The greatest hindrance in the expansion of the low-cost 3D printers in the consumer market is their price. A person who wants to purchase a home 3D printer at the cost of up to 3 thousand PLN faces a choice: either buy a DIY kit and struggle with assembling the device and its subsequent calibration, or buy the wooden Pirx. Recently a third option also became available – to buy Up! Mini, which since the end of July is available at an amazing price for a device of this class – 2899,00 PLN incl. tax. Although the Up! 3D printers are no news to me, so far I had the opportunity to work on the premium version of the device – Up! Plus 2, whereas I only saw the Mini. However, courtesy of Solveere – the official distributor of TierTime and PP3DP in Poland, I had the opportunity to use the smaller version of the Up! for a few months and to form an opinion about it. Let me put it this way: though Up! Mini has several drawbacks and shortcomings – at present I can not imagine any other device at home. Up! Mini rules! At least in the home appliances sector…
Up! Mini, as the name suggests, is a very small device. It has a build size of 12 x 12 x 12 cm which allows you to print many items but it may be not enough to create a casing for a smartphone. This device is addressed to the novice user and the person who above all wants to play with 3D printing rather than spend long hours over the settings of the various print parameters and gain new trophies for the best 3D printing scout. For companies, this solution is rather mediocre, unless one plans on frequent printing of details whose dimensions do not exceed 10 cm in each axis. If so, then Up! Mini is good enough. If not, I would definitely recommend other solutions. What is cool about the Up! Mini, and what should you pay special attention to? Here is the first ever CD3D’s 3D printer review!
1. Unboxing and the beginning of work
Up! Mini is delivered in an ordinary cardboard box with the company logo on it. The packaging method is simple but decent – there are no designer solutions, memorable gadgets or freebies, everything is very well thought out and arranged as it should. Inside it, you will find the 3D printer, the wiring, a roll of ABS filament and a box with some tools. The tools – although Chinese, are of good quality and are well suited for everyday work.
After unpacking, the first thing you need to do is to set up the extruder with the head and hook up all the wires. The extruder holds up on three magnets, which is a very simple and functional solution. The next step is to plug the 3D printer to a power socket and to download the software from the manufacturer or the distributor onto the computer. The installation process is quick and painless, the program itself is straight and simple. Provided of course that we have a version for Windows – the Mac version is so stripped down and has so many minor bugs and shortcomings that for the purpose of this test I dug out an old Lenovo 2008 with Windows Vista. Although visually similar – in terms of functionality they are two separate programs. More on this topic is discussed later…
When the firmware is installed, the next thing to do is to attach the filament to the 3D printer. This is also very easy and is done directly with the software. Simply place the spool on a special grapple at the back of the casing and insert the tip of the filament into the extruder opening. Then select the option “add a new spool” and the kind of material – ABS or PLA. I performed my tests only with ABS. When you click “Extrude” the head heats up to 260° C (220° C for PLA) and begins to pull the filament. We are led through these steps by beeps and the blinking and color-changing POWER button. When adding a new filament roll we type in its weight. The software makes an estimate of the weight of the subsequent printouts. When the filament is about to run out, or when during a printout estimation the program determines that there may be too little material – it delivers an appropriate message. Of course, you can ignore it and print anyway, nevertheless, it is a very useful functionality.
The next step is to calibrate the build plate. The Up! Mini – unlike Up! Plus 2, has no automatic calibration, so the process must be performed manually using a regular piece of paper. Fortunately, this process is not as complicated as in traditional RepRaps, where you have to turn the knobs in the right direction based on intuition – here too everything is done from within the software. First we place a piece of paper or a card on the plate. Next, by clicking a button on the screen we move the head towards the plate (it is important to do it cautiously as we can damage the head by raising the plate too high), so that the card has a minimum of slide-room. When we decide that the level is right, we accept the chosen height and proceed to regulate the 9 points of reference. Click them one after the other, and the head is moved to the dedicated places on the plate. Then – still using a piece of paper, we determine the optimal height by means of selecting, from a dropdown menu, a value by which the plate is to be raised at that point (0.1 – 1.0 mm).
