If you are looking to get started in 3D printing without a large investment, the mElephant printer by Makeblock offers a decent starting point with lots of possibilities for improvements. While we found the print performance a bit lacking, the modularity of the system shows great potential.
A FAMILIAR HUE
The mElephant is based off of the extremely popular i3 printer design by Josef Prusa. However, the mElephant ditches the printed parts found in most i3 designs for the electric-blue anodized aluminum components that Makeblock is known for. The mElephant’s frame lends stability to its prints thanks to the boxy design, which also nicely houses the sharp and clear OLED control screen.
SUPER EASY SETUP
Upon unboxing, you will find a cute little elephant test print already adhered to the bed of the machine. Don’t toss this out — it’s actually a fun little cellphone or tablet stand! Once we removed the elephant, setup was easy, especially since the mElephant features an auto bed-leveling sensor. This doesn’t physically adjust the bed, but instead helps the printer to compensate for any irregularities during the print. The only portion of the printer you need to assemble is the included filament spool holder. This goes together quickly without the need for any hand tools. While the spool holder felt a little cheap to begin with, it actually worked quite well during our testing.
Makeblock recommends using Cura as the software interface. The two included printing profiles allow you to run the printer tethered if you wish, or to transfer the G-code it has created to the printer via SD card. The mElephant uses a microSD card and includes a small USB card reader with its other accessories.
The mElephant does not have a heated bed, so it’s mostly a PLA-only machine. A print-cooling fan — sadly omitted — would greatly help the mElephant with PLA prints. The most significant shortfall in our tests was Z banding along the printed piece. This may be a mechanical issue, and hopefully will be fixed with future upgrades to the platform.
Looking at the mElephant, it’s easy to dismiss it as a silly attempt at a 3D printer from a company that makes modern-day erector sets, but it actually shows the power of Makeblock’s construction system. A user who outgrows or wants to repurpose most printers will only find themselves with a few components that they can reuse, while a mElephant owner is starting with an entire ecosystem of parts. At a penny under $600, this may be a great choice for someone who wants a fully assembled 3D printer with the option to tinker later.