Wanhao Duplicator i3. Musings/Minireview

Choosing the Wanhao Duplicator i3

So, I wanted a 3d printer, but looking around the standard option for fixing most of them appears to be ‘print this replacement part’ after plenty of reading (And discounting self sourcing for that reason) I arrived at the following criteria:

  • Reasonable cost.
  • Available from a European supplier without an insane mark up
  • Likely to work somewhat reliably out of the box.
  • Straightforward/well documented upgrade path.

When buying the printer (August 2017) the only real contender was the Duplicator i3 V2.1. To me the Plus didn’t really offer a great deal more. The main difference is the 24V electrics,

Overall I’ve been pretty happy with the decision. Here are my thoughts:

The Good

  • The Facebook, Google Group and Thingiverse groups are all really active, with a great, knowledgeable userbase (Even though most of the issues do seem to end up with ‘check your level’ as 50% of the responses 😉
  • The basic i3 design is pretty well proven, and this is a good (although not perfect) implementation of it. The construction is all folded metal, which makes for a robust frame. Some of the linear motion parts could be better, but more on that later.
  • The Price- clearly a big draw for a lot of people, this is a well priced machine.

The Bad(ish)

  • The stock part cooling fan design is pretty poor. It’s sufficient to print a new cooler, but thats about it.
  • Leveling the bed is more awkward than it needs to be. They’ve (unsurprisingly) followed the Prusa 4 point system, which, combined with the slightly flexible print bed, and slightly flexible Y Carriage can make bed level a right PITA. This can be at least partially fixed by moving to locknuts, & printed thumbscrews. It’s still a pain, but you only need to do it once a week (or if you have to go Ham on something that sticks too well) rather than every print.
  • The Z towers aren’t sufficiently stiff, particularly if you run with a spool on top (which you probably shouldn’t). This isn’t a massive problem, but if you want to start pushing the speed, particularly on taller prints you need to address it. Luckily there are a number of good designs on thingiverse to brace them with only a minimal investment (€5 IIRC) in hardware.
  • The hotend/extruder design is limiting. Using the ‘MK10’ hotend limits your choice of upgrade (without replacing the whole carriage) to the Microswiss All Metal hotend. This is good, but finicky due to the compromised base design of the hotend. The extruder is fine, but needs modding for flexible filament and is somewhat sensitive to weak/overly strong springs.

The Ugly

  • The wiring for the heated bed is woefully underspecced. Running it for extended periods of time (particularly at ABS kinds of temperatures) will let the magic smoke out in pretty short order.
  • The board used is a pretty old 8 bit design, that doesn’t really have much scope for upgrades.

Essential Mods (in no particular order):

  • A better cooling fan – this will improve performance on bridging no end. If you need to print this in PLA I can’t recommend the CiiCooler, which warps in a few prints (or at least the 2 in 2 different brand PLAs I used did). People on Facebook seem to have better luck with the Thorped & Cobra Coolers.
  • Replacement cable tensioners – the spring tensioners work, but will introduce ringing in prints.
  • Mosfet (& Fan while you have the box apart). The big weak link in the stock design is the heated bed, specifically the connections to the board. Replace these as soon as possible.
  • Z Braces. Not super essential unless you want to print faster/higher on a regular basis.
  • Octoprint – just makes life so much easier.

Recomendation

Would I recommend this printer to someone else? Sometimes. If you’re a tinkerer, and like the idea of updating something over time, then absolutely. If you want a printer that does out the box great prints, get a genuine i3 (seriously, by the time you add auto tramming, a better nozzle, extruder and a replacement bed to the Wanhao you’re probably only paying €100 for a bigger print area.)

I like having it, and I have another on order, but for me this sits in a weird middle ground, where it’s not quite cheap enough for the amount of upgrades it needs to get going great, but equally not quite enough of a project to really sink your teeth into. Once my next 2 printers are up and running (a corexy Tronxy X5S and a Kossel XL i’m planning to build from scratch) this will almost certainly be given to my nephew.

Resources

3dprinterwiki.info – Lots of info on mods/tweaks to this and a few other printers. Generally easy to follow along with.

Wanhao i3 Facebook group (closed, you need to request access).

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