Before we get started, this isn’t a typical review here at 3DPrinterPrices.net.
Often times we are contacted by the 3D printer manufacturer to review or write about their machines, and generally the printers arrive pre-calibrated and in tip top shape.
For this review of the FlashForge Creator, however, we purchased the printer ourselves through Amazon without telling FlashForge.
We didn’t have the machine shipped to our office or have 3DPrinterPrices.net’s name anywhere on the order. Interested to see how reliable the overseas operation is, we decided staying ‘anonymous’ would be best so we could get a ‘typical’ consumer experience from them to share with you.
Click here to see reviews and prices for the FlashForge Creator series of printers on Amazon.com
The first thing that strikes you about the Creator is how much it resembles the MakerBot Replicator 1 and that’s because it’s born from the same open source project as the Replicator.
As you may already know, MakerBot no longer offers its printer designs like those for the Replicator 2 for open source use, but a few companies have taken the last open source printer, the Replicator 1, and built upon it themselves. The Flashforge Creator really is a great example of that.
FlashForge Creator vs MakerBot Replicator 2
I know what you all want to hear; “This is just as good/ever better than the Replicator 2 and half the price!”
To say it’s just as good really isn’t fair, as there are a number of components (like the extruder) that come directly from the Replicator 1. So the Replicator 2 wins a few battles on paper straight away. As far as how great the differences between the two machines affect the end user experience and overall print quality, I think the differences are negligible. So the Replicator 2 is a better machine, but I don’t think the ‘improvements’ for the end user justify the extra cost of the printer. Think of the FlashForge Creator not as a MakerBot 1 or 2, but somewhere in between, maybe a Replicator 1.75 🙂
2. Creator features
Print from SD Card.
One particularly nice feature about the Creator is the built in SD card reader. With this feature you can print directly from the card reader without ever having to connect the printer to a computer – pretty cool.
So why would you want to? Well, due to the calibration needed when ever a 3D printer is moved, transporting 3D printers to another room or desk can be a pain. Having the ability to print from multiple sources while the printer stays put prevents having to re-calibrate every time you want to print from a different location.
This can be very helpful in a studio or classroom environment where usually you can’t easily set up printers on a multiple machine network.
Despite most 3D printers allowing you to disconnect or turn off your computer once the model is sent, I still prefer to put my prints on SD card and print directly from the printer. I have, on occasion, had prints fail when the computer goes to sleep or is switched off.
Large build platform.
They say bigger is better and for most 3D printing enthusiasts, large scale prints are what we are all looking for. Having larger prints opens up doors in terms of what you are able to make. While the small scale 3D printers are great for small items like key chains and the like, larger print beds enable you to make larger, more complex models. Having such a large print bed also helps when trying to create detailed models, as it’s easier to create complex shapes at a larger scale.
This is one of the best and often most misunderstood features of a 3D printer. Sometimes mistaken for being able to print twice as fast, a dual head printer actually switches between the two extruders as needed, so print time remains almost the same.
Where dual extruders really come in handy is in using multiple materials, either to use two colors or to have separate filament used for the destined-to-be-discarded support material.
They also allow you to switch between filaments without the need for the time consuming process of stopping a print and changing filaments.
Because of the open source foundation of both the FlashForge Creator and the Replicator 1, most modi factions made for the Replicator can be used with the Creator. A quick search of “Replicator 1” on Thingiverse will provide a bunch of add ons and modifications that can be easily used with the Creator.
3. Setting up the Creator
Upon ordering, we were told to expect to wait over a month for delivery, but the machine in fact arrived after only 8 working days. Nice start, FlashForge.
The creator comes shipped direct from the manufacturer in China and arrived very well packaged, and for the more ecologically minded out there, contained no styrofoam – bonus! Some of the cables and connectors for the Creator are ‘hidden’ inside some of the boxes of the packaging, so be sure to check them all before recycling. You will need to raise the level of the platform to get all the packaging out, but this can be done by simply turning the center rod by hand.
Positioning your printer.
While you may be excited to get started using your new printer, before you assemble it and begin printing, give some thought to where your printer is going to go. Having a stable, solid and flat surface for your printer is essential if you want to make high quality accurate models.
While adjusting the print platform can compensate for some minor leveling issues, the extruder itself will still match the lob sided angle surface you have placed your printer on. So find somewhere solid and flat, like on a desk, and let’s assemble.
