I backed the first kickstarter that Cerambot put out, a 3D printer capable of printing in ceramics for under $400. That kit was successful and it arrived as stated. Overall, the printer seems fine, but lacked a little refinement.
When I saw that they were returning with an updated, and easier to use, version I got very excited. They agreed to send us a review unit and I was more than happy to look it over and share my thoughts.
Out of the Box
The Eazao comes fully assembled, more or less, out of the box. You do have to connect a wire to the external reservoir as well as a hose from the reservoir to the extruder. That part, taking only a few seconds, seems to hardly count as assembly.
The Basics of Printing vs the Basics of Ceramics
Getting started printing on the machine is pretty much identical to any other filament based printer you may have used. Basically, you load your material, choose your file, and print. That’s it. No special concessions for the fact that it is printing a paste instead of a filament.
However, that statement “load your material” carries a lot more weight than it would with a typical filament based printer. In this case, you’re preparing a clay mixture to the optimal level of moisture, a painstaking process that will yield slight variations in consistency each time you do it (compared to the tight manufacturing tolerances of a good quality filament).
After you’ve mixed your material to the optimal consistency, you need to pack it into the tube of the reservoir without introducing air pockets that could effect your print. Luckily the auger based extruder helps to expel smaller air pockets for a more consistent print.
All in all, I’d say that the learning curve here will depend greatly on where your baseline experience lies. Are you a 3D printer who is now going to need to learn the basics of ceramics? Are you a ceramicist who now needs to learn 3D printing? Those are going to be different experiences.
Finishing a Print
With most ceramics you are going to need to go through some kind of process for finishing your print, usually firing your part in a kiln. There are some air-dry materials you could run through the machine, but for the most part, you’ll be needing a kiln.
The folks at Cerambot got lots of feedback from their first run and found many people didn’t have kilns or access to them. In this instance they’ve included what they call a “microwave kiln.” This is basically a refractory brick container that you can put in your microwave that allows you to heat up items considerably more than your microwave could on it’s own.
They didn’t invent these “microwave kilns” and you can find them for pretty cheap on amazon, typically marketed for melting small glass bits at home (called fusing glass). This is a fantastic middle ground and a wise choice on their part. It allows people to fire small items and get the satisfaction of completing prints into food-safe and usable pieces, without the big investment.
Unfortunately, these microwave kilns do have their limitations. Controlling the temperature in them is impossible and when it comes to some materials and some coatings, you really need to be able to hit -and hold- specific temperatures for set times. Still, I was quite happy to have one.
Printing with ceramics means that you’re going to have this stuff all over your hands and of course, all inside the parts of the machine. It isn’t a big deal really, and if you’ve been doing pottery or ceramics, you won’t even find this part ofputting. However, if you’re used to the easy and clean ways of printing items with filament, the idea of taking a half our to scrub out multiple parts of your machine after each printing session can be very daunting. It is a pain.
Not only is it just a hassle to have to clean parts, some of the parts are particularly difficult to clean. How the heck do you get wet clay out of a rubber hose? Out of a 12-inch-long reservoir tube?
Cerambot doesn’t offer any specific tools for this, so you’ll find yourself hunting for things to make the job easier. I ended up using a long bit of wire with something tied around the end to pull the extra material out of the rubber hose when I was done. It worked, but it wasn’t fun.
They don’t offer a slicer pre-configured for the machine. Their documentation says that they recommend Cura, and to do that you’ll have to manually configure Cura to your machine’s specifications.
They do offer a configuration file you can import, but even with this I found that the settings weren’t quite right. My bottom layers weren’t as nice and smashed as the examples that came on the memory card with the machine. I’ll have to tinker more with that to try to get some nicer results.
They have been teasing some pretty cool looking pieces of software for modeling vases in new and interesting ways as well as creating surface textures on existing models. I’m eager to try out these tools when they’re available.