Friday, October 24, 2014

Cube 3 Review - Installment 1: General Impressions

My initial thoughts on opening up the box, setting up the printer and running the first print was that the Cube 3 is not an evolution as much as it is a revolution for consumer and educational 3D printing.

Coming from first using a RepRap style of 3D printer to the 1st Generation Cube was a huge step.  The 1st Gen Cube was definitely a revolutionary product that lifted 3D printing from simply being a techies hobby into being a true consumers product.

The 2nd Gen Cube was an evolutionary step in making 3D printing more acceptable for use around young children by replacing the heated print table. Over the life of the 2nd Gen Cube it continued to evolve as a product through both hardware and firmware updates.   The Cube design and software teams did an extraordinary job of upgrading various hardware modules and continually offering meaningful firmware updates.  Considering the number of machines that must have been sold, I received very few emails with complaints from users.  And, most of those ended up being related to their not fully understanding the cartridge unload process, gapping or how to apply the glue correctly.  A few related to print table leveling issues.

Both personally and through the 3D printing classes I teach, I have printed hundreds and hundreds of objects on the 1st and 2nd Gen Cubes and considered them very reliable printers in the hands of experienced users.  But, much of the care and feeding of the 1st and 2nd gen Cubes was manual, included in setting the printjet gap and leveling the print table.

The 3rd Generation Cube team set about to make the Cube even more user friendly by automating both the print table leveling and printjet gapping processes.  But, they also provided the tools and techniques for us to perform both of these tasks manually in a much easier way than was available in earlier Cube versions.

As many of you know, I had  stroke earlier this year.  While I am fine, it did require us to completely alter course in the way I was delivering content to my 3D printing classes.  Due to the pressures of my having to create an all new curriculum and countless videos for the 3D printing classes I have not had the time to completely test and evaluate my new Cube 3.  So, I will have to deliver my thoughts in installments.

In this installment, I want to convey my absolute amazement at the huge leap in technology and usability that is the 3rd Gen Cube.  It's quieter, faster and is capable of turning out beautiful prints.  Combined with the new software, we are given the opportunity to control multiple aspects of the printing process, from fast "Draft" 200mm layer printing to super smooth "Premium" with 70mm layers.  While ABS still has some propensity to warp, the warping I've experienced is less than with the 2nd Gen Cube.  A LOT less. I had abandoned ABS with the 2nd Gen Cube, using the 1st Gen Cube when I needed ABS.  But, as I write this, I am printing my "Cube 3 Torture Test" consisting of 3 test objects in ABS and only one of the three shows signs of warping.  And, the warping that I do see is minimal and has not interfered with printing the bulk of the object.  That's a big improvement.

The overall experience of using the Cube 3 is like that one might dream about (If one could afford it) in owning a fine ultra-luxury motor car.  It's sleek, solid and comfortable.

Like Eric, I, too, have experienced a clog. But, in terms of bringing my printing to a halt it is a very different experience than that of any other consumer 3D printer, including earlier generation Cubes.  It's more like having a nail in a tire than a broken valve in an engine.  Clogs may be annoying; but, they no longer have to be "show-stoppers".   Simply replace the cartridge and get back to work!

Interestingly, both Eric and I had clogs with a PLA Neon Green cartridge.  Having now used four other colors in both ABS and PLA, I'm wondering, since the units were shipped with Neon Green, if we had very early cartridge builds. 

There is one other small issue, that both Eric and I have observed, that we are certain that will be addressed in a firmware update.  Small bits of filament sometimes fall onto the print table.  They come from the wipers on either side of the printer.  I was able to capture the process in slow motion video and have sent that video to 3D Systems.  It's not a big deal; but, I will be happy when a future firmware update makes it a thing of the past.  It's annoying like white lint on a black suit.  But, again, it does not materially affect the precision and accuracy of the print.

And, speaking of accuracy, the first thing I printed was a "thin wall" test.  Walls defined under 1mm in my software package are printed under .84mm.  But, walls defined as 1mm walls print EXACTLY at 1mm in both circles, rectangles and triangles.  Point of triangles are super sharp.  I'm blown away by the astonishing accuracy of the 3rd Gen Cube. 

I can't imagine a better printer for the classroom.  It's rugged and compact.  Like earlier Cubes it is built to travel well... which means it can be locked away in a secure place, brought out when needed and begin printing immediately.

The bottom line is, that aside from a single clog and a few random pieces of filament falling onto the print table, the experience with the 3rd Gen Cube has been absolutely wonderful.  It is a significantly more impressive experience than with my previous printers and you KNOW I love my 1st and 2nd Gen Cubes!

I can't afford a Bentley.  But, I CAN enjoy the solid feel and luxury of a 3rd Gen Cube.

P.S.  OK...  So, it's not EXACTLY the same experience.  But, it sure makes me feel as if I'm living large to have such a wonderful 3D printer on my desk.  :)


  1. Thanks Tom! I just unboxed my cube 3 and with it is a blk and neon green. I did not get my 4 pack that was ordered and cubify said they weren't shipping separate cartridges yet. I assume that maybe this is the issue they are teying to address thag has happened to you and Eric. My question is when a clog happens can the cartridge be fixed or salvaged or would cubify simply replace it free of charge? Im new to the cube series and don't know what kind of assurances they give on cartridges for the cube.

