Witbox Review – A Mixed Bag of Emotions

The first time the Witbox caught my attention was in November 2014. I was analyzing the now famous 3D printing trends report from our friends at 3D Hubs and immediately noticed two relatively new FDM printers which made it into the Top 5. One was the Zortrax M200 (still need to get one of those for testing) and the other was the Witbox.

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None of the previous 3D Hubs reports of June and August did even mention the Witbox, while it scored a respectable 9th place in October. Just one month later, the Witbox progressed impressively as it scored place number 4 (actually, place number 2 if you exclude the two first-placed SLA printers)! I couldn't help but wonder how a complete newcomer could climb scores so remarkably in such a short period of time. Naturally, this peaked my interest and I decided that it was time to put this newcomer 3D printer through a thorough testing.

Around that time, we were working on some of our articles for Make Magazine, among others, an interview with the developer of Octoprint, Gina Häußge. Gina had quit her regular job about 3 months earlier as she got a great offer by bq, a Spain-based company, which enabled her to continue developing her software full-time, while agreeing to keep it open-source.

Luckily for us, it happens that bq is also the manufacturer of the Witbox, so obtaining a test printer was quite easy (thanks again Gina). But before getting into the Witbox review itself, let's first have a look at who bq actually is and what the company stands for.

The Company Behind the Witbox 3D Printer

The registered name of the company manufacturing the Witbox is Mundo Reader SL, a limited liability company with registrered office in Madrid, Spain. Mundo Reader markets all of its products under the brand BQ, stylized as bq. bq is the brainchild of 6 students of the Polytechnical University of Madrid who set out to become a disruptive force in the highly competitive mobile phone and tablets markets.

bq logo

Launched in 2005, they started out selling USB sticks online and quickly grew into selling tablets and e-readers. They then focused on selling smartphones, e-readers and tablets designed in Spain, but assembled in China. This plan seemed to work well, as they grew their sales figures from +/- 4 million Euro in 2010 to 115 million Euro (est.) in 2014! While they employed 16 employees in 2010, they now have a workforce of over 1200 employees. Those numbers are very impressive and they explain why people do call bq the "Apple" of Spain.

bq's philosophy seems to be extremely open-source centered. The employment of Gina Häußge as chief Octoprint developer, while keeping the software open-source proved that commitment. More recently, bq was in the news when they started selling the first smartphone running on the brandnew Ubuntu Phone OS, called the bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu edition. bq had been offering Android based smartphones so far, but opted for a flash-sales technique for launching the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu edition. The first such sale reported order rates of 12.000 (!) units a minute and did cause a crash of their system. All this to say that open-source seems to find a lot of attention and is most definitely a core part of bq's philosophy.

The Witbox is bq's first try at 3D printers. In the meantime (the present article took quite some time to get finished), they are also offering a far cheaper RepRap style DIY-kit printer based on the Prusa i3, called the bq Prusa i3 Hephestos.

Witbox 3D Printer Specifications

The Witbox is a nicely designed, completely enclosed FFF 3D printer, featuring a massive 29,7 x 21 cm (i.e. DIN-A4) print volume, with a maximum height of 20 cm (11.7 x 8.3 x 7.9 inches), coming up to a whopping build volume of 12.500 cm3. Its beefy frame, made out of powder-coated steel plates, is a guarantee for absolute sturdiness, but also results in a very impressive weight of 30 kg!

One of the first things you will notice about the Witbox is that it is a fully enclosed 3D printer. It has transparent acrylic windows on both sides and on the top, its back is part of the steel frame and the front features a lockable transparent door. The whole setup is illuminated by blue LED lights.

bq's Witbox white - front view

Witbox 3D Printer. Photo © bq

The printbed is a heavy piece of laminated glass onto the bottom of which is glued a proeminent piece of plastic. This piece fits exactly into the recess of the adjustable Z-platform and thereby ensures that the build plate is easily and properly installed and removed, all hassle-free. Four supplementary magnets do keep the build plate in place. The Z-platform is also equipped with 3 adjustable screws easily accessed from below, making the levelling of the printbed quite easy.

The Witbox comes with a single, all-metal hot-end, a direct drive extruder for 1,75mm PLA filament as well as two fixed fans taking care of the necessary cooling. A 40W, 12V heater cartridge ensures very short heating up times.  

The Witbox is a gantry-type style of printer, which moves the extruder in the X and Y axes, while the build platform only moves in the Z-axis. Similarly to some of the Makerbot Replicator models, the Witbox does have a special Y-axis setup, which is stacked onto the X-axis.  

All in all, the Witbox makes for a very sturdy and professional look. The materials used are mostly high-end as well as high-quality, like the igus power screw for the Z axis, the igus bearings as well as the igus cable chains/cable carriers. The very sturdy powder-coated steel chassis as well as the toughened chrome bars for the carriages all add to this first good impression.

Here is an overview of the complete Witbox specs:

Price as tested:

Dimensions:

Weight:

Build Volume:

Layer Thickness:

Print Untethered:

Filament Diameter:

Nozzle Diameter:

Nozzle - Operating Temperature:

Heated Bed :

Print Materials:

Host Software:

Slicing Software:

OS Supported:

€ 1.690
$~1,880

​505 x 388 x 450 mm
~19.9 x 15.3 x 17.7 in

30 kg
66 lbs

​297 x 210 x 200 mm 
~11.7 x 8.3 x 7.9 in

50 microns


​Yes

1.75 mm

0.4 mm

180°C - 250°C

none

PLA, TPE (FilaFlex)

Cura, Repetier, Pronterface, ReplicatorG

Cura, Skeinforge, Repetier, ReplicatorG

Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Unboxing & Setup

The Witbox is shipped in a special box-in-box system, developed by bq for a safe transport of the 3D printer. The first layer of this system consists of a simple outer cardboard box, fitting very snugly onto the box with the printer inside - this first cardboard box is not closed at the bottom, so no cutting tools are needed. You simply pull the outer box off in order to reveal a high-quality white box with some Witbox photos, two plastic tabs and some logos. 

Those plastic tabs are the connectors to the cardboard base onto which the printer is packed. They need to be turned 90° in order to be able to pull them out. Only then are you able to lift this "second layer box" off and you will finally be able to access the printer, which comes packed in a lot of soft styrofoam padding. The whole setup is a bit difficult to explain in writing, so in order to understand how exactly this packing system is designed, have a look at the photos below.

While this system surely presents well, may provide for easy packing at the manufacturing plant and may also provide the surrounding of the printer quite a good protection, it has one fundamental flaw: the whole weight of the printer (with its massive 30kg) and the weight of the accessories are concentrated on that small corrugated carton base. And all this weight is kept by those plastic tabs. The problem is that this corrugated carton base is simply not sturdy enough to withstand this weight, especially when handled a bit rough during transportation - at least that was the case with my Witbox. It arrived completely wrapped in black plastic wrapping film to keep it from falling apart even more, as the base of the box was seriously destroyed, especially the area around those plastic tabs.

Luckily, the printer did not present any apparent damage when I unpacked it. As for the accessories, they also all seemed unscathed. bq is actually quite generous with accessories: each Witbox comes with a metal spool holder, a 750g spool of 1,75mm PLA filament, a 4GB SD card, a replacement hot-end (!), 3 Allen keys, 4 underside supports to put the printer on, 2 very fine acupuncture-type cleaning needles and a good quality wire brush (not one of those cheap "three for one dollar" brushes with nearly no bristles).

Furthermore, bq adds a good spatula for removing your prints, a set of 2 keys for the front-door, a USB cable and even one sheet of a BuildTak-like special printing surface which can be glued onto the build plate for better first layer adhesion. The latter is not from BuildTak, but a bq branded product - results are similar though. 

All at the bottom, you will also find a test object printed with your printer, as well as the 24 month warranty, the user manual and the quick-start manual. bq also provides you with a calibration template, which is a special sheet of paper used to measure the leveling of your build plate. As the nozzle touches this template, it will leave fine marks, which will easily indicate whether your buildplate is too close to the nozzle.

Setting up the Witbox is easy. The installation and removal of the metal spool holder is a breeze, as it is easily accessible at the back of the printer. In order to install the two acrylic side panels, you just need to loosen four screws on each side with one of the provided Allen keys. Let the panels slide into their respective slots and tighten the screws again - done. Attaching the top panel is even easier: just install it and tighten the four screws with your fingers.

I then proceeded to install the build plate/printbed. I noticed that it had lost one of its 4 magnets, probably due to the rough handling during transportation. I took some superglue and glued it back onto the glass slab. After this, I removed with a pair of scissors the two ties which fix the extruder carriage for transportation and plugged the printer in.

One magnet fell off during transport and had to get glued back
Cutting the cable ties after transport

When powering up the Witbox for the first time, you may be in for kind of a surprise: the Witbox's interior is lit up by a very bright and slightly eerie violet-blue LED light. While I generally appreciate having a printer with LED lighting, as it makes working and printing so much easier (i.e. no flashlight needed to check upon the prints), the Witbox's LED lights are simply too bright and unfortunately can't either be switched off (unless tinkering with the electronics) or be at least dimmed. Also, the violet-blue makes it really difficult to work with certain lighter colors (see some of the photos below).

My recommendation to bq: please do install an on/off switch and and consider changing to white LED's (or even better: a color-changing LED's). These options would be greatly appreciated in a later iteration of the Witbox. 

Also, soon as the power is turned on, the two massive high flow ventilation fans sitting in the back panel of your Witbox start up, effectively throwing out over 2 cubic meters of air per minute. While on their website bq praises the acrylic enclosure to minimize noise and to prevent heat from escaping, thereby maintaining  a constant temperature inside the printer, I came to the conclusion that those both statements are not correct or at least misleading.

First of all, once powered up, those two high flow fans make it absolutely impossible to remain close to the printer over a longer stretch of time, as they are nerve-wreckingly loud. As with the LED lights, it is impossible to switch the fans off, unless unplugging them manually. The Witbox therefore cannot be advertised, in my personal opinion, as a desktop application (i.e. a 3D printer installed immediately next to your PC, at home or in your office), as it is simply too noisy.

You will have to set it up in a separate room, unless you are looking to propagate migraines similar to those obtained from putting your head into the middle of a fighter-jet turbine test without ear protection. And the acrylic enclosure does not do anything to prevent this horrible noise.

Secondly, those huge fans do everything for not having a constant temperature inside the printer, as they empty and renew the printers internal air volume several times a minute, so that any temperature will never have the time to build up at all.

Luckily enough, the Witbox can be used either as standalone 3D printer or be tethered to your computer via USB. After connecting it to my computer at first, I quickly decided to set it up in a separate room, in order for the noise not to bother me. 

Very noisy high-flow fan
Noisy vent on Witbox

Build Platform Leveling

Once the Witbox is switched on, its front LCD panel is also powered up, informing you first about the currently installed firmware version. As soon as it is booted up, you should proceed to level your printbed.

The clear instructions from the Quick-start guide and those on the LCD panel make this an easy process. First, you need to put the special calibration paper onto the printbed and choose the leveling option on the LCD screen. The Witbox then performs a three point leveling, for each point of which you need to check whether the bed is well calibrated or not.

The special calibration sheet is really useful in this respect, as the type of paper used kind of creates small visible marks from the hot-end, thereby efficiently telling you if you are too close, too far away from the printbed or just fine. The rather large adjustment thumbscrews located on the underside of the printbed make those adjustments also quite easy. 

Naturally, I would have preferred a fully-automatic printbed leveling feature, but maybe that will be implemented in the Witbox's next iterations.

There are however two negative points i would like to point out regarding the printbed leveling procedure. First of all, in order to proceed with the printbed-leveling procedure, your hot-end needs to be cooled down to at least 60°C or lower. Otherwise, you cannot proceed with the procedure. This is quite unnerving, as leveling needs to be done quite often and you loose a lot of time waiting for the hot-end cooling.

