Monoprice Maker Select v2 – My Experience

So I got a 3D printer back in July of 2016. I wanted one for a while but the price was a bit too much. I stumbled on a sale for the Monoprice Maker Select v2, and started doing research as a $300 3D printer sounded to good to be true. After a few hours of digging around I pulled the trigger.

TL;DR – Overall, I loved the experience. I recommend the printer but only if you’re willing to put some work into learning, tweaking and failing.

The following is written for someone that has already started poking into 3D printed, learned some terminology, and is interested in reviews of specific printers. Although I’ll try to be as newbie friendly as I can, a lot of terms are just part of my vernacular now and this piece will be ridiculously long if I try to get overly educational, too.

Initial experience and notes

I spent the weekend between ordering it and getting it diving deep into anything 3D printing related on YouTube, wiki’s, and everything that seemed appropriate. I learned a lot in that time. I had a good idea of what would be necessary out of the box. Setting up the printer was simple enough. The whole process, including loading the sample filament, took maybe 20 minutes. I took my time leveling the print bed, but didn’t quite understand the impact this could have until later. I started a print that was included on the SD card and was amazed with what was happening. It’s kind of incredible watching a 3D additive printer for the first time. It’s worth noting that unloading the filament for the first time was difficult. The documentation was poor in this regard, but I stumbled on some decent instructions and got the hang of it quickly enough.

I printed a few knickknacks first and decided I probably found my new hobby. Here’s the first print I did, a butterfly that was included on the sample SD card:

I got a 3D printer and I'm amazed how awesome this is immediately.

A post shared by JP Powers (@jp_powers) on

Some things to consider up front about these printers:

  • The Monoprice Maker Select is a rebrand of a Chinese printer, specifically the Wanhao Duplicator i3. The Wanhao is sold internationally and branded different depending on where you live, but here in the states we get the Monoprice or the Wanhao if you buy it direct. Monoprice does some very, very slight changes beyond slapping their logo on it, but that mostly amounts to documentation.
  • This printer was setup in an office environment, so I wanted to stick to PLA plastics. For those not in the know, PLA is a (mostly) biopolymer, which is a “safer” and more eco-friendly plastic. Another common 3D printing plastic is ABS, which is far more like what you’re used to when you think of “plastic.” ABS makes a melting plastic smell when you 3D print it because, well, you are melting plastic in the process. PLA basically doesn’t smell, or at worse makes this almost sugary smell. There are also no real concerns with hazardous fumes with PLA. As a final product, it’s weaker than ABS because it’s more brittle, but the benefit of not bothering other people in the office left me printing PLA for the long haul. For more on PLA vs. ABS, check out the great run down All 3DP did here.

Some early examples

Here’s a few prints from when I first got the printer, before I started doing major modifications. None of these prints have any real post-processing, at least nothing more than light sanding of any stringing or “pimples” (what I took to calling the little nubs that stick out of the skin when the printer moves to the next layer).

Here you can see the effect of a shaky gantry. You can clearly see where some layers are because they are not perfectly even with the layer below or above. This happens because the printer’s Z axis is not perfectly stiff and will shake a bit during printing due to the mechanisms moving around. This effect is what brought about the Z-Axis brace I eventually put on the printer, which helps but isn’t ground breaking. One way to lessen this effect is moving the filament spool holder off the top of the printer, as is suggested, and instead put it on the control box, where there are also mounting holes. I don’t know why I don’t see more people doing this, it makes a noticeable difference. Otherwise the detail on this model is insane. The hair looks amazing, and the clasp on the cloak came out beautifully. Note that this model sits at ~100mm tall, if I remember right. It’s also the only successful version of this model I ever got, I think. I tried a bunch but there was always some problem.

EDIT (2017.05.13 10:25am): Someone on reddit asked where I got this model. I should have clarified it here earlier. There are a number of variations on this model out there, most of them are unprintable due to bad design and/or broken geometry. I stumbled on this version thanks to Yeggi, a great tool for searching 3D models. Specifically it’s from 3dmag.org. I still had problems printing this, but it wasn’t entirely due to the model. There are a couple spots that do not print well on this, but you can get a great print out of it.

This is an amazing looking model, one I’ve printed a few of because it’s so interesting. It’s a pretty slow print because it’s got so many thin, tiny details but it’s worth it.

The hero #3dprinting deserves.

A post shared by JP Powers (@jp_powers) on

On this Batman head you can see the effect of the Z axis shaking again, a bit more pronounced. On models like this I actually kind of like the look, it gives the model some detail that makes it more interesting. This is another model I printed a few of, it’s just cool.

