Monday, December 29, 2014

My Priority for the Next Added Firmware Feature

There are any number of things we could wish for as additional functions available through the touch screen display on the Cube 3.

But, having spent a lot of time seriously exploring LEVEL and GAP on the Cube 3, it is becoming clear that having one simple additional function stands out as a priority.

Manual Print Plate Height Placement as a Single Control Function

It takes time to examine ROLL and GAP on the Cube 3.  With the Cube 2, the print jets were right out front and clearly visible.  The print jets are deep within the structure of the Cube 3 and very difficult see without adding light from the front or back of the printer.

Setting the ROLL on the Print Jet Housing is an iterative process.  While it can be done with Auto Gap, we must go though the Auto functionality completely before being able to manually control the Print Table height.  And, even then we face some time-out issues.

It would be nice to have the ability to control the height of the Print Table as a single function, without it being connected to either Auto Level or Auto Gap.  It would certainly make it easier to examine the setup of our printer more easily and quickly.  All we would need is up and down arrows for control.

I fully expect to get to the place where Auto Level and Auto Gap work flawlessly every time.  And, on the most recent releases of Cube 3 machines, I am certain that is already the case.  But, right now, I could use a bit of added manual functionality to make this 3D printer absolutely perfect.

It is such a wonderful 3D printer, it deserves nothing less.  In fact, if someone were to approach me and offer to exchange this printer for an even newer one, I would turn them down.  It's like my 1st Gen Cube in that we have gotten to be good friends that understand each other.  I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my Cube 3.  And, I'm DEFINITELY enjoying its 70 micron precision.  I'd just like to have a tab bit more manual control at times.  :)

Taming Leveling with a Level Dial Tool

Compared with previous printers I've used, the Print Pad Leveling, using Auto Level is a fantastic improvement.

But, there is always room for improvement in processes.  And, Auto Leveling is no exception.

Improvement #1:  Apply a small Sharpie Dot on the magnetic pads

It's easier to see how far you have turned a wheel if it has a mark on it that you can track.  And, being highly skilled in the use of Sharpies, that is the first thing that was done to improve the process.  The trick is to first take the cap off the Sharpie. (My expertise.)  And, the next step, with which I have a little more is to point the tip to a specif place and plant the tip right on the object to be marked.  If you are going to be putting the Sharpie away, it's a good idea to replace the cap, particularly if storing in a pocket.  (Don't ask me how I know that.)

Improvement #2:  Create a Leveling pad dial.

A dot on the leveling pads is useful.  But, trying to turn the pad EXACTLY 35/16 of a turn... and YES, it can specify something like that... is not so easy without some help.  Namely a DIAL to track the turns.  Here is the one I created.

Level Dial Tool

The Dial simply sits on the Print Table magnet mount and the dials line up with the magnet pads that need to be turned to bring the print Table into proper Level.  There are two types of dial indicators.  The long, wide engraving represents 1/8 increment turns.  Together with the 1/8th engravings, there are two-stage indicators that allow us to measure turns in 1/16th increments.  Along with the engravings there are large and small extruded features that also aid in counting and measuring turns.

3D View of the Level Dial Tool

The object just sits freely on the frame of the Print Pad mount.  A simple pole allows us to add or remove the Level Dial Tool very easily.  The reason for both engraved and extruded features to measure turn distance is to allow it to be printed either as a 1 color print or 2 color print while maintaining the usefulness.  The shadows created by engraving and extruding should make the dial's increments easy to use with ANY color.  Here is a closeup of a single dial showing the shadow effects.

Single Color Dial Features on Close-Up

But, there is another reason for using embossed grooves, rather than raised bars.  It makes two color printing smoother and less time consuming.  Here is the same dial in 2 colors.  The 2nd color peeks is revealed by the grooves.  The 2nd color is only briefly used and then the piece is finished, without pause, in the primary color.

Two Color Dial Features on Close-Up

The 2nd color is a single joined piece to make it easier to select feature in the Cubify Client.  While most of the 2nd color layer goes unseen, here is what looks like.  If the color layer had not been connected as a single object, we would have to carefully select each object and that would be a nightmare.  All we have to do is hone in on a single part of the group and all the reveal is done in one selection.

2nd Color Network for Single Click Selection

Here is the view in the Cubify Client 

Cubify Client Print Window - 2 Color Selected

Using the Leveling Dial Tool

After my Print Jet housing was adjusted, I ran CALIBRATE and was surprised to learn that my Print Table was no longer passing the Auto Level test.  Since this was the first time it failed, it dawned on me that my ROLL adjustment, which was based on the Print Table, might be off.  So, I decided to go back to square one.
  • Mark all the pads with a single black dot.
  • Loosen the Hex nuts
  • Turn all the Pads on which the Print Table sits, to their lowest position.
  • Turn the Back Left pad two turns to provide some up and down room
  • Turn the other pads up two turns
  • Run Auto Level.
Interestingly, Auto Level told me that I needed to turn the back right pad 35/16ths of a turn.  That is when I realized that simply marking the pads with a dot was NOT enough.  I needed a better reference.  Though my Cube 3 was down until leveling was completed, I had a Cube 2 and printed the design in a single color.  In fact, I "HID" the 2nd color fill so that the groves would be deeper.

That first pass of the design measured down to 1/32 of a turn.  Too much detail.  So, going back to 1/16 increments made the process easier.

I had to remove and replace the dial to be able to get enough grip to turn the pads.  But, that was easy and did not confuse the process.  Here is an image of the 1st crude version being tested.  The newer design has wider rings with more prominent grooves and protruded outer markers.

1st Trial Version being Tested

It May Require Multiple Auto Level Passes

Auto Leveling, when starting W-A-Y out of level is a multi-step proposition.  That is because the left front and right back adjustments interact with each other.  Raising the front left corner, lowers the back right corner, etc.  So, it can take several Auto Level passes to accomplish perfect leveling.  This is normal for the 3 point pad system used in the Cube 3D printers.  But, it is a LOT easier in the Cube 3!

Will Be Making it Available on Cubify

Since I do not have enough filament until I unclog some early cartridges, I cannot be sure how the two color version prints.  As soon as it has been tested on a Cube 3, I will make it available on Cubify for a very small amount ($3) to help support this blog. Both single color and 2 color will be included.  While one could print the 2 color version in a single color, it's best keep the deepest grooves and not have them filled unless it is with a 2nd color.

It DEFINITELY makes the operation a lot faster by being a whole lot more precise.

It is Amazing to Me That I'm Able to Focus on Such Small Tolerances

For the past several days, I have been focused on experiments to minimize artifacts that are at  such small, sub-millimeter measurements that they require the use of a microscope to study!

In spite of the admitted frustrations of very early owners, the Cube 3 is proving to be an exceptionally accurate 3D printer.  And, if history of the 1st Gen and 2nd Gen Cube 3D printers is a predictor of what is to come, the 3rd Gen Cube is only going to get better and better.

From the first time I saw the Cube 3, I knew that it was a solid platform.  I've heard some criticism from some that question the decision to put the extrusion into the center of the cartridge.  And, obviously, that decision gave engineers some unique challenges.  But, while many, if not most, of the first owners suffered a clog, those clogs were limited to the cartridges themselves.

In other printers clogs would have crippled the printer itself, which is why some many 3D printer owners maintain backup print heads.

Both of my new Red and Blue cartridges are now showing less than 7%.  I've printed many large and small items at both 200 and 70 microns without a problem.  Based on the fact that once my gap was correctly set, I've had no clogs while using the new PLA, I trust clogging will be a rare event in the future.  So, we can get on with making beautiful prints.

No News is Good News

I have no idea how many Cube 3 3D printers were opened for the first time on  Christmas day.  Not knowing when those printers might have been purchased, I fully expected to hear from some of those users asking me about a clog.  Nothing.  Nada.  Not one email or new comments so far.

I realize that could change in the coming days and weeks.  But, for now, I take this silence as good news. 

Looking Forward

Perhaps our biggest hurdle over the next few weeks is a lingering backlog of filament orders.  Our focus here will continue to test the characteristics of the printer and understand the implications of uneven print jet protrusion (something owners of the latest printers don't need to be concerned about) and make absolutely sure that my gaps on both print jets are precisely correct for the best print possible.

Another quest is finding THE best way to restore filament flow in ANY cartridge that suffers a loss of flow..  Even though the new PLA is working perfectly, all of us should be aware that a poor gap or poor level can still bring a cartridge to a halt.  So, pursuing a strategy to restore flow, once the original cause is fixed, should be a useful thing to know.

Plus, we will continue to study the print from the Cube 3 to help determine the best design criteria to yield prints that deliver on our expectations both big and small.  My experiments with very thin lines has been both fun and enlightening. If they have revealed anything, it is the incredibly fine print with very tight tolerances reflected in the final print result.

It has also revealed that we might be able to create strong objects with a lot less bulk than with many other 3D printers.  I'm amazed at the strength and integrity of .61mm walls.  This might mean that we can use the "Hollow" setting for more applications than we might expect and thinner outer walls, saving filament.

After years of believing that thicker is a requirement, it's going to be interesting to see what the new structural requirements actual are to provide the same strength and reliability in printed parts.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Printer - Getting Auto Gap to work... Finally!

I have been on a quest to get Auto Gap to work on my machine.  I had been able to obtain gaps in both left and right that were 'equal enough' to not clog and give me good prints.  But, I always had to adjust the gap after Auto Gap was run,


I had assumed that the two adjustment screws adjusted the print jets themselves and affected how much each print jet protruded from the housing.  In fact I was going to use the fact that the bottom of the housing was flat to create a gauge to help me not only equalize the gaps between the right and left print jets; but, also measure their protrusion from the housing.

It was a wrong assumption leading to a fools errand.  And it didn't make me all too happy when I figured it out.  While I do have some access to people inside 3D Systems, I do NOT always have access to information that would make mine and your lives easier.  This is one of those cases.  I kept asking the wrong question and nobody steered me to the tight one!

 DISCOVERY #1 - Entire Print Jet Housing pivots

It turns out the the two 1.33mm adjustment screws adjust the ROLL of the entire print jet housing!  Moreover, the also seem to adjust the gap!   I found this as I was experimenting with loosening the screws to see if it affected the protrusion.  All of sudden it became evident that the entire print jet housing could be pivoted or 'rolled'.   Then it followed that what the screws were actually adjusting was the angle of the pivot to adjust the tips of the print jets to be evenly spaced from the print table.

So, the first goal was to alternate between running Auto Gap and adjusting the screws until the gaps were even.   This took several passes.

DISCOVERY #2 - Screws Also Affect Auto Gap Results

But, as the screws were adjusted, it was evident that the two adjustment screws also lowered the gap.  Again, repeatedly tightening the screws evenly and then checking Auto Gap eventually did the trick.  Backing off both, just an 8th of a turn and checking with the gap tool confirmed that Auto  Gap was now working very well.


For those of us having an adjustable print jet housing, the adjustment screws affect the print housing itself by controlling the 'ROLL' of the housing to position the print jets level with the print table.  Then, moving to the next step, we can use the adjustment screws evenly to position the print jet housing to improve the performance of Auto Gap.

The print jets still protrude at different amounts.  But, fixing the 'ROLL' of the print jet housings took care of any negative affects that situation presented.  While I had seemingly wasted some time creating gauges, it actually was quite beneficial because it taught me to appreciate how very precise 70 micron printing is on the Cube 3.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Paying Attention to the Fine Print

NOTE:  This article was written based on assumptions that turned out NOT to be true.  So, I decided to openly edit the article by crossing out the old information and using RED to make the new findings.

In spite of the initial challenges encountered by some early 3rd Gen Cube owners, including myself, I persist in my opinion that the Cube3 is an amazingly good 3D printer.  Supplied with the right materials, and properly set up, it produces extremely fine results.

We now know that there are two versions of the Cube3.  The earliest version had a print head with user adjustable print jets adjustable print housing "ROLL".  In more recent Cube3 printers the print jets are fixed and not user adjustable.

I have the earliest version.  And, for this version to be properly set up so that auto gap works with the need to adjust it manually two things need to be properly calibrated.

  • Even Gap Across Both Print Jets
  • Proper Protrusion of Both Print Jets Properly Adjusted Print Housing Height

While I probably do not have both print jets absolutely in line, they are close enough so that with a manual gap setting both print jets print without clogging.  But, with all the fiddling that I did to the individual print jet adjustment, I am pretty sure that neither of the print jets is protruding the proper distance out of the print head housing.  The reason for thinking this is that Auto Gap consistently sets the gap too small.  I always have to adjust the gap manually.

But, what is the proper protrusion?  That is a not yet solved mystery.  (Does NOT matter)

Sorry for the poor images in this article, all my good cameras were packed for Christmas travel.

Here is the print jet housing and the print jets.  What I need is a way to measure the protrusion and at the same time determine with accuracy that the print jets are level,

Cube3 print jet housing and jets

Observing that the housing appears to be flat, it seemed reasonable that one needed a series of gauges from .1mm to 1mm so that even protrusion could be set and tested with Auto Gap until no manual adjustment was necessary.  Since the Cube3 prints 70 micron layers why not try to create the gauges using the Cube3, itself?  At least it would give me an opportunity to explore the new Cube3's characteristics.

Protrusion Gauges from .1mm to 1mm.

Notice that each gauge is notched just a little deeper than the one before.  Each of the bars indicate the depth in .1mm.  In theory, we could select a gauge and used the 'ears' on each end as uniform anchors against the print jet housing and the print jets would be adjusted until they touched the notch.  The increments should be small enough to give fine control over the process.

,8mm Gauge

Alas, it didn't turn out that way.

As we will see, the Cube3 DOES print an incredibly accurate object.  But, all extrusion printers that I have ever used, have one characteristic that is the fly in the ointment for my strategy.  For every line, there a direction reversal as it lays down the filament TWICE for each line.  At first, I assumed that this direction reversal creates a small, but show-stopping blob of filament that keeps the gauge from being precise.

So, I decided to see if I could specify a line thin enough so that the printer would not make a return trip.  I'm going to skip my first test that specified ten lines with widths starting at .1mm to 1mm.  From that group, I noticed that ALL the lines print at around .50mm to ,67mm.  And each of them had the turnaround artifact.  But, it appeared that the .2mm line had the smallest artifact.  So, honing in on that design width, I then designed an object with 3 lines having widths of .15mm, .20mm and .25mm.

Line Width Test Object
Here is an image of the result at 70 micron layers.  Again, this is marked with the assumption that the blobs were caused by the abrupt change in direction.  That is NOT true.  The blobs mark the startting and stopping points.

.15mm, .20mm & .25mm Line Width Print

Notice that there are artifacts on the top of each object.  That is because the object is notched to .8mm.  Each 'ear', for want of a better description has the artifact on the same edge.  And, the artifact seems to be larger, the thinner the top.  Using a microscope at 10x we see the top of one of the 'ears'.  Note that one side is very clean and the other has a sizable blob.  This is the .15mm line.

The .25mm width line fared better.  While the blob is clearly evident, it is not only smaller; but, flatter.  So, for my gauges, I would try to create then with tops that .25mm thick.

.25mm turnaround artifact

So, the bad news is that could not find a line 1mm or under that did not produce the turnaround start/stop blob object.  But, the .25mm width's artifact might be flat enough to be accurate enough to be useful, with a little emery board application.


But, then I decided to see if I could minimize the blob by staggering the ends by the equivalent of 70 microns.  I was hoping to reduce the vertical buildup of filament by staggering the ends of the top surface.  But, what I saw was revealing.  The is a distinct round impression and a ridge around the impression.  If this was the turnaround point, the ridge would be gone.  So, in fact, it is the start and stop point and not the turnaround point.

Indicators that blob is at Start/Stop

Note, too, that the extra filament relative to the width of the thin line is considerable.  It hangs over the edge and in a .61 line, extends somewhere around .35mm.

Horizontal height of blob over the line being printed
None of this is earth-shattering.  But, it is interesting to know.  It now seems that I need to explore how the Start/Stop artifacts affect wider lines.  It could be that the affect on smoothness is less because the print jet passes over the raised area multiple times and smooth it down

OK.  So I haven't yet come up with an absolutely accurate way to test my print jet protrusion.

But, here is the great news.  The 70 micron lines are perfectly straight and even.  Remember, the notch is just .8mm deep!  If we compare the 8mm depth with the slight arc of the edge, that edge arc can only be a 10th of a mm max!!! That is AMAZING in a sub-$1,000 printer!!!!

Moreover, while all of the specified widths under 1mm actually printed at around .6mm, that is still a very, very find line.  As far as I know, that was not achievable in any of the previous Cube versions.

Paying attention to the fine print worked both ways.  It pointed out a challenge if we are to create a gauge to check protrusion absolutely accurately.  But, it also pointed out just how finely and accurate the 3rd Gen Printer performs.  I love this thing!  :)

It turns out that the protrusion doesn't really matter, since we cannot change it.  We change the rotation of the Print Jet housing and the up/down location of the housing to accommodate protrusion differences.

See Corrected Blog Entry

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Consider Moment of Inspiration to Create Objects for Your New Cube3

At YouthQuest Foundation, we like to use the phrase "Turn On YOUR Brain..." to describe our goals in introducing 3D design & printing to the "at-risk" students we strive to motivate.

Most new technology has worked to turn OFF our brains!

When we stop to think about it, most new technologies in the last 100 years have helped turn OFF our childrens brains as they mindlessly sit in front of TVs, listen to their iPods or sit through meals playing video games ignoring their environment.  And, yes, I know I was a part of encouraging very young children to play video games in the early 1980s.  Who knew where it would lead.  I feel a pang of regret every time I see a child entirely engrossed in their Game Boy while eating out with their family... sigh.

But, 3D printing is entirely different.  

It empowers our creative side in a remarkable way and encourages children and adults to come up with new ideas and solutions by providing an immediate way to turn those ideas into physical reality.  It truly does, "Turn on our brains!"

To do this most effectively, we need a link between our brains and our 3D printers.  There are many 3D  design application choices available today and the number is growing.  Some are very low in cost, such as Cubify Invent and others completely free.  But, a hidden factor in choosing a 3D design package is the long term level of frustration at being able to design what your mind envisions.  For a person new to 3D printing, just getting acquainted with a 3D package is work enough.  Going beyond the start up to consider the ultimate limitations of that package is next to impossible.

What Makes a Great Video Game Makes a Great 3D Design Package

Consumer Reports puts a lot of weight on cost when rating products.  In 1981, the Bally Professional Arcade, the game system with which I worked, cost more than double the chief competition, Atari.  Yet, the Bally Professional Arcade was rated  #1 by Consumer Reports in 1981.

The reason was that our games were designed by a team that understood that challenges were good; but, frustration was bad.  Challenging levels were a must.  But, when a player failed at a given level they had to feel they had learned from that failure and could improve on their next attempt.  If the failure was caused by the game's slow response or inability let the player do what was necessary to win it was totally frustrating.  To me, the Atari and Mattel game versions were totally frustrating due to poor response.  And, Consumer Reports agreed.

The same is true if a 3D design application is to become a joy instead of a hindrance to our brains being turned on by frustrating our efforts to turn our ideas into printable designs.  The 3D application must not stand in the way of our creative achievement.  It must not leave us frustrated by its limitations and quirks.

Why We Chose Moment of Inspiration for Our "At-Risk" students. 

There are many reasons why a student drops out of school.  But, a major reason is simply a low tolerance for frustration.  Dropouts tend to quit easily.  So, it was extremely important for us to introduce 3D design with a software package that didn't stand in the way of what they wee trying to accomplish.  It goes well beyond simply being easy to learn.  It must be reliable to use and provide a very low frustration experience for the user. 

That is why we chose Moment of Inspiration  not only for our high school level cadets; but, for our upcoming introductory short courses for low-income elementary children in Girls & Boys Club programs.  At the basic level it is very easy to learn, using our "Verb & Noun" approach.  Yet, students can progress very rapidly into being able to create quite complex designs using more advanced 3D CAD concepts.

We only have our Youth ChalleNGe cadets for about 34 hours over a 3 month period.  And, remember, these aren't the advanced placement students that one normally finds in 3D clubs in traditional high schools.  These cadets are lucky to be able to pass their GED!

Yet, they can and do achieve some beautiful and complex designs because Moment of Inspiration not only allows them to do so; but, doesn't get in their way!   These sample images represent what they could do, on their own, mid-way through the most recent 34 hour class session. 

Cadet Ornament 01

Cadet Ornament 02

And this sample was created by a cadet in one of last year's sessions.  Note how the cadet was not only able to create a working set of gears; but, to add their individualized unique features.  While all the students were given the same specification (tooth count, radius, etc) in the design challenge, they were encouraged to make theirs a unique creation.  Moment of Inspiration's Circle Array function really captures the student's attention as is evident in all of the samples.

Cadet Ornamental Operating Gears

This year, the big project was a custom clock.  The cadets were given the clock works and they were challenged to design a custom clock face that would both fit the constraints of the clock works dimensions and expressed their individuality.  The results were impressive. They made this one for the director of YouthQuest

Clock Face Created by DC Challenge Academy Cadets

Finally, while this particular sample was not created by a student, it represents similar objects that were created during the class.  Unfortunately, again, I don't have an image of any of the cadets objects.  But, theirs appeared equally complex.  Yet, it only took minutes to do in Moment of Inspiration.

MOI Sweep/Circle Array Sample

I decided to see exactly how long it takes to create a similar object from scratch in Moment of Inspiration.  This design took just 12 minutes to create.  I then assigned the colors.  Actual two color assignment would be done in the Cubify Client based on the color of the filament you are using.

12 minute Sweep / Circle Array / Loft & Revolve Object
The basic center was created by LOFTing through 4 circles. The ornamental rings were created with Revolve and Circles.  And, the outside 'ribbon' was created using a SWEEPing a 2D shape and then repeating it using CIRCLE ARRAY.

The VERBS (commands) and NOUNS (2D drawing tools) in Moment of Inspiration form a powerful combination that is able to quickly turn most of our ideas into 3D printable objects with minimal frustration and time.  It's well worth considering.

The above were created using Version 2.  Version 3 is even MORE powerful.

A free trial of the new Version 3 can be downloaded on the Moment of Inspiration site.  They offer educational discounts.  I have some introductory tutorials on YouTube and the links can be found on my 3D Moment of Inspiration Users blog.  I know you re going to love it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

When That Cube3 Box is Opened for the First Time

If you are fortunate enough to find a Cube 3 under your tree this year, you are in for a lot of fun turning the ideas in your brain into concrete, real objects. Just having the Cube 3 will wake up your brain to even more great ideas and original solutions.

With something SO cool, there is the temptation to dive right in and start printing.

That could be a mistake.

Unlike earlier 3D printers, the Cube 3 can lay down layers just 70 microns in depth.  That is incredible layer definition.  To lay down layers at that precision, everything about the Cube 3's set up has to precisely configured.

While each Cube 3 undergoes hours of testing after it was built, it then had to travel some distance to your home.  Now, while we would hope that it got tender loving care at every step along the way, it is wise to make sure that your shiny new Cube 3 is set up as precisely as possible before starting that first print.

Here some of the things that will help ensure your best first print result.
  • Attach your Cube 3 printer to your WiFi 
  • Activate your printer
  • Check to see that you have the most up-to-date firmware installed
  • Install the Cartridges
  • Run Auto Level
  • Run Auto Gap
  • At the end of Auto Gap manually use the Gap Tool to ensure a successful gap of BOTH Print Jets
  • Download and install the latest Cubify Client

Attach Your Cube 3 Printer to Your WiFi  (Cube Manual Pg 12-13)

The Cube 3 can operate as a standalone device, using a USB flash drive for printing and firmware updates, or as a connected device via your local WiFi.  Updating firmware is incredibly easy when done using WiFi.  And, it is far easier to have the Cubify Client software print over the WiFi connection than to have to transfer files between the client software and the printer via a flash drive.

Activate your Printer  (Cube Manual Pg 13-15)

Activation is more than simply telling 3D Systems that you have a new Cube 3.  It lets you set up your Cloud account and shelf for storing the items you create should you want to take advantage of the Cloud.  It also activates your warranty.

Check to See if You Have the Most Up-to-Date Firmware Installed.  (Cube Manual Pg 86-91)

While the Cube user manual suggests loading the filament cartridges as the next step, I'm going to suggest a different order.  

All who have had any of the Cube 3D printer models for any length of time appreciate the fact that Cubify engineers are constantly working to improve the performance of their printers through firmware updates.  In fact, from the first day that the Cube 3 started shipping until the day this article was written there have been at least 4 firmware updates.  And, each one considerably improved our experience with our Cube 3s.  I tend to check for updates every week!

So, it is very important that you take the time to make sure that the firmware in your Cube 3 is the latest available.  If you are connected to the WiFi, simply go to:
using the touchscreen display on the Cube.  Follow the directions in the Cube Manual Pages 86-91.

Install the Cartridge(s) BUT DO NOT RUN TEST PRINT (Cube Manual Pg. 17-18)

Follow the directions for loading the cartridges.  One of the reasons for downloading the latest firmware before installing the cartridges is that a firmware install insures that we run through Auto Level and Auto Gap before we print the built-in test object.  And, the processes of Auto Level and Auto Gap have been significantly improved with each firmware update.

It's OK to select 'Print' after installing the cartridges; but, should it not first go to Auto Level and Auto Gap, stop the printing cycle immediately.

Run Auto Level (Cube Manual Pg 19)

The Cube 3 has a very sophisticated Auto Level process that checks that the print table is perfectly level.  Sometimes, it will find that the print table is NOT level and it will guide you in what to do to make it level.  Remember, 70 or even 200 micron layers require very tight tolerances.  If a print table is not level it is virtually insured that your print jets will clog on your very first print as the print plate blocks the print jet by contacting it.

Run Auto Gap ( Cube Manual Pg 19-20)

Once Auto Level completes successfully, it immediately begins the Auto Gap procedure.  Even if Auto Gap reports that it was successful, my advice is to manual ensure that BOTH print jets have the proper gap.  This is extremely important.  The gap cannot be too big; but, it is a disaster waiting to happen if one of the print jets is too close to the print plate.  For most users Auto Gap should prove effective; but, for some an 'adjustment' is necessary to ensure the proper gap is achieved.  And, the only way to make sure that no adjustment is required is to use the Gap Tool BEFORE pressing the check mark to test the gaps of both print jets.

Try to pass the Gap Tool under BOTH print jets.  If either one will not allow the gap tool to pass under it you are going to have to set the gap manually by selecting 'adjust' and sliding the gap tool under the print jets until just a little resistance is felt.  If there is no resistance, the part will not stick to the print table.  If there is too much resistance, the filament could clog.

ALERT:  some very early production Cube 3 printers may have misaligned print jets.  One might be lower or higher than the other.  Don't worry.  In these cases, the print jets can be leveled using a 1.3mm hex driver.  Contact Cubify Support for clear directions for how to correct the issues.  My printer is among these and after adjustment prints very well.
Once you have ensured that neither print jet is touching the print plate, it's OK to print built-in test print using the touchscreen.   SETUP > TEST PRINT.

Download and install the latest Cubify Client

Like the Cube firmware, the Cubify team is constantly improving the Cubify Client.  So, it's important to ensure to use the latest Cubify Client.  The job of the client is to slice the object and to convert the shape into a series of commands that the Cube 3 understands.  With each update to the Cubify Client, the quality of the print generally improves; but, some updates improve the client interface itself to improve the user interface and/or the feedback it collects from the Cube 3 as it prints.  Expect constant improvements over the life of the Cube3.

Be alert to sights and sounds with your first prints.

The first two layers are crucial indicators of a proper gap.  The filament should lay down evenly.  If the surface appears warped, it usually indicates the gap is too large.  If the lines are too flattened, the gap is too small and a clog is likely.  If you hear a clicking sound, stop the print immediately as this usually means that the filament flow has been stopped and the extruder gear is stripping the filament.

Most of the time a too small gap is the culprit.  But, some of the PLA filament in early delivery machines, while working well in the Cube 2, which had a 'puller' extrusion system,, was apparently too soft for the Cube 3's 'pusher' extrusion system and could strip.  If your printer has a clog well into the print job, contact Cubify support and let them know.  The currently shipping filament has been produced specifically to be used in the 'pusher' style extruder used in the Cube 3 cartridges.


While Auto Gap is a great feature, there is no substitute for making absolutely sure that your particular printer's gap is correctly set with Auto Gap.  Checking the gap is quick and easy.  Having a clog or poor print due to an incorrect gap is painful and time consuming.  Waiting to print until you are certain your new Cube 3 is properly set up and aligned, will go a long way to providing you with quality prints every time.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Cube3 Essential (Shameless overstatment of fact)

OK.  This is a shameless plug.  So, if you don't like shameless plugs, exit quickly!

As mentioned earlier, I have designed, for my own use, a tool caddy to keep the essential tools I use with the Cube3 organized.  But, I believe that it is designed well enough to be very useful for all Cube3 owners and users.  The caddy is designed in three models characterized by the number of extra print tables it stores.  I use a 3 print table version.  But, there is a version that stores a single print table and another that stores two print tables.

ALL of the caddy STL files also include THE most useful item I created to help me set up my Cube3, a gap tool alignment guide.  It not only makes sure that the gap tool is under the correct print jet; but, keeps the gap tool from slipping.

Here is the single print plate version.

Single Print Plate Cube3 Tool Caddy

I STRONGLY urge users to purchase a second print plate so that glue can be put down on one plate while another is printing.  So, the basic caddy provides a place to store an extra print plate.  For those using the Cube3 in the classroom, even more print plates maximize your classroom print cycles.  So, the large version that I use provides for 3 print plates.  All, however, have an equal number of tool holders and the gap tool guide.

I can tell you from experience that it really helps clean up your Cube3 work area.  And, the gap tool alignment guide make positioning the Gap Tool a breeze.  No more slipping off the table!

Gap Tool Alignment Guide on Print Table

And, the great thing about it is that it can be left on the print plate during the auto gap and auto level

I plan to sell each Caddy design for $10.  And, I wish I could tell you that the STL was available on  But, while I had figured out how to do so on the first Cubify store, the new 'Design' feed has me completely baffled for the moment.  

