Open source 3D Printing

For revolutionary technology to be effective, it has to be affordable. The same applies to 3D printers; if it has to change the world, it must be cheaply available to the masses. In this chapter, we’ll take a look at some Open Source 3D printing technology projects that aim to make 3D printing more affordable and bring it into our households.


Now that you’ve seen how useful and game changing a 3D printer can be, let’s look at some revolutionary Open Source 3D printing projects

For revolutionary technology to be effective, it has to be affordable. The same applies to 3D printers; if it has to change the world, it must be cheaply available to the masses. In this chapter, we’ll take a look at some Open Source 3D printing technology projects that aim to make 3D printing more affordable and bring it into our households.

Open Source hardware – A quick definition

Just like its software counterpart, an Open Source hardware device is available for anyone to copy, modify, manufacture and sell. There are no royalties or payments associated with it. The design’s origins must be acknowledged by anyone using it and should allow anyone else using it the same rights. 
Let’s now look at the various 3D printers in the open source category.

1. RepRap 3D printer

The ‘Replicating Rapid Prototyper’ or ‘RepRap’ is one of the most widely used desktop 3D printers that prints plastic objects. Many of the parts of the RepRap printer are made of plastic, and it can print a duplicate version of itself (the plastic components). The version ‘Mendel’ is named after Gregory Mendel, the father of modern genetics. It uses the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) technique (see Chapter 2) to print 3D components. The total cost of making the Mendel, including the electronics and motor, is around $520. It weighs around 7 kgs and can print at the speed of 15.0 cm3 per hour. The printing material used by the Mendel is PLA (a biodegradable polymer), ABS (a commonly used thermoplastic) and HDPE (a commonly used plastic).

The RepRap 3D printer was conceived as a complete printing solution rather than just a piece of hardware and so, to this end it comes bundled with the open source RepRap software with which you can design parts and print them using the printer. In fact, The RepRap printer uses the input material in the form of a filament which it melts and forces through a thinner nozzle (the printer head) and lays it on the printed model where needed. The printer head moves along the X-Y axis of the design.

The RepRap Project is quite famous and many variations exist now which were built upon the original RepRap. The RepRap can print thousands of components limited only by the designs available. It can print complex objects, including scientific equipment, which would normally require industrial infrastructure. Currently, the RepRap can only replicate its plastic components but its future target, over its evolutionary variations, is to achieve 100 per cent self replication.

2. Eventorbot

The mission of the Kickstarter project ‘Eventorbot! Open source 3d printer’ by Day Dang was to build a rigid, low cost 3D printer and it managed to achieve just that. The Eventorbot has a rigid frame and is made up of a single, long square tube that’s bent into a ‘U’ shape. This structure allows the Eventorbot to maintain rigidity making it less affected by vibrations while printing. The hollow tube is around 2.5’’ of square steel frame which also enables it to conceal wiring, thereby avoiding a mess of wires and looking aesthetic at the same time. It almost looks like a professional 3D printer.

Eventorbot also eliminates around 40 per cent of the parts and costs required to assemble other 3D printers. The best part: around 80 per cent of the Eventorbot’s parts (around 37) are printable. The Eventorbot has a printing size of around 152mm x 152mm x 152 mm (the Eventorbot 1.2 has a build area of 8’’ x 10’’ x 6’’). Its nozzle printing precision is between 0.1mm-0.5mm. The material cost for the Eventorbot is between $300 to $500 and the assembled cost is around $800. The 3D design plans for objects are available for free on www.thingiverse. com and the Eventorbot YouTube channel have a detailed video collection on the 3D printer’s assembly.

3. ReplicatorG software

Speaking of open source hardware, what good would it be if it didn’t have a solid open source software to back it up? Introducing ‘ReplicatorG’, the easy-to use open source 3D printing program which powers many open source 3D printers. Currently in version 0040, the ReplicatorG is cross-platform software that is available for Windows, Linux and Mac. It’s based on Arduino, an open source single-board microcontroller, intended to make the application of interactive objects and/or environments more accessible. For its operations, ReplicatorG uses Gcode, which is a control language for CNC machines.