Anyone who has worked with RepRaps, especially those who love to spend hours on every print, grooming the g-code and the individual parameters and settings, will be severely disappointed with Up! Mini. When you turn print on, you can in fact just close the device’s hatch and then come back only when the 3D printer starts beeping to let you know that the work is done. Of course, this could prove to be an illusion, as we found out when we “killed” the original head, but… more on that later.
If everything is set as it should be, Up! Mini is the most boring 3D printer in the world. Due to the fact that the working chamber is closed, the 3D printing process takes place beside us – a most unusual thing for RepRaps, where it is always good to have an eye on the printing device (even if it is just the corner of the eye). Up! Mini is fairly quiet and completely hassle-free (if everything was set up as it should). It it fantastic when dealing with children – the closable casing drastically lowers the likelihood that a small child would touch the head or the plate.
The 3D printer communicates through a USB cable. However, once the 3D printer is calibrated and the project is downloaded to the device’s memory, you can disconnect it from the computer. When working, you can connect your computer again, for example to check the status of the print, but the machine will safely operate independently until the very end of printing.
The perforated build plate, or rather the element which is very easy to pull out, is a fantastic idea. We slide out the finished work with it and comfortably remove the printout from the plate. Up! Mini’s default option is to print with a raft – an initial layer, which is later separated from the target printout, but you can turn it off in the settings of the software. To be honest, I have not tested printing without a raft as I thought it was unreasonable. The perforated plate forms characteristic holes at the bottom of the printout, which does not look appealing. The Up! Mini simply prints better with a raft.
3. Printout quality
The minimum layer height in Up! Mini is 0.2 mm (200 microns), a standard 0.1 mm is available only with the Up! Plus 2. This is a significant disadvantage, because we fail to get printouts of good accuracy and quality on this printer, on the other hand, such is the consequence of such a low price. Of course there is no technological limitation – it is just a commercial maneuver designed to motivate us to purchase a more expensive version of the device. Although the 0.2 mm layer is not impressive these days, it will certainly suffice for the less demanding user. Another interesting fact I discovered rather accidentally is the idea of 3D printing… writings. Here are two PCB plates printed on the Up! Mini with ABS (the sand color) and with Monkeyfab Prime’s PLA (blue). In the place of the writings Up! printed only isolated dots. On the other hand, it reproduced the thin gaps between the selected elements perfectly – something that Prime and Kisslicer both ignored.
One of Up! Mini’s greatest advantages are the supports. No matter how complicated the printout is and how many supports are generated, they will come off perfectly. Although it is clearly thanks to the software, there is no denying that someone who starts with Up! will be terribly disappointed when later trying to generate supports in the open-source Kisslicer. The prints below – though not very complicated, are some of the most extreme examples of printouts with supports which are difficult to remove. The ED209 robot, from the first RoboCop film, has a lot of small, protruding details that are easy to tear off by accident with the supports. Despite that I managed to do it without the slightest problem.
Up! Mini completely can not handle the shrinkage of the ABS material. I tested two types of the material – the original one, supplied with the 3D printer, and the Z-ABS from Zortrax. Both materials are suitable for printing at a temperature of approx. 260ºC. If the model has a complex, diverse shape, then the printout should not cause any problem. However, if the printout is distributed on the plate in a uniform, enclosed manner (for example a regular circle), the material begins to shrink mercilessly, resulting in, at best, a few degrees’ deviation. In the worst case, the shrinkage may shred the printout – as you can see in the pictures below. In an extreme case, it could “kill the head”…
The solution to the problem may be to “press” the head against the plate. After the plate’s calibration, you should slightly raise the plate in the print settings (for example by about 0,05 mm). Unfortunately, we will see if it is enough only during the printing. If we press more material into the perforation of the plate, we will have less problems with the shrinkage, but much bigger ones with the subsequent removal of the finished print. This aspect may sometimes become inconvenient for the users, but it will save a lot of serious trouble…
4. How I killed the printhead
Unaware of these problems I started 3D printing of a bust, closed the 3D printer and… left the house. After about 2 hours I came back and saw this:
It turned out that due to the material shrinkage, the model broke off from the plate and got stuck to the head. It kept on printing, forming a growing plastic ball around it. The head was embedded in the ABS like Han Solo in carbonite – luckily nothing else happened. Later, when I unscrewed and disassembled it, I discovered what a simple mechanism it is. Basically, Up! Mini (as well as Up! Plus 2) is very simple machine. Its great power is in the software…
Coming back to the above failure, you should pay special attention to the issue of the plate’s calibration relative to the printhead, because negligence in this aspect can result in, at best, damaging one of the 3D printer’s elements.
