Sunday, February 15, 2015

Learning to Listen to Your Cube3 Printing.

As you have already noticed, 3D FDM printers, like the Cube3, produce a variety of sounds.  Paying close attention to those sounds is more important than might be first apparent.

The Cube3 and all printers of its type use stepper motors to move along the X, Y and Z axes and to control the flow of filament.  More often than not, more than one stepper motor will be working at any given time so the sum total of the frequencies can produce some very elaborate sound combinations.

We Can Learn What the Sounds Mean

If we learn to listen closely, it becomes easy to tell if a 3D printer is busy laying down a circle or a rectangle as they produce quite different sounds.  With experience, we sometimes don't even have to see the printer to know if a particular design is printing as it should.  The more we print with attention to sounds, the more we are able to monitor the progress of a printer with more than simply sight.

Some Sounds Alert us to the Progress and Order of Printed Features

Let's say that we have designed a table with four legs and are printing it upside down.  When the top is being printed the sounds signaling the printing of the table edges will be quite different from the sounds of the fill material.  And, the sounds of the first and last several 'surface' layers will be quite different from that of the 'fill pattern' sandwiched between those layers.

But, the real change in sounds will come when the top of the table is completed. The sound will abruptly change and something best described as 'screeching' might begin to be noticed as the print jet rapidly crosses over empty space from one leg to another.  Again, this is a common characteristic of stepper motors along with the belts, etc. used to move the print jet.  And, while it might seem to be due to a z-axis change, it's most likely a rapid return to an X/Y starting point.  (Although it may be compounded by a slight lowering of the print table to keep the print jet from hit obstacles.)

Extrusion Sounds are the Most Critical to Learn

The sweetest sound that any 3D printer can make is when the filament is being continuously extruded.  Generally, we hear this when the printer is laying down the border of our object. If the base of our object is a large circle, the sound from the extrusion system will be very smooth, with the gear pushing the filament forward in one constant stream.  We'll call this the 'Free Forward Flow' sound.

The LEAST sweet sound that any 3D printer can make is that sickening repeated click that alerts us to the fact that the gear cannot push the filament forward.  The quicker we respond to that sound, the more likely we are to be able to address the issues causing it.  We'll call this the 'Obstructed Flow' sound.

In between, these two sounds we have some equally interesting sounds as the extrusion system periodically reverses direction.  In the case of our table, it will be pushing the filament forward as it lays down a layer for each leg.  But, it will reverse itself and pull the filament back a bit to keep it from dripping as it moves across the empty space from leg to leg.  I think it is critical, with the Cube3, for us to keep our senses sharp to see if there is any correlation between a lot of reverse extrusion activity and clogging in our designs.

One of the things I am interested in studying is how the various fill choices might affect extrusion reversals to the point where one or the other choice might induce a clog? 

Right now, I don't know.  But, I do know that listening to the printers as these fill type experiments are conducted will be crucial to understanding the actions required to draw them.  I have a suspicion that 'hollow'+'lines' might sound quite different from 'solid'+'diamonds' and that, in fact, one or the other choice might help us complete more print jobs.  While this remains to be seen, it will be fun listening for the differences.  :)


  1. Hi Tom,

    I see a video when the creator use other filament (no 3Dsystem filament) in cube 3... I have search on the web but I haven't found nothing about this...


    Impression 3D Bouddha:


  2. Like you, I have only found hacks for the Cube2. But, sooner or later they will, no doubt, appear.

  3. Hya Tom,

    You are very complimentary about the cube 3 and cubify, but perhaps you are unaware of the situation in the UK. I received my cube 3 on 27th october last year. It arrived with the two included cartridges but none of the other 5 I had ordered at the same time. They would arrive in a week or so, I was assured. They didn't. The two included cartridges soon ran out despite cubify having to replace one. I never received my others and I have not been able to buy a single one anywhere else either. I have ALS and I bought the cube 3 so I could do something productive with the little time I had left. I feel cheated and wanted to tell you what is happening here so that you realise that cubify is not the company that you think it is. I can't afford another printer and if my cartridges don't come soon, I won't get to use the one i've got either.
    Patrick Joyce

    1. I too was waiting for my cartridges, ordered november last year. Last week I contacted support and was told one of the colors was not available yet, as a result the order could not be shipped. After having the order updated to switch to available colors Fedex delivered 4 cartridges yesterday.

    2. That is great to hear.

      It points out that the policy seems to be to not ship partial orders if a color is not available. It's good to learn that you were able to free up the order by calling support and opting for a color that WAS in stock. Great news.

  4. Hi Patrick,

    I absolutely hate hearing stories like your own because right now, that seems to be an all too common experience. Please email me at to see if there is anything I can do to try to get you up and running as quickly as possible.


  5. Tom, I hate to bang on the drum. Yet I'm wondering why every time I open cubify software it forces me to download a nonfunctional upgrade. And then I have to close and reopen cubify two or three times to get it to recognize the 3D printer which is on the network.

  6. I wish I could be more help. But, I have never experienced that situations. Since it's a network and system issue, I suspect that different computer environments behave differently with some working more smootly than others.

    I just updated to Cubify 2.22 with no problems at all. (Win7 64-bit)

  7. Has anyone recorded the sounds of their 3D printer? I have also learned the sound of an extruder not laying down a layer of plastic but moving back and forth never the less. Then I have to unclog/purge the extruder and then I hear the wonderful sounds of the 3D printer again. It is all fun despite the troubleshooting that comes with any machine with moving parts. The material can come from many sources, even places like Staples.

    1. That's actually a great idea! I think it would be very helpful. I actually did record the sound of a ProJet 1200 as part of a troubleshooting quest and the waveform was VERY helpful.

      Thanks for that idea!