Also, if you did not clean the nozzle properly immediately after a print and some leftovers plastic pieces are nested between the nozzle and the platform, you first need to heat the nozzle, in order to remove that gunk. Then you need to cool it down, before you can proceed with leveling the printbed. While this surely is a safety feature with good intent, more advanced users should have the choice whether to level the printbed with a hot or cold nozzle.

Secondly, after finishing a print, the printbed always homes down all the way on the Z axis, lowering it close to its maximum. As the SD card is situated on the lower left side inside of the printer (i.e. behind the control panel), it is nearly impossible to insert or remove the SD card after the print is finished. You will first have to move the Z axis manually. But more on the SD card slot later. 

Loading the Filament

Loading the filament is quite easy on the Witbox. First select the "Load filament" option from the LCD frontpanel. The hot-end will now heat up to 220°C, which you can witness on the LCD. Thanks to the powerful 40W heater cartridge, this is done quite quickly. As soon as the LCD reads "Insert&Press", you can feed the filament strand into the so-called "Fibonacci guide tube".

Just pay attention that you installed your filament reel onto the spool holder and that the filament's loose end is situated on the right side ot the reel. This ensures a proper and permanent feeding of the filament. Now continue feeding the filament until you feel that it has reached the hotend. Press the control wheel on the front panel and the Witbox will start extruding a small test strand of filament. You are ready to print.

I may have criticized the witbox on certain points before, but I also give praise where praise is due. Bq had requested a patent on this "Fibonacci guide tube" system, which was actually kind of surprising, as they stand so much for open source (as explained in the introduction). This Fibonacci guide actually ensured that friction from the filament inside the tube was kept to a minimum.

Now, Thomas Sanladerer, a fellow 3D printer tester colleague of ours, had tested the Witbox before us and gave them a very bad grade, partially because of this patent story standing in direct opposition as to what bq claims to do. Interestingly, bq reacted to this review and retracted the patent! It also made available the whole hardware of the Witbox, strengthening their commitment to open source. And for these actions, I have to say: Kudos to bq! This proves a real willingness to consecrate and pursue the open source spirit.

Host Software & Slicer

According to its website, bq seems to prefer using slic3r on the Witbox as slicing software, which astounded me a bit, considering that both the Quick start manual and the complete Witbox manual both exclusively refer to Cura. Actually, they do not even mention slic3r as an option. The same goes for Repetier host, which is compatible with the Witbox, but which is not mentioned in the manuals. Further research on the Witbox's webpage also shows that it can also use Pronterface, ReplicatorG and Skeinforge.

As a regular reader of our articles, you may have noticed that we typically use Cura, but I still think that those other software options should at least have been mentioned somewhere in the manuals.

There is not a lot to be said about the software, as I have only be using the special Witbox flavour of Cura for all of my 3D printing needs. As usual with Cura, installation is easy, first use configuration hassle-free and the recommended firmware update without problems.

I would like to note however that bq offers Sclic3r and Cura printing profiles in the download of the Witbox. While I did not play around with those, they may prove useful for people who don't want to bother finding the right settings for the Witbox by themselves.

Cura view for witbox

Witbox Number One - My First Experience

I was finally ready to print my first test print. The Witbox comes with a few preconfigured stl files on the SD card and I chose the classic "Tree frog" as my first print. After launching the print, I immediately noticed that the Y axis was not working properly, so the printer was not able to "home". The X axis also overshot. So only the Z axis was working fine, but Y was badly blocked - time to contact bq's support.

My initial take (deduced from the noises it made) was that one of the stepper motor's gears broke during transport. Support first recommended that I check the motors wiring (which I had already done) and then instructed me to unscrew the stepper from the pulley belts. The stepper motor worked fine when not connected to the belt, so it became clear that my problem had another cause. While unscrewing the Y axis stepper, I noticed that the whole Y axis carriage seemed blocked at about half of its leeway on the guiding rods and my initial suspicion that the guiding rods had been hit during transport grew even further. 

I passed on my suspicions to the support team and made them a short movie, where you clearly see that the carriage gets blocked and hear that the stepper motor starts grinding (which is never a good sign). They blamed loose screws and had me re-tighten all of the possible suspects connected to the Y axis.

