Review of the Original Prusa i3 Kit from Prusa Research

Review of the Original  Prusa i3 Kit from Prusa Research

I own an Original Prusa i3 from Prusa Research and it is my workhorse. Seriously, of all my printers it is my favourite. I use it nearly every day, often for several hours at a time. It gives consistently excellent results and has only failed me a handful of times. I think because of the extensive use, I am well placed to give a review but I do this as someone, who while a 3D printing enthusiast, is not disposed to tinkering with electronics and hardware for the fun of it. I am an artist who sees 3D printing as a means to an end. I have been printing for a number of years starting with an i2 (which we bought assembled). I had built my Ordbot Hadron but with supervision(;-)) and I was determined I would build this printer for myself.

Getting the Printer..

I should also be up front and state that I did not buy this kit, it was given to me by Josef Průša, because he uses one of my models: Adalinda, The Singing Serpent. This features on his website, as one of the example STL and gcode files included with the printer and (best of all), she is part of the graphic on the front of the box the printer is shipped in. Incidentally, Jo Prusa is one of the Reprap core developers, so whilst the i3 is open source and can be purchased from other people, I did feel I was getting the "official" release.

It is worth noting that the kit is very well packaged in a strong and sturdy box. Nothing is worse than ordering something awesome only to have it turn up broken because the vendor skimped on packing material.  This is not the case here as you can see. Oh, and if you live in the USA, you don't have to pay any import tax or fees. Win!

All the way the from the Czech Republic.

Assembling the printer....

This Prusa i3 kit contains high quality components and comes with everything you need to build it and run it. That includes parts, instructions, tools(for assembly and every day use), software, an SD card (with pre-sliced example models), adhesive for the print bed and a roll of filament. Although documentation and drivers are included, up to date versions need to be downloaded, but that is to be expected as the printer developments move faster than the hard copies shipped with the kit. If you want to have a look in advance before purchasing (to get an idea of what is involved), the handbook and manual are publicly available:

3D Printing Handbook
Assembly Manual

All the electronic and mechanical components are named brands (no cheap knock-offs here), the frame is sturdy, well cut aluminium and the 3D printed parts are high quality. Prusa's site has a well maintained, multi language forum and although I didn't need to ask any questions, it was reassuring to know it was there.

Most importantly, assembling it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. Admittedly, it took me a couple of days (but then I had no illusions that I would beat the current 4 hour record) and I did everything slowly to make sure I did right the first time. The instructions are well written and concise and although I would prefer drawn diagrams to photographs, I can understand how expensive that would be to implement and maintain. Nonetheless, I was very grateful for the hi-res versions of these pictures found on the site to clarify any concerns. I did find small differences between my paper manual and the components in the kit, but everything was covered in the latest, online version of the manual, so no problem there. I do recommend having the online version open to work along with as well, even if you generally prefer paper instructions.

The only area I had problems with was connecting the electronics. I'm not used to messing with them and I would really have liked a clear drawing to work from. I can appreciate if you have experience that the photographs show adequate instructions, but not to this newbie:-). It also involves working in a tight space and I was really worried about breaking something. In the end, I called in my partner (who knows lots about such things) to check my work and help with final connections. We finished and it powered up:-) I was so proud.

 

The Original Prusa i3 assembled and printing.

Using the printer....

Whilst this printer is not plug and play, it is actually very easy to use and the included handbook is very informative. One option is to connect via USB and communicate using host software (the printer shipped with Pronterface but I stuck with Repetier Host as that's what I am used to), the other option is to  just slice the models on your computer but transfer them to the printer using the SD card. Prusa provides Slic3r/Cura and Simplify3D with a range of configurations (materials, layer heights etc..) optimized for use. If you do choose the use the SD Card option, then you'll need to rely on the onboard printer menu to set temperatures for the nozzle and the bed (predefined for supported materials) and to load the gcode. The menu is very easy to navigate. Certain features like color change can only be accessed via the menu. Of course,if you are using host software, there is nothing to stop you doing this manually, but the ability to do so with the printer stand alone is a great idea.

My only real critcism about this printer is the bed levelling. The bed balances on the frame and this often means that you have to be very careful to make sure it is seated properly before levelling - I have often found it will tilt. I find the actual adjustment hard to do. Having to reach under and around the bed is awkward. I would much rather see a set up similar to that on my Ordbot where the bed is held securely to the frame and the screws used to adjust the level are accessed from the top. whilst i can understand the desire to provide a levelling option that does not require a screwdriver, I would prefer it because the results are consistent.

I think the frame mounted spool holder is a nice extra item, but as there is no uniform sizing for spools, it only works with some of them. Often I find I have to use my home made PVC pipe spool stand, because the filament I want to use is wound on a spool too large or the wrong shape for the frame mounted holder.

However, for me personally what wins is the extruder. I have owned a number of printers and as I have small and not particularly strong hands, I can find filament changing difficult. Not with this extruder. No requiring me to squeeze the extruder to load filament, no having to unscrew the idler and deal with springs and screws. All I have to do here is go to the menu, ensure the extruder is heated and then select the unload option. Once that is finished, filament is pulled with minimal effort out of the extruder. Same with loading. I take my filament, make sure the end is cleanly cut and as straight as possible, that the temperature is sufficient and push it gently into the extruder. Select the Load filament option from the LCD menu, it loads the filament and you are good to go. I'm sure to most people this isn't a big deal, but it makes a real difference to me. In fact, I love this design so much, that I plan to make a modified version to use with my Ordbot.Hadron Top marks.

In conclusion..

Overall, this is a great kit. At 599USD, it isn't the cheapest on the market, but I do believe you get what you pay for. Jo provides a well documented product made with quality components that produces a great result. I use 3D printing in my everyday work and I need my printer to be reliable and consistent. What's more, I trust this printer. I often leave it printing overnight or for long periods when I go out - given my print jobs tend to be many hours, I certainly appreciate having a device I can leave unattended and for the duration.

*Please note the the first picture used in this article was taken from the Prusa Research website.

Posted by Louise Driggers

Louise Driggers

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