The all-metal construction of the Printrbot Simple Metal feels more like a professional power tool than an entry-level 3D printer. The weight of this small, portable printer gives it a real sense of quality, and the inclusion of a now-standard auto-leveling bed makes it a real step up from its wooden predecessors. This printer is packed with features and rivals machines costing much more.
Same Great Value, Now ALL Metal
Upgrades from the original Simple (still sold as an upgraded “Maker’s Kit”) include a larger build platform that measures a healthy 150×150×150mm, a powder-coated steel frame, thicker polished guide rods, large linear bearings that are seated in machined aluminum carriage, and an all-aluminum, direct-drive extruder that includes a UBIS hot end with interchangeable tips. Our assembled review unit also came with an aluminum handle ($39 upgrade) with an integrated printed spool holder (free).
Many Optional Upgrades Available
With the healthy-sized bed you can print many substantially sized items in PLA and nylon on the unheated surface. ABS is supported if you add the optional heated bed upgrade. In fact, the heated bed upgrade ($99) and the interchangeable tips (ranging from 0.25 to 0.75mm for $8 each) allow you to experiment with just about any material. You can print tethered via Repetier-Host, untethered via onboard microSD card, or add onboard controls with the Printrbot LCD control kit accessory ($65). Don’t forget to print the fan shroud upgrade, it enabled our test unit to attain perfect scores on the Bridging and Overhang tests.
Improved Documentation, Great Support
The Simple’s setup documentation is professional and thorough. Due to the amount of information presented, it can feel a bit overwhelming, but it’s a fantastic reference when needed. Printrbot also has a robust help site (help.printrbot.com) and community forum (printrbottalk.com), and it’s common to the see the Printrbot’s founder, Brook Drumm, answering questions directly. That’s a nice customer service touch. There’s also a great education section for teachers and students (learn.printrbot.com).
A Few Minor Issues
The Simple Metal is pretty great, but it’s not perfect. The initial adjustment of the auto-level probe is a tad cumbersome. It takes a bit of double-hand holding to adjust the probe while fighting the tension on the wiring in the close quarters around the adjustment nuts. The inclusion of a laser-cut wrench helps, and is a nice, sentimental reminder of Printrbot’s beginnings. In addition, it can be hard to tell if the printer is turned on until you notice the glow from underneath the machine. This was not immediately apparent in a well-lit room. We also had a serious nozzle clog issue during an 8-hour overnight print that resulted in the filament forcing its way out of the extruder in a bizarrely perfect, spring-like coil.
Although it’s a common open-source toolchain issue not directly related to Printrbot, it can be a frustrating experience for a first-time user to walk through Slic3r’s multiple setup screens and dialog boxes. I’d like to see Cura formally recommended as another open-source option, as the Printrbot community already recommends it. I also was not impressed with the “write to SD” function of Repetier-Host; I took the microSD card out and loaded it into the computer to transfer the file manually, although it’s a bit hard to access.
This printer is a joy and doesn’t feel like an entry-level machine at all. I recommend this printer daily to visitors to Science City, explaining it has many features of higher-priced printers (plus some they don’t offer). This resonates with educators and budget-conscious parents. It’s also perfect for my friends at the local hackerspace, many of whom have spent quite a bit more on machines that don’t have the print quality or the fit and finish of the Simple Metal.