304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Cube 3D printers are manufactured by 3D Systems and they are fairly fast, reliable, economical, and safe to use. They score major points, particularly when it comes to design. They look so cool with no components flying around and include helpful features like multiple extruders and automatic calibration.
They are a bit limited though in terms of software compatibility and performance, and also the type of filaments they support. This review looks at two of the top Cube 3D printer models available on the market and we’ll cover what they offer and how they perform.
Like most 3D Systems’ printers, the Cube 3D model stands out with regard to design. It has a minimalistic and futuristic design that gives it a compact, clean look. The machine itself is very functional. The printing speed is fast and the quality of the final prints is great, especially for small objects. It can print large objects but the quality is mostly average.
The unit also features two extruders, so you can print with two different colors or filament materials. However, it’s limited when it comes to versatility as it only uses 3D System’s proprietary filaments and software which doesn’t off much flexibility and advanced features.
Just like the name suggests, the Cube 3D printer model exactly resembles a cube. It’s a unique design that makes it look elegant and futuristic. No filament holders are protruding from the unit like many other 3D printers. The filaments are placed in two recessed plastic cartridges on the sides and they fit flush with the entire body of the printer.
There are zero sharp edges and everything, from the cables to the components is enclosed under a sleek plastic casing. It basically hides most of the key technical aspects of 3D printing away from the user, thereby giving the printer a clean, smooth look.
However, the front and backside are open, so you get to view the ongoing print work easily. There are lights on the inside part too and they illuminate the prints as they are formed allowing you to see them even when working in low-light conditions.
The other notable thing is that while most 3D printers utilize a separate extruder (or several extruders) that melts the filament into the print head, 3D Systems instead has the extruder nozzle directly built into the filament cartridge, right at the end of the clear plastic tube.
The whole unit is relatively compact, measuring 13.2 x 13.5 x 9.5 inches. It can sit on a desk without taking up lots of space. The build is also quite good. It’s a sturdy, plastic alloy construction that’s stable and durable. The base plate is equally solid made of a 3/16-thick aluminum and holds both the electronics and the frame in place inside the case.
The print bed is a thick glass that is covered on top with a white plastic sheet. It feels very strong including the Z-axis frame which is made from a thick metal sheet. The only flimsy part is the filament spools – they break quickly and you can’t use them again.
The Cube 3D printer features two extruders with 0.4mm nozzles that can reach maximum temperatures of up to 536°F (280°C). The system offers only two-layer resolution options. You can print either 200 or 70-micron layer thickness, – there are no middle-ground options like 100 microns.
Overall, the print quality is pretty decent. It’s able to build a huge variety of small objects excellently. The results are often error-free and highly detailed with smooth contours and layers. There are very few flaws and ghosting is almost completely absent.
However, it struggles a little to build large prints. The quality is mostly average. The dimensions are often not that accurate – the widths and lengths of most models tend to be slightly off the mark.
The prints also usually lack finer details and larger print jobs at times fail half-way through the printing process – it’s not the ideal printer if you’re after precision, especially in large prints. Another issue is that the printer has to cool down after completing a job before it’s able to print again. It takes about two minutes every time, so you waste a bit of time between prints.
However, one advantage it has is the use of dual extruders which is something you’ll mostly find in high-end 3D printers. The two extruders allow you to print in two different materials or colors concurrently which is convenient when you want to build print objects of two colors.
Speed-wise, it’s a bit slow (15 mm/s). For instance, a model stature can take 5 hours and 22 minutes to complete using the standard preset (uses a layer thickness of 0.2 mm). The premium preset (using a layer height of 0.07 mm) takes 14 hours and 12 minutes.
It starts to struggle more when dealing with larger projects such that most of the time you end up with just a bundle of filament that’s only good for the landfill. It’s hard to stomach the waste, especially given the exorbitant cost of their cartridges.
The build area is a modest 6 x 6 x 6 inches, hence it provides sufficient working space for small scale projects and also printing fairly large objects – you can print objects of up to 140mm or 5.5 inches cubed.
The model utilizes an active print bed that moves back and forth as well as up and down during a print job. The extruder nozzle only moves sideways unlike in other 3D printers where it moves in all directions. This type of mechanism helps reduce the amount of space required which allows the printer to remain compact and still maintain a considerably large print platform.
