Considering 3D Printing as a hobby can be daunting. The biggest challenges for most include a steep learning curve, space, enjoyment, cost, and safety concerns. All of these factors are addressed with the Micro 3D (M3D). It is easy and safe enough for your kids to use with minimal supervision. A bonus is the amazing software included.
The M3D is a near-literal plug-and-play experience. Download the printer’s software and a free pattern, plug in the printer with the included USB and power cable, and go. It comes with filament pre-loaded, so there’s no fuss before diving in. The learning curve is so low that my 12-year-old set it up in minutes. YMMV, of course.
The only difficulty I had early on was loading filament. I wanted to print with a different color, so I changed out the filament. The software walks you through every step, making it super easy. Filament is stored inside the printer, and the filament is inserted through a tube. The trouble was that industry standards can change slightly. In this case, the filament was slightly larger than the 1.75mm diameter the printer is designed for. The filament didn’t fit in the tube properly!
Thankfully, there was a very quick fix. I emailed support, and they sent me a link to download my first print: an external spool stand. It clips onto the printer, and allows the filament to be top-loaded, instead of inside. After changing the spool, I loaded the filament through the top, and everything worked perfectly.
Using the external spool stand increased the size a couple of inches, but the printer is still less than 12″x7.5″ total. It sits on my desk, and I don’t miss the space much. I don’t need an extra table, garage space, or any other space accommodations. And it’s quiet enough to print throughout the day without disturbing the family.
Now onto the fun stuff. What’s the point of a hobby if it isn’t fun, right? Print time! I started with the type of pattern that would save me the most money, long-term. D&D geeks will feel my pain when I say that it’s easily miniatures for tabletop gaming.
I started with a dwarf. I love me some dwarves, both as PCs and NPCs. I found a pattern online that is a dwarf holding a shield and a pint of beer. Perfect. I printed it and found that the original pattern produced a dwarf which was tiny. Fortunately, the M3D software allows one to scale a print up and down in size. I upped the print size, tried again, and voila! In no time at all, I had a great mini. Admittedly, this isn’t the fanciest mini. It’s just my favorite. You know, because dwarves.
Scaling thing up worked, but would scaling things down? Not necessarily. If you find a print that’s too large for what you want, don’t scale it down without considering the chance of failure.
This Bulbasaur planter is a great example. I scaled it down to hold an air plant, and I introduced a flaw. The walls of the bulb were already thin. Scaled down, they were non-existent in places. You can see in the right-hand picture that there are holes. Oops, try again.
Since I’ve printed two things in a row multiple times, let’s talk about the cost of those mistakes. Each print used a small fraction of a spool. The too-small dwarf used so little material it was difficult to measure a change. The regular-sized dwarf took less than 1/20th of the spool, including the wasted material of the supports.
Just for a cost comparison, let’s look at how much money that saves me, per roll. A roll of PLA filament costs $14. A mini costs between $6.25 (in a $25 bundle) to $15 each or more. Usually, bundles include random minis, which are always a risk. For $14, though, I can print a 12-25 miniatures, depending on quality and size. Let’s assume I get 18 great minis from each roll. That would cost me $112.50 if I bought them as booster packs. I am literally saving myself $100 with every spool printed, and I get exactly what I want, not random figures from boosters.
To be honest, though, there are other costs involved. Prints are often rough, always unpainted, and the best patterns may cost money. I bought a set of sandpaper sheets, and I committed to printing things in their final colors. When I buy a pattern, such as for an NPC, I often print them in multiple colors, and then I don’t need to paint them to differentiate between Bob the Bard and Sonny the Sorcerer. Also, the print bed will sometimes need to be replaced, as prints damage it sometimes. They are easily replaced, and not too expensive.
Though I don’t sand minis, I do need to sand other prints. A good example is the Cubone skull mask I printed. The printer starts at the bottom, and prints upward, obviously. The teeth were odd, because the pattern wasn’t perfect. But it turned out nicely, nonetheless. But, as with many prints, the layers show up with a stark relief. I wanted the skull to be smooth, so I decided to sand it.
Here’s the skull after sanding. It was time consuming, but worth it. Now I have a lightly polished skull. With a light-handed whittle, I re-shaped the teeth, and I like how they look, too. This change in quality made it easy to justify the low cost of sandpaper.
In total, the cost of the printer ($315), 4 spools ($14 each), and miscellany like sandpaper and replacement print bed stickers, I’ll probably spend $500, and get 108 miniatures, plus a number of extras like the Cubone skull and Bulbasaur planter. That’s $675.00 worth of minis alone. I’m saving $275 in the first year, just on the minis, at the rate I’m printing. Of course, that’s just what I’m printing. Depending on what you use your filament for, your costs will vary. The Micro can print most anything.
As far as safety is concerned, I’m in love with the M3D. It’s a self-enclosed unit, thanks to the cubic frame. The chances of a stray hand hitting a hot surface are very low. The lack of a heated bed, though a possible detriment in some prints, means that the only hot spot is the extruder nozzle, which is directly over the printing piece. It’s a case of not finding trouble unless you try, an ideal situation for houses with kids. The Micro 3D also boasts a UL safety rating, so you know it has been independently evaluated to be safe.
Finally, let’s look at the included software. Once you launch and connect your printer, the software is as easy to use as the most basic Windows programs. Drag and drop a pattern into the software, and click print. The software automates steps that normally would require calibration by the user, such as support materials. Most designs need support material. The supports give the printer something to print on when you print something hollow, like the Cubone skull. The software is intuitive and slick—even in its beta version. I cannot wait to see what else they come up with.
The original listed price was $449, but it has been much less expensive for the months I’ve been following it on Amazon. It’s currently listed as $315, and has been for some time.
The Micro 3D (M3D) is a great printer for any beginner. Simply download a pattern from the millions published around the internet, double-click, and hit “print.” The Micro does the rest. It also calibrates itself, inserts supports automatically (which is a big deal for folks new to printing), and has a UL safety rating, meaning it’s fun, easy, and safe for users of any skill level.
Disclaimer: M3D provided a unit for review purposes.