While we were finishing this issue, a new low-cost version of the Up 3D printer, the Mini, was released by Delta Micro Factory Corp (PP3DP). Since this printer is targeted at a wider consumer market, we thought we’d let MAKE editorial director Gareth Branwyn do a true “Christmas morning” test on it, as he had never set up a 3D printer before. Here’s his mini Mini review, with an eventual handoff to a more experienced hand, MAKE Product Development Engineer Eric Weinhoffer.

Gareth: The Up Mini offers a great “out of box experience,” at least the hardware itself. The fully-enclosed printer (with a 4.7″-cubed build area) is obviously designed to look, feel, and act like any consumer desktop printer: plug, play, print. Like the new Replicator 2, the Mini has a slick black metal and plastic case, but unlike the Rep 2, it’s fully enclosed, with a hinged door and a snap-down plastic hood on top. Also like the Rep 2, it has a cold pause feature that allows you to stop mid-print, walk away from the machine, then resume printing when you return.

It’s a cinch to set up the Mini, and it comes with all the tools you need: basically a hobby knife, wire cutters, gloves, and a spatula for removing prints from the heated print bed. I had the hardware up and running in minutes.

But then my troubles began. The PDF manual and software are riddled with typos, mangled English, and errors. One of the settings listed in the manual has two digits reversed. Some of the on-screen error messages are incomprehensible. I spent nearly four hours over two nights trying to generate a print. I ended up with what MAKE contributing editor Brian Jepson dubbed “transporter accidents.” I like to think of them as improvisational 3DP art. I posted them on my Facebook page to many “Likes” and giggles.

Gareth’s first print of the snake.
Gareth’s first print of the snake.

I think the heart of my problem was that I was in an unheated apartment on a cold and rainy weekend. The print bed never got warm enough for the print to stay put. As soon as a few layers cooled, they’d peel up and the piece would start moving around, destroying the print. An enclosure like the one on the Mini is supposed to address these temperature and draft problems, but it wasn’t enough in my case.

Frustrated, I passed the printer on to our product development engineer, Eric Weinhoffer. He had better success.

Eric: I didn’t bother with the manual! Thankfully, I’d already had two days to play with the Up Mini’s bigger brother, the Up/Afinia H-Series, during our 3D Print Shop Weekend. In fact, after a few hours of use, I’d say the Up Mini is just a lower-cost Up/Afinia with a slightly smaller build volume and a fancy black enclosure. The Afinia is a fantastic machine, and the Mini appears to offer most of what the Afinia does for some $600 less: good-quality prints with semi-untethered printing (you can unplug your computer once the print begins).

Eric's final print of the snake.
Eric’s final print of the snake.

Unfortunately, the Afinia and Up Mini also share some shortcomings. Like Gareth, I experienced software crashes. The software is also closed source and somewhat clunky to navigate. And I would surely rip out the loud, annoying piezo buzzer within an hour of unboxing it.

I also ended up having some print bed leveling issues. Still, a mini Up for $899? Not bad.

For $899 the Up Mini is impressive, and if you’re willing to futz you’ll likely find it a solid beginner machine. A true consumer 3D
desktop printer with an uneventful out-of-box experience, it nevertheless still has a ways to go. With better software, a readable manual, and a more reliable print bed, the Mini could prove a real contender. You can pick one up from PP3DP or, if you’re in the US, Inventables.

2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

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  • 3D Design for Beginners
  • 3D Printing without a Printer

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn