CraftBot Review – A Contender in the Sub-1000 $ Category
We have owned an Ultimaker Original 3D printer since 2012. While the Ultimaker has been a reliable workhorse it does lack of couple of features that put some limitations to its use: the lack of a heated print bed makes it difficult to work with filaments such as ABS or nylon and its bowden extruder is not really suited to print flexible filament.
Given the many filament tests we do for the blog, we decided that we needed a printer with a heated print bed and a direct drive extruder. In late July 2014, an Indiegogo campaign caught my attention: the CraftBot 3D printer, a large volume printer with all the features that I was looking for. I was able to secure my machine as an early bird backer for 496 USD.
The printer was shipped just before Christmas last year but it has been sitting idle for a while since I have been busy reviewing filaments and writing a few other articles.
I finally got round to putting the CraftBot through its paces during the last few weeks. Keep on reading to find out how the machine performed and why printing with ABS turned out more painful than expected.
CraftUnique - The Creators of the CraftBot
CraftUnique Ltd. is a Budapest, Hungary based company. While the company has been working in the fields of high-end electronics for over 10 years, the CraftBot constitutes their first foray into 3D printing.
CraftUnique launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo in July 2014 with the aim of raising 40.000 USD to finance the scaling of their first production run of the CraftBot. The campaign closed successfully within a month with 571 backers having contributed a total of 245.547 USD in funding.
With the CraftBot, CraftUnique is pursuing their vision:“not to make just another printer, but rather, to take all the most desirable features found in the best current machines and combine them into one high quality product.”
A glimpse into CraftUnique's offices. Photo © CraftUnqiue
Some Thoughts on Buying a Crowd-Funded 3D Printer
Crowd funding platforms saw a huge surge in 3D printer funding campaigns in 2014, a trend that has shown to continue in 2015. In order to create buzz in the media and to attract a high number of backers, 3D printers are often offered at very interesting prices during crowd-funding initiatives.
While it is very tempting to get a 3D printer on the cheap, I would caution any 3D printing beginner from buying a non-proven product from a yet to be established brand.
Campaigns such as the one for Buccaneer 3D printer have shown how project teams can grossly miscalculate the effort required to finish up a product development effort. In this particular case, neither the time plan nor the pricing as initially advertised were met. Even if a product is fully developed and manufactured, scaling operations and providing customer service on a global level are yet different challenges altogether that are not easily overcome by any start-up.
Why did I decide to back the CraftBot then? At 496 USD, I figured the financial risk was manageable. The biggest argument in favour of the CraftBot though was the fact that the machine was already in production at the time of the crowd-funding campaign. This was not a product that still needed to be developed though further tweaking did obviously still take place.
I was attracted by CraftUnique's vision of combining the most desirable 3D printer features into a quality product. The CraftBot seemed to be offering all the features I was looking for: a solid mechanical design, a direct drive extruder, a heated print bed, a large build volume and a budding host/slicer software. In short, it looked to be a comprehensive package with quite some promise.
An example of a CraftBot Indiegogo Campaign Update
I have to say that upon the closing of the Indiegogo campaign, CraftUnique did a good job of keeping their backers informed on the further progress. Regular email updates showed you exactly what the team had been working on and what setbacks kept them from sticking to their original timeline.
My machine was shipped in December 2014 with a delay of two months compared to the original timing. Overall, not a bad experience as far as getting hold of the machine is concerned.
Taking a peek into the comment section of the Indiegogo campaign though, it looks like some early bird backers are still waiting for their printers to be shipped. If anything, this proves that buying a 3D printer through a crowdfunding campaign is inherently risky. To put it simply: a purchase via a crowd-funding campaign is not to be confounded with a retail purchase!
Buying a 3D printer via a crowd-funding campaign is inherently risk and not to be confounded with a retail purchase.
