In our very first printer review we'll be taking a closer look at the popular Afinia H-Series 3D printer.
As some of you on our Facebook page may remember, we were fortunate enough to have recently been sent a 3D printer to test and review from Afinia, one of the most popular home 3D printer manufacturers. Their H-Series 3D printer has been causing quite a storm online after Make magazine voted it their “Best Overall Experience” in a recent review of the most popular 3D printers available.
Well now we've been given the chance to make up our own minds and put this hotly talked about printer through its paces, but before we do, we'd first like to thank the team at Afinia for the opportunity to review and share with you.
A little about the star of the show.
The Afinia H-Series printer is a home FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printer. Using STL 3D data files, this little wonder recreates objects by ‘printing' them layer by layer, stacking them one on top of the other.
It's capable of printing with either ABS or PLA plastic filaments by depositing multiple thin layers to create the final model. Popular with home users and hobbyists alike, the Afinia has become a popular choice for many people starting out in the world of 3D printing. But is it any good?
Unpacking the Afinia H-Series
From the moment you open your new printer's packaging, it's apparent that Afinia have thought of most things for you. Your new printer comes with not only software and ABS plastic to get you up and running, but a whole bunch of handy tools like gloves, tweezers, palette knife and precision craft knife – all of which I've found myself reaching for on more than one occasion. This consideration of ‘user experience' continues as the printer only needs a couple of plastic fasteners removing before it's ready to plug in and set up.
Getting Started: Setting up the printer for the first time.
Getting set up for the first time was quick and pretty straight forward. The instructions provided were simple, clear and easy to understand and follow. After attaching the spool arm and filament guide tube, there's only the print bed's ‘perf board' to add before you're ready to plug it in, power it up and calibrate.
Adding the spool holder was simple and easy to do with the tools provided. When attaching, you may notice that the part itself has been 3D printed, as too has the guard around the extruder, so replacing them if they are ever damaged is simple and shows why 3d printers will be so useful, especially straight out of the box.
Attaching the print bed's ‘perf board' can be done a couple of ways. Around the edges of the board are 8 small holes where it can be securely screwed down to hold it in place. Personally, we chose to use 4 handy clips (again provided in the box by Afinia) to secure the perf board while also allowing easy removal after your print has finished. This method worked perfectly for us, producing great print results. However, for long or overnight prints we'd recommend using the screws to secure the board, in order to avoid any bumps or errors ruining your print after hours of printing has already completed. Better to be safe than sorry!
Installing software and loading models.
With every 3D printer shipped, Afinia provides its own software so that you can load, position and even edit your models before sending them to the printer. Installation of the software was very straight forward, we just followed the on screen instructions, chose the location for the software to be installed and hit install. Simple. For the purposes of this review we used Afinia's software on a Macbook Pro running OSX Lion.
Once installed, loading models for printing was also a very simple and natural process – hit ‘file', load and browse to your desired file. No surprises there. Using the software to navigate the scene and position your model can feel a little strange at first, but after a short adjustment period you'll quickly get used to moving and working in 3 dimensions.
Afinia's software comes with a number of options for repositioning models, changing its scale, as well as a handy feature to check if the normals of your model are all facing the right way. But before we go any further into using Afinia's software to prepare your print, we first need to finish preparing our printer.
Calibrating the printer for optimum results.
Possibly the most important (and often undervalued) step in the setup process is calibrating your printer. Afinia's provided software made calibration relatively straight forward and will get you good results, but if you really want to increase the accuracy of your printer, we recommend getting hold of some digital calipers, printing and then measuring the provided calibration model. With this method, you can print out a standard pre-made calibration model, and feed back some key measurements to your printer to ensure everything is pin point accurate.
Getting ready to print: Preparing the printer.
Once your printer is loaded up with filament and turned on, it's time to prepare for your first print. If you haven't already, initialize your printer by pushing and holding the button on the front of the machine. Three quick beeps later, and the printer springs into life.
Before sending any models to print, we first need to pre-heat the print bed. There are two options for this, a 15 minute pre-heat or one hour, depending on your needs. Once pre-heating has completed, ensure your printer is clear of anything that may bump, fall into or otherwise interfere with the printing process before hitting send.
Print preview is a helpful feature built into Afinia's software that helps you to calculate how long a print will take to complete. Try experimenting with the various options like layer thickness, fill type, amount of support material, etc in order to see how each parameter will effect your printing time. We tried a number of different settings when testing this machine and found that the impact on print times can be quite dramatic, so it's well worth looking into before blindly committing to a print.
Your first 3D print.
Sending your first model to print can be an exciting and then all of a sudden underwhelming process. After the software has finished sending the model to the printer and started the printing process, you're thankfully free to disconnect the computer form the printer and avoid having it running the whole time you're printing. But once the initial print begins and the magic starts to happen, it quickly becomes apparent that this is going to take some time. Depending on the model you're printing and the settings you chose, it can take a long time. We printed the “paper tree' from the TV show “Game of Thrones” which, being a more intricate model, took over 9 hours to complete. This time consuming process is inherent to 3D printing and by no means a bad mark on the H-Series, just be prepared for a bit of an anticlimax after taking the time to set the printer up properly and calibrate.
We recommend setting your printer to the quickest (low resolution) settings you can at the beginning. You may find your printer settings need a little tweaking before your prints come out exactly as you imagine, and spotting problems with prints happens sooner if you're print results are quicker. There's no point in a slower, high resolution print that goes wrong. Feel your printer out first before sending any objects to print over night.
Anyone looking to dip their toe into 3D printing with the experience of a high quality machine will love the Afinia H-Series. It's simple enough for beginners to use, but still has all the features of the more expensive ‘hobbyist' type printers. We had a bunch of fun using this printer and got some really great results.
Despite its low cost, the Afinia maintains the hobbyist feel of its more expensive cousins. It's simple to use without making you feel like you bought a “My first 3D printer” simplified version. Make no mistake, it's a fully featured printer as accurate and high in resolution as printers twice its price. We also really like how it lacks the “user friendly” constraints of other low cost, 3D printers, like the unique filament ‘cartridges' found on the Cube.
The Afinia is a no nonsense introduction to 3D printing. While the maximum size of prints (5′ x 5′ x 5′) may be a sticking point for some, we think that in spite of having a smaller print area, this is still one of the best options around for anyone buying their first 3D printer, and is fully capable of printing thousands of objects at extremely high quality.