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In October of 2014 I Reviewed the Big Builder Dual Feed 3D Printer and really liked the unique single-nozzle, dual feed extruder and the possibility to print very tall objects. Now, 6 months later, I was asked by the manufacturer if I could do a short update based on a new, improved version of the printer.
Although I recently decided not to do full 3D printer reviews for a while because of my limited time (running a business, being a dad), I didn’t mind spending a few days with the Builder just to see whats new. And because a lot of people asked about the optional heated bed after the original review, I got the chance to test that as well.
It Also Comes in White
Aside from the original Red version of the Big Builder, there’s now also a White Edition – which I have been using. It costs €230 more on top of the €2495 (ex. VAT) price tag of the Red one and apart from the white color and the stenciled-out Builder logo (instead of a sticker) this version has build area that can be illuminated with white LEDs.
Even though my maker space is pretty well lit, I do like printers with functional white LED lights because it makes it easier to see what’s going. This in contrast with decorative colored LED lights that don’t add to the visibility. The warm white LEDs in this printer are integrated very nicely and can be controlled from the menu. I especially like the fact that they can be dimmed in 16 steps. I found that step 2/16 was just enough for me.
The big question of course is: Does another (subjectively: nicer) color and a few LED strips justify the €230 higher price tag. Rationally it simply doesn’t and if I was to buy this printer for personal use, I’d go for the red one and put a cheap LED strip into it myself. But if I would buy it as a – tax-deductible – business investment for our Creative Studio… maybe I would, simply because the white one looks better.
That said, I think it would be a more attractive package if this special edition included the heated build plate, which is still optional but – as you will read in a minute – is nice to have.
Upgraded Extruder supporting More Materials
The first thing I noticed when I was unpacking the printer is that the active cooling fan has changed. The original 3D Printed, plastic assembly has been replaced by a more robust-looking aluminum one. And because its angled slightly upwards, it gives a better view while it’s printing the curial first layers of a print.
Curious as I am I removed the spring-loaded filament guides to notice that the extruder gears are now of a different kind. They have less but bigger theeth, which improves the grip and allows for better printing with flexible materials. I also discovered that filament doesn’t stick to these gears as much when unloading – which is still a manual process.
Testing the optional Heated Bed
The heated bed is not new and still optional, but because I got many questions about it and didn’t have one when I did my original review, this review update was an ideal moment to test it. Let’s see what you get for the extra €198:
Besides a clear manual, you get the heated bed itself – which is a circuit-board-like plate covered by a piece of glass that is held in place by 4 paper binders. The bed has it’s own power supply and is controlled with an external power regulator, which can be set from 0 to 100%. To what temperature this translates depends on the room temperature, so it needs to me measured manually with the supplied infra red sensor.
This works well if you have the printer in a constantly heated room, because you’ll quickly learn the percentages translate to the temperatures you use often – like 60 degrees Celsius for PLA. The system has no thermostat, so when the room temperature drops the bed temperature will drop with it. I found this to be less than ideal when printing overnight, which is something that you will inevitably do with a printer this big. On cold nights the temperature can easily drop 10-15 degrees, which is a potential risk for warping – and that’s the reason to use a heated bed in the first place.
Another problem with this solution is that the temperature isn’t programmable with gcode instructions, so the heater won’t shut off when the print is done. This means that when your print is an hour away from finishing before you leave the office or go to bed, you will waste a lot of electricity.
The last, be it small, detail I noticed is that the heated bed doesn’t have the cleverly cut-off front-left corner that the unheated bed has, which allowed for easy filament loading at the homing position without lowering the bed.
On the positive side, the bed is still removable, which often isn’t the case with heated print beds. To remove it: just unplug it and take it out when it’s cold.
Potentially, you could use multiple glass top sheets with a single heated bed to print more efficiently and remove prints later. Which brings us to the actual use of the heated print bed.
Let’s make one thing clear at first: although the manual that comes with the heated bed mentions the bed temperature for printing with ABS, both the printer’s manual and the manufacturer’s website advice against printing with this material – probably to prevent glogging the dual feed nozzle. The printer officially supports printing with PLA, PVA, woodFill, bronzeFill and Flexible filament.
While unheated beds are usually covered with painters tape, heated beds can be covered with a thin layer of either glue stick, hair spray of water-deluted wood glue. I used the latter for this test. The layer stayed on the glass pretty well and could be re-used multiple times.
Printing PLA on a heated bed has three great advantages: Better adhesion to the bed, less or no warping and easy print removal after cooling. The first advantage became clear when I was printing these very small watch-parts that are only 15 mm tall and just 0,8 mm (two shells) thick. I printed them without a raft or brim (what you see is just a 2-line skirt).
After printing, you can easily remove prints when the bed is cooled down again. Small parts can be popped of by hand and larger parts just need a little nudge with a putty knife in one of the corners.
Even though it would have been great to have a more integrated, gcode-controlled bed with thermostat, the benefits of a heated bed apply to this approach. Especially with a printer this big, the heated bed makes printing and removing prints so much easier I would advice every one to buy it with the printer. If your budget forces you to choose between the white version or the heated bed: go for the bed!
Some Test Prints
The scope of this Review Update ware mainly to see whats new about the machine, so I didn’t do a lot of test prints other than to test the extruder gear update and the heated bed. I personally was most curious to combining Flexible Filament with other materials, so I did a few tests with the InnoFlex 45 Filament supplied by the manufacturer:
I already liked the Big Builder Dual Feed 3D Printer when I tested it for my original in-depth review and it only got better. I like the fact that 3D printer manufacturers are constantly tweaking their machines – not only technically but in case of the Builder, also aesthetically. Sure, the White Edition with LED lights costs a little more and so does the heated bed, but the manufacturer is not forcing you these options – it’s your choice!