For the most part, the Creator arrives assembled. You will need to attach the extruder, but all connecting wiring for the extruder is prewired and ready to go. After setting up the extruder, simply add your filament rolls to the rear of the machine using the simple handles.
One thing to note here is that the Creator arrives pre set to 230v and anyone wanting to use this printer here in the United States will need to change to 110v. You can do so by using a small red switch underneath the printer.
4. Calibrating your printer
I have to be honest, calibrating a 3D printer is my least favorite part of the whole 3D printing process. In the past I’ve spent what feels like hours calibrating and re-calibrating before some 3D printers really perform well or with high accuracy. But the FlashForge was nice and simple to get up and running with the easy to reach platform level adjustment screws and the helpful LCD display walking you through the set up.
The print head moves to set positions on the build platform and you are asked to turn the adjustment screws until a single sheet of paper can only just fit between the extruder and the platform. I like to double check everything is aligned nicely using a small spirit level, which can be easily placed anywhere on the build platform to make sure you’re perfectly level and ready to print!
Fresh out of the box, the FlashForge Creator build plate comes prepared with Kapton tape. but if you’re as excited about getting your printer as I think you are, that’s going to need replacing pretty soon. 🙂 You don’t have to use Kapton tape once your build plate needs re-taping, you can also get great results from common blue painter’s tape, but there are some specific characteristics of Kapton tape that are particularly beneficial for 3D printing.
Kapton Tape, also known as Polyimide Tape, is an electrically insulating heat resistant tape that has many uses for Reprap:
Kapton tape is well suited for fastening heating elements. As such, it’s the material of choice for fastening heating wire to the heater barrel of an extruder such as the Mendel extruder. For example, the Casainho extruder uses Kapton tape. Kapton can also be used to tape the temperature sensor to the printhead/extruder.
- Print surface
Kapton tape is a good print surface for primting ABS on a Heated Bed. For ABS to stick to Kapton the Kapton needs to be hot (different sources mention minimum temperatures between 80-130 °C). Also the Kapton should be free of grease, grease can be removed with acetone or a propane torch. However, test your Kapton for fire resistance first!
Source: RepRap Wiki
Fairly straight forward stuff here, you can pre-heat from within your 3D printer software or directly from the FlashForge Creator’s LCD panel. Using the Creator’s built in LCD is handy when your computer may be busy doing other things, or of course if you’re printing from SD card.
Printing from SD card.
Once again, the FlashForge’s easy LCD display makes everything really quick and simple with step by step instructions taking you through the process. Simply insert your SD card and navigate using the LCD screen to “Print from SD card”. Easy.
Printing from USB.
This feature is pretty much standard and the experience really comes form the software you use, not from the Creator. There are a number of options, but my personal preference is to set up my prints with MakerWare. I haven’t had any real issues with printing from USB. One print failed seemingly after the computer went into sleep mode, but I have not been able to re-create the fault after forcing the computer into sleep mode, so I can’t be sure this was the cause.
As far as the Creator goes, its weaknesses really depend on your expectations. Not really a weakness (as it’s common amongst almost all 3D printers) but one thing that could be improved is the open casing of the printer. Open sides allow drafts, which can, in some cases, cause a print to warp. However, the open source community has a solution and you can close up the sides by adding panels that you can download here from Thingiverse.
Another thing that could be seen to let the Flashforge Creator down, compared to some newer and more expensive 3D printers, is its appearance. Now again, this is not a factor that affects the printer’s performance in any way, it’s purely an aesthetic preference. For some, the raw look of the Flashforge Creator is a plus, as it’s easy to customize and gives a blank canvas to get creative!
It’s a fantastic printer for someone wanting to get into and explore 3D printing on a budget. It has somewhat of a cult following with a large community of owners sharing experience and advice online, so there’s plenty of places to find information about modifications and operation.
Overall, I really like the FlashForge Creator. It’s a solid hobbyist machine with a good sized build plate that you’re unlikely to out grow too soon. Its dual extruders allow you to immediately explore multi-colored or multi-material prints, it’s easy to modify or customize, and is fully controllable directly from the printer, all at a budget price point.
Although there are higher specification printers available, due to the low cost of the FlashForge Creator, I don’t think there is currently a better value 3D printer on the market.
Click here to see reviews and prices for the FlashForge Creator series of printers on Amazon.com