Things start breaking fast when it’s this cheap

It didn’t take long for stuff to start falling apart. Two major problems came up in the first couple months.

  1. A squeaking sound on fast Y axis movement
  2. Part cooling fan somehow got damaged

The squeaking sound was a troublesome problem. This was my first real experience with the community around this printer. I asked in a couple places and got a few different “No trust me it’s this” type answers. A couple were admittedly kind of close, but the over confidence some people have amazes me. What’s worse is the number of people that tell you to print something to fix a 3D printer. If my printer is broken… or printing in a fashion that I don’t trust it… how the hell do I print a part for it?

Anyways, the noise was coming from fast Y axis moves. I did two things to address it. First, I took apart the Y axis pulley mechanism and noticed that the idler pulley was squeaking all on it’s own. The nyloc nut that “secures” (I’m using that word quite loosely here) the pulley was too tight, and the pulley itself is cheap. I could have replaced the pulley but just adjusting the nyloc nut was enough. Second, I lubricated the Y axis rods. Noise was gone. Similar noises would crop up from time to time, but eventually I realized it’s just that was I wasn’t maintaining the printer well. You should use the appropriate lubes on the bearings far more regularly than I was. What’s an appropriate lube? There are a lot of opinions out there, and the RepRap wiki has a great article on options, but I prefer Teflon based lubes. How often should you do this? Again, lot of opinions out there, but I got in the habit of one full roll of filament (I was using 1KG rolls) or 2 months, whichever came first.

The part cooling fan was a whole different ball game. I never figured out exactly how or why this happened. The fan’s shroud, the bit that directs the air, got bent in one corner on the bottom. Note, this shroud is made out of sheet metal. The bowed corner was in a place that is almost impossible for it to happen from human error, bowed in a direction from the inside where there’s no way you can get something in there to do it. The best that I can figure is the metal, or a nearby weld, was crap and after some use warped in a manner that made the metal do something weird. The problem here is this bowed bit of metal was low enough that it scrapped the print bed on the first layer and messed up any prints while it was going.

Here’s another example of the 3D printing community being kind of dumb. The fix literally everyone tells you is “Well just print a new fan shroud.” OK. Fine. I get it. Literally any problem with your printer? Fix it by printing new parts. Again: How do I do that that if the printer’s not working? I gave up on asking for help from the community at this point, but mostly because I saw so many other new makers falling into the same trap as me: Like any community on the internet, everyone’s just kind of dumb. The suggestions people make may come from experience, but do not account for your own experience or situation.

I ended up ordering the parts for a popular fan shroud model someone designed for this printer and having a local from 3D Hubs print me the replacement shroud. That was actually a cool experience, but overall a hassle.

Oh, you should seriously consider safety, too. I didn’t.

I wreaked my fingers repeatedly. I still have some light scars on my left hand index finger.

See, the printer comes with a BuildTak knock off print surface. I had a bunch of adhesion problems still. First layers either wouldn’t stick or I’d have to put so much force into my scraper trying to get prints off the bed my hand would slam into the razor sharp corners of the aluminum bed, making it so once I lifted a quarter inch square of skin from just above my finger nail. I’d spend way too long leveling the bed and still it wasn’t remotely consistent. It didn’t take long for me to start wearing gloves, which really I should have been anyways but I also don’t use a static guard thing while working inside a PC because I’m a rebel.

Here’s an example of the adhesion being too good:

Welp, even finished prints can be failures 😣

A post shared by JP Powers (@jp_powers) on

The model stuck so well that the print fell apart trying to get it off. I think this is the print that wreaked my index finger, if I remember correctly… The point is the model bonded to the print surface better than it bonded to itself. Probably the combination of the surface material, the adhesion method I was using at the time (basic glue stick), and the heated build plate did it. Most other attempts at this model I did wouldn’t stick at all. By the third layer it would lose all adhesion and fail.

So I scrapped that BuildTak surface off the bed, picked up a square of tempered glass (ended up with both of these: one and two) and some silicon thermal pad material. Wow, what a difference this made. First, the bed is removable now so I could remove prints far more safely. Things stuck way better, or at least far more consistently, and the surface finish on the bottom was incredibly smooth. The process was far easier: clean the glass, put it on the printer, start a print and after homing, while it’s warming everything up, spray a very light layer of AquaNet hair spray. I’d also drape a paper towel over the motion rods so any over spray wouldn’t get on them. When done, take the glass plate off the printer, let it cool for a bit. You can actually hear it cooling as the plastic pulls away from the glass since it makes little crackling noises. Then a few light taps and most things pop right off.

I mean, there’s other safety stuff to consider, sure. Like… fire safety or something. Look, I really hurt my fingers. It sucked. I want to whine about it.

Once you get things dialed in, it’s not quite enough

So I kept things going in this state for a bit. It was good. I was printing things for friends, started designing my own simple little things. It didn’t take long for me to start considering further mods. I was already considering replacing the printer, but at the same time I was getting reliably good prints. The only failed prints I was getting were bad models or my own fault if I didn’t level the bed right. I didn’t even have to use extra adhesion materials like hair spray that often. I thought, “Why replace it when I can modify it further?”

I added a really common Z-Axis brace mod. This stiffens the gantry by a good bit reducing layer artifacts. They still show up but it’s not as pronounced. This was actually a mod I put off for while because it seems more daunting to do than it really is. The hardest part is collecting the pieces needed that you can’t print, at least in my area. Local hardware stores were just not equipped to provide me the parts I needed in an easy fashion. When getting the rods cut my local Ace Hardware had to do a few cuts on the rod because they literally couldn’t measure in metric.

Around this time is when I made my first real 3D design, the Rainbow Six Ban Hammer:

The (un)official #RainbowSixSiege ban hammer. My second personal design come to life. #3dprinting #GetRekt

A post shared by JP Powers (@jp_powers) on

After that I added some LED lights to the braces for better lighting. The fan shroud I had 3D printed covers up so much of the extruder it’s difficult to see what’s being printed so the more light I had the better.

A lot of people recommend 3D printing some thumb knobs to replace the wing nuts used to level the bed. Although it’s a good idea I picked up actual metal thumb knobs because I wasn’t quite satisfied with the accuracy of the printer yet, at least in terms of things that need to fit exact sizes like an M3 sized nut. This helped but I still had issues with leveling the bed. Mostly, it’s just such a hassle.

Although I wasn’t printing anything that used the full height of the printer I wanted to make sure I could do it, so I did some light rewiring, too. I didn’t replace any wiring, just moved things around. I pulled some slack out of the drag chain for the extruder motor so I could turn it 90 degree, allowing the plug to face backwards instead of up. I then used a couple of velcro zip ties to tighten the wires back into the extruder mounting bracket. With this, when the printer is using the full 180mm of the Z axis the gantry isn’t stressing the wires or actually rubbing them.

Dialed in, consistent, and all that’s left is experimenting

Here’s some more examples of prints that came after the early mods:

This was one of my favorite time lapses… This is before I added LED lights to the Z axis frame, all that lighting is from a desk lamp bent around to light this. The total time of this print was about 2 hours I think?

Doesn't look like anything to me… #westworld #3dprinting #themaze

A post shared by JP Powers (@jp_powers) on

This print came out better than I thought it would. At the time I had started to notice that my print surface wasn’t flat in the center any more. Well, that might not be an accurate way to put it. What I noticed was when leveling the 4 corners, the center would still be higher than the corners in relation to the nozzle. Something wasn’t right. It could have been the surface itself (the glass) got bowed or something along the X axis, such as the rods or the pulleys. This came out fantastic, though.

Here I started experimenting with different surface finishes. Most prints are done with a “lines.” The idea there is the printer just zigzags back and forth, placing line after line until the surface is covered. This was printed with a “concentric” surface, where the printer is still just placing line after line, but it’s starting at the outside and finishing at a center point in the middle, drawing a circle. For some objects it creates a faster print, but an object like this it gives it a strange finish. Not bad, just different. It looks much better on round objects.

What’s left? Replace it?

I still had a couple irritating problems I was trying to figure out.

  1. Leveling the bed is just irritating. It’s not difficult, it’s just I knew there were printers with auto bed leveling. Man, that’s a super appealing feature. Even if it’s not perfect, just cutting down on how often you have manually level the bed is enough. You can do some seriously huge modifications to this printer to add auto bed leveling, but at that point you really should have considered a different printer to begin with.
  2. I wanted to try different plastics. Up to this point I had only printed in standard PLA plastics, but I wanted to start trying some other things, specifically exotics. Technically the printer can print lots of different materials, it’s just a question of if it can do it reliably. I was looking at extruder replacements regularly. The Flexion is interesting but I didn’t like the price being half of the cost of the printer.
  3. The printer’s footprint is weird. The main body of the printer isn’t bad, it’s this ridiculous tethered control box. The cables on it aren’t that long so it has to be right next to the printer, it’s weirdly bulky and the fan in it would whine sometimes. Not consistently enough to be a real problem, more like a decent sized dust bunny was stuck on a fan blade and just had to be knocked loose.

So what do I do? Apparently I just break stuff by accident instead of fix things out right.

When you’re vaguely accident prone, things happen.

