There are about a dozen metrics by which I judge 3D printers when testing them, including speed, noise and the materials with which they can print.
But, none of the latter attributes compares in importance with a printer's ability to produce objects with precision and accuracy. It is in that one area that the new LulzBot Mini 3D printer excels.
Aleph Objects unveiled the LulzBot Mini at International CES last week. The machine will be available on Jan. 22 at a retail price of $1,350.
The printer is "mini" in that it's smaller than previous LulzBot machines, though there are other 3D printers that are similar in size. However, at 17-in. x 13.4-in. x 15.2-in., the LulzBot Mini does fit nicely on a desktop, where other printers can often monopolize space.
It also weighs just 19 pounds. The last "desktop" printer I reviewed, the da Vinci 1.0 AiO all-in-one 3D printer, nearly threw my back out when I pulled the 60-pound machine from its shipping box.
Being smaller, the LulzBot Mini's build area is also more restricted than some other mid-range 3D printers. It offers an area of 6-in. x 6-in. x 6.2-in.
The RepRap-style 3D printer presents an open, no-frills chassis compared with the da Vinci, or other printers from the likes of 3D Systems or Makerbot. Many other 3D printers are fully enclosed in handsome cases with transparent, hinged front doors; on the da Vinci, even the plastic filament came in a pop-in cartridge.
In contrast, the LulzBot Mini uses an open reel of thermoplastic filament that hangs off a hook on top of the machine like a towel in a gym locker room. But it works just fine — and isn't that what really matters?
Like other RepRap-style printers (RepRap meaning it can print most of its own parts), the Lulzbot Mini uses open source hardware and open source CAD software.
While simple, the LulzBot Mini offers a solid design with a riveted matte black steel frame. Another great feature on this printer is the plastic polyetherimide (PEI) film that covers the heated borosilicate glass bed. The PEI film helps objects adhere to the platform when heated, but once they are cooled, they easily detach. In fact, I've never had as easy a time removing something from a print platform as I did with this machine.
Set up is simple. All that's required after removing the LulzBot Mini 3D printer from the box is to remove several blocks of protective styrofoam. Once that's done, just hang the spool of thermoplastic filament, feed it into the print head, download the open source software to your computer, connect the USB cord and you're ready to print. I had the machine up and running in about 15 minutes.
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