The Snapmaker is a 3-in-1 3D printer, laser-engraver, and CNC carver. Packing a super-compact all-metal design, could this be a workshop productivity wunderkind? Check out our Snapmaker review to find out.
There was a great deal of excitement around the Snapmaker 3D printer when it launched on Kickstarter in March 2017. And that excitement translated into big numbers. Very big numbers indeed.
How big? Well, let’s put it this way. In the spectrum of crowdfunding success stories, the Snapmaker 3D printer occupies a unique position. After raising $2,277,182 from 5,050 backers, Snapmaker is currently the third most funded 3D printing project on Kickstarter.
The units are only just now being shipped to backers, so it’s too early to provide a comprehensive Snapmaker 3D printer review. But in the interim, here’s a rundown of the promised features and technical specs of a product that’s captured the imaginations of so many makers.
UPDATE (28/3): We’ve received a Snapmaker 3D printer here in our workshop. Yay! We’ve gone ahead and added an unboxing and assembly guide. Stay tuned for a detailed Snapmaker review in the not-too-distant future.
UPDATE (05/6): We’ve been a-firin’ a laser! Laser engraving function impressions added.
The concept of the Snapmaker is a modular machine with three distinct functions. The intended audience is the workshopper pushed for space.
First and foremost, the Snapmaker is an all-metal 3D printer. The aluminum frame encases all wiring and components, with the exception of a few tidy cables.
But the killer feature is that three interchangeable modules can be swapped onto the Snapmaker’s X-axis rail. In addition to 3D printing, it’s also capable of laser engraving and CNC milling.
The fused deposition modelling (FDM) 3D printing module accepts a standard 1.75mm filament spool. The bed can be heated up to 80 degrees Celsius. But with a build volume of only 125mm square, prints are going to be strictly limited in size.
Ease of use is another core proposition with the Snapmaker 3D printer. It has an LCD touchscreen for operation, is simple to assemble, and comes bundled with the proprietary Snapmaker3D software.
The laser engraving module has a class 200 mW laser. This is capable of burning designs into wood, leather and similar materials. In addition, the CNC milling module has an adjustable spindle speed between 2,000 and 7,000 rpm.
*Users can work with these supported files with the help of third-party software such as Autodesk Fusion 360.
We’ve had the pleasure (and the pain) of unboxing a fair number of desktop 3D printers in our workshop. The vast majority of them come in brown cardboard boxes. Some of them even come in wooden crates.
And always — always — there is a mountain of polystyrene and foam peanuts to wade through.
So when the Snapmaker 3D printer landed on our workbench — with a reassuring THUNK — the first impression was positive. It’s packed into a compact briefcase, with a little handle on the top. Yes, it’s still a cardboard box, but the packaging is more reminiscent of a games console or a new laptop.
Flipping the lid open, the positive first impressions continued. The components are arranged in two stacks, held securely in place by black foam inserts.
That’s correct, the Snapmaker 3D printer will require assembly. It would be impossible to create such a small package otherwise. But the assembly stage is an absolute cinch, as we’ll discuss later.
So what’s in the box? Alongside the obligatory welcome note and quick-start instructions (though no Haribo candy, sadly), you’ll find the following; three linear modules, a base plate, heated bed and PEI sheet, screen holder, touch-screen controls, filament holder, a power pack and a control box.
Also included are a set of tools, cables, screws, rubber feet, stickers, and the three “function” cubes that handle 3D printing, laser engraving and CNC milling. There’s an extra print bed and PEI sheet, a blank USB drive, a spool of filament, some squares of wood for engraving, and a pair of safety goggles.
Pleased to report, there’s nothing missing in the package we received. But we are surprised that the USB key doesn’t contain slicing software or sample models to get printing with. And stickers with vaguely motivational quotes are no substitute for candy.
Ah yes, the assembly. Another pleasant surprise concerning the Snapmaker 3D printer is how easy it is to put together. The instructions are laid out with the clarity of an IKEA build guide, and from start to finish the process will take 25 minutes at most.
How is that even possible? The secret lies in the trio of linear modules that make up the foundation of the printer. They are identical in every respect, with the same fittings, dimensions and screw holes.
The modules contain the wiring, rails, bearings and motors necessary for each axes of operation. So strictly speaking this isn’t a full DIY 3D printer kit. It’s more of a part-assembly job, where the final mile of construction is undertaken by the end user.
In many respects, the Snapmaker 3D Printer is very similar in concept and execution to the Trinus 3D Printer, another Kickstarter success story. The difference is that the Snapmaker operates uses three linear rail modules instead of four. Presumably this helps keep costs down, but whether it impacts on operational quality remains to be seen.
So yes, in just ten steps we had assembled our Snapmaker and were ready to rock. No word of a lie, it was actually very fun. At no point were the instructions confusing or unclear.
Two minor observations along the way. Firstly, the supplied screwdriver is abysmal. It kept falling apart in our hands, and assembly time would have been even quicker if we dispensed with it and used our own hex keys.
Secondly, there is a curious mislabeling on the control box a.k.a. the brains of the Snapmaker. The labels don’t align with the actual peripherals. It’s a small but important detail that might cause you to double take when wiring up the necessary bits.
