‘A clear winner of 2013.’
The FlashForge Creator 3D Printer has become available to us thanks to the open-source nature of 3D printing and associated printer designs. As you can probably tell straight off the bat, it is very similar to the popular MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer (read review here), and based on the open-source Replicator 1 (thanks Andrew). This one, however, is manufactured, supported and sold from China. Don’t stop reading there though, this printer has become a popular choice with plenty of highly positive customer support and service reviews cropping up around the web. It is a high quality, dual extruder 3D printer that arguably offers more than the MakerBot Replicator 2 or 2X and for approximately half the price. The Flashforge Creator is one of my personal favourites, and is about to hit 100 positive reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 5 stars, so I’m not alone.
FlashForge Creator vs MakerBot Replicator 2
Unlike the MakerBot Replicator 2 (but not the 2X), the FlashForge Creator uses dual head extruders to allow for multi-coloured printing of objects. It uses an upgraded version of the MK7 extruder heads rather than the MakerBot’s MK8. These extruder heads incorporate a name stepper motor, polyoxymethylene injection capabilities, CNC machined aluminium parts and roller-bearings for smoother axial motion. If all that sounds a bit too much for you don’t worry, it will become clearer as you read on. The Creator also isn’t as painful on the eyes as it doesn’t have all the fancy LED lights that are present on the Replicator. This is a good thing as it reduces the risks of electrical shorts and static zaps during handling and printing, which I have heard of happening. Despite the similarities between the two however, modifications and part upgrades designed for the MakerBot Replicator 2 will not fit onto the Creator hassle-free. You will have to get around this with a little tinkering and custom medication of the parts yourself, so be prepared. Most upgrades for the Replicator 1, however, are entirely compatible. The extrusion system is nearly identical, the interface is the same and the materials and quality are similar (thanks again Andrew).
FlashForge Creator Specifications
2x Spool Holders
2 spools of ABS filament(N.W.:1 kilogram per spool.)
2x filament guide tubes
Feet, Bolts and Hex Wrench Kit
Power Supply Cable
1x 2G SD card
Overall dimensions: 320 x 467 x 381 mm
Packing dimension: 580 x 450 x 550 mm
Shipping Weight: 13kg (without materials)
FLashForge MightyBoard single-piece motherboard
5 axis, 1/16 micro-stepping motor control
4×20 LCD character display and multi-direction control pad
Universal Power Supply: 100-240V, 50/60Hz
Input voltage: AC100-240V, 50/60H
Compatibility: Linux, OSX, Mac and Windows.
Print from SD card or over USB
Input file type: STL, Gcode, X3G
Build envelope: 225 x 145 x 150 mm | 8.9 x 5.7 x 5.9 inches
Build volume: About 5 liters
Print precision 0.1 – 0.2mm
Layer thickness: 0.1 – 0.5mm (adjustable)
Nozzle diameter: 0.4 mm
Speed: 40-150 mm/s (adjustable)
Flow Rate: Approximately 24 cc/hr
Extruder Temperature: Recommended Maximum 230 C
Heated Build Platform: 120 C Maximum
Positioning precision: 0.0025mm on Z axis, 0.011mm on XY axis
Works well with ABS or PLA
Filament colors: White, black, yellow, red, blue, green, transparent
Filament diameter: 1.75 – 1.8mm
FlashForge Creator Printing & Materials
Printing with the FlashForge is just as easy and powerful as any other entry-level system on the market. It’s got an adjustable 100-300 micron printing resolution, 100 micros being the equivalent of about the width of an A4 piece of paper. Unlike the MakerBot Replicator 2 it’s also got a heated build platform. The build platform can be heated up to 120 degrees Celsius (248 Fahrenheit) and allows the printer to print in both PLA and ABS plastic. PLA is generally much easier to use since it sticks to itself and the build surface more readily, but with a bit of experience under their belt people generally like to try the ABS plastic because of its strength and durability. A heated build platform stabilises the temperature of the actual print and reduces the risk of warping and print failures, so you’re free to play with both plastics here.
FlashForge Creator Software
Continuing with the open-source theme and similarities with the MakerBot Replicator 2, the Creator is compatible with MakerBot’s 7.2 firmware, Sailfish, Makerware and .X3G files. You can use the open-source ReplicatorG controlling software to easily scale and position your .stl files. You obviously also have access to Thingiverse, which is the largest and most popular collection of free 3D printable designs (or blueprints). It’s also free and open-source, and the blueprints can be printed on any 3D printer.
User Experience & Community
The FlashForge Creator comes fully assembled, tested and calibrated direct from the FlashForge factory in Jinhua. It is generally about as plug and play as 3D printers come, with only the software installation and the occasional calibration needed.
Like all 3D Printers, you’ll have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and do minor repairs and upgrades yourself between projects. While the FlashForge Creator is great for its price and a solid entry-level 3D printer for home, it does require slightly more hands-on attention than the MakerBot Replicator 2 seems to. Because of this it could lose a few points as slightly less user-friendly, but nothing too drastic. Seeing as though many people getting into the 3D printing scene are more than eager to play a ‘do-it-yourself’ role, it won’t be too much of an issue after a little research. You will have to be ready to get involved mechanically with the printer itself, order parts online where needed, and do any required upgrades or repairs throughout the life of the printer.
Because the FlashForge Creator uses an improved version of the MK7 nozzle you may find the first layer of prints to be quite messy. You can fix all this plastic mess and stringy bits up with a small file and clean the rest up post-print. You will also want to buy yourself a roll of Kapton tape to use after a few projects. Some comes already taped to the build platform, but buying more tape is an absolute must as it is indispensible when it comes to getting prints to stick and not curl. During the first few prints you might want to keep an eye on the spool holder also. Because of its flexibility and capability to handle spools of slightly different sizes it can unravel and get tangled during the print process.
A dual extruder setup will also allow you in the future to print a raft using a material mix that is easier to slice off and remove from the actual print. During the print process certain areas of a print need support to prevent them from sagging or warping. A raft is printed beneath these areas and is sliced away post-print.
Check it out in action here:
At half the price of the MakerBot Replicator 2 (read review here), it’s hard to go wrong with the FlashForge Creator if you’re keen to really get into 3D printing. It’s a great entry-level printer and gives you a lot for what you’re paying. It offers dual extruders, a heated build plate and the capability of printing in both ABS and PLA printers, something its more expensive cousin does not. If you’re willing to get a little more hands-on with the printer and apply what you can learn from the 3D printing community you can handle all the repairs and upgrades yourself. Despite being based overseas the support is getting generally very favourable reviews. Finally, the online community based around this particular design of 3D printers is great. Its popularity has boomed since I initially posted this review, becoming Amazon’s best-selling and highest-rated 3D printer purchasable through their store.