Printrbot Play 3D Printer Review: The Perfect 3D Printer for Enthusiasts and Beginners

Not only is the Printrbot Playís robust design attractive, itís also very portable which makes it ideal for 3D printing enthusiast. This printerís entry into the market has replaced the Simple Makerís kit that was considered the cheapest printer but definitely canít match up with the Play.

Going for 399$, the Printrbot Play is now considered Printrbots’ entry level printer. Unlike the Simple Makers Kit, although you will somehow tell that this machine has been super cost-optimized, it still feels like a genuinely premium printer. The built for the Play is massive, but the fact that it is cost-optimized is an assurance that you are getting a product thatís worth more than the price you paid for it.

Review contents

  • `Introduction to the Layer One Atom 2.0
  • Unboxing and setup
  • Design and features
  • Printing with Layer One Atom 2.0
  • Recommended setup
  • Addressing Concerns
  • Conclusion and Recommendation


The Design of the Printrbot Play

The Printrbot Play comes in a black or a white cut, folded and powder coated steel frame, with the X-axis assemblies and the extruder carriage built on aluminum sheet metal. The sheet metal work makes it very easy to assemble the printer since making these moving parts with aluminum directly impacts on reduced chances of failure, mistakes and misalignments during set-up (if you choose to purchase the non-assembled kit). Plus, did I mention how pretty this machines intricate sheet metal work is?

Printrbot Play also follows the company trend of having no need for an adjustable bed due to the presence of the automatic probe that automatically adjusts a slanted bed surface. The assembly of the bed is therefore a slab of aluminum that has been bolted to the motion parts, with only the belt tension adjustable. All other things have been done is software.

This printerís frame has a base thatís entirely of a single part with mounts for the stepper motors, the Z-rods, the electronics and the linear bearings. Printrbot Play went for a costly linear motion with the actual precision 8mm rods and matching LM8UU bearings with CNC machined Delrin fittings. It gets bolted to the frame with injection-molded plastic parts. The result of all this is a sturdy motion platform especially in comparison to Printrbot Simple models. Overall, this Printrbot printer is more compact and rigid than a traditional full-size printer like the Prusa Mendel, and maybe the short axis in it have something to do with this.

The aluminum backbone of the play is ideal for keeping both sides of the machine synchronized. So although the printers Z-axis is only driven on one side and the bearing structure is not entirely perfect for keeping it from jamming on the other side, these two issues ; jamming and backlash, are actually no course for worry with this machine. Itís actually interesting how you can even pick up this machine and print with it on the go without the print quality being negatively affected.


Printing on the Printrbot Play

The print quality for the Play is better than what you would expect of a 399$ printer. The outcome of the test print I did with the Stock Cura profile (basically the wrong choice although the slicers for the two machines are interchangeable) and using the clear PLA thatís been provided was actually very impressive. Why? It was almost the same quality as the test print I did on the custom Mendel90!

The only other adjustments I made before doing my test print was on the firmware, for the nozzle height over the bedís surface. I completely did not touch on anything else; not the extruder calibration, the speeds, or the extrusion widths.

I wouldnít really compare the consistency of the print quality with that of the other high-end machines like the Ultimaker. But being an entry level printer, every single detail, from surface quality, bridges, overhangs, small detail reproduction and even corner sharpness are made just right and you can confirm these on unboxing.


About Printrbot Plays Hotend and Extruder

The Playsí current version uses a classic UBIS hotend, but the company plans to upgrade all its printers with an entirely metal UBIS. Well, I can say the printer carriage for the play will adjust well to this upgrade, seeing that it has been designed with two fans in the front, one of which points inwards towards the extruder and hotend block, and the other pointing downwards at the print. The fan thatís pointing inwards serves as an extra heatsink for the hotend, while the one pointing downwards provides ample cooling for printing PLA at attractive speeds.

The classic UBIS hotend easily clogs up when left idle but heated up for some length of time. But thankfully there is an extra fan blowing over the cold side below the fan shroud that also helps in cooling the hotend. Printrbot is currently working on adjusting the top fan to be always spinning and not reliant on the part cooling fan. This is because thereís a flawless print that you will notice when the fan continues to spin after the first layer. But the print quality will tend to reduce when the fan slows down.