So, to explain how I got to the moment of breaking things… I had picked up a subscription to MakerBox, this great subscription service that sends you samples of different plastic filaments. Lots of really cool stuff for cheap. A chance to try something without committing to a full roll of filament. My first box had this amazing glitter filled plastic that I really wanted to try. At the time I was using a maker coin I designed as a test, and I tried a couple with the glitter fill. After dialing in the temps with a couple lackluster versions, you can see the first success here:

Got my first @maker_box and it has this sweet glitter flake PLA. Looks pretty awesome.

A post shared by JP Powers (@jp_powers) on

The next day as I was reloading the filament I realized I had my first jam. Seriously, the first. I had been so lucky up to this point. It makes sense, the printer was about half a year old at this point and had printed a lot. Add in the fact this most recent filament has little tiny glitter flakes, which as the plastic is melting in the extruder probably got stuck in the extruder’s 0.4mm nozzle hole, it was bound to happen.

So, time to address this and unjam it, figure out if I need a new nozzle. I tried running some standard PLA through to hopefully just unjam the nozzle while picking up other any remaining plastic. Didn’t really work, maybe made things worse. My MakerBox included some nylon filament, and I had read about the atomic method to unjamming a nozzle, so I tried it. Worked decently, but the nozzle was just too worn at this point.

I ordered a Micro Swiss hardened nozzle replacement. As I was installing it, I had some of the extruder parts dangling off the printer. I got distracted with a conversation and knocked the heater block around a bit… snapping one of the electric leads to the heater cartridge. Snapped right at the cartridge, too, so no simple rewiring would fix this. You can see it below, the heater block is the bit wrapped in yellow and orange. There should be two wires holding it up…

I ended up ordering an Original Prusa i3 Mk2 within a day of this happening. I had wanted a new printer, the reviews were coming in for the Original Prusa i3 and they were all glowing, it was time. I eventually cancelled that order due to completely unrelated reasons, but it wasn’t going to show up for almost 2 months… what to do in the mean time.

I shopped around online and figured I could order the replacement parts I needed for about $30. I decided to do another upgrade to a Micro Swiss all metal hot end and cooling block for another $50 just to do it. Once these things came in I had another problem. I am not good at actually replacing such tiny wiring…

It’s alive!

The hardest part here was deciding how to wire in the replacement heater cartridge. The new one’s wiring that leads straight into the cartridge itself is much stiffer than the stock one, and the extra wiring length is clearly long enough to run all the way back to the control box and be rewired there. However… I’m way too lazy to deconstruct the printer that far. What if instead I just snip the wires, twist the old wiring to the new, and call it a day? I made a run to Ace Hardware to pick up some extra materials, specifically a heat gun and some tiny heat shrink wraps, and went to work.

After a good bit of cursing and sweaty fingers, I got everything back together. I did some testing of the cartridge by telling the control box to heat up the extruder, let it get to and hold at a certain temp for a few minutes, then set to something else and see how it goes. This was mostly to make sure the thermistor was functioning as well. All seemed OK. I then tried another print with standard PLA. Came out a little wonky but I chalked that up to the new all metal hot end. Made some tweaks to my slicer profile and … things were coming out good. At least as good as they had been if not better.

Life changes

At this point things were ok again. I was waiting for my Original Prusa i3 Mk2 to show up, which was still a while away. I was printing again and happy enough with things in the mean time. I figured I’d keep the printer I have for a bit after the new one showed up, until I trusted the new one enough to sell the old one.

Around this time some life changes happened. I parted ways with my job not even a month after fixing things and had to bring the printer home. At home… I’ve got too much stuff already and no where to set this up. The Original Prusa i3 Mk2 is just as big, and with leaving work I wasn’t comfortable spending that money needlessly, so I canceled that order. The Monoprice has been sitting unused since I left.

What now?

I’m back to work somewhere else and getting comfortable again. I don’t see myself bringing a printer into the new office though as the environment is far different, so I still have to consider how I’ll be setting something up here at home.

I ordered a new printer: the Monoprice Select Mini v2. It’s a smaller printer, doesn’t have auto bed leveling like I so desperately want, but I mean… the thing costs $220 and the v1 has a rabid community. For the incredibly low cost and the much smaller foot print it’ll at least get me back to printing again.

I know I really enjoy 3D printing, enough that I’ll downgrade what I’ve got just to get back into it. I considered looking at delta/kossel printers for their smaller foot print, but all the factory built stuff is too expensive for what you get, and although kits are a dime a dozen and feature packed they’re all built around cheap parts and questionable origins, which leave a lot to be desired.