After this failed to resolve anything, they then sent me precise instructions on how to open the electronics panel and how to inverse the X and Y axis stepper connectors on the board. This way, I could observe whether the axis were inverted from the factory settings or if there was some other problem.

This actually fixed the overshooting problems on the X axis, but the Y was still blocked. In order to illustrate the remainig Y axis problem, I sent 3 movies to support, documenting printbed levelling and a manual jog of the X and the Y axis. Support requested that I install the new firmware, which I did, but unfortunately this did not solve anything.

Updating Witbox firmware via Cura

They also recommended that I check whether the rods are oiled enough. This request surprised me a bit, as with my Ultimaker for instance, I am not supposed to oil the guiding rods. As this did also not resolve anything and considering that 10 days had passed in e-mailing back and forth, bq graciously proposed that I send back the Witbox for a replacement one.

It should also be noted that the oil on the rods amasses a lot of dust and other gunk, so they need to be cleaned and re-oiled at regular intervals.

Here comes another recommendation I am hoping that bq will address: while their support personnel are all friendly and quite reactive, I had some instances where 3 or 4 different people helped me with the same issue. This involved a lot of re-explaining of things said previously, as for example, I got asked about three times for my shipping address and 4 times I was requested to send them the original invoice (which btw as tester I did not have, as we use loan agreements).

This can become quite frustrating and I would advise to either affect one specific person to one customer's issues or to provide the support person with a history of the previous e-mail conversations. And I also have to add that a lot of confusion stemmed from the fact that the support personnel was not always up to the level when it came to communicating clearly in English.

I do not want to blame the specific persons involved in those specific issues and I certainly do not question neither their knowledge, nor their abilities to help and identify the sometimes complex problems in the field of 3D printing. However, if your goal as a company is to establish yourself as an international 3D printer manufacturer, you have to make sure that your support personnel is actually able to communicate at a sufficient level in English or in the language of your customer. 

While I can perfectly understand that bq comes from Spain and that Spanish is their working language, I have noticed that they may not be aware that this may create a certain barrier to entry for their international clients. For instance, their series of instructional videos on the Witbox, whose URL is in the Quick Start guide only link to Spanish speaking videos. The "Other ressources" tab on the Witbox's download and support page still contain profile descriptions in Spanish only.  

Since beginning with my review (as said previously, this review took me quite some time to finish), I have to acknowledge that bq has been trying to fix the problems of the written Spanish instances, but some problems still do remain up to today.

Witbox Number Two - The "Second" Experience

Ten days later, I received my brand-new Witbox. This time it was delivered on a wooden mini-pallet, so the lower part of the box was not broken. Actually, the box was only slightly dented, so I was confident that, contrary to witbox number one, this witbox would be working fine.

And so it did. After unpacking, setting up and updating it, I immediately saw that I had obtained a newer version of the Witbox. The first Witbox had on SD card reader on the inside of the printer, situated on the lower left side behind the front panel. This place was impossible to reach, even more so when a print was finished and the printbed was lowered all down.

bq already had identified this issue and my new Witbox now had an SD card reader installed on the printer's inside, but on top of the front panel. This little change makes a huge difference on how easy it is now to access the SD card reader - so Kudos to bq again for permanently improving their products.

One thing though.... bq delivers with each Witbox an 4GB SD card, which they are rebranding by simply glueing a bq sticker over the manufacturers label. The problem is that the glue on that sticker seems to be of minor quality, especially once the SD card has been inserted over a longer time in the slot and it starts to heat up.

I nearly destroyed the SD card with my first Witbox, trying to get it out of the card reader with pliers, as it was seriously jammed. Because of the bad glue and the heat, the sticker detaches itself, gets jammed in the card slot and it is a real mess to get it out. So with my second Witbox, I removed the bq sticker immediately.

After loading the pre-sliced "tree frog" stl, I printed the model which ran fine and was finished within a few minutes. I also printed the two parts of the box-in-box model, which also printed fine. Actually, the quality of both prints, taking into consideration the speed at which they were printed, made a bit of an impression on me.

