Type A Machines Series 1 review

The Type A Machines Series 1 3D printer has many strengths, including relative ease of setup and use, large print area, a range of print resolutions, and good overall print quality.
Photo of Type A Machines Series 1

The Type A Machines Series 1 is priced somewhat above the other 3D printers we have tested, but it is money well spent. It has a relatively large print area, enabling you to print larger objects. It is relatively easy to set up and to use, and consistently prints good-quality objects. It’s geared for use by hobbyists and professionals (product designers, architects, and engineers, for example) and in that role it’s worthy of an Editors’ Choice.

The Series 1 can be bought directly from San Francisco-based Type A Machines or from several distributors; we procured our review unit from Dynamism. In addition to Type A Machines’ support resources, Dynamism provides unlimited tech support, and can perform any warranty-covered repairs.

While the Series 1′s design lacks the simple elegance of the 3D Systems Cube 3D Printer or the UP! Mini, it has a tasteful wood frame. Unlike the UP! mini, which has an enclosed print area with a door and a hood, the Series 1 has an open frame. A spacious print bed provides a maximum build area of 10 by 9 by 9 inches. (Previous 3D printers we’ve looked at have had print beds 6 by 6 by 6 inches or smaller, a more typical size.) It has a relatively low price for its build area; 3D printers with large print beds tend to sell for upwards of $2,000.

Software
The Series 1 is compatible with Windows, Mac, or Linux. For Windows, you can download a bundle of software from the Type A Machines website. It includes a printer driver, an Arduino driver (the printer uses an Arduino Mega controller board), a slicing program (KISSlicer) for “slicing” the 3D object file into layers for printing while setting parameters such as resolution, and a control program (Pronterface), which controls the motion of the extruder as it prints out the object’s layers. The Quick Start sheet that came with our test unit is seemingly outdated, as it describes downloading each program separately from the Series 1 site, something that you don’t need to do.

Each program is installed separately. The two programs you regularly use when printing are KISSlicer and Pronterface. While it’s not as easy to use as the Cube 3D Printer’s Cubify—a single program is used for the entire workflow—the Series 1′s software’s basics are not hard to master. When preparing an object for printing, you first use KISSlicer to open the STL file (a 3D representation of the object to be printed will appear on screen), set the resolution and other parameters, and slice the file, and save the file to a printable format (GCode). While the Cube’s Cubify software took several minutes to slice a typical object, the System 1 generally took less than 10 seconds.

KISSlicer identifies problems with the object file through color coding and showing the location of the defects on a 3D representation of the object. The Cubify software takes it a step further and automatically fixes structural problems in a “healing” step. Although you can repair some file problems with KISSlicer by changing the settings, it’s not something a beginner could do; you’re better off running the file through a utility like netfabb, which will fix common flaws in STL files, before opening it in KISSlicer.

Continue Reading: Setting the Extruder Height

Setting the Extruder Height
When you’re done slicing the file, you save it, and then open it in Pronterface and connect the printer. Before you start printing, you need to make sure that the extruder is at the proper height above the print bed. (It should be very close to the bed, so close that a sheet of paper set between extruder and bed can move if you tug it, but with a little bit of resistance.) You do this by setting the Z (vertical axis) height to zero. If there’s too much or too little of a gap, you need to lower the print bed (by adjusting the Z height in Pronterface) until you can see a little knob at the back of the printer; a diagram shows you which way to turn the knob to increase or decrease the gap. Once you’ve turned the knob, you reset the Z height to zero and check the gap again. If it’s still off, you need to repeat the process; it may take several tries to get the proper gap.

Although it is a bit unwieldy to adjust the Series 1′s gap (and the gap should be periodically checked to be sure it remains at the proper distance), it’s easier with the System 1 than with some other printers we’ve reviewed. With the Cube 3D Printer, the gap had to be incrementally adjusted using a poorly responsive touch screen (which made it easy to either overshoot or undershoot), and reset after each print job, and with the Solidoodle 2 Pro, it took several hours during the initial setup to get the gap correctly set, though it worked fairly smoothly after that.

Feeding the Filament
The Series 1 is optimized for printing with PLA plastic filament, though it can also print with ABS and PVA. A downside of ABS plastic, particularly with an open-frame printer like the Series 1, is that when melted it can emit a burnt-plastic smell, and its fumes have been known to cause headaches. Type A Machines sells 1KG spools of PLA for between $40 and $60 a spool, depending on color, and filament can be bought from other 3D printing suppliers as well.