Now, the Select Mini is a rebrand of a Chinese manufacturer much like the Maker Select. They both cut costs in similar ways. However, the Mini does things in a smarter way than the i3 in my opinion. It actually has a few extra features like Wifi capability, and the new v2 model has an E3D V6 style extruder, which is easily one of the best on the market. The i3 model also taught me a ridiculous amount about how 3D printers work. Aany and all downfalls of the old Select Mini model I’ve read about, I know I can handle them. I’m just hoping the v2 model doesn’t throw any new monkey wrenches into the work, but I’m confident I know enough now that I can handle those, too.

I still want to eventually get an Original Prusa i3, or a delta just because they’re seriously really cool, but until I make some major changes at home I don’t have the space.

Conclusions?

So there we go. That’s a very lengthy but also detailed run down of my experience with this printer. I hope you learned something. Like I said in the TL;DR up top, I do recommend the printer but with some caveats. You need to consider what you are capable of, what you want from it, and what you’re willing to put up with.

Time for some conclusions:

  • 3D printing is not ready for the mainstream.
    • No matter how cheap things get in the next couple years, and I expect the race to the bottom will continue strong for a while, the actual mechanics of 3D printing won’t change for a while. Most people do not have the time, patience, or desire to mess with this. It’s a hobby for the dedicated. A cool hobby, but one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. This doesn’t apply to just FFF/FDM 3D printing but SLA as well (what do those letters mean, JP?). There will be a point when this changes, but that’s not in the near future.
  • Cheap printers are cheap.
    • That sounds obvious but cheap can mean different things to different people. Across the board, cheap 3D printers use cheap parts which are more likely to fail. To cut costs, they’re poorly planned, designed and/or engineered. Consistency is a huge problem as manufacturers will source parts from the cheapest vendor every time. They will only work flawlessly if you’re lucky. The means you’ll be relying on your own wits and the community around a printer to solve the problems the manufacturer let out the factory door. If you’re willing to spend more, possibly a lot more, most of these problems evaporate. Oh, you’ll still have problems, but not nearly as many. The ones you do have will probably be pretty expensive, though.
  • An engineering background isn’t necessary, but an ability to comprehend new ideas quickly, troubleshoot new problems, and learn from other’s mistakes is.
    • I’m no engineer. I understand concepts of it, but a lot of the details and maths evade me. That said, I’ve worked in varying stages of tech for years now. I’ve been “the local IT guy” professionally for almost 3 years now, and before that I was working in tech support in varying degrees. I’m really good at it, too. I know how to not just identify problems but fix things. If you can’t do that, I can’t suggest getting into 3D printing right now unless you’re willing to drop a lot more money into the hobby to get something that’s truly reliable. Even then, these devices are defined by their mechanical moving parts. Something will break and need to be repaired. A warranty will only go so far in that situation. You’ll also need to be able to comprehend what happened so you can get your manufacturer to fix it properly. Seriously, if you just think it’s cool but don’t want to put in the effort, don’t do it.
  • 3D printing isn’t a final solution to all problems, but also should be used for more than cheap knickknacks.
    • That weekend between ordering my printer and receiving it I learned a lot. One thing I learned was a lot of people see 3D printing as the literal greatest achievement of mankind, a solution to all of our woes. That’s just dumb. In general, as a technology, I can understand that grandiose idea. In reality, when you’re spending under $1,000 on a plastic based additive 3D printer? No, this investment will not be a game changer. It can still be quite practical though. I’ve printed a lot of fun little desk ornaments, but I’ve also printed some really usable items. I have a couple different pieces that I can mount my smartwatch’s charger in so it’s easier to just drop it on a charger at night. I made a little charging dock for my electric cigarette, too. Someone at work found a model for a case fan mount for his PC he wanted printed that helps place fans in different locations in his computer’s case, which worked well he said. You can solve some problems with 3D printing, or find novel solutions to some of life’s little quirks. It won’t fix everything, though.
  • Are you prepared to learn 3D modeling?
    • I wasn’t. There are a lot of 3D modeling tools out there now, some incredibly complex and some unbelievably simple. More and more are being designed specifically for 3D printing. Each has a purpose and each has it’s own learning curve. I made some neat stuff but I also gave up on a lot of ideas. Some people will say if you’re not going to 3D print your own models, don’t get into the hobby. I don’t agree with that, at least not entirely. Like I said a moment ago, 3D printing isn’t a solution to every problem. However, if you can put up with the headaches of a cheap printer, the price point things are at now means if all you want to do is print stuff other people design, or just print little fun things as gifts or toys for the kids, then do it. I’ve spent far more than $220 on worse choices in my life.

Posted by JP Powers