ZYYX 3D Printer Review

ZYYX 3D Printer Review: Part 1 – Is this the true MakerBot Replicator alternative?

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While the prosumer 3D Printing market gets more competitive every day, 3D printer manufacturers start to focus on certain details to set their machines apart from the competition. I’ve been looking forward to testing the ZYYX 3D Printer, a €1550 (ex VAT) machine that’s marketed as “The Fume Free 3D Printer”. This is made possible by the completely enclosed build chamber with an active air filter that absorbs the bad smells some materials emit while printing.

Another unique selling point of the ZYYX is it’s build plate calibration system, which is fully automatic: a  sensor on the print head probes 3 dedicated spots on the build plate to calculate it’s angle. This deviation is corrected while printing in real time, so the nozzle is at the same distance from the build plate everywhere it goes.  This in to the assisted build plate leveling method of the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen I reviewed earlier, which probes the build plate with the nozzle and instructs the user  to correct the angle manually. If you’ve read that review, you know that didn’t work as advertised at all, so I’m very curious if the ZYYX’ method does. If it does, it would take away a lot of the hassle associated with 3D printing, especially at very small layer heights.

As always, I’ll do this review in two parts: in this part I will cover the unboxing and setup of the hardware and software and after a few weeks I will report back on the actual day-to-day user experience and print quality.

The earlier comparison with the MakerBot Replicator wasn’t a coincidence by the way. There are multiple reasons for this. Read on to find out which!

Background Story

The name ZYYX is obviously inspired by the X, Y & Z-axis of a 3D Printer. The pronunciation isn’t clear: I Dutchified it into “Zeeks” but in English you might call it “Zicks” or maybe even Z-double-Y-X.

Anyway, it’s designed in Sweden by MagicFirm Europe and manufactured by MagicFirm LCC, a 3D Printer manufacturer based in China. While “made in China” might still have a negative association for some people, this method of Western-design-Eastern-production, is used by many popular electronics brands, including Apple. While many other European 3D Printers are designed and manufactured at the same place, they usually contain lot’s of parts that have been made with rapid prototyping machines: 3D printed parts and CNC-milled plywood or acrylic paneling. While this is in no way bad and doesn’t affect print quality or reliability at all, these machines usually doesn’t look and feel like the industrial-made appliances you’re used to.

M(aker)Bot?

If you’ve been interested in 3D printing for the last few years or did a good amount of research, you might recognize the five-button control panel from a printer you’ve seen before. And that’s completely true, because Magicfirm LCC is also the manufacturer of the MBot Grid II 3D Printer, released in early 2014. This printer is obviously inspired by the MakerBot Replicator 2, the model that came before the current MakerBot Replicator “5th Generation” 3D printer.

mbot_grid_ii
Mbot Grid II

makerbot_replicator_2
MakerBot Replicator 2

makerbot_replicator_2x
MakerBot Replicator 2X

Some might call the Grid II a “Replicator Clone”, and that isn’t a bad thing. If you’ve read the 2012 book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” (if you haven’t: you should!) by ex-Wired editor Chris Anderson (now of 3D Robotics fame) you know that not so long ago, MakerBot was an independent company making “open source” 3D Printers. That means they actually encouraged other manufacturers to clone their machines.

Chris Anderson’s 2012 Wired article about the Replicator 2 is still fascinating to read and notihng but positive about the machine. And while doing my research and interviews for this blog in the last 10 months, I’ve spoken with many people that own or have owned multiple 3D Printers. Many of them said that the Replicator 2 is actually still their most reliable 3D Printer. I’ve even spoken with an expert that has been using one on a daily base for almost 1.5 years without any significant issues or maintenance.

As most of you might know, the MakerBot story changed when it got acquired by 3D Printing Industry giant Stratasys. They stopped developing open source, and instead of improving the already good Replicator 2 and Replicator 2X (an “experimental” enclosed dual-extruder version), they introduced something completely different in the form of the 5th Generation Replicator models. A line of 3D printers I wasn’t very happy with when I first got into 3D printing earlier this year and – judging from the enormous amount of e-mails, tweets and comments I got – many people with me. I actually was planning to buy a Replicator 2 at first, but changed my mind at the last minute because of the 5th Gen introduction.