Using the ReplicatorG is as simple as installing it, connecting the printer, loading the STL files, configuring the print settings and taking the printer for a spin. There are plenty of files on Thingiverse.com to get you started with 3D printing.

4. Tantillus

With 3D printers becoming a rage, more people are open to the idea of on the- go printing. This presents the problem of portability, with a majority of printers being big and clunky. This problem was solved by the ‘Tantillus’, a portable open source 3D printer with a compact box-shaped design. The Tantillus can print its entire case, which fairly brings it into the category of self-replicating printers. It’s quite compact with dimensions of 240mm x 240mm x 300mm and weight of just 4 kgs (including the power supply).

One great feature of the Tantillus 3D printer is that you don’t even need to connect it to a computer to take prints as you can print via the LCD screen and SD card on it. The printer has a build area of 100mm x 100mm x 100mm and it can print in high resolution. Most items available on Thing verse can fit on Tantillus’ platform. The external power supply also allows for printing via battery power.

Interesting facts: The Tantillus was designed entirely using open source technology. It was modelled using the Blender mesh-modelling and animation program. Open source 3D printers such as Prusa, Thing-o-matic, Tantillus and Citadel Mendel were used to print the printer’s prototypes with the help of open source software to power the machines. Even the computers used to design the models and the website used open source operating systems such as Mint 12 and Ubuntu. Opens cad, the modelling program was used to make SVG files from STL files and all image modification (2D) was done using GIMP.

5. Ultimaker

The ‘Ultimaker’, like many others, is based on the RepRap project and is currently in its second version. Created in 2011, this 3D printer quickly became one of the most popular ones out there. The latest version Ultimaker 2 has an increased print volume, reliability and is more user-friendly. The company states that the designs are open source and can be modified by anyone, but only for non-commercial usage.

The Ultimaker is one of the fastest 3D printers around and can print at the speed of 30 300mm/s. It can print with an ultrahigh resolution of 20 microns (0.02mm) or a high resolution of 60 microns (0.06mm) and medium and low resolutions of 100 (0.1mm) and 200 (0.2mm) microns, respectively. The build volume of the printer is 225 mm x 225 mm x 205 mm. It weighs around 11.2 kgs and is available fully assembled unlike its previous version, which was also available as a DIY kit. The assembled printer costs around $2,750.

The Ultimaker uses its own open source software called ‘Cura’ to print. It’s quick to understand and novices can print with ease. It also has advanced options for those who seek them. It has an easy-to-use interface and can prepare files of up to 20 microns for printing. The software is available for Windows, Ubuntu and Mac OS. It can print from SD cards and is Wi-Fi ready. Ultimaker later plans to release an upgraded model, which will have dual printing heads.

6. Michigan Technological University’s open source 3D metal printer
The Michigan Technological University (MTU) has upped the ante by developing an open source 3D metal printer costing less than $1,500 to build. This price tag is dramatically lower than commercial 3D metal printers, which can cost around half a million dollars. Anyone can create their own 3D metal printer as MTU has made the detailed plans and software available as open source.

The 3D printer consists of a small commercial gas-metal arc welder and an open source microcontroller. Here, the extruder is made up of the welder, which melts metal wire and deposits drops of liquid metal in layers. This allows it to create complex geometric structures. In the future when this device is improved upon, it could be used to print items that range from household objects to custom lab equipment. The lab’s report states that with some additions it may be possible to use aluminium as the printing material.

7. Fab@Home

‘Fab@Home’ is a platform of printers that can build dynamic 3D objects. Its purpose is to make real, usable objects. Case in point being a working flashlight printed by Fab@Home. The Fab@Home printer is not self-replicating like some other printers and is geared towards printing static and dynamic objects. It is also easier to put together than many other printers. This printer uses a wide variety of materials to print the object layer by layer. The material can be in liquid or paste form, as long as it can be squeezed through its syringes. Some of the materials that have been used until now include chocolate, cheese, epoxy, gypsum plaster, PlayDoh and ceramic clay mixed with water. As part of a demonstration related to printing body parts, the printer was also used to print an ear out of silicone gel. It has also printed ice, metal and a replacement bone. Depending on the material, the appropriate hardening method is employed (among other options, this can be heat or UV rays).

The Fab@Home project intends to bring personal fabrication to every household to ensure that everybody can give shape to their ideas. Currently, you can create miniature models, food items and items with electrical parts. The Fab@Home printer is in its second version with a better design, reduced cost and build time than the first.

8. LulzBot TAZ

It may sound like an internet troll but the RepRap style ‘LulzBot Taz’ is definitely not one. Although, the LulzBot TAZ costs $2,194, it’s worth every penny. LulzBot TAZ gives you a wide variety of printing material options such as ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, translucent plastic, glow-in the-dark, wood  filament; and with add-ons, nylon, polycarbonate and more. You can also print without a computer as the printer comes embedded with an LCD screen and an SD card slot. The TAZ comes with a 0.35mm nozzle with additional, interchangeable options available.

LulzBot has included the designs for a model with dual extruder online on its website LulzBot.com. It prints with a layer thickness of 0.075 mm-0.35 mm, which is changeable with the optional 0.75mm nozzle. It also has a good print speed of 200 mm/ sec and can print on an area of 298 mm x 275 mm x 250 mm. Weighing 11 kgs, its portable enough to be carried around. The LulzBot TAZ is an open source printer and therefore has good community support and can be improved upon by anyone. Maintenance won’t be an issue as you can print your own replacement parts and customisations. The software for LulzBot is compatible with Linux, Mac OS and Windows.

9. PrintrBot Simple

The ‘Printrbot Simple’ is a simple, cheap RepRap-based 3D printer, which is easy to build and use. The kit costs between $299-$349 while the assembled version costs $449. One of the cheapest open source 3D printers out there, the Printrbot Simple also weighs less at 4 kgs. However, the build volume of the Printrbot Simple is lower compared to other 3D printers and stands at 101.6 mm x 101.6 mm x 101.6 mm. The Simple doesn’t come with its own software but works very well with open source solutions such as Opens CAD (for designing), Slic3r (to generate G-Code from STL files), Repetier (to load STL files, interface with Slic3r and drive the printing process ) and Para View (for visualising and retouching a model). If you intend to buy the filament cartridge from the manufacturer, it will cost you around $30 - still cheaper than other printers like Ultimaker. Also, the printer head on the Simple is limited to one while other printers can have 2-3 printer heads. It has an average printing speed ranging from 60-65 mm/sec but with a good resolution of 0.1 mm of layer height, which is amongst the best.

10. Litto

The sleek-looking ‘Litto’ printer has an unobtrusive framework and gives easy access to the build platform. This compact printer features easy-to use software and delivers quick printing. It can print objects with a build volume of 134.6 mm x 119.3 mm x 175.2 mm. Litto has a layer resolution of 0.1 mm-0.3 mm and it can print with PLA (also ABS, but it isn’t officially supported). Litto uses the Coordia software, which is compatible with Windows and Mac OS. The software makes it easy for beginners to create or modify files for printing. The Litto can be connected to a computer or can also print files from an SD card. With a cost of $999 for a DIY kit (or +$300 for an assembled version), the Litto comes across as an expensive printer.

11. Ditto+

The elder brother of the Litto, the ‘Ditto+’ costs $1,249 for a DIY kit (or +$300 for an assembled version) but excels with a bigger build volume of 210.8 mm x 185.4 mm x 228.6 mm. Weighing 7 kgs, its body is made of Birch plywood, making it easier to lug around unlike printers constructed of aluminium or steel. Like the Litto, the Ditto+ can print with a print resolution of 0.1 mm-0.3 mm with PLA and ABS (not officially supported).

