Price as tested $2,199 Print volume 11.2″×6″×6.1″ Heated bed? No Print materials PLA OS supported Linux, Mac, Windows Print untethered? Yes Open-source hardware? No Open-source software? No Printer control software MakerWare Slicing software MakerBot Slicer
MakerBot Industries, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been in business longer than any other desktop 3D printer manufacturer, and it shows in the Replicator 2, among the most mature of the fused-filament fabrication printers in the desktop market today. Their fourth-generation printers stands out in a room full of plywood and aluminum extrusions as one of the few that looks and works like a consumer product.
Untethered and Intuitive
With its black powder-coated frame, black PVC panels, and soft glowing LEDs, the MakerBot Replicator 2 is attractive and durable. It has onboard controls with a large LCD screen that enable completely untethered printing directly from an SD card, so you can print all day long without having to attach your computer. MakerBot’s MakerWare software, which is beautiful, intuitive, and easy-to-use, gets you printing quickly.
Last year we judged this machine “best in class” in the premium category — this year’s model is the same great machine, with a few key hardware, software, and firmware upgrades. Interestingly, although the machine and its software are now closed source, these improvements have all come from open-source projects.
Extruder Fix Now Standard
The initial design of the Replicator 2 extruder had tensioning problems that often resulted in filament feeding failures. Through Thingiverse, MakerBot’s 3D file-sharing website, an openly designed and well-publicized extruder upgrade emerged, due to the efforts of superstar Thingiverse users Dr. Henry P. Thomas (whpthomas), Emmett Lalish (emmett), and Deezmaker’s Rich Cameron (whosawhatsis). MakerBot decided the approach was “too good to ignore” and began offering it as an upgrade kit for the Replicator 2. The upgraded extruder, with a spring-loaded arm that squeezes the filament between the drive gear and a bearing, is now standard on the Replicator 2.
In addition, the acrylic build plate that was formerly covered with a raised MakerBot “M” logo has been replaced by a completely smooth plate. In the previous version, the logo would emboss itself into the bottom of prints.
The biggest change in the Replicator 2 from last year’s model is the upgraded MakerBot firmware. We noted greatly improved acceleration, better quality on high-detail prints, and an overall quieter printing experience. These improvements came directly from the Sailfish firmware project, which was created and is maintained by the dedicated efforts of two exceptional developers, “Jetty” and “Dnewman,” who have openly shared their firmware (if not their identities) with the Thingiverse community.
MakerBot’s proprietary software MakerWare has also been given some love. The MakerBot Slicer (formerly called “Miracle Grue”) has been overhauled to slice faster and more accurately, for improved print quality. An “auto layout” option for automatically arranging models on the build plate has been added. Another welcome addition is that slicing profiles for both of the integrated slicers (MakerBot Slicer and Skeinforge) are now fully editable.
All these improvements made a big difference in print quality. The machine “just worked” without fuss throughout our testing. PLA prints had no stringing and a uniform finish with no gaps or ridges. The Replicator 2 printed the best Heart Box in the shootout, and the second-best half-size Lightbulb.
For ease of use and excellent print quality right out of the box, the MakerBot Replicator 2 is still the printer to beat in the prosumer market. MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis recently said in a MAKE Google Hangout that his machine is “good enough for a professional to put on their desk, but friendly enough for everyone else.” The Replicator 2 lives up to this claim, although at $2,199 it remains out of the price range of many users.
- Onboard controls and SD card let you print completely untethered from your computer.
- Three-point bed leveling system allows for extremely quick and easy bed leveling.
Who’s It For?
- Beginners with bucks
- Make sure your bed is leveled. This is the solution to many print issues.
- We found that prints adhered to the acrylic build platform a little too well. Use blue painter’s tape to make removal easier, then use a razor blade to quickly clean print residue off the tape.
- Open source and cutting edge: Get Sailfish firmware for any MakerBot printer at thingiverse.com/thing:32084