As a test, I tried to upload the Gap, Level & Print Jet object with which I test the quality of the print setup on a Cube3.  You have seen images of the completed printed objects sitting on a Cube3 print table.  But, the automated analysis that came back stated that it could not be printed on ANYTHING! 

Cubify Analysis Report

That's a LOT of NOs!  You know of course what this means.... ANOTHER QUEST!

I had completely ignored exploring the changes to the Cubify site because the clogging issues took every bit of my spare time to research and address.  So, I am just getting around to expanding my knowledge of the other aspects of for entirely selfish reasons.  I want to sell you useful things to help pay for my passion!!!   If I can't figure it out, I can't sell!!! :)

But, first things first.  I need to first figure out how to GIVE you useful things... like the Gap, Level & Print Jet test file, above, for FREE!  As soon as I can figure out how to do it so that Cubify says it CAN be printed on a Cube3, I will post the link.  In the meantime, I am trying to find someone within that can hold my hand through the learning process.  I sure hope they don't mind dealing with whimpering old men.  There are a lot of things I DON'T know.  But, I DO know whining and whimpering!  I'm an expert at it.

By the way, as soon as I get the Cube3 Tool Caddies up on line you'll see another area of expertise...  Groveling.  I do that almost as well as whining!!!  "Please, oh PLEASE buy my uploads!"  How's that for a start.  LOL!

Thanksgiving is Not the Only Time to be Thankful

If you asked me to describe my current attitude in one word right this minute it would be "Thankful".

I consider myself among the most blessed Cube owners in the world because I am privileged to know some of the people behind the Cube series of 3D printers.  For that I am thankful.

And, I am also privileged to hear from many of you.  This is a most resourceful and creative community.  You know about Eric Albert and Chris Crowley.  And, you will soon hear about Ken Sipes when I publish an email that he wrote that set me off on a new quest of discovery about how our printers deal with thin walls, etc.  I love being around people with brilliant, perceptive and creative minds.  And, that is exactly what this blog has done for me.  For that I am thankful.

I love 3D printing because it turns intangible ideas into tangible objects.  3D printing is a solution waiting for an active, inquiring mind to envision.  My 3D printers sit there ready and waiting to jump into action when my brain comes up with an idea.  For that I am thankful.

The Cube 3 is an engineering marvel and, in my opinion, is HUGE leap forward for consumer 3D printing.  Feature after feature, the designers thought about us at every step in the design process.  But, more importantly, they have taken our feedback and continued to improve the firmware and hardware as time goes on.  For that I am thankful.

Clogging was the elephant in the room with the delivery of the Cube 3.  Fortunately, the idea that it was a filament quality issue rather than a fundamental design issue seems to have been validated by my success using the new filament!  For that I am thankful.

The Cubify support staff has been under immense pressure and, based on most of the emails that I've received from users, they have been on top of things to the best of their ability.  While 3D Systems communications to users could, admittedly, be improved,  The support team has performed very, very well under the recent circumstances.  For that I am thankful.
Note:  While some have suggested it was a waste of time replacing clogged cartridges with cartridges containing the original filament, that was all that was available at the time.  And, until run, there was no way to know if a cartridge would fail.  Interestingly, some users have had NO issues with their original cartridges.  Remember, my original Black cartridge worked perfectly.

The Cubify Team didn't panic.  They just kept on moving forward to address the early issues.  For that I am thankful.

Finally, It has been my privilege to see the Cube manufacturing team in action.  Each year we take our YouthQuest 3D ThinkLink cadets to the factory in Virginia so that they can see the very printers they are using in class being made.  This brings me into contact with the people that actually make our Cube 3D printers.  And, to a person, I KNOW that they are committed to seeing that the printer you get has been well built and tested.  Of course there is probably not 100% perfection.  But, I can tell you that they try VERY hard to achieve that goal.  And, that extends to the fantastic people in charge of getting everything out the door and onto trucks bringing our printers and supplies to us.  I love these people!!!!  And, for them, I am VERY Thankful!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

20+ Hour - Two Colors: Success

The first intrinsically useful 2 color object has successfully completed.

Here is the printed Cube3 Tool Caddy that can hold 3 extra print tables.

Print Cube3 Tool Caddy

And, here is what it is intended to do.

Cube3 Tool Caddy in Use

 It still needs a little work from a design perspective.  The tools that now fit are:
  • Palette Knife
  • Pliers
  • Hex Key for table alignment
  • 1.3mm Hex Driver for Print Jet Alignment
  • Glue (Stored upside down)
  • Gap Tool
  • Printed Gap Tool Alignment Guide
  • Sand Paper
  • 3 Extra Print Plates
What does NOT yet fit correctly:
  • Cube Manual USB Drive
I will now print a 1-bay (Stores 1 extra print plate) version in a single color to see how long it takes.

But, I'm very, very pleased with the result.

I use a previous version of the Caddy and it is really helpful.  When I get the design absolutely right I will  put it up on and provide better images of the caddy and the gap tool alignment guide at work.

Things are definitely looking up.

12 Hours in and Still Printing Beautifully

I'm 12 hours into a 20+ hour print job and, so far, it is printing very precisely and extremely cleanly.  The next 8 hours tells the tale.

The object being printed is a 3 plate bay version of a design, if successful,  that I hope will be made available on the Cubify cite, as will a single plate bay version and a dual plate bay version. 

Cube3 Tool Caddy - 3 Plate Storage with Gap Tool Guide

As you can see, the are many tall structures and they are printing perfectly so far.  The colors in the image are notional as the actual colors are chosen at print time.  Of course it would print MUCH faster in a single color.  Normally, I would only make the gap tool holder (right object) a different color to make it more visible in the cradle in which it sits in the caddy (behind tool towers).

It caddy really helps to organize Cube3 accessories and recommended tools compactly.  And, the gap tool guide makes using the gap tool a LOT easier.  WAhen it finishes printing I will put up an image with all the tools, etc. in place.

See you in 8+ hours with great news, if it finishes successfully, or sooner with not-so-great news if it fails.  I'm pretty confident it's going to run to completion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2 Color Test Results: New Filament Success

For the first time since I received the new Cube 3, I can report that I have been able to successfully print in PLA using the new filament.  I am VERY happy.