I then proceeded on testing various prints directly onto the massive glass slab, without any painters tape or another adhesive. Keep in mind that the Witbox does not have a heated bed, so printing directly onto the printbed is not recommended, as too often the prints would simply come off or become undone.

bq actually recommends in its manual to use lacquer/hair spray on the printbed, for an optimal first layer adhesion. Painters tape also works, but with its usual limitations, i.e. it often gets destroyed while removing the prints, its needs to be put on spotlessly which is time consuming and it needs to be replaced after a few prints anyway. The hairspray method works, but even here it happens that prints do come off.

One of the problems is that, although using exclusively PLA which is not known to have serious warping issues, some of the prints started warping, as it is quite difficult to maintain a high enough temperature inside the printer because of too much air being sucked out by the high-flow vents (see above). I have actually been talking to some people in forums which are considering adopting a heated printbed for the Witbox - this means that there is an issue regarding temperature to address right there.

After doing a lot of tests, I came to the conclusion that the best method is actually to install the bq branded special printing surface onto the printbed, which is delivered with every Witbox. This print surface is similar to the one commercialized by BuildTak and its results are quite impressive. The first layers stick impeccably and only one or two models with very special shapes snapped off during printing. For good measure, I recommend adding a fine layer of hairspray onto the special printing surface and all adhesion problems should disappear.

bq special print surface installed

Thanks to the very easy and ingenious printbed fixation system, removing and installing the very massive slab of laminated glass is very easy. Once the surface was not usable for printing anymore, because of being full of hairspray residue, I simply put it under warm running water for a minute and cleaned it away with a soap-soaked sponge.

Another good printing tip is to configure your slicer software to automatically add at least 3 or 4 skirts to your 3D model you want to print. The Witbox actually needs some time to equalize the pressure inside the heat chamber and the hot-end, so adding at least 3 skirts efficiently bridges that gap and will ensure that the molten filament will extrude consistently.

I would also recommend to clean your nozzle after each print with the excellent wire brush provided with your printer. The Witbox hot-end has a certain tendency to amass gunk, which inevitably leads to clogging or similar print problems. A quick brush stroke while the nozzle has not cooled down too much help getting rid of all of those and will maintain your Witbox's hot-end in excellent state.

Witbox - Printing Performance

To gauge the Witbox's 3D printing performance, we always use the test protocol from the Make 3D Printer Shootout. Printing the same probes on different printers allows us to compare performance between different machines.

All tests were run using the PLA provided with the Witbox, at a print speed of 40mm/sec and at a layer resolution of 0.2mm. The probes are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the maximum score.

Here is how the witbox performed on these models:

Dimensional Accuracy
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 Witbox's probe showed deviations of no more than 0.08 mm! Score: 5/5.

Dimensional Accuracy

Bridging Performance
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 Witbox performed extremely well on this test, as it managed to bridge all the gaps no filament dropping. Score: 5/5.

Bridging Performance

Overhang Performance
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 Witbox managed all the angles extremely well and did not droop any filament even at the 70° angle. Score: 5/5.

Overhang performance
Overhang probe - side view

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 Witbox did not perform well on this test as only 2 out of the 5 pins could be removed. Score: 2/5.

Negative Space Tolerance probe

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 Witbox managed to complete the spires more or less and with a lot of connecting filament strands. Score: 2/5.

Fine Positive Space Features probe

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 presented noticeable rippling at the corners and at the inset of the print wall. Score: 0/fail.

XY Mechanical Resonance probe

Mechanical Resonance in Z
The Witbox 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: 1/pass.

Z Mechanical Resonance probe

Articulated Makey Robot
I actually managed to forget to print the articulated Makey, which is an extremely challenging print that combines many elements of the above performance tests into a single probe. But I have printed an elephant, with articulated head and limbs that have a gap of just over 0.3mm and some serious overhang challenges.

Curved head and overhang surface: Score: 3/5.
Body surface: Score: 3/5.