The Series 1 has a spool holder that can be attached to the back of the printer. It can hold a spool of filament, and lets it turn freely as the filament is fed into the extruder. Type A Machines sells a “Top Hat” multi-spool holder ($45) that sits on top of the printer and can hold several spools of filament, making it easy to switch between them. Although our review unit didn’t include the Top Hat, it has since become a standard feature on all Series 1 printers, and Dynamism says that the Top Hat is now included with all the Series 1 units it sells.

The user inserts one end of the filament strand into a hole on top of the extruder assembly; the filament is fed into a melting chamber prior to extrusion, by means of a gear that presses against the strand. The Series 1 uses a simple yet effective spring-loaded lock mechanism to keep the filament pressed snugly against the gear. Unlike with the Cube 3D Printer or Solidoodle 2 Pro, I experienced no problems with filament flow in my testing.

Continue Reading: Printing with the Series 1

Printing with the Series 1
Printing with the Type A Machines Series 1 is relatively straightforward and simple. The one place where I had occasional problems was at the beginning of a print job. When the melt chamber is hot enough, but before the print job commences, the System 1 extrudes a fair amount of molten plastic, which can stick to the extruder and pool in a blob underneath it, preventing an object from printing. Just before the start of a print job, I needed to monitor the extruder, and pull any strands of loose plastic away with a pair of tweezers.

I printed objects at varying resolutions. You can choose between 300 microns, or 0.3 mm (Draft); 250 microns (Basic); 200 (Standard); 150 (Fine); 100 (Very Fine); and 50 (Ultra Fine), and change other parameters such as extrusion width and infill percent.

Object characteristics and quality varies greatly with resolution. At Basic resolution, printed objects resemble a see-through mesh that captures the basic form but no details. I did most of my printing at Fine or Very Fine resolutions, and was generally happy with the results, and with its handling of detail. One downside I noted was small areas of porousness in a couple of prints.

Print Bed Issues
The print surface is a blue, slightly rough sheet that adheres to the print bed. The sheet can be pulled off and replaced; Type A Machines sells a pack of 10 sheets for 9 dollars. I used a single sheet to print the approximately 10 objects I made in testing; it was still usable, although the worse for wear, after that time. No glue is necessary to hold the object in place while printing (as was the case with the Cube 3D Printer), and the print bed isn’t heated like that of the Solidoodle 2 Pro.

Although the instructions indicate that you should be able to remove a printed object from the sheet while the print bed is in place (by gently prying underneath an edge or corner of the object with a flat surface), I was unable to do so without the object breaking off at the base. I had much more success by removing the print bed and gently rocking the object until it came loose (another technique suggested in the instructions), and didn’t damage a single object after I started doing this. The one drawback with removing the print bed (which pushes and snaps in and out) is that when you replace the print bed you need to check the gap between it and the extruder, as it can become mis-calibrated when you remove it.

A Good Choice for Hobbyists and Pros
The Series 1 has a larger print area and costs more than the Cube 3D Printer, which is easy to set up and has very user-friendly software. The Series 1 was much more consistent in its print quality, and does away with the Cube’s messy application of glue to the print bed and its removal once the job is printed. The Series 1 costs nearly 3 times as much as the Solidoodle 2 Pro, but is far easier to set up, and consistent in its operation. It has a clear, detailed user manual; the manual that came with the UP! mini was outdated and poorly written.

The Type A Machines Series 1 is geared to professionals and hobbyists—specific audiences that Type A mentions include architects, designers, engineers, makers, and students—and it’s well suited for that role, being relatively easy to set up and operate, versatile, and capable of printing good-quality objects. It’s able to print at a range of resolutions, and has a large print area. There’s a lot to like about the Type A Machines Series 1, and I encountered very few problems in testing it. All this is enough to make it an Editors’ Choice as a 3D printer for designers, hobbyists, and makers.

Although the Series 1 is best for hobbyists and professionals, and priced well above the sweet spot for consumer products, it is still user-friendly enough that most anyone who can follow directions, periodically perform some routine calibration, and keep a close eye on the printing process (particularly at the beginning of a print job) should be able to get satisfactory results from it. Although it is not the breakthrough household 3D printer we’re hoping to see—and is not intended to be—it should still find a place in some households, though you’ll be more likely to find it on a workbench or in a design studio. All this makes this 3D printer our Editors’ Choice.

Specifications
Type Printer Only
Printer Category 3D Printer

Verdict
The Type A Machines Series 1 3D Printer has many strengths--including ease of setup and use, large print area, a range of print resolutions, and good print quality--but relatively few drawbacks.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc