3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, Up! and Solidoodle - HotHardware

3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, Up! and Solidoodle

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Some of you that are new to 3D printing may think of the folks at MakerBot as pioneers of the technology, and it's true, members of the company did organize the "RepRap" movement but 3D Systems and its founder/inventor Chuck Hull, really started it all way back in 1986 with stereolithography and the STL file format. Good ol' Chuck is the original patent holder of the first SLA system that is very much akin to the additive process used in modern plastic extrusion-based 3D printers.  And so it's fitting that we've got the Cube 3D here in our round-up from none other than 3D Systems.



The Cube 3D is a highly refined piece of equipment and one of the easiest printers in our round-up to work with.  3D Systems clearly set out to make things as straight-forward as possible for novice users with this machine. As such, we had zero problem setting it up and were off to the races printing up a storm in no time with this machine. There's no leveling of the print bed or complicated fine-tuning required. You just set the print head height by calibrating the distance from the print bed with a piece of paper, plug in the plastic filament cartridge and you're good to go.

3D System's Cube 3D Printer
Specifications & Features

Weight & Dimensions

Cube Dimensions:

26 x 26 x 34 cm - 10 x 10 x 13 inches

Cube Weight:

9.5 lb - 4.3 kg

Box Dimensions:

16 x 15 x 19 inches - 41 x 38 x 48 cm

Box Weight:

19.0 lb  -  8.6 kg

Connectivity

Wireless:

802.11b/g with: WPS Infrastructure, Adhoc Mode

Requirements:

Cubify Client Software (supplied)

Wired:

USB stick, to transfer print files (included)

Print Properties

Technology:

Plastic Jet Printing (PJP)

Print Jets:

Single Jet

Max creation size:

5.5 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches  -  14 x 14 x 14 cm

Material:

Tough, Recyclable ABS Plastic

Layer Thickness:

10 mil | 0.01 inches
250 microns | 0.25 mm

Supports:

Fully Automated
Easy to peel off

Cartridge:

1 Cartridge prints 13 to 14 mid-sized creations

Software

Description:

Comes with software to create .CUBE print files.

Windows Requirements:

- Cubify Client runs on 32 and 64-bit Operating Systems
- Windows XP Professional or Home Edition with SP3
- Windows 7
- Windows is required for ad-hoc WiFi Print Job

Mac OSX Requirements:

Cubify Clients runs on Mac OSX 10.8

Minimum Hardware Requirements:

System Processor: Multi-core processor - 2GHz
System RAM: 2 GB
Screen Resolution: 1024x768

Warranty

Description:

90 days parts and labor.


The basic specs of the Cube 3D are not cutting-edge but they are competitive.  The Cube will print down to a layer height of .25mm or 250 microns.  This is definitely tight enough to produce solid, clean prints, though there are other machines on the market capable of resolutions down to .1mm. Where the Cube does stand out is with its 802.11 WiFi connectivity option, a welcomed feature that will allow you to set up the Cube like any other printer in your office or home and share the device to any PC within range.





Loading up ABD filament is also a snap (literally) thanks to the Cube's cartridge design.  The cartridge has metal contacts on it that connect it to the device and auto-feeds the print head.  Again, it makes for very easy setup but significantly more expensive consumables.  3D Systems sells cartridges on their site for $50 for 1pc, a pack of 3 for $139, 5 for $219 or 7 for $308.  A cartridge is enough to build 13 - 14 "mid-sized creations."  Comparatively, a 2 pound reel of white ABS will cost you about $30 - $40 on line and that's a lot more material.  The Cube also offers a simple touchscreen interface for assisting in setup of the printer on a network and calibrating print head height.  You can also print from the menu options here and input STL files for conversion to Cubify format in the printer's software package, via a USB stick.



The Cube's print bed is mid-sized for our group, at 5.5-inches cubed, which allows for decent-sized creations.  Comparatively, the Up! Mini has a 4.75-inch3 print bed and the Solidoodle 2 is 6-inches3.  Again, the really nice feature of the Cube's print bed is its alignment and leveling mechanism.  The bed is removable for easy cleaning but snaps back into place perfectly with keyed and magnetized positioning.  It just works.

The other thing that just works with the Cube is 3D System's Cubify software package.  It has a very simple, intuitive user interface that allows any novice to load up models, position them on the print bed, scale them in size and then just hit print.


3D System's Cubify Client Software

The Cubify client software does, however, require you to import any standard STL file into Cube file format.  It's a simple enough process and you can pull models in from any 3D package, free sources like MakerBot's Thingiverse site and of course the models page at Cubify.com.  Some of the models at Cubify are free but 3D Systems also sells designs from various partners for a wide variety of things.

The other downside to the Cube and Cubify software package is that it doesn't allow you to make some basic adjustments and tweaks in its settings menu for things like layer thickness (.25mm is preset and can't be changed), print speed and infill support.  For the advanced user or someone that wants to tinker, this could be a major limitation.  However, for the average mainstream user, the factory presets work really well and the build precision and quality is quite good.