The CraftBot is a FFF 3D printer built on a 3-axis gantry type design. The machine has a sizeable footprint (40 x 36 x 37 cm) and sports one the largest build volumes in its class (10.000 cm3). The printer frame is made from lasercut metal, making for sturdy and heavy 3D printer, weighing a total of 14 kg.
The box type printer envelope is open only towards the top and the front. Both sides are closed with perspex windows, shielding the print bed from air currents while still allowing the operator to observe the print in progress. White LED lighting illuminates the printer's interior.
CraftBot 3D Printer. Photo © CraftUnqiue
The Craftbot uses a direct drive extruder, comes with two cooling fans and works with 1.75 mm PLA and ABS filament. The build platform is not only heatable, it can also be quickly and completely removed. A color LCD touchscreen gives you access to the on-board controls and a USB flash drive slot allows for untethered printing.
The CraftBot retails for $870, a price tag that puts it amongst the more affordable home 3D printers.
Here is an overview of the complete CraftBot specs:
Price as tested:
Nozzle - Operating Temperature:
Heated Bed - Operating Temperature:
400 x 360 x 370 mm
15.7 x 14.17 x 14.56 in
250 x 200 x 200 mm
9.8 x 7.8 x 7.8 in
180°C - 260°C
50°C - 100°C
Windows, Mac OS X
Unboxing & Setup
The CraftBot is shipped in solid cardboard box with ample foam padding. At 17 kg total weight this is also necessary but I am happy to report that my printer arrived without a scratch.
The CraftBot is well protected by foam padding during transport
In addition to the printer, CraftUnique sets you up with the following: a filament spool holder, a filament guide tube, a set of 5 hex wrenches, 1 USB flashdrive, 1 USB cable, 1 AC power cable, a couple of spacer cards and 1 spool of filament.
When opening the shipping box, you are greeted by the Quickstarter guide which gives you a brief overview of what it takes to setup your CraftBot. The Quickstarter guide also points you to the complete PDF user manual that can be downloaded from the CraftUnique website. I recommend doing this straight away since the user manual is well illustrated and helps you in the next steps required to get your machine up and running.
CraftBot 3D printer accessories
The user manual guides you through the setup process: you install the filament guide tube holder to the frame of the printer, then insert the tube and connect it to the extruder.
In a second step, you fix the filament spool holder to the printer frame. To do so, you loosen a hex nut, put the spool holder into place and tighten it again with the same hex nut.
Then, all that's left to do is to connect the CraftBot to your computer using the USB cable and to power it up by connecting the power cable and switching it on. Unfortunately, the power cable is a bit short though and unless you have your nearest wall socket close to the printer you'll need an extension cable.
Powering up the CraftBot for the first time is quite a nice experience: not only does the printer's interior light up in clear white LED light, the color LCD touchscreen also makes you feel like you bought a state-of-the-art 3D printer.
The main menu of the color LCD touchscreen
The user manual recommends that you update the printer's firmware as new versions are constantly released. I did as instructed: first, you install the CraftWare/CraftPrint combo. CraftPrint, a standalone tool to control printing, gives you access to the firmware upgrade feature. When hitting the update button, I experienced a scary moment though! The LCD went blank and I had no idea what had happened. Failures in the middle of a firmware update are certainly not good!
I let the printer sit for a while and went searching for help in the CraftBot forums and found this thread which confirmed that I was not the only one having this firmware upgrade experience. In the end, I quit the software and re-started the printer. Thankfully, the machine came back with the firmware fully updated!
Build Platform Leveling
With the firmware updated, it was time to proceed to the leveling of the print bed. The CraftBot uses a 3-point bed leveling system: the three thumbscrews located under the build platform are loosened/tightened to adjust the distance between the nozzle and the print bed.
The bed leveling menu, that can be accessed via the LCD screen, walks you through the steps to level your print bed: the extruder moves to each of the three extremities of the print bed located above each thumbscrew. You then use the 0.3mm spacer card and tweak the thumbscrew to fine-tune the distance between the nozzle and the bed. Once all three positions have been calibrated, the process is repeated once more to insure consistency.