Articulated elephant
Articulated elephant

All in all, I consider that the Witbox scored a very respectable result on the test probes, contrary to my initial expectations. Not that I did not trust the printer, but having read or watched some previous reviews on the Witbox, it appeared to me that everybody was disappointed with the printing results. I however do come to a slightly different conclusion - the Witbox is actually a capable 3D printer, once you are able to even out its flaws.

Especially when I started some non-torture prints, like the vases and bowls you can see below, the Witbox started to astound me more and more. What seriously surprised me was its reliability, once a print was launched and the first layers were done. I grew bolder and started big overnight prints, like the massive rectangular vase pictured or the huge decorative vase below, which both turned out very well. With just one exception being the very complicated Nervoussystem cellular lamp, the Witbox managed all other prints without problems.

Using Materials other than PLA

In my personal opinion, one of the Witbox's biggest drawbacks is being limited to only being able to print with a select few materials. The printer has been developed to print with PLA, which explains the absence of a heated printbed, a necessity when you print with ABS for instance.

But the Witbox is not limited to PLA exclusively, as you can also print with flexible filament, especially FilaFlex or bq's own woodfilament. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to test these filaments with the Witbox. If anybody has tested other filament types, I would be grateful if you could us know your experiences in the comment section below.

Witbox Review - More Findings and Observations

A few words on the front panel control wheel/dial button: its metal looks are absolutely great and it has a great feel to it. Regrettably, it is not very precise and very often overshoots the menu you intend to enter on the LCD. Other times, it simply does not move and seems stuck. bq would be well advised to build in a more precise dial.  

More than a few times, I had to fiddle and open the electronics enclosure (see explanations under Witbox number one for example). This enclosure is a massive metal frame, situated inside the Witbox and held down by two hex screws. Because it is situated inside of the printer, bq designed the enclosure to be a small as possible.

The problem is that once you screw the hex screws back in place and tighten them, the whole enclosure has a tendency to push down on all of the cables and connectors positioned directly under it. This caused, in my case, more than one issue with the electronics. Especially the SD card slot did not work from time to time or gave me error messages - loosening the screws helped in that respect. This issue should be addressed in the new iterations of the Witbox.

All in all, it was the lack of reliability of the Witbox which riled me most. And no, I am not talking about its printing capacities, as I said before, once the print was fixed, it could let it run overnight with no problems. Actually, thanks to the Witbox, I've managed to print maybe not the most beautiful or precise, but some of the biggest objects I have realized up to date. But it are all of the above little things which are not working which seriously frustrated me.

I had to go through all of the above stated problems with two separate Witboxes. I agree, it was not bq's fault that the first model which was delivered to me was badly dinged up during transport. But the inversed axis problem could have been avoided, as did the problem with the SD card stickers.

My frustrations culminated when Witbox number two also decided to quit on me, just a few days into testing. During a print, it started showing a MaxTemp error. This error remained on the LCD although the hot-end was cold. 

Maxtemp error on LCD

So I contacted support again, which recommended that I update the firmware. Said, done, did not change anything. I was then instructed to disassemble the hot-end, to see whether the thermistor had a short. As the values did not change after unplugging the thermistor, I now proceeded to check the electronics board. As unplugging the wires here did not change anything either, the only possibility remaining was that the electronics board was KO.

Luckily, bq had not yet picked up Witbox number one, so I unpacked it again, opened the electronics and switched out both boards. At least that worked and Witbox number two was up and running again. But I have to admit that I was growing weary of these issues and I tried to conclude my testing as quickly as possible. I had just been loosing too much of my time trying to fix a 3D printer which, for a hefty price of 1.700 EUR should not present any of these problems at the outset.

I also noticed that the Witbox seemed to have problems, especially with single-walled objects. Quite a lot of my printed vases had hairline gaps or just did not print well. While I know that it is still a challenge for most 3D printers today to print watertight single-walled objects, those repetitive ripples worried me with the Witbox. I did not find any solution to this problem during the time I had a Witbox for testing though. If you have solutions to this, please feel free and comment about them in the below comment section.

Conclusion

I had really been looking forward to testing the Witbox, bq's first ever 3D printer. I particularly took into consideration bq's renown for promoting open source and generally being quite the hyped and cool company, so I was expecting something new and fresh.

Alas, I have been deceived by the Witbox. I have been deceived by the Witbox's obvious failures at least as much as I have been deceived by the fact that the Witbox actually has the potential for being a good 3D printer, but that a lot of small issues hold it back from ever reaching its true potential.

 For a better overview, here are the major pros and cons of the Witbox:

The Good

  • Professional design and materials: the fully enclosed design, the sturdy and massive frame, LED lighting, a massive but easily removable glass printbed, untethered printing abilities - undoubtedly the Witbox feels like a semi-professional 3D printer when you see it and work with it.
  • High-quality components and commitment to open-source: the massive use of state-of-the-art high-quality components, their integrated design and their unwavering commitment to open-source (hardware and software) definitely are appealing arguments talking for the Witbox.  
  • ​Lots of accessories: the Witbox comes with a massive array of accessories, most notable amongst which are a replacement hot-end, a special glue-on printing surface sheet, a good quality wire brush and spatula and even acupuncture-type cleaning needles.
  • Huge build volume: with its massive 29,7 x 21 x 20cm build volume, the Witbox is among the king-size category of cartesian-type printers able to achieve huge prints (i.e. over 12.000cm3 volume).
  • Potential good print results: if it presents no issues, the Witbox is perfectly capable of achieving respectable printing results, with its 3D prints showing no signs of backlash, no overhang and no bridging issues.

The Bad

  • Loads of issues: my main point of frustration stems from the ton of issues the Witbox exhibits before, during and after printing. Be it the excessive noise, the too bright and not dimmable/switchable LED's, the irritating cooling down procedure before bed-leveling, the gunk accumulating on the rods, the flimsy front dial button or the delicate or defective electronics.
  • Lack of general reliability: the issues mentioned in point one here-above have a direct effect in the reliability of the machine. For a 3D printer costing close to 1.700 EUR, one should neither have to tinker with the electronics nor have to replace the machine twice within a short amount of time or loose weeks on end talking to tech support.
  • Material limitation: the fact that the Witbox is limited to printing PLA, FilaFlex and wood composites only represents a serious drawback for everybody wanting to give some more exotic materials a try.
  • Price: although high-quality components are being used, a price of 1.700 EUR is not justified for a machine lacking automatic printbed leveling, a heated printbed, a colored LCD screen and quiet fans.
  • Problematic packaging: the special packaging developed for the Witbox has one fundamental flaw - the weak corrugated carton base cannot withstand the massive 30 plus kilograms of the printer and its accessories. This will result in a lot of disgruntled customers receiving trashed or dented Witboxes.

Our Recommendation

The Witbox is the first 3D printer, which sparked a serious roller-coaster ride of feelings within myself, going from elation to serious and dark frustration within hours or sometimes even minutes. The Witbox owners and fans will probably defend the printer and argue that I was unlucky to obtain two broken models - which is a possibility. But the breakdowns and issues have been too numerous for me, as to invoke Murphy's law in this respect. For a machine costing close to 1.700 EUR, these issues simply should not be present instead of having to be ironed out.

For my part, I seriously hope that my humble review may help bq address some of these issues, so that the Witbox 2.0 (or whatever they are going to name the next iteration) will actually reach what it was meant to be: a great 3D printer. Until then, I would hold off from buying a Witbox.  

EDIT: Just before publishing this article, bq has announced the launch of the Witbox 2 during a big media event. The Witbox 2 features all new electronics, an auto-leveling printbed, a better and more intuitive LCD display as well as a new extruder system which seems to get clogged less frequently. It apparently also permits it to print with multiple materials and still remains 100% open source. I really like the announced features on the new model, although that I would have liked a heated bed too. The announced retail price is 1690 EUR. I hope that I will be able to give the Witbox 2 a go and see if bq managed to address most of the Witbox 1's problems.  

Witbox2 3D Printer. Photo © bq

If there are any fellow Witbox users reading this, we'd be very interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. Feel free to leave a comment below!