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I won’t bad mouth any brands, but there is a popular style of 3D printer that uses a black plastic acrylic frame that is available at a very cheap price, often even under $100.
You may see people online showing off the genuinely great prints they made on these machines.
But, what they are not showing you is the pile of failed prints it took to get to the successes.
And, they are not showing you the additional $200 and 100 hours worth of upgrades they carried out to make it work!
Most importantly of all, some of the acrylic framed 3D printers have been known to overheat and catch fire due to faulty electronics.
In my opinion, it’s not worth trying to save $100 on one of these machines.
Why are Acrylic Frame 3D Printers Bad?
Firstly, the use of a plastic acrylic frame makes these printers prone to flexing which makes your prints weaker and more likely to fail. A common complaint is that the first 20-30mm of a print is fine but as your print gets taller the flex in the gantry has a more noticeable effect and your print starts to distort.
Secondly, because acrylic frame printers are cheap, the manufacturers use cheap components for important parts like the power supply and bearings. This makes the printer not only more likely to fail while printing but also more likely to need parts replacing sooner rather than later.
Thirdly, acrylic has a tendency to form micro cracks as it flexes which eventually propagate and crack leading to a major part of your 3D printer breaking in half. These cracks seem to occur more when undergoing a heat-cycle, which means putting your 3D printer into an enclosure can increase the chances of the acrylic frame suffering long term damage.
Lastly, there have been several cases of acrylic frame 3D Printers catching fire. This is often because cheap 3D printers have thermal runaway protection disabled in their firmware (this isn’t exclusive to acrylic frame printers).
Thermal runaway protection monitors the temperature of key components such as the hotend, and if they go beyond a set value the power to them is cut. This can cause problems if it activates unnecessarily so manufacturers often disable it to make their 3D printers appear more reliable but it leaves them with a fundamental safety issue.
Acrylic vs Aluminum Frame
The reason acrylic doesn’t work as a material for a 3D printer frame is that it needs to be very thick for it to have enough rigidity. About 12mm is the minimum thickness needed, but when it is this thick it becomes harder and more expensive to manufacture and so it usually used at around 6-8mm thick instead.
Aluminum on the other hand is a perfect choice of material to make a 3D printer frame. Even in thin sections, it is strong, rigid, and light. The most popular budget 3D printers make use of generic extruded aluminum sections which are very rigid due to their box shape and cheap as they are an off the shelf item made for multiple engineering uses.
The best budget aluminum-framed 3D printer is the Creality Ender 3. Yes, it is more expensive than an acrylic frame printer, but it will work out of the box and any mods you do to it will make it perform better rather than just fix problems to make it work.
Last update on 2021-10-10 at 10:54