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First off, awesome video and awesome article. I've been waiting for this sort of review for a few years now. I was in the middle of doing some work and saw this post to facebook. I immediately hoped over to my laptop and watched the video.

Here's my take,

The UP! mini, and the club3d seem great if you don't really plan on doing anything over the top, but the Solidoodle wins in my opinion. From a typical user perspective, i'd choose the Club3d for ease of use, but when it comes to 3d printing, i'm not looking for easy. I'm looking for the challenge of building something magnificent, while still having the ability to make a 6 sided dice at the same time, which I feel the Solidoodle can deliver.

I'd also like to look at the level of ease for repair on each device. These things are mechanical objects, they are going to lose calibration, and eventually break. From the video it appears to me that the Solidoodle would be incredibly easy to repair. Heck, it looks so simple that I think I could build a functioning clone in a few weeks. The club3d looks like the most difficult, with everything encased in a smaller plastic form.

For me, the club3d is the most marketable item on this list. It's ready to go the second you are ready to use it. However, for a technical person, or someone willing to learn, the Solidoodle takes the cake with simple design, easy access in case of repairs, overall cost, and advanced settings for the inquisitive designer.

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I found the video very interesting and informative. Technology has always amazed me. Before you know it there will be a lot of people using these just like we use our regular printers. It's amazing to me that it can make a 3D item. I would love to see one in person and watch it make something.

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Very nice review! I know 3D printers are taking off but it's still unique to see this kind of review.

My Dad is a Jeweler and has been using 3D printing since 2002 to print out wax models of jewelry rather than shape it by hand for the easy cookie cutter parts of jewelry. He doesn't own the machine himself (which is a large industrial expensive model) rather he designs the item draws it with basic measurements then pays for the operator to translate his design into the software and print it. It saves him hundreds of hours a month!

However, can anyone tell m a GOOD reason for the average joe to want one of these? What useful items can be printed? Paper-weights? Keychains? Not really sure what useful things can be made. I'd rather buy kids toys than print them. Printing logos and mini buildings is hardly useful other than the fun of it. Anyone have 1 real good example of use?

Also does anyone know of a way to make money off one of these printers? What could be printed from one of these 3 machines that can be sold for a profit?

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One commercial use with which I am personally familiar is making custom cases for nano PCs such as the Raspberry Pi and the APC.IO; and I can see the average joe wanting a 3D print of a family photo, to be hand-painted in realistic colors, for his office desk.

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RTietjens:

One commercial use with which I am personally familiar is making custom cases for nano PCs such as the Raspberry Pi and the APC.IO; and I can see the average joe wanting a 3D print of a family photo, to be hand-painted in realistic colors, for his office desk.

Did you see the phone cases people made with the 3d printers?  I thought that was rather neat as well.

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RT, The possibilities are literally limitless. From custom phone cases, to that little piece of whatever that broke off and it would be great if you could replace it, the technology is very powerful. I think the next big innovation we'll have in this area is the input side of the equation. Say you need to scan something in to be able to print it, not just the exterior visible structure but modeling for replication of a complex design. It should be interesting to see where this technology takes us!

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Dave_HH:

RT, The possibilities are literally limitless. From custom phone cases, to that little piece of whatever that broke off and it would be great if you could replace it, the technology is very powerful. I think the next big innovation we'll have in this area is the input side of the equation. Say you need to scan something in to be able to print it, not just the exterior visible structure but modeling for replication of a complex design. It should be interesting to see where this technology takes us!

I was thinking about that earlier.  The ability to copy an item that is.  It really doesn't seem that difficult, as i'm sure it could be done using a calibrated measuring object and a Xbox kinect or something similar that can capture a 3d model. 

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@Sevags - Why would the average person "need" one of these things? As of today, there's no good answer. The technology is still young. Eventually though, people will be able to "print" replacement parts for just about anything though. Cracked remotes? battery covers? Whatever. You could also make customized containers for any type of project, etc.

As for profiting from one of these machines, I think that's a real possibility right now. Just in the holiday season, for example, what about offering customized Christmas ornaments? Making custom, 3D name badges, etc. The possibilities are there---it's all about imagining a product and marketing it well.

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Interesting comparison, but you have failed to mention that 3D Systems (Maker of the Cube 3D printer) are currently suing the Kickstarter startup Formlabs, on what are seemingly baseless grounds: (http://blog.makezine.com/2012/11/21/3d-systems-suing-formlabs-and-kickstarter-for-patent-infringement/)

For people who wish to support the rise of these technologies, it's really, really important to know what their money will be put towards, pushing technology, or squashing competition, let an informed decision be had by all.

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DrBlackadder, In general, I am totally indifferent to legalese like this to be honest. The level of bs and static about patent wars that we hear in the news these days is ridiculous and a waste of bandwidth in my opinion. We just pulled three low cost printers that we could get in for review coverage. I could care less about the patent wars but your insight is welcome here of course. We'll just stick to what we do here.

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