The downside is that the bed is not heated. An unheated bed works well with PLA materials as they stick well with just a glue stick but it doesn’t do well when using ABS since it doesn’t stick easily to the platform if the bed is not heated. There were reports that some prints don’t stay put on the print bed during printing – they collapse, turning into gooey messes.
The good thing is that the bed stays cool when touched making the printer suitable for home use or for working with kids at school.
The Cube 3D supports only PLA and ABS filament materials and strictly uses cartridges from 3D systems which are more expensive than filament from other brands like Cetus 3D. They are about 50% more expensive than regular filament.
Another downside is that you can’t refill the filament material in each cartridge, you have to get a new cartridge entirely. The Cube 3D cartridges themselves are also not compatible with the other 3D Systems’ models like the CubePro. There were several complaints too that they jam (clog) and break regularly, and once they do, you can’t use them anymore.
The advantage though is that you can print using both filament materials simultaneously because of the double extruders. The cartridges fit snugly into the printer and each comes with a sensor that allows the printer to automatically identify the type of filament material being used (ABS or PLA), its color, and the amount remaining.
3D systems have also included a water-soluble filament that enables you to print supports. It works well for most overhangs, plus it leaves an unblemished surface. The supports automatically dissolve away when you dip the finished print in water – you don’t have to manually break them off and you can also use the filament to print an object with one material.
The printer is user-friendly and very simple to operate. It features just a power button and a color touch screen. The 2.5-inch screen provides a nice visual representation of the process going on inside the machine.
Beginners should find figuring out the settings and options easy. Moreover, indicators like how much filament is left are welcome additions, especially for users who are yet to develop the skills to gauge the amount of filament a project requires. You can also access information about the printing job, plus the progress of the printing process from the screen.
The other thing that makes this unit user-friendly is the automatic calibration function. It saves you the hassle of having to tweak with the print bed settings and also the print heat settings. The system uses cloud software to print and it’s what performs most of the work – almost all the controls of the printer are in the cloud.
You just upload the print jobs/designs to the cloud service and the cloud service processes the files, and then sends the instructions to the printer. The system then selects the best settings before starting the printing process. In terms of connectivity, it supports a Wi-Fi connection and you can use USB and flash drive too.
The printer works with only the Cubify mobile app or the Cube software which you have to download and install to convert the 3D files into the .cube 3D file format that’s used by the printer. The software converts from OBJ, STL, and other formats too.
The wireless connectivity allows you to transfer the project easily to the printer via the app or the software using your smartphone or computer. You can access the printer and control it from almost anywhere without having to install additional software.
The Cube 3D software is compatible with Mac OS X 10.8 and above or Windows 7 and above. The app works with both Android (4.0 and up) and iOS (7 and up) devices, hence you can print from a phone, tablet, or computer.
The only downside is that the number of advanced settings is limited. You really can’t tweak some of the very basic settings like in other printers and you can’t use any other slicing software other than the Cube software. The software is also set as default to print models without supports, so parts wider than their bases don’t always print properly.
The Cube 3D is a breeze to set up as it comes pre-assembled. Much of the setup time involves letting it run its self-calibration procedure where it tests the parts and ensure the print bed is level. You have to do this manually with most 3D printers, but the Cube 3D does all this for you – there are magnets placed under the print bed which detect when it’s close to the print head.
It’s designed to allow you to set it up and start printing within just 45 minutes after unboxing it, unheard of for 3D printers in the same price range where the assembly can take hours.
Loading and replacing the print cartridges is also simple. Each cartridge has a print-jet (the head of the feeding tube of a filament) which fits perfectly on the print-head. There’s little to no contact at all with the filament strings. The side panels that hold the filaments also have a translucent door, hence you can tell when the filament material is running out.
The print plate on top of the print platform is removable too, so you get to easily clean the surface right after a job and prime it with glue before beginning one.
However, many claimed that the machine is a little noisy when working. It produces a series of high-pitched whines around the motors and loud clunks when the print bed moves up and down which can become annoying or irritating sometimes. The extruder nozzles built into the filament cartridges tend to jam as well, causing failed prints and they are challenging to unjam.
The biggest problem is that this printer has been discontinued by the manufacturer, and as such, there’s no true customer support.