The Flashforge Finder is pitched as a 3D printer for absolute beginners. So we asked an absolute beginner to review it. What’s the verdict?
Launched in September 2015, the Flashforge Finder is marketed an an easy to use desktop 3D printer with some unique features. But how easy is it really?
To test the legitimacy of the claim — that the Finder can be used by a complete beginner — this printer was put *into* the hands of a complete beginner.
That’s me, Franklin Houser. I hereby testify that I have never personally set up and used a 3D printer before. One hand was held aloft whilst the other typed these words.
Before beginning the review, a note of thanks to the generous folks at iMakr for loaning ALL3DP this unit for review. You can find the Flashforge Finder for sale on iMakr here.
Flashforge Finder Review: Introduction
At $499 dollars, the Finder is not the cheapest 3D printer on the market, but it’s not the most expensive either. Inside the box is the printer itself, one spool of PLA filament, a Quick Start Guide, a USB stick, a power cable, a USB cable, a screwdriver, and three Allen wrenches.
There’s also supposed to be a filament guide tube, which is important for guiding the filament from the spool to the extruder, but that was missing in the box so I had to source another one separately.
The body of the Finder is square shaped with rounded corners and edges. While made from brightly colored plastic, the open framed printer looks and feels very sturdy. The build volume is 140 x 140 x 140 mm on every axis, and the print bed doubles as a sliding tray that’s effortless to insert and remove.
The ease-of-use approach means that this fused filament fabrication (FFF) printer accepts only one type of filament, 1.75 mm PLA. This strips back the complication of needing a heated print bed to work with more difficult (and toxic) materials like ABS — but the flipside is that it will limit your options, too.
Another feature to make things simple is Wi-Fi connectivity, so there’s the neat prospect of managing the Flashforge Finder over your local network.
Flashforge Finder Review: Technical Specs
Flashforge Finder Review: Setting Up
Straight out of the box, the Finder requires little set up. The user guide can be found on the USB stick that comes with the printer. After switching the machine on, the first step is to level the build plate, to ensure that objects are fabricated on a completely flat surface.
Leveling the build plate was very straightforward. Once I selected the “leveling” icon on the touchscreen interface of the printer, the Finder told me to tighten down all three wingnut adjusters on the underside of the print platform. Using a retractable sensor, the extruder moves to one of the corners above an adjuster and tests the distance between the platform and the sensor.
Afterwards, the interface told me to unwind the corresponding wingnut, thereby raising the platform at that spot, until a continuous beep can be heard. This process is repeated for the other two adjusters.
The filament spool is loaded into a closed vertical compartment that slides out of the top-back of the printer. This feature could be limiting to the type of spool you buy, since the compartment only fits spools of a certain diameter and height. The filament is then loaded through the filament guide tube directly into the top of the extruder.
In order to load the filament, the extruder must be brought up to the appropriate temperature, which is detailed in the Quick Start guide. Unloading the filament however proved a little more tricky than expected.
After the extruder has heated up, the guide says to push down a spring loaded tab, which is located on the side of the extruder, and then to pull the filament out without too much force. This did not work. After a couple of tries I decided to use what I thought the guide describes as too much force and it worked wonderfully.
Altogether, the time it took me from the beginning to the start of the first print was one and a half hours.
Flashforge Finder Review: Printing
Preparing an STL file for printing requires a slicer program. Flashforge offers one called FlashPrint, which can be downloaded for free from their website or installed from the USB stick that comes with the printer.
FlashPrint allows you to view your design from any angle or distance and includes functions to rotate the object in any direction, move the object, scale the object and to add supports. This can either be done manually or automatically.
Once your model is ready, you simply have to click on the “print” icon. After you do this a window will pop up with additional options for the resolution of the print, rafts, and more advanced options like temperature, speed, and infill.
Once you click “ok”, you’ll be asked to choose a location to save the model, which has now been converted into a GCode file, from where you can transfer it by means of USB stick or cable.
During my testing, I was unable to create a Wi-Fi connection with the Finder. My computer showed that the connection was “limited”, but I tried to transfer a file anyways. It looked like it was working, and the interface on the Finder even showed that it was receiving a file.
However, when I selected to print the file from the interface, the printer thought it was already done even though it hadn’t printed anything. So I looked to the user guide for help where I was told to enter the printer’s IP address into the address bar of my browser from where I can change the Wi-Fi settings.
Unfortunately, the menu that showed up had been updated since Flashforge took screenshots for their user guide. As a result, the settings I was supposed to change according to the user guide were no longer available in the new menu. But no worries, I could still transfer the file with a USB stick.
For the first print, I decided to use one of the example designs that came with the FlashPrint slicer, called Snake.stl. The machine was very quiet while in operation — other 3D printers in the ALL3DP office are much louder by comparison — but not long into the print, the first layer separated from the print platform. This attempt was clearly a failure, so I tried recalibrating the printer.
This time I chose 3DBenchy, the open source “jolly 3D printing torture test”, and decided to print it on top of a raft to help with first layer adhesion. Everything looked good, but half-way through the print the first layer came loose again. Apart from that, the print quality up to the point of failure was very good.
Before the third test, I did some asking around, and found out that if you apply some hairspray to the print platform before you begin the print, the first layer sticks much better to the surface. I did this, and the third attempt was a success. The result was very satisfactory with little to no post-print processing necessary, aside from the the removal of the raft the 3DBenchy was printed on.
Flashforge Finder Review: Conclusion
The Flashforge Finder is an affordable and well built 3D printer for use at home and the classroom. It has an intuitive user interface that anyone can come to terms with, and produces great prints (when it works). The key thing is getting that pesky first layer to stick.
With the target group being mainly kids and beginners like myself, the setup turned out to be somewhat more difficult than what was described in the Quick Start guide. Nor does it help that the guide also featured some broken English.
And it’s a pity that the headlining Wi-Fi function was… not functional. This is probably an isolated case with the specific printer that I tested, and should be fixable with a firmware update.
But all in all, because of the ease of use, build quality and ultimately the great print results, I give the Flashforge Finder a positive review, and would buy one myself. It’s a sophisticated little machine, and design elements like the quiet operation and the slide-out print bed are worthy of praise.
Wrapping up, here’s a picture of an elephant model that came preloaded on the USB stick. After some liberal application of hairspray, this object printed right the first time.
License: The text of "Flashforge Finder Review: 3D Printer for Absolute Beginners?" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.