The extruder does not extrude aluminum, but is made from it. In full, itís a direct-drive-type Alu Extruder v2, which is basically an improved but simplified version of the well-talked of v1. The rest of the printers in Printrbotís lineup are actually still using the Alu Extruder v1, which has a stainless steel drive gear, and a spring-loaded lever with adjustable tension.


The Imperfections on the Printrbot Play

The Playís set-up is not really an ideal one. For starters, it lacks a proper cable management (although Printrbot has made some improvement with Play). Every single Printrbot that Iíve tested actually somehow has this problem. In most of them, there are a few cable wraps here and there, but there is a bunch of wiring thatís always tied to a stepper mottoís wiring for instance, and this strains the last bit of wiring inside the motor. But with Printrbot Play the entire wiring is sleeved, with the most strained wire being the one that goes from the extruder carriage to the X motor. Even more impressive is the little Delrin flap that cushions the last part of the wiring thatís nearest to the carriage where thereís the most bending.

The real challenge for me when it comes to the wiring was keeping the wiring from sliding over the bed too much; thankfully, the last bit of the bed is not used. But if it bugs you, you can fix it by reorienting the flap to point further upward, but Printrbot will most probably improve on this one soon.

Another major complain with the setup is with the screws that are meant to hold everything else together. These thread directly into the aluminum faceplate of the stepper motor, and the threads are very easy to strip out. This is however not a unique issue with the Play since all extruders built with everything mounted on the motor have this problem. Itís recommended that you use a lot of thread lock and exercise a lot of care when building it.

Another knockdown is the non-adjustable idler tension. This is inconveniencing since you will frequently need to take out the fan shroud, unless you find a tension that is perfect for your filament. The position of the shroud over the printhead is also disadvantageous as it will prevent you from seeing the first few layers when the object is building. But on the bright side, this will also keep your fingers from the danger of the moving and the hot parts. I wish there was a shroud made from acrylic though.


Printrbots’ Play Build Volume

A common concern with low-price printers is their flexibility. The Play has a 10x10x13 cm or 4x4x5 inch build volume, which is kind of tiny, but of course, in comparison to the Play, I have seen even smaller printers.

To give you a picture of what the Playís build volume can accommodate Iíll use this mug print that I did on another printer, and this failed Buddha, also printed from a different printer. As you can probably visualize, the entire build volume is not big enough to fill a loaf of bread, but I still love it. I think itís just perfect.


Printrbot Play: What Materials can it extrude?

When it comes to printing materials that the Play can accommodate, itís somewhat limited. First, since it has no heated bed, itís practically impossible to print ABS or most of the other plastics. You cannot especially print the higher-temperature plastics since the hotend tops out at about 240 degrees. But all hopes are not lost with the hotend. You can use the trick of sticking a heater to the bottom of the aluminum build plate (about 80 degrees Celsius) to have your heated bed. However, even on unheated blue tape you will get really pretty PLA prints.

Luckily, the entire printer is controlled by the Printrboard and this basically has everything you need to run an extra heated bed, well, except for a better power supply. The power supply thatís provided on purchase does not have headroom to also power the bed, although it runs the Play out of the box perfectly.

So maybe the limitation for printing all material types will only be on the hotend. For now, the only materials you can print with the provided UBIS are wood or metal filled filaments, Nylon and ABS (if you have installed the heated bed.) But with the promised all-metal UBIS you will be able to print almost anything and you wonít be solely limited to printing PLA.

Summary and Conclusion

Seeing that we have touched on all components of the Printrbot Play, maybe I should add just a little more emphasis on the price. Both the assembled and the build-it-yourself printers cost the same price, but I must say it is worth much more than the price you will pay for it.

Since having a pre-assembled printer will not cost you any extra $$, I guess the choice for the model you will purchase is entirely on you. Iím an assembling junkie so pretty much most of the time I always go for non-assembled printers so that I experience the thrill of putting it up. This one actually took me only 4 hours to complete building.

And soon Printrbot will go back to publishing all their printer design files as Creative Commons so this means you will be protected from purchasing some Chinese clones and can be sure that what you have purchased is the real deal. Also Printrbot will be manufacturing the largest amount of parts for their printers in the US.

So, would I recommend the Printrbot Play? Of course. I would recommend this printer for its sturdy build, the relatively compact build space, and the nice prints that it produces, and of course for the mere fact that it produces beautiful prints.

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