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LulzBot Mini 3D printer delivers outstanding details

Lucas Mearian | Jan. 15, 2015
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.

The first thing I printed was a small octopus trinket, the CAD design for which came on a USB stick from Aleph Objects. The octopus was roughly three inches in diameter and an inch high. The object printed in about a half hour. Believe me, in the 3D printer realm, that's fast.

The printer comes with some incredibly handy and high-quality tools, including a sharp-ended spatula for removing objects from the print bed and a dental-style pick and brush for removing support material from printed objects.

When it comes to resolution, or the thickness of print layers, this machine is outstanding. It ranges from just 0.05mm to 0.50mm (0.002-in to 0.020-in). Compare that to a $2,900 Makerbot Replicator desktop printer, which has a minimum resolution of .1mm or twice as thick as the LulzBot Mini.

The software that controls the Lulzbot Mini, Cura, allows users to manually control the extruder and platform temperature and choose from three print qualities: High, normal and fast (or low quality). It also lets you add support structures to printed objects.

The dreaded Eiffel Tower test

I've printed dozens of objects with 3D printers, but the one that has so far confounded them all is the Eiffel Tower. The reason previous printers failed to accurately create the tiny model is because it's filled with extremely thin and detailed latticework, from the superstructure of the legs to the cupola on top.

To my surprise, the LulzBot produced the Eiffel Tower's details perfectly and quickly. The 5-in. tall model has taken as long as two hours on other printers. With the LulzBot, the Eiffel Tower model took one hour and 44 minutes to complete.

The LulzBot Mini's version of the Eiffel Tower (center) far and away replicated the accuracy of the CAD drawing better than other machines I've tested. On the left is one printed on XYZprinting's da Vinci 1.0 AiO all-in-one 3D printer. On the right is the tower printed by Afinia's H-Series 3D printer.

Now for some of the bad.

This machine is not enclosed. While the mechanics do rest inside a steel cube, all four sides are open, meaning the annoying, trilly noise of the robotics, sprockets and belts assault you throughout a print job. And this machine is loud.

Also, the LulzBot Mini has no onboard data storage. Many 3D printers have flash memory, which allows a maker to upload a CAD drawing to the machine and then disconnect the computer while the 3D printer continues its print job.

Disconnecting your computer from the LulzBot Mini cancels the print job. There is no wireless connectivity.

There's also no LED screen from which to choose various operations, as there are on many other mid-range desktop 3D printers. Functions like temperature control and filament loading and unloading is all governed through the Cura software you download onto your computer.


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