As I’ve gotten more and more into tinkering with electronics and old game hardware, my interest in 3D printing has grown with it. It’s not unusual to build a cool project then need a case for it. Or to encounter a broken part that’s no longer manufactured and impossible to buy. So, how great would it be to just make my own? Despite this interest, I mostly avoided the world of 3D printing because it seemed expensive and complicated.
But one thing that comes along with an interest in game hardware tinkering is, inevitably, an interest in Ben Heck’s work. So when he recently uploaded a video about a dirt cheap printer that he deemed to be “pretty nice” and “totally worth it” for just $140-$150, I lost all sense of self control and finally ordered one of my own.
Shortly thereafter, it arrived. After a relatively straightforward assembly process, I tried my first test print, and… yeah. Things didn’t quite go the way I expected:
This was supposed to be an owl. Clearly, it is not. What happened? Well, a few minutes into the print, I could see that the corners were starting to warp and peel off the bed. A few minutes after that, the whole thing separated and started flailing around. The print had spectacularly failed. Clearly, something had gone wrong, but what? Being an absolute newbie at this, I had no idea, so I started reading up. As it turns out, I experienced a pretty common problem for 3D printing, and one that especially affects users of the Mega Zero: warping or curling.
In short, as my print cooled, it lost adhesion to the print bed. Being a dirt cheap printer, you get zero frills with the Mega Zero. That means no heated bed and no glass plate to print on – just a textured metal surface. I started reading up on how people fixed this and found some crazy stuff – including people jury-rigging ill-fitting heated plates onto the bed, or even using reptile heating pads to keep it warm. “Nonsense,” I thought, and I set out to find a better way. And you know what? I think I did.
Ultimately, here’s what I did to start getting proper prints, shared here for your edification:
- Download and install the latest version of Ultimaker Cura. The version that comes on the SD card with the printer is out of date. Instead of printing the provided owl.gcode file, import the .stl to Cura and create your own print plan.
- Read the PDF manual on the SD card! It has a lot more info than the printed setup guide that comes in the box.
- The SD card comes with a set of recommended printing profiles for Cura. Import them! (Instructions are in the PDF manual.)
- In Cura, increase the printing temperature. The temperature defaults to 190 degrees, which was the absolute bottom of the recommended range for my filament, which is rated for 190-230 degrees. I set Cura to print the initial layers at 220 degrees and the rest at 205. Additionally, I set the fan speed to 0 for the first few layers, all to ensure good adhesion.
- Add a brim to your print. This will provide a wider base to the print, improving adhesion and also priming the extruder at the start. You’ll have to remove the brim after printing, but that’s super easy and greatly improves the chances of a good print.
- The imported profile should do this already, but make sure the initial print layer is set to be a little thicker and use a little more filament, which will provide more material to stick to the bed.
- Clean your print bed before printing. I used isopropyl alcohol.
- Turn off any nearby fans! It’s summer by me and I have no A/C, so I had an overhead fan on that was blowing a breeze on the print bed, which speeds cooling and negatively affects adhesion.
- Level your print bed a little bit closer to the extruder nozzle. The setup instructions recommend that you should feel a “slight drag” on a piece of paper as you move it between the bed and extruder. Instead, I started following a recommendation that you should be able to drag the paper out, put not push it back in.
After following these steps, I tried again, and this is the result!
Overall, not perfect, but much better! I’ll keep working on my techinique, but for now, I’ve tried various combinations of tricks to improve my prints, and the ones above are the ones that consistently help the most. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too!
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