaker originally developed Cura, but since both Ultimaker and LulzBot use open-source firmware and standard G-code files to power their printers, it was possible for LulzBot to create their own version. Cura is easily the most user-friendly slicing software on the market.
Interestingly LulzBot’s filament of choice for the Mini is HIPS (high-impact polystyrene). The usage of HIPS as a primary print material is fairly uncommon. HIPS has more often been used as a dissolvable support material after my research in 2012 revealed this possibility. But as a primary print material, HIPS offers a great surface quality, with a matte finish and a soft hand feel. This material, combined with very good print quality from the Mini, made impressive test prints.
I did find a few things disappointing about the Mini. While the machine is definitely more portable than the Taz, and even includes a comfortable handgrip for carrying, the all-metal case adds enough weight to make this not a truly portable machine. The 3mm Wade’s-type extruder provides an extremely reliable flow but also takes up a lot of space within the machine. A smaller 1.75mm direct-drive extruder might give the printer a few extra inches of print space or decrease its footprint. LulzBot is committed to 3mm filament, however, as they believe it can be printed more reliably across a range of materials.
I was also surprised by the lack of onboard controls, memory, and LCD. To me the ability to print untethered from a computer is crucial for portability, and is pretty high on my must-haves for any printer. Removing these components does keep the cost down though, and with the growing popularity of add-on controllers like AstroPrint/AstroBox and the Matter Control Touch, onboard controls may not be as crucial.
The Mini continues to show that LulzBot is committed to creating extremely well-engineered machines, and to sharing those designs with the community. The Mini gives you everything you want from a LulzBot printer, and a little more of your desk back.