The LulzBot Mini is a pleasantly industrial little bot that would be at home in any workshop, classroom, or Makerspace. The partially open frame is sturdy and built from matte black sheet metal. Internal cables are nicely contained and tied down while still accessible to the end user.
Several components of the printer are themselves 3D printed, including the main herringbone drive gear.
First-time 3D printer users are encouraged to slice and print from the easy-to-use Cura LulzBot Edition using default settings, which produce attractive, functional prints with reasonable speed. Advanced users, though, will want to dig into the expert settings posthaste.
HANDS-FREE BED LEVELING
Watching the LulzBot Mini’s auto-leveling feature is a joy for anyone who’s spent an afternoon twiddling thumbscrews in pursuit of a level bed. After a brief warm-up period, the printer grooms its nozzle on a piece of industrial felt located near the print bed. Then it touches the nozzle to contact points at the bed’s corners, and determines how the printer’s Z-axis motor should compensate for an off-kilter print surface while the print is running. The corners of the bed are not physically adjusted.
Yes, that’s right, the printer levels the bed virtually. If you’ve been 3D printing for a while, this is mind-blowing the first time you see it.
The Mini produced test print after test print with no manual tweaking or recalibration, and did not crash, jam, or otherwise fail during the test period. Prints stick fast to the heated bed during printing and are easy to remove once the bed has cooled.
TETHERED PRINTING, AND BYOFILAMENT
The LulzBot Mini does make a few compromises in order to keep the price tag down. First and foremost, the printer does not ship with much filament. You’ll receive a short sample of 3mm HIPS in the box, but users interested in creating more than a nickel-sized test print will need to purchase an extra roll of filament from LulzBot.
Oddly for a portable device, the printer lacks Wi-Fi or SD card support, and must be physically tethered via USB to an external computing device in order to function. The LulzBot Mini doesn’t ship with any external display devices to indicate print progress or error codes.
Users accustomed to pulling prints off the bed immediately upon completion will have to learn patience, as the PEI surface grips tightly when warm but releases easily when cool. In our tests, this cool-down period lasted between 10 and 15 minutes; in a production environment such delays might be an impediment to smooth workflow.
NOT TOO HIP ON HIPS
This machine is easily portable. It’s just a little too big to fit in carry-on, but the attached grip makes moving the unit across a workshop a simple affair. Users who are tight on workspace should be aware that the printer’s operating envelope is slightly larger than its static footprint; the print bed emerges from the side of the machine when a print is finished.
The LulzBot team has focused in on HIPS as their filament of choice. We ran into issues with the Retraction and Z Wobble probes on the two LulzBot machines during testing that felt uncharacteristic for LulzBot. Rerunning the prints in PLA resulted in excellent probes of the highest quality, jumping the overall score from 22 to TK. So although the scores with the vendor-recommended material were not outstanding, we know it’s a better machine than the numbers show.
With only a few minor downsides, the LulzBot Mini is a perfect match for high school and university STEM labs, Makerspaces, basement tinkerers, or anyone looking for a sturdy, reliable bot at a reasonable price point. This machine is a good choice as a first exposure to 3D printing or as a small-scale workhorse for an expert user.