Brook Drumm and Printrbot are an inspiration to makers and hardware hackers everywhere. Their company credo seems to be a healthy combination of minimalism and irreverence from which a good number of innovative, thought-provoking products have emerged. The Printrbot
Play is another excellent 3D printer from this lineage in terms of print quality, speed, and form factor. While the design is clearly aimed at an educational audience of young makers and their teachers, the Play should appeal to anyone on a budget looking for an entry-level printer.
STURDY WITHOUT BEING TOO HEAVY
While it shares some obvious comparisons to the metal Plus released earlier in the year, the Play seems to be the first generation of Printrbot machines designed from the ground up with a metal frame in mind. Constructed from powder-coated aluminum and steel, the Play is rigid and sturdy without being too heavy. The bottom of the frame is open, allowing for easy access to motors and electronics, and four rubber stoppers keep the Play from wandering across the desk, a problem I have encountered with the Simple. Other improvements include a much more accessible SD card slot and a top-mounted filament bracket that keeps the overall footprint small. However, one improvement sorely missing from pretty much every Printrbot to date is an off switch. This might be a petty request, but it would be really great to see something like this added in the future.
SMALL AND SURPRISINGLY LIGHTWEIGHT
The hot end and nozzle is hidden behind a handy shroud that also holds both the extruder and cooling fans in place. The shaped metal frame serves as an enclosure of sorts, keeping curious fingers away from the majority of the spinning, heating and moving parts. On the flip side, if I needed to replace the X-axis stepper I would have to disassemble the entire frame just to reach the screws holding the motor in place.
The Printrbot Play build size is not huge, clocking in at a fairly modest 4×4×5″, good for school projects and prototyping small assemblies but not great for any medium-sized pieces and above. Despite being a metal box, the Play is surprisingly lightweight and would be an ideal machine for taking out on the road for a local print demo.
QUICK, HIGH-QUALITY PRINTS
Although it looks a little sluggish, the Play is actually very brisk — zipping prints out quickly without significantly sacrificing quality. On the XY test probe it stood head and shoulders above the other machines, showing no signs of echoes or resonance on the X- or Y-axis. The horizontal surfacing probe was also good with only a small blemish on the top of the sphere.
Overhang and bridging probes both showed minor problems with sagging plastic. Users should probably either print their own cooling fan ducting or give some thought to optimum rotation and / or placement of models to get the most out of the cooling fan. In addition to print quality, speed, and form factor we also tested how loud each printer was during operation. The Play was one of the louder machines we tested, but I didn’t find the familiar warbling to be super distracting.
With the maturation of their metal frame machines Printrbot has developed a business model that keeps the prices of their products low, quality high, and locates their manufacturing in the USA. In this fashion they are able to compete very well with the clones coming across the Pacific and keep innovating briskly with new products like the Play and their upcoming range of CNC machines. All the while asking two basic questions, how can we do more with less and how can we flip the paradigm to do something both innovative and useful.