Loading the Filament
As a final step, you need to load the filament into the printer. To do so, you load the filament spool onto the printer, feed the filament through the guide tube and insert it into the top of the pre-heated extruder.
The CraftBot has a clever feature to put tension on the filament, the so-called “extruder switch”. In the unlocked position, the extruder switch allows the filament to bypass the gears. In the locked position, the extruder switch pinches the filament between the hobbed bolt and the extruder pulley. The extruder switch combined with the extrude/reverse command of the LCD screen make changing filament on the CraftBot very easy.
The extruder switch - Disengaged on the left side, engaged on the right side
Overall, the installation of the CraftBot is simple and straight-forward. You can easily be up and running in under one hour provided that you don't run into the firmware update snag as I did.
What I found to be missing from the user manual though is any reference to the removable print bed and how it is installed. Not that this is difficult to do, but given this is a noteworthy feature I would have expected a clearer mention in the handbook.
Further, the user manual stays vague with regards to the print bed surface covering that is being used. Experienced users will recognize the Kapton sheet but as this will wear out over time it would be nice to let newbies know how to replace it.
Host Software & Slicer - CraftWare & CraftPrint
As mentioned above, CraftUnique does not only produce the CraftBot 3D printer, they also produce their own slicer/host software called CraftWare that can be downloaded for free.
I installed version 1.08 beta build #10237 on my machine, a PC running Windows 7. As I had partially bought the CraftBot because of CraftWare, I was really eager to test the software. However, my hopes were soon disappointed: when I launched CraftWare it opened up fine but then froze my computer as soon as I tried to manipulate any of the menus. Several re-starts and a re-installation later the situation remained unchanged.
I tried to install a couple of the previous CraftWare versions without getting any different results. I reached out to CraftUnique's Support but they were also unsure what may cause this and thus unable to help.
I then decided to try Repetier Host with the integrated Slic3r as slicing software. The gcode generated by Slic3r started giving some very good print results while Repetier Host worked fine to drive the printer controls.
A couple of weeks into my CraftBot test, I noticed that a couple of new versions of CraftWare had been released. I tried my luck with version 1.10 beta and lo and behold, it worked!
CraftWare has all the standard functionality that you would expect a print preparation software to have: you can import, scale, rotate and duplicate models. What really sets the software apart is the slicing mode. The user can switch between two different modes, the Easy and the Expert mode.
The very basic settings of the Easy mode
The settings of the Easy mode are extremely basic: you can set the print quality, the filament type and whether a raft or supports should be added to the print. While this may be enough to get a beginner started, the real power of CraftWare lies in the settings that can be tweaked in the Expert mode.
What is really neat with CraftWare is that it illustrates the impact of the settings in a little preview windows using a generic 3D model. This allows you to really understand what changes you are making and takes the guesswork out of the lesser known settings. In the Expert mode you can modify more than 60 different settings, giving you a very high degree of control over how your 3D model is being sliced. In addition to the visual preview, the Hint window gives you additional information on each setting. A great way to learn all about advanced slicer settings.
Even just the Basic tab of the Expert mode gives you access to a bunch of slicer settings
The slicing process is fast and once the gcode has been generated, CraftWare represents each gcode feature in a separate color. This allows you to tell apart the different features such as inner and outer loops, shells and rafts or infills amongst others.
This is extremely helpful when trying to optimize prints because it allows you determine exactly which slicer settings you need to tweak. CraftWare's gcode visualization is better and more advanced than anything I have seen from free slicing software.
The gcode features are rendered in color such that you can tell them apart
Last but certainly not least, the way CraftWare handles supports is also noteworthy. You have the option to either auto-generate supports or set them manually. While most slicers give you some degree of control over supports, CraftWare, in manual mode, lets you place each and every support bar individually. Even when using auto-generated supports, you can go in and edit the support bars. I really like the design freedom CraftWare grants you here!