The software for Up! Mini (and Up! 2 Plus, as both devices use the same program) is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr Jekyll is the Windows version – Mr. Hyde is the one for Mac. Let us start with the better one…
The Up! software is easy, simple and intuitive. It looks like a slogan but it is absolutely true. The amount of options to choose from before 3D printing starts is limited to a minimum, but this way you do not have to think about any serious issues. It all boils down to uploading the STL file, choosing the infill type, maybe also adjusting the supports’ angles and the printing quality: fast, normal or accurate. Of course, there are some additional settings, for example the abovementioned issue of the plate’s positioning relative to the printhead (although when you set it once, no more setting will be needed until the next calibration).
The model can be managed in several ways: place it anywhere on the plate, rotate it or scale it. There are a few other functions, an automatic placement of several models on the plate, auto repair of model fragments, as well as reprinting the same model shortly after the printout completion. The slicer software slices the models relatively quickly and uploads the generated gcode directly to the 3D printer’s memory. After the model is sliced, the program informs us how much time is necessary to complete the print and the estimated material usage. By means of the “print preview” the software calculates everything “virtually”, without switching on / connecting the 3D printer.
The Mac version is not only worse graphically, but also has a few very cumbersome errors:
- the upper menu only has the 3D PRINT (start) option whereas the side menu is completely non-functional
- the printing preferences have no images symbolizing the infill degree, there are only a few mysterious names: “solid”, “loose”, “hollow”, “big hole”, “shell”, “surface”; while the first one may be obvious, there is no way to determine which one is empty, without an infiill. A quick hint: it is neither the “big hole” nor the “hollow”
- during the 3D printing there is no information about the estimated time of completion; you may only see the information at the beginning of the print – then there are no more updates
- there is a problem with commas – by default the program inserts commas – be it for scaling of the model or the printhead height in the printing preferences; unfortunately the software does not recognize them as it only uses… points; which is why when scaling to “0,5” is treated as scaling to 0 and the object just disappears; it gets much worse when the program inadvertently changes the head height settings – then the comma disappears altogether and a height of 122,36 is treated as 122 and the 3D printer begins to print in the air; in order to return to the previous setting the plates needs to be calibrated once again or… you need to switch to the Windows version which allows any such correction on the fly
- using the AUTO PLACEMENT option (automatically arranging prints on the plate) sets the model’s position 2 mm above the build plate and there is no way to start printing as it is out of the build area; every time it has to be lowered by 2 mm, which is quite bothersome and… you are lost anyway if you do not know it.
Irrespective of the above problems with the Mac version, the Up! Mini’s software is one of the strongest aspects of the device.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, at present Up! Mini is in my opinion the best solution for the home user. The 3D printer has some weaknesses and limitations, but the price and the ease of use fully compensate for them. Up! Mini is suitable for everyone, regardless whether they have worked with 3D printers or not. The only challenge is the initial calibration of the plate – if you manage it, the rest is simple. The appearance and the quality are also quite important. This 3D printer is simply tailored for the individual customer and I will not be surprised if that is exactly how all the 3D printers to be bought off the shelves in electronic supermarkets will be like. Were Up! Mini also equipped with automatic calibration, like “Plus 2”, it would be almost the perfect device.
If you consider using Up! Mini for professional purposes, it should also work out, but do not forget about the limitations associated with the very small build volume. It’s a big handicap, but I believe that there are people who find 12 cm in each axis sufficient to print 80-90% of their designs. Up! Mini may prove to be a great “sketchbook” for designers or engineers – a small, desktop device, quietly printing all the various pieces they designed. However, there are plenty of much better machines available on the market. Certainly not at this price, but for most design companies, not to mention bigger industries, the expenditure of a few thousand for a device should not be a problem. In this particular case, the low price of Up! Mini is not that important.
To sum up – a “BIG YES” for home use – “NOT NECESSARILY” for commercial purposes.