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In this on-going Journal I will write about my experiences with the Leapfrog Creatr HS 3D Printer and compare that to my experiences with the MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation – which I owned and used for 3 months before sending it back.
In this first part I write about my re-orientation and criteria for a new 3D printer.
After I returned my Replicator and got the refund it was time to re-orientate the current state of the industry and decide which 3D Printer would take it’s place. One of the main criteria that made me buy the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen earlier this years was the fact that it is a fully stand-alone printer. I liked that feature because my printer is in another room – which is a must for such a noisy machine – and I didn’t want to leave my laptop on and operating for many hours just to make prints. I realized that to make 3D printing a realistic business asset I had to make up for the long print times. To do that I want to be able to start a print either before going to bed or before leaving for work.
Because I live in the Netherlands and I didn’t want to go the importing/reseller route I experienced with the MakerBot again I started looking at local 3D Printer manufacturers. I did look at the Ultimaker 2 and I still think it’s a nice looking printer that is standalone, has a small footprint and is very silent but two new criteria had become important to me because of the MakerBot. First of all I still have a few hundred euros worth of barely used MakerBot PLA Filament which has a diameter of 1.75mm that’s incompatible with the Ultimaker 2 which uses 2.85mm Filament. Secondly I’m developing a design concept for which I need to be able to print custom iPad casings. Those are 25cm in length and at 25.2 x 19.9 cm the Replicator 5th Gen’s build plate was just big enough for that. The Ultimaker 2’s 23.0 x 22.5 cm plate was simply to short for a print project that I’ve invested many hours of my time in.
My business partner made a remark about the Leapfrog 3D Printers. I did consider their original Creatr model back in March but because it wasn’t standalone it didn’t fit my needs. But because I remembered the Creatr to be big (read: huge) I was sure that it’s build plate would fit an iPad case. So I took a look at their website and noticed that they just released a new model – the Creatr HS – one week earlier. This version is standalone and included a 4 inch full color display and can print from a USB drive like the Replicator and judging the specs it’s faster too. It uses 1.75mm Filament, so that box was ticked too.
On top of the ticked boxes on my wish list the Creater HS is a whopping €900 cheaper than the MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation printer – this is one third of the price (here in the Netherlands Replicator 5th Gen currently retails at €2699 and the Creatr HS at €1799 – excluding 21% VAT). Included in that price is the Simplify3D software that costs €99 (ex VAT). I read a lot of good things about this software and this video about a 3D printed prosthetic hand made me realize it’s power.
So I made an appointment at Leapfrog HQ – which is only a 40 minute drive from where I live. Although they didn’t have the HS model on show yet they took the time to tell me everything I wanted to know about the printer and the company. They also gave me a demo of the the Simplify3D software. One thing that attracted me was their examples of using the dual-extruder not for printing two colors but for printing PLA with PVA supports. PVA is a water-soluble material which leaves no marks on the PLA prints. This essentially gives the user the ultimate flexibility to print every possible shape.
I like this because I found out that while I design my 3D models with supportless printability in mind other people – like our customers through 3D Hubs – aren’t always aware of the limitations of (single-extruder) 3D Printing. Removing the standard supports generated by the software that works with the Replicator 5th Gen – MakerBot Desktop – proved time-consuming and almost always left marks on the prints. And because MakerBot apparently doesn’t allow the use of third party software (such as Simplify3D) with new printers, that was a big issue for me.
Of course I did my research on Leapfrog and the original Creatr 3D Printer. Overall the reviews of that printer are mixed. The early reviews – like this one by the renowned Make Magazine – were bad. But after putting what I’ve read on a timeline it became clear to me that the model has been upgraded over time. One of the things that that encouraged me is this blog by Kees Kemper – a Dutch Creatr owner. He clearly had some struggles with the 3D printer when he just got it but “tamed it” within a few months.
Because I need a new 3D printer as soon as possible, I decided to order the Leapfrog Creatr HS last week. In the next months I plan to write an ongoing journal about my experiences with it and compare that to the Replicator 5th Gen. To be fair to MakerBot I will use the printer for 3 months before giving my final verdict. I’ll try not to be biased, because I actually hate that about many of the 3D print forums: it’s at an Playstation/Xbox – Mac/Windows level at this point where owners will defend their chosen brand flamewar-style without holding back. So please (politely) correct me if I’m not being fair! But also keep in mind that I take the 1/3 price difference very serious: with Simplify3D included we’re talking €1000 here.
One thing that makes this a fair comparison in my opinion is that I was one of the first to own a MakerBot 5th Gen Replicator and I will be one of the first to own a Leapfrog Creatr HS. Both had no user reviews at the time I bought the machine. So again, it’s a leap of faith (no pun intended). The reason why I even dare to try a non-proven printer again is that – like I said earlier – the Creatr HS seems to be an evolution of the existing Creatr model. This as opposed to the Replicator 5th Gen, that is a completely new machine and hasn’t got anything in common with the “4th Gen” Replicator 2. The future will tell me if this assumption is worth anything.
In the next part I will put the specs of both printers side by side and write about my expectations of the Creatr HS. You can follow me on Twitter or Google+ if you want to be updated when the next part is live.