    That is amazing that your 1mm walls are exact and circles too! From all the photos of prints from various 3d printers is the holes are never really circular especially small ones. What size circle did you print?

    Also, from the initial release videos a few months back show a printed stack on the build plate next to the main print. I assumed this was to clean any goop off the nozzle after each layer....does the release version we now have do that still?

    1. There is no need for that stack in the release machines.

      The circle has a radius of 5MM and the outer radius varies.

      I'm waiting for PLA, too.

      I can't speak for 3D Systems; but, they have always been great at supporting filament problems. So, I have no reason why they would not do the same now.

      Enjoy your printer! :)

  2. Tom, I forgot to ask...would you recommend manually setting the gap or use the auto function? I know there is a tool but a little resistance mentioned in the manual is open to interpretation. Have you printed using both methods to see a comparison?

  3. For now, I recommend setting the gap manually. On my printer the right printjet is ever so slightly lower than the left printjet.

    If this is true of your machine, always gap on the lowest printjet and the other will be fine. I think this may remove most of the risk of a clog.

  4. Hi tom sorry to bother you.. but I just dont want to damage my cube or get bad prints.
    Does the test sample print (hi) print at 200? And also can I apply the glue to the bed then put the bed in place after the auto gap and level has been done or do I apply the glue while on the bed so as not to disturb its setting already calibrated settings?

    I am noticing the same thing the right nozzle there is friction with the gap gauge but the left nozzle no friction

    1. Also how long should the cube glue dry before hitting print?

    2. You are not bothering me at all. You are helping all of us by asking great questions. :)

      For your machine,, use the right nozzle to check the gap. The left nozzle will then be OK.

      I'm not sure if the test is at 200mm. I suspect it is.

      Once you set the gap, you do not have to do it again for a while. You could check the gap every couple of weeks or if the first layer doesn't look right.

      You can take the table off to add glue. But, the Cube 3 really gives us a lot of room to get in and apply glue while the print table is on the printer.

      I'll add a full description to your second question about the glue.

  5. Do not let the glue dry. Print as quickly as possible. Hit print as soon as you have applied the glue.

    The new glue seems more forgiving with the Cube 3 than with the Cube 2.

    Also, they have really done a great job of walking you through the glue process. Apply in at least TWO directions or in small circles in both directions. Try to keep a smooth thin coat of glue.

    I can only tell you what I do.

    If the piece I am about to print goes out near the edge of the print table, I take the table off and apply glue edge to edge until 1 inch from the front edge. I then put the table back on the machine and finish covering that last edge on while it's on the printer.

    But, if the piece is small, I apply all the glue while on the printer and only cover enough to ensure the piece is printed on the glue area.

    The point is that I want avoid hitting the side of the printer with the glue tip.


    The User Guide does, in fact, say to let the glue dry. But, does specify a time or how to tell that the glue is dry enough. So, you asked a VERY important question.

    I will check that out.

    1. I use an inexpensive hair dryer for a munit just after applying the glue. It doesn't have to be completely dry. Just make sure the glue is not sloppy wet. :)

  7. I've recently acquired a cube3 and have been running filament through it like water. I've found that glue that has dried for as much as 15-20 minutes still allows for a good bond, while wet glue results in lost prints.

    I recently received the Infinity wash-away support material, which also included three "cushion" pads to be applied to the magnet mounts. After doing so, I performed the calibration process as indicated with the cushion installation instructions. Unfortunately, the bed levels, but the z-gap fails. Manual gap setting is out of the question for the moment, as the original owner did not provide the gap gauge. Would someone be able to tell me the thickness of the original gap gauge? I have a set of calipers and can find something equivalent, to a precision of 0.001 inches. I've tossed out an email to cubify support, but maybe I can get a faster answer here?


    1. Standard Post-Notes are a bit thinner than regular printer paper, so if you do not have the gap tool try using that. The plastic sheets for laser printing overhead transparencies also works.

  8. Curiously enough, I did receive an amazingly fast reply from the cubify people, who suggested to use ordinary printer paper. I wasn't aware that thinner would be better, so I'll try your suggestion, Tom and I thank you for that. At the same time, I'll compare the subjective feel for both heads, to see if there's an appreciable difference.

    Now that I have the infinity stuff, I also plan to build a couple of deflector shields found elsewhere on your site. No sense in putting off a useful fix.

    1. What type and make of indicator do you have? If my print files will fit, I can find a way fr you to get the STL.

  9. I have a brown and sharp 8241-611, the same model selling on ebay as item 231780309697 including the lever assembly. It's possible I can remove the lever to provide additional clearance as needed. I also have a horizontal dial indicator which seems poorly suited for this type of check, as the dial would be reading upside down!

    1. Thanks.

      I'll check it out and see if it's compatible with the holder I designed.

  10. I've been considering to purchase a pair of these:
    for other uses with my mini-mill. Perhaps the files you have will work as well with them?

    1. I have STL files for both the digital and the analog dial. The analog indicator works the best in my opinion.

  11. I tend to the analog side of things as well when dealing with minute adjustments such as this. How might one acquire the appropriate files? Would they be available in OpenSCAD format as well as STL?

    1. I can make them available in .3DM, the Rhno format.

  12. I'm not sure I can process that format, so I'd be happy with STL.