While the 5th Gen Replicator offers a lot of new features on the connectivity side (wired & wireless networking, printing directly from Thingiverse & MakerBot Cloud) it doesn’t offer more than the Replicator 2 did in terms of 3D printing speed and quality: it offers the same PLA-only capabilities at 100 micron minimum layer height. And a “Smart Extruder” that you can’t (and even aren’t allowed to) open when a filament jam prevents you from printing and costs $175 to replace.

So why not just buy the proven MakerBot Replicator 2? Well, it’s not manufactured anymore! You might find some stock at resellers, but it’s sold out at the MakerBot Store. And while it’s a good printer, a lot has changed since 2012, especially in the 3D Printer market. So there’s – in my opinion at least – clearly room for a 3D Printer manufacturer that continues on the good path MakerBot was on with the Replicator 2. And ZYYX might just be that…

The ZYYX Improvements

The ZYYX seems to be the successor of the MBot Grid II: it looks less like a Replicator 2 clone and is improved on certain important points, some of which (like the build plate calibration) it borrows from the Grid II.

Firstly, the ZYYX is operated by a custom version of the Sailfish firmware that a lot of power users have installed on their MakerBot 2 printers. I don’t know exactly what has changed, but it’s clear that they added the abilities of correcting build plate level deviation in real time. Like I wrote earlier, these deviations are measured by a dedicated probe before every print.

Secondly, while the ZYYX’ build plate isn’t heated (more on that later), it’s build chamber is completely enclosed like the Replicator 2X, blocking draft that could ruin a 3D print. Naturally the closed chamber also reduces noise, but more importantly it reduced the smell some materials emit, because it has an active air filtering system.

ZYYX 3D Printer Review - Fume Filter
The Fume Filter on the back of the ZYYX is a combination of a low-noise fan that sucks the air out of the printer through a replaceable filter. In the picture above the filter-holder is slided out. This picture also shows that the ZYYX has handles on the side, which is a nice detail, because it makes carrying and turning the printer a lot easier.

At 27 x 23 cm the ZYYX’ build plate is generously sized and offers 42% more floor space than the Replicator 2’s 28.5 x 15.3. The build volume is also taller: 19.5 cm instead of 15 cm, making the complete build volume more than 85% larger. Another interesting thing is that the build apparently plate doesn’t have to be covered with a temporary layer to get prints to stick, like Kapton tape, painter’s tape or glue stick. Instead, the ZYYX’s glass build plate is covered with a tick piece of a special plastic on which most materials will stick. More about the build plate in the next section.

Unboxing and Setup

I know for a fact that most Creative Professionals can appreciate product design and attention to detail. That’s why most of them do like unpacking experience of a new MacBook Pro. As you might have read in my Replicator 5th Gen review, I described the unpacking experience of that machine as Apple-ish. I haven’t had the same experience with the other 3D Printers I’ve reviewed after that, but when the ZYYX arrived on my doorstep I got the feeling that might change.

ZYYX 3D Printer Review - Box
While many people don’t care about the box a machine comes in, for me – and I’m sure many creative professionals with me – the simple fact that a box is branded is a sign that a company is paying attention to details.

The printer professionally packed in the cardboard box with custom-shaped foam parts. Aside from the machine itself, the box contains a spool of Natural MagicFirm Premium PLA Filament, a clear and well-designed Printed Quick Start Guide, Spool Holder and a small toolbox with all the tools required to start 3D Printing.

ZYYX 3D Printer Review - Toolbox
The small Tool Box contains grease for periodically lubing the axis, Allen keys for dismantling the machine, a Putty Knife to remove prints from the Build Plate, Needle-nose Pliers to remove support material from prints and a Cutter to cut filament.