It uses the same software, Coordia, as Litto for its printing operations. For printing, you can either connect it to your computer or save the files to an SD card or directly use it with the printer.

12. Prusa i3

The ‘Prusa i3’ is based on the open source RepRap project and is currently in its third iteration. Named after Josef Prusa, an early contributor to the RepRap project, the Prusa i3 has enhanced frame rigidity and is easy to assemble. It is available in three variants: aluminium single plate frame, gusseted wood frame and box wood frame. The aluminium single plate frame and the gusseted wood frame are designed to be manufactured by using laser cutters, water jet or CNC Mill while the box wood frame is designed to be manufactured with basic woodworking tools.

The print volume of the single frame is around 200 mm x 200 mm x 200 mm while that of the box frame is around 200 mm x 200 mm x 270 mm. Building the Prusa i3 can cost you anywhere between $334-$1,290. Regardless of whether you prefer to buy a kit or an assembled model, there are plenty of vendors who manufacture the Prusa i3 and you should have no difficulty finding it.

13. DeltaTrix 3D printer

The ‘DeltaTrix 3D printer’ is built on the delta robot platform (it consists of three arms connected to joints at the base and the use of parallelograms in the arms maintains the orientation of the end effector). With this design, only the printer heads need to move and not the work piece. This helps achieve faster printing speed. It uses an LCD display and an SD memory card to print models. There is no need to attach it to a computer. 

Currently, it uses Repetier (software on PC) and Marlin (firmware) on the RAMPS electronics. The DeltaTrix 3D printer can print with PLA and ABS. The printing area is around 280 mm in diameter and 280 mm in height. The nozzle size is 0.3 or 0.5 mm. The future goals for this Kickstarter project are to introduce automatic levelling by means of an optical sensor and provision for dual printer heads assembly.

14. RepRap-based Prusa Mendel

The ‘Prusa Mendel’ is easily the most widespread open source 3D printer based on the RepRap project. Angad Daryani, a 15-year-old Mumbai resident went ahead and built a Prusa Mendel as buying a 3D printer would have been very expensive. The Prusa Mendel uses the Fused Filament Fabrication method of printing. The extruder employs stepper motors to extrude plastic and uses four main plastic parts. RAMPS are the 3D printer’s electronic platform. Aangad used the Google Sketch Up tool as a 3D design tool and Pronterface as a software control panel to control the various aspects of the printer. Angad aims to sell assembled printers at under Rs. 20,000 - the cheapest 3D printer in India.

15. Graber i3 3D Printer

The ‘Graber i3’ 3D printer by Evotech Robotics is a variant of the popular Prusa i3 and is built to be more stable and easy to assemble and maintain. It can print using PLA and ABS, with a resolution of 0.1 mm. Also included is a micro SD slot, which enables you to print directly from the printer. Precision chrome hardened shafts are used in the machine along with the pulley and belt specifically designed for linear motion. The Graber i3 has a build volume of 200 mm x 200 mm x 200 mm and a nozzle diameter of 0.4 mm. The size of the machine without the spool and power supply is 45 cm x 35cm x 38 cm. The Graber i3 kit costs around Rs.33,749 and is a good alternative to all the expensive 3D printers out there.

16. MendelMax 2

It is a complete reinvention of the ‘MendelMax’, which in turn is based on the Prusa. The MendelMax2 is faster, easier to source and has fewer parts. The framework has aluminium extrusions and flat plates. The printing area dimensions of the MendelMax 2 are 230 mm x 310 mm x 225 mm and its maximum print speed is 150 mm/sec. It can increase depending on the part bring printed and the material used.

17. Mix G1 Plus

One of the most affordable and high-precision 3D printers, Mix G1 Plus is based on the RepRap project. It costs around $549 for a kit and has print dimensions of 160 mm x 160 mm x 160 mm. It supports a minimum layer thickness of 0.1 mm and nozzle diameter of 0.30 mm and printing with PLA and ABS. It weighs around 7.8 kgs and supports printing through an SD card. It’s compatible with Windows, Mac OS and Linux.