Each support (green bar) can be set individually by drop & drop
Overall, I find CraftWare to be very powerful and its visualization features are unmatched by any other free slicing software. It should be noted that the current version of CraftWare (version 1.10) is still labeled as being a beta version. Clearly, development is still going on here. Nonetheless, the current version of the software works already great, I highly recommend that you give it a try!
CraftWare's gcode visualization and support creation features are unmatched by any other free slicing software.
CraftBot - The First Prints
As soon as I started working with the CraftBot I discovered a few more things about the machine. When heating up the build platform, the word “HOT” starts appearing on the little tab just beneath it. A nice detail and a reminder to keep your hands off the build platform.
A reminder to keep your hands off the heated build plate.
The removable print bed also comes in very handy. It is great to be able to work outside the printer when preparing the build plate with any kind of tape or adhesive spray. Especially when using spray you don't risk to inadvertently cover the gantry, bearings or hot-end in glue. Further, being able to remove the finished prints outside of the confines of the 3D printer also makes your life quite a bit easier.
Removing the print bed is easy. You unscrew the two white knobs at the front of the build plate.
Then you can completely remove the print bed.
Here are a few more impressions of the first prints that I ran:
CraftBot - Printing Performance
To gauge the CraftBot's 3D printing performance, I used the test protocol from the Make 3D Printer Shootout. Printing the same probes on different printers allows me to compare performance between different machines.
All tests were run using PLA, at a print speed of 40mm/sec and at a layer resolution of 0.2mm. The probes are then evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the maximum score.
Here is how the Craftbot performed on these models:
The dimensional accuracy probe measures how much backlash a printer produces. The probe consists of six super-imposed discs, each with a decreasing diameter. Once the print is completed, the diameter of the second disc from the bottom is measured. This has a target diameter of 20 mm, the CraftBot's probe showed deviations of no more than 0.2 mm. Score: 4/5.
The bridging performance test is designed to probe a 3D printer's ability to surmount distances without support material. The probe has five distances to be bridged, ranging from 20 mm to 60 mm.
The CraftBot performed very well on this test, it managed to bridge all the gaps with almost no filament dropping. Score: 4/5.
The overhang performance test simply measures the angle at which the printer starts struggling with completing overhangs. The probe has four angles at 30°, 45°, 60° and 70°. The CraftBot managed the 30°, 45° and 60° angles very well but started drooping loops of filament at the 70° angle. Score: 3/5.
Negative Space Tolerances
The negative space tolerance test is a measure of a printer's ability to create fine negative (or empty) spaces making sure that two separate parts of a model don't fuse together where they aren't supposed to. The probe is a block with 5 pins, each with a decreasing negative space around it ranging from 0.6 mm to 0.2 mm. The number of pins that can be removed at the end of the print determines the score.
The CraftBot performed well, 4 out of the 5 pins could be removed. Score: 4/5.
Fine Positive Space Features Performance
The fine positive space features test essentially gauges a 3D printer's retraction performance. The probe is a plate with 6 conical spires that thin out towards the top.
The CraftBot managed to complete the spires but with some connecting filament strands. Score: 3/5.
Mechanical Resonance Test
Two of the test probes measure the mechanical resonance in the XY gantry and the Z axis respectively. As resonance is difficult to measure quantitatively, this is a binary test which means that the test probe is either assigned a „pass“ or „fail“.
Mechanical Resonance in XY
The XY-resonance probe turned out fine: there is no noticeable rippling at the corners nor at the inset of the print wall. Score: 2/pass.
Mechanical Resonance in Z
The CraftBot mastered the Z-resonance probe without any issues. The result shows a uniform layer pattern that does not change anywhere along the entire height of the probe. Score: 2/pass.
Articulated Makey Robot
The articulated Makey is an extremely challenging print that combines many elements of the above performance tests into a single probe. The articulated limbs have a gap of just over 0.3mm while the arms have overhangs of 65°, a challenging print for any 3D printer.
The robot produced by the CraftBot turned out really good: all limbs (feet, knees, shoulders, arms...) and the head could be moved as soon as the print was removed from the print bed.
Overall, the surface of the robot turned out fine with some smaller blemishes being visible only upon closer inspection. A bit more visible and not quite perfect is the seam line on the robot's head. Also, the bridges in the upper corner of the robot's eyes did lead to some slight filament dropping.
Curved head surface: Score: 3/5.
Body surface: Score: 4/5.
Obviously, I printed a lot more than just the Make test probes on the CraftBot. I tried to print a mix of practical and decorative prints to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the machine.
Click through the below gallery to see some of the results. By the way, the filament used in this review is courtesy of Fillamentum. They gave us some samples for testing and I have to say that the colors turned out great. You may want to check them out when buying your next filament spools!
Using Materials other than PLA
Printing with ABS
Having done a few more PLA prints, I decided that it was time to switch to ABS. ABS is typically more difficult to work with as print adhesion can be quite challenging. The CraftBot has a heated build platform though, with an operating temperature range of up to 100°C. As this should help greatly when printing ABS and I was keen to test it in practice.
I set the build platform temperature to 100°C and waited for it to heat up. After 20 minutes, the temperature had not risen to more than 80°C. No matter whether I tried to set the temperature using the onboard controls or using the gcode, I couldn't get the heated bed anywhere near 100°C.
Digging through the CraftBot forum I discovered that this is a known issue: the power supply unit of the CraftBot is too weak and does not support the nominal 100°C. Quite a disappointment, not least since I had partially bought the CraftBot because of its heated build platform!
It is not for a lack of trying but I just couldn't get ABS to print right on the CraftBot.
Resigned to the fact that I would not get the desired performance out of the heated bed, I still tried my luck with ABS prints. With the build plate covered in Kapton tape and the temperature hovering around 75°C, all my attempts to get ABS to stick did however fail sooner or later.
I then tried the following in the hope of finding a way to print ABS:
Using the BuildTak-Dimafix and BuildTak-hairspray combination, I was able to get the prints to stick but they would still always warp. Granted, the prints I was trying to run were challenging as they had quite a large base. Still, having tried and tested a lot, I can only conclude that the CraftBot's ability to handle ABS is limited at best. Listening to my fellow CraftBot users it seems that I am not the only person coming to that conclusion.
Printing with HIPS
Another material I tested in the context of a materials review was HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene). Though HIPS is mainly used as support material (it can be dissolved using limonene), I used it for some decorative prints. If you look at the results, you'll understand why: HIPS gives a very nice, smooth and detailed surface finish.
Initially, I struggled a bit with the HIPS prints cracking. It turned out that the extrusion temperature of 220°C was too low to insure sufficient layer-to-layer bonding. Once I increased the extrusion temperature to 250°C the HIPS printed without issues. A moderate print bed heat setting of 40°C made sure the prints stuck to the surface without warping.
Printing with NinjaFlex
As I had partially bought the Craftbot due to its direct drive extruder and therefore its ability to handle flexible materials I also tested flexible filament by NinjaFlex. Feeding the filament into the hot end worked fine but I quickly discovered that the manual extrusion, to prime the nozzle, does not work well: the extrusion speed is too high and the filament got pushed sideways instead of downwards into the extruder.
The manual extrusion speed is to high and the filament buckles instead of feeding into the extruder.
In order to compensate for the lack of manual priming, I added a few more skirt lines to my prints. This worked fine and with a speed of 30mm/sec I got the CraftBot to print with NinjaFlex. Now, the results are not yet perfect but optimizing the printer for printing with flexible filament is subject to a separate blog post. This post in the CraftUnique forum contains some great tips that I'll implement as soon as I get the time.
Having used the CraftBot during several weeks and having tried various filament types has given me a quite comprehensive picture of the machine. In short, the CraftBot delivers on part of its promise but also falls short in some respects:
- Solid design with excellent features: there is no doubt that a lot care went into designing the CraftBot. The machine looks very polished and feels like a quality piece of equipment from the moment you take it out of its shipping carton. The metal hot-end assembly, the removable print bed, the colored LCD screen with on-board controls, the USB slot for untethered printing, the adjustable LED lighting are indeed features found only in state-of-the-art 3D printers.