Here is an image of the new design for testing Filament, Gap, Level and Temperature Control.

And, here is the printed results.  Click on the image to examine it in full size.  

The "R" shows some close wall anomalies; but, other than that, the test was a resounding success.

As soon as I get some white filament, I think I will throw a little party and have some home made icecream!  It was easy to whip up using Moment of Inspiration.

Moment of Inspiration Icecream Sundae

Now, none of this would be possible without paying close attention to ensuring proper gap and level before printing.  New filament is not going to fix a poor gap or level condition.  But, I think we are now off and running!!!

I plan to upload the test file to 

Dual Jet: Filament, Gap, Level & Jet Consistency Test Object

The problem we have when we try to determine what is causing clogging in our printers is that there are so many factors that can contribute to the problem.  In designing a test object to print, all of these factors need to be considered.

I have come up with a design that I think addresses all of these issues.  It looks like this.

Filament, gap, level & Temperature Print Test Object


It turned out that the new filament delivery system required an equally new level of quality control in the PLA manufacturing process.  That has now been accomplished.  I am told that the current ABS should work equally well in a well calibrated printer.  But, to accurately test whether or not the new filament is up to the task there are other factors to consider as we design a test object to attempt to print
In the above design, the objects for both left and right printing are identical and relatively simple to rule out STL design issues.  If one color prints correctly we can assume the other print jet should be able to handle the design also.  I will only use a cartridge in the right side of my machine that has been tested successfully in the left side.


Clogs in Cube 1 and Cube 2 were almost always caused by a gap issue.  Either the user put the plate on without properly seating it or the gap was so small that the print jet touched the glass plate.

While the Auto Gp on the Cube 3 is nice to have, in my particular machine it always leaves the print jet touching the table.  I have to manually adjust the gap.

Gap issues are compounded in a two print jet machine and that is especially true for the earliest runs of the 3rd Gen Cube,  We have to ensure that both print jets have the proper gap, not just one.  Recently delivered Cube 3 printers should no longer have this issue.

The best way to determine if the gap is correct is to print an object that is no more than a few layers thick so that we can analyze how smoothly the layers are printed.  In this case, the square areas are .70mm thick and large enough to give us an accurate picture of our gap situation.


In all three Cubes, one can set a perfect gap at the center of the table only to find that the print jet is too close on one corner or the other.  The Cube 3 is INFINITELY easier to set the level of the print plate.  And, I am testing a new firmware (V1.09A), which may be already be released by the time you read this, that refines the auto leveling process even more precisely.
The reason why the large, thin pads are arranged in the corners of the print table is to allow us to assess the level of the print plate.  If we get a nice smooth result in one corner; but, an irregular result in another corner it should help us decide if we need to pay closer attention to our print table leveling.

Print Jet Consistency

In my machine the new filament works flawlessly on the left side.  But, I have managed to clog one of the cartridges that worked worked perfectly on the left side when I moved it to the right side. That would lead us to believe that it is either a filament issue or a print jet temperature control issue.  But, unfortunately, the two color design I was trying to print was very complex and actually was a poor choice for my first two color test of the new filament.

One of the Cube 2 machines used in our YouthQuest 3DThinkLink classes had a print jet heating failure.  From the earliest RepRap days heating failures have been common.  So it is not out of the question that the right print jet has a temperature control issue causing it to behave differently than the left.  But, to actually prove that I need a simple print task being performed by both left and right print jets. 

There is a related scenario where instead of the temperature dropping too low, the melted filament backs up to a point beyond the heated area and cools.  If this should happen we would, most likely, see a separation where the extension enter the print jet tip housing.  I haven't seen that as yet.
The simple circular towers are 20mm high.  They provide the best test for finding most print jet temperature issues.  Since both print jets are performing the same task on two different areas of the print plate we can assume that a failure of one color is an indicator that temperature control should not be discounted as a clog causation.  If a color fails before completing a tower, I will return the printer for evaluation.
If this test completes; but, I still experience print failures, I will extend the tower

Current Observations as the Objects are Printing.

I felt the need to redesign my test to reduce the time.  The new print job is reported to be about  4 hours vs. 12 hours for my first design.  This is an image of the earlier design that I aborted to start running the more efficient test.  It was NOT stopped due to a failure.  It was stopped to allow me to run version 2 of the test file.

Even so, it tells me what I needed to know.

Aborted Test using version 1 STL

The thin pads printed completely and the towers printed to about 7mm tall before I stopped it.

Essentially everything looks  positive.  I am printing with Red in the left side and Blue in the right.  Previously, the Blue has been used to create several mid-sized objects and the results were beautiful.

Because the thin pads extend outward, to the corners, I am able to observe the quality of the print.  Based on the pads in the above image, I thought my gap was probably a bit too large for both print jets.  But, it turned out that the STL had issues that cause the pad to look a bit rough.  The new version, while not yet finished, has printed the pads perfectly.  So I think the gap is actually OK.

So gap and level can already be eliminated as the cause of a clog.  All that is left is the potential for temperature control or filament issues should it clog.  And, while I didn't let it run to completion there was no clog at the 7mm height.  All towers were of equal height.

That probably means that my earlier clog, with the untested complex object, was caused by an STL design issue, 

Complex two color print - right jet failure

Perhaps the design was too flat to be supported well enough.  Here is the bottom of the piece that exhibits drooping from being too horizontally to shallow.  Note how rough it is.  THAT is a DESIGN issue.

Complex two color print - bottom view

I have no idea if this condition alone could cause clogs.  But, it's certainly possible.

In any case,  I'm running now version 2 and it looks better than the first version.  The great news is that I should be able to see a problem shortly after it happens because all towers should be equal in height for each layer's print cycle.  When I see a difference of more than 2-3 mm I can abort the print job.

NOTE:  Great News!!!!  No more little fragments falling on the print table from the parking and purging operations!  The print table is absolutely perfectly clean!   Be sure to update both your client and the firmware to the latest versions.

Be sure to check back to this same article later to see the results. 


 I declaring the new PLA works!  This is the finished print. No Clogs!!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

New Filament - So Far, So Good!