These issues notwithstanding, the end result is a solid, robust and compact desktop 3D printer. Just as was promised in the original campaign. But to satisfy ourselves that everything was in order, we proceeded to calibration and a pair of test prints.
To begin using the Snapmaker 3D printer, you have to follow a few more steps. The first is to level the heated bed using the touchscreen controls.
This procedure is reasonably uncomplicated; it’s a mixture of manual adjustments and jogging the module on the vertical axes using the touchscreen. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not as sophisticated as other printers we’ve used in the past.
The second step is loading up the filament. This is a point where we begin to have a few concerns. Loading the filament into the direct drive extruder is fine, but because it’s a closed box, we’re not looking forward to having to prise it open in the event of a filament jam.
Moreover, the position of the filament spool holder to the rear of the unit feels counter-intuitive. We’re concerned about filament getting tangled in the power cables or worse over the course of a print job.
This software seems like a stripped back fork of Cura, but we can’t be certain. In any case, it is claimed that Snapmaker will also place nice with the standard version of Cura, Slic3r, and paid solutions like Simplify3D.
In the latter case, there is some confusion because Simplify3D themselves claim they are supporting this printer, but we weren’t able to locate the correct profile in the software settings.
In any case, the bundled software and filament is enough for preliminary testing. These models were printed at 150 microns with 20% infill. They required roughly 2 and a half hours each to print.
In operation, the Snapmaker 3D printer is very noisy. The decibel levels are so high that you couldn’t comfortably work with this thing perched next to your desk.
But the results are quite impressive. The details are fine and immaculate, to the point where you could almost read the 3DBenchy nameplate on the stern of the boat.
Only one strange anomaly to report is that the bow of the boat has a, well, a bow in the curve. This isn’t normal when printing a 3DBenchy at this quality, and we’re currently trying to diagnose the cause of this problem.
Switching between the 3 modules of the Snapmaker is as easy as changing vacuum cleaner bags. Since we were anxious to test drive the laser engraving module, this was the next stop on our journey to explore the Snapmaker’s capabilities.
To do this, you first unscrew four hex screws and detach the cable. Then you fasten the laser module with the same four hex screws and attach the cable. The entire process is almost fool proof.
The last step is to switch the heated bed with the engraving platform — a simple process of loosening four screws at the bottom. In sum, the entire conversion from 3D printer to laser engraver takes less than 10 minutes!
How good is the laser engraving module? The short answer is, better than we expected.
Snapmaker offers the full laser engraving package. That means the software allows you to choose from three laser engraving modes: black & white, grayscale and vector.
For our first try we wanted to keep things simple. That’s why we started with a simple raster image of our company logo using the default Snapmaker settings.
Similarly, we wanted to ease into vector engraving, so we used a vector image of our company logo applying the factory settings.
But the best was yet to come. For the grayscale engraving is based on a promotional image published by Snapmaker that was engraved using only 60% energy, as we were worried to burn down our office.
Snapmaker provides proprietary software for laser engraving and CNC milling, which is available for Windows and macOS.
Initially, the setup felt somewhat awkward since we are spoiled kids used to the relative simplicity of leveling beds for 3D printing with machines that auto-home. Laser engraving, it turns out, requires a greater hands-on mentality than expected.
Everytime you want laser engrave an object, you need to set the work origin of both the X and Y axis using a very weak laser dot. This is not a trivial matter, since a misplaced work origin can result in designs that are partly engraved onto the object and partly onto your engraving platform.
Practice makes perfect. While the Snapmaker software does a very good job helping us to set the work origin correctly, we inevitably went astray the first few times, until we nailed our design’s position on the object.
However, we were far more successful at focussing the laser. Basically, you want the laser dot to be at the smallest size in order to get clean and crisp results.
One word of advice. When operating the laser engraving module on the Snapmaker, do so in a well ventilated space. The fumes emitted during the process can irritate the eyes.
Summing up our experience, we had a blast! It’s true that were first taken aback by the manual setup. However, we soon grasped the new procedures and were able to create pleasing laser engravings using the Snapmaker.
Now, feast your eyes on the small series of test engravings we created on our first day:
The black & white engraving is clear and crisp. We were also excited that the engraved surfaces were noticeable to touch.
Our first try at vector engraving was promising, but not completely satisfying, as the lines were sometimes too faint. This can be due to the fact that wood contains small imperfections that can blur the results.
On to grayscale engraving! We were prepared that this would take longer than the other modes. It seemed to take forever until the grayscale engraving was finished. This is because the laser module only fires single laser beams.
Admittedly, the end result came out too dark, but we’re confident that we can get better results with some tweaking of the settings in the Snapmaker software. On the whole, we already appreciate the high level of detail the Snapmaker can achieve.
So that’s two functions down — one to go. Stay tuned for a future update soon as we test out the remaining CNC cutting function. That, and throw in some third party filaments and use the machine with third party slicing software (we are a 3D printing publication, after all).
The early prognosis is good. We haven’t discovered any showstoppers yet. Only real complaints are small lapses in attention to detail with regard to the packaging, and some quirks in design, but that’s to be expected with a first-run production of any Kickstarter hardware.
Check back soon to learn the full skinny in our Snapmaker 3D printer review.
License: The text of "2018 Snapmaker Review – A Super-Compact 3-In-1 3D Printer" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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