The printer itself feels very sturdy and the steel frame is finished in matte black, which seems scratch resistant. The doors and top cover are made of heavy clear acrylic. The doors are held closed with small magnets, so they won’t rattle while printing. The SD Card slot is located on top of the LCD Display. To insert or remove the supplied 8GB SD Card, you have to open the right door. Other than that the machine can be operated with both doors closed. The spool holder is made of injection-molded plastic and can be clicked onto the back of the machine.

The build plate is removable, which is very handy for cleaning and removing prints. It’s held in place with magnets on a triangle-shaped platform with two big dials to level it if the deviation should ever go beyond the limits of the auto-calibration (the printer will tell you when this is the case). As I wrote earlier, it’s made of glass with a thick layer of plastic that’s designed specifically for good filament adhesion. According to the manufacturer, this layer is so good, that you can even print ABS onto it without the need of a heated bed. I will test this for sure, because without the ability to print ABS, the fume filter doesn’t make a lot of sense, because PLA and other materials don’t smell so bad. To keep the build plate tidy and sticky, you simply have to wipe it with acetone once in a while. Because of wear and tear it is has to be replaced after a while. If you wan’t to keep the bottom surface of your prints smooth, replacement is needed after 4-5 months, but if that isn’t a concern, you can use it longer. At this moment, the build plate has to replaced as a whole (glass + top layer) for €45 (ex VAT), but the manufacturer is working on a way to only change the top layer. While this probably is a bit more expensive than using painter’s tape and glue stick, it’s more professional and less messy.

ZYYX 3D Printer Review - Build Plate
The ZYYX’ removable Build Plate with it’s special permanent cover material. The three cut-out spots are probed by the automatic calibration sensor on the print head.

After positioning the build plate and spool holder, all I had to do is switch on machine and start the Filament Loading command. While the extruder is heating, I put a roll of filament on the spool holder and fed the filament through the tube. I must say that thee back isn’t the most convenient location for the spool: the machine is quite heavy and stands on rubber feet. While these make the printer stand rock solid, they make it hard to turn it around to load the filament. Of course, is only a problem when you put the machine against a wall. Otherwise loading filament is straight forward: when the extruder is hot, the machine plays a bit of music (yes, it does!) and the extruder motor starts running. Just put the filament into the hole into the extruder until it comes out of the nozzle. It’s nice that it keeps extruding until a button is pressed, so you can purge the extruder until only the right color is coming out. After that it’s time to put the cover on and start printing.

Unfortunately there are not test files on the SD Card, so I had to put generate my friend Marvin with Simplify3D, the slicing software that comes with the printer (it’s included in the price). I like Simplify3D a lot and think it’s great that the manufacturers chose to include it. The machine even has a “powered by Simplify3D” sticker. I’ve written about the Simplify3D in a separate post, so I won’t go into it this time, but it’s good to know it comes pre-loaded with a ZYYX profile. I got a newer  (1.1) version of the profile by e-mail, which I will use for this review. One detail is that while most 3D printers work with .gcode files, Sailfish-printers read .x3g files, which are more or less gcodes in binary format.

ZYYX 3D Printer Review - Simplify3D
The ZYYX Profile for Simplify3D contains presets for all kinds of materials, including Flexible TPE Filament which I will also test for Part 2 of this Review.

After putting the .x3g on the SD Card through the build in port on my MacBook Pro, I put it in the machine and hit print. Although it’s nice that the files on the SD card are sorted by date, I would like it even more if the newest was on top of the list instead of on the bottom. After hitting print the extruder will heat to the right temperature and the print head moves to the cut out areas on the build plate. It moves back and forth between these a few times (just to be sure, I guess) and when it’s done it starts printing. I noticed that the first layer is printed at a very hot 235 degrees Celsius. I guess this is to improve adhesion with the special build plate layer, because it goes to 205 degrees when the first layer is done.

ZYYX 3D Printer Review - 3DHubs Marvin
As you can see Marvin turned out fine (at 200 micron). Can’t wait to print him on 50 micron.

Click here to read Part 2
Usability, Print Quality & Conclusion


 

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Nick Lievendag

Entrepreneur at the intersection of Creativity × Technology — 3D Expert.

13 thoughts to “ZYYX 3D Printer Review: Part 1 – Is this the true MakerBot Replicator alternative?”

  1. ZyyX
    Hi Nick,
    Any issues with the printer. Especially with ABS, is it as good as the Ultimaker 2? Have you tried other filaments, Ninji, bronze, etc? as I want to buy on when I have more feedback.

    Many thanks,

    Andy

      1. Hi there Nick (name-brother ;-)),

        thanks for the great first part. Any chance the second part will be ready any time soon? I’d like to order one before chrismas depending on your findings 🙂

        Best wishes,
        Nic

      2. Hi Nick,

        Any initial thoughts on the second testing phase with the ZYYX? Is it quiet? IS the print quality good.

        Is it on the same level as the Ultimaker 2 and Creatr HS for quality?

        As you are the only person posting reviews on this, I am holding off on the purchase.

        Many thanks,

        ANdy

  2. Thanks Nick for good and detailed reviews! Also VERY interested of part two of the ZYYX. Planning to buy this one or the Zortrax before christmas. Is the print quality and handling as good as the Zortrax?
    Keep up the good work! Kind regards Stefan

  3. I realize this is an old review now, but there is not a lot of information out there about the ZYYX, and this is the first hit on google.

    I had the same experience that Nick had with the ZYYX for the first 2 months. A great printer. But then i started having trouble with the extruder clogging, and because of the proprietary nature of the unit, including the software, there is really no way to get it fixed except by going through ZYYX for a replacement. They tout their firmware as being a modified Sailfish, and make it sound like you are going to be able to tweak it, but they dont release their version of sailfish so you are stuck with what you have. The auto-leveling is neat, but I think you really need to have the skillset to deal with that yourself to make 3d printing enjoyable. You have to be able to service a printer yourself, and you really need a large community out there dealing with the same hardware. It was my first printer, and now i have several more, and if i had it all to do again i would have bought an opensource (or at least super common) printer right from the start. I dont think any printer can keep you from having to learn all the ins and outs of servicing for the long haul, and in fact tinkering with the printer is lots of fun, especially if you can get new nozzles, and whole extruders, and all the various parts for super cheap online, its less fun with a locked down unit that takes weeks to get parts from.

    1. Hi John,

      Did you try the ZYYX “Maintenance Kit” to unclog the extruder? (http://www.zyyx3dprinter.com/zyyx-maintenance-kit-how-to/)

      Although I never found the time to write a review about it, I did test it when I ran into some clogs while experimenting with woodFill (which is quite clog-sensitive filament). With the kit I was able to clean the extruder every time.

      Hope this helps. I also noticed that they just released the ZYYX+ with an improved extruder. Maybe I’ll test it, because I’m starting to have a little more time to blog now.

      Cheers,

      Nick

      1. Hi Nick,

        Do you still plan to test the ZYYX+ ?

        And have you already used a Witbox or Witbox 2?
        I’m hesitating between the two actually.

        Thanks!

  4. It seems, and can be a very good printer, but I don´t like that the build plate, exclusive to this printer, must be changed every 6 or x months, is like having to pay a permanent subscription, because it cost 96€ included vat plus dhl shipping , to Spain where i live ( 93 to Sweden and central euro). very expensive compared with other p.bed solutions,192€ a year, is a hidden cost, not to mention other exclusive parts.

    1. That depends on how you look at it in my opinion.

      You can choose to just put painter’s tape on this build plate and use it like any other glass build plate without any wear to the special layer—for most materials.

      If you look at it that way it’s simply a choice if you wan’t the convenience of the plate at a price, or not.

      If you choose any other printer and want to use a special layer (e.g. like BuildTak), then you also have to replace that layer at a cost greater than painter’s tape.

  5. 96 Euro included dhl shipping and vat for the exclusive printing bed ? that must be change each x months or x printings , this is a high hidden cost, compared to other p, bed solution.

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