This past Friday, I picked up 3 cartridges loaded with the new filament.  The colors are Yellow, Red and Blue.

The factory receives spools of filament that they then must load into cartridges, seal them in packaging and load them into boxes.  They were at the cartridge building stage at the time I went by and they weren't even boxed as yet.  I only mention this because it would be unrealistic to expect some on your doorstep tomorrow.  They only released these to me for testing for a report on this blog.

They know that you are anxious to know if the new filament is the answer to our PLA clogs.

While I haven't been able to really give the new materials a thorough workout, so far, with the Yellow and Blue, I have not had a single clog running small and medium jobs of moderate stress.  I have not tried the red as yet.

Both the Yellow and Blue performed flawlessly from my left print jet, which I am certain, is perfectly gapped.  In trying a two color print with the Blue on the left and the yellow at the right, the yellow came loose from the plate after about 15 minutes.  This was NOT a clog problem.  It simply means that I have not yet achieved perfect print jet leveling.  The print from both colors was flowing nicely until the yellow piece broke loose because of a poor first layer.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the new filament does look like it is going to do the trick! 

And, I might add that the latest Cubify Client software has also fixed the droppings issue with two color prints!  There are absolutely NO little random bits of color filament to mar the print..

The bottom line is this:
  1.  I'm confident the new filament solves the clog issues with PLA
  2. I need to go back to the drawing board and make sure my print jets are even.
For me to declare absolute success it means being able to print colors from both print jets successfully.  So, I'll work on leveling my print jets to give both sides perfect gap and get back to you.  :)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

PLA_GAP.CUBE3 should be PLA_GAP.cube3

Thank Dave Touretzky of Carnegie Mellon for this find....

If you were sent a test print file by support, called PLA_GA_.CUBE3 or ABS_GAP.CUBE3 and neither the Cubify Client nor the Cube 3 would recognize it as a valid file. all you have to do is rename the file to change the upper case "CUBE" to a lower case 'cube'.

Go figure....

I ran into it right away.  But, I don't have a PhD like Dr. Touretzky.  So, I just shrugged my shoulders and abandoned trying to print it.  LOL!

This confirms the wisdom of one of the principles I have followed for years.. "Always hang around with people that are smarter than you!"

Trust me.  It pays.  Dr. Touretzky just proved it.  :)

Thanks, Dr. Touretzky.  But, one has to wonder how 3D Systems got it to work.... hmmmm.


Now that I was able to print the gap test object, it confirms to me that the issues we are having with clogs are simply filament based.  I printed the test print in black PLA and the results were beautiful  This is the very same gap I was using when I clogged 3 different cartridges  That, in an odd way, is good news in two ways.  First, that my gap is now correctly set and secondly that I can expect the new filament to work just fine to put the clogging issues behind us.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Suggestion Before First Print

I can only go on who my particular Cube 3 behaves.  But, Auto Gap, on my machine, seems to leave the print gap too small.  So, right after running print gap, I check the height with the included gapping tool.  If it's too low, I use the manual gapping option to ensure that my gap is not the cause of a clog.

So, whether you are starting with a new printer, or a newly released cartridge with the updated filament, it might be wise to check your gap before accepting that auto-gap was truly successful.

Remember, my machine was one of the early releases that uses a shim to align the print jet tips.  Later machines have a fixed print jet with no user adjustment.  It might be that while my print jets are even, they are evenly misplaced and that auto-gap assumes they protrude to a specification that I have altered too far in or out.

In any case, it doesn't hurt to check the gap when auto gap finishes just to be on the safe side.

I am trying to find whether the auto gap applies to the print housing or to a particular print jet tip.  Watching it work, it seems to me that it is setting the proper distance for the housing and assumes the tips are protruding a precise distance.  I suspect both print jet tips are even; but, may now protrude too low on my particular machine... requiring the manual refinement.

3DFAN: Confirmed New Filament Begins Shipping in Week!

This news was posted as a comment today:
3dFan has left a new comment on your post "Thanksgiving Treat: Cubify Clent 2.14 - Cleaner 2...":

I just received an email from Cubify in response to my question about cartridge delays. They confirmed that cartridges back ordered will ship in one week!

 This is great news!   Thank you 3DFan!

Concerning the older filament compounds:

I will try to obtain some of the new filament for testing as soon as possible.  It's interesting that the most reliable filament that I have had is the black PLA.  It has never failed.

All the others, at some point, stripped at the center driver gear, indicating to me that many colors of the older compound filament had a softer surface and that for what ever reason the black color may have a harder surface. 

Wish List:

I do wish that the printer or Cubify software would report the temperature at the print jet as it is printing.  I also wish that we had a "purge" function that allowed us to control both temperature and feed speed from the printer's control display.  Hopefully, we will see these in future updates.

I know this run counter to the goal of everything being totally automated.  But, in truth, it would provide those who choose to use these features a level of control that ultimately makes life easier, not harder.

Cube 3: A Stategy for Easier Printed Part Removal

Jim Ward, in a comment on an earlier blog post pointed out that using a raft might make it easier to remove printed items.  And, he is right.  The crisscross construction of rafts allows for water to penetrate under the piece which dissolves the water soluble CubeStick, making it easier to lift the piece off the print plate.

But, then we are faced with the challenge of removing the raft from the item.  And, I have had very little success cleaning the raft off an item completely.

In line with Jim's basic premise, that allowing water to dissolve some of the glue under a piece would facilitate removal, I've been using channels cut into the bottom of items to accomplish the same thing.

While he didn't mention it, the second benefit of Jim's observation is that having a raft makes it easier for us to get the palette knife under the item we are trying to remove.  To accomplish this without a raft, we can chamfer the bottom edges to give us leverage for a palette knife to pry the item off the plate.

Both systems work.  It's just a matter of preference as to which one you use in your own designs.  But, when printing downloaded designs, Jim's suggestion of using a raft is the best alternative.

In Moment of Inspiration, the process of creating channels is very easy.  Here is a short video that demonstrates an alternative to using a raft to facilitate easier removal. 

The ease with which these kinds of operations are done in Moment of Inspiration is just one of the reasons why we chose it for our cadets as they learn to design and print in 3D.