- Price & performance: for $870 you do indeed get quite some bang for your buck. Given all its features, the CraftBot is not only competitively priced, it also produces very decent 3D print results. The machine seems particularly able to handle thin walls and negative spaces.
An additional plus is the fact that the CraftBot does not rely on a proprietary filament system which translates into lower operating cost and total freedom when it comes to filament choice.
- Software: CraftWare is a great piece of software. Its gcode visualization features are impressive and its support creation features extremely practical. The preview capability in Expert mode also make CraftWare an excellent tool for anyone who wants to learn more about slicer settings.
Further, the use of CraftWare is not limited to the CraftBot only, the software supports all RepRap printers using standard gcode.
- Removable build platform: being able to quickly and easily remove the build platform is very practical. No need to fumble inside the printer when removing the finished prints: once you have removed the build plate you can attack your 3D model from any angle and with any tool of your choice.
CraftUnique even sells replacement build platforms such that you can simply swap them out when working with different surface coatings.
- Community: there is a very active community around the CraftBot. Taking a peek into the forums, you'll see CraftBot owners sharing their experiences and best practices. For each problem that I came across, I was able to find a thread in the forum where someone had encountered and solved the same issue. Such an active and helpful community is a great asset for any 3D printer owner.
- Heated print bed: my single biggest point of criticism of the CraftBot is the heated build platform. It under-performs by some margin: it is slow to heat up and does not reach its nominal operating temperature. CraftUnique have recognized this problem and addressed it in the CraftBot Plus, the printer's successor model. This now has a more powerful power supply allowing the build platform the heat up to 110°C.
Still, having bought a printer that was (and still is!) advertised as having a print bed able to operate at 100°C while it never reaches more than 80°C, is quite simply disappointing.
- Electronics: the electronics on the CraftBot are not quite as stable as they should be. The LED lights have a tendency to flicker and the connection via the USB key can also be fickle. Additionally,the LCD touchscreen, is not always as responsive as one would like. Sometimes you need to push a button 2-3 times before a command is really executed.
- Nozzle priming: the hot end of the CraftBot is a bit sluggish when laying down the first few layers of filament. Despite heating the filament to the required extrusion temperature and doing some manual extrusion I found that it still takes a bit of time before it extrudes seamlessly. Thus, printing with a skirt becomes a necessity to ensure that the filament flows continuously once you reach the first layer of the actual print.
- Missing feature: with the CraftBot, CraftUnique went on a mission to combine the most desirable features of the currently best 3D printers. However, it looks like they missed an obvious one: an auto-leveling print bed. Given the printer's considerable build platform, fine tuning the nozzle to print bed distance can be challenging. Using the spacer cards is neither state-of-the-art nor the most beginner friendly.
- Display information: the LCD screen functions could do with some further improvements. While the CraftBot shows you the progress of your print in %, it would be much more useful to see the remaining print time in hours. Indicating the elapsed time at the end of a print wouldn't hurt either.
With the CraftBot, CraftUnique has created a serious contender in the sub-1000 USD 3D printer category. That being said, the machine is still suffering from some teething problems: while the printer does indeed combine some desirable 3D printer features, the user experience is somewhat marred by some of those features not being able to fully deliver.
CraftUnique is addressing these issues with the successor model. While you can get good results with the CraftBot, it sounds like the CraftBot Plus is the printer you want to get. Personally, I am considering selling my CraftBot in order to buy the upgraded version.
Now, if the CraftBot Plus really delivers on its promise, it should be a very interesting 3D printer. Not having tested it, I can obviously not make any judgment yet. But, there is always room for an additional review 🙂
If there are any fellow CraftBot users reading this, I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. Feel free to leave a comment below!