Near the 2023 Holiday Season, I finally decided to pull the trigger and get a 3D printer. I would obtain an Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro to enter the nerd-filled world of 3D printing. I had been putting together a workshop in the other room in my place as an act of taking more control of my life as a grown-ass man, and it has been looking good so far (if I stop being lazy and clean up). Do note that such additional capability also comes with additional costs, responsibilities, and space restrictions. Let’s get into 3D printing, which I’ll be preoccupied with in 2024.
This blog post talks about my reasons for getting into 3D printing, what went into choosing my first 3D printer, how I did with my first 3D prints, everything else I learned about the process, and what I expect to face in the future. This is not intended to be a beginner’s guide to 3D printing, although it can be a guide for what to look for when getting into it. Perhaps in the near future, upon gaining more experience and getting more projects under my belt, I may write an Avoider Guide to 3D Printing that’s comprehensive enough.
Aside from that, I bought an inkjet printer so I can finally stop having to go to Odeon every time I need something printed. I was able to finally print and attach a custom graphic on my Fightbox B1 featuring Elden Ring’s Malenia, the Goddess of All Basement Dwellers. Yeah, I had a pretty ok Christmas.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a 3D printing newbie who’s just starting to get into this field of interest. Therefore, this blog post is not a definitive guide. Perhaps it remains a hobby or I make the jump into taking commissions in the future. Reader discretion is advised.
Why I Want to Do 3D Printing
Prior to this, I had been collecting hand tools and power tools while finally indulging in learning how to fix and make things, like what I wished to be able to do over a decade ago. I got a cordless drill during the pandemic, which was like gaining a superpower. I was so jazzed with that drill that kept it close to me for two weeks.
I would then get more stuff like a soldering iron, desoldering pump, multimeter, and so on to be able to do electronics stuff. I also started exploring other stuff like single-board computers. I also came up with the idea of buying shelves to be able to store more stuff in the other room — I live in a three-bedroom condo, and only my mother and I live here.
That paved the way for what is now becoming the Avoider Workshop — where I avoid work and only shop (because all I’ve been doing is buying more tools).
While I’ve yet to finish cleaning up the room, the added storage space feels liberating, and the tool collection feels empowering. Of course, I should clean everything up and do more with those tools before I aim to get more, and I should only obtain more if needed. But since I’m trying to gain more ability to make and fix things, I don’t feel like I’m going too hog wild so far.
Whatever I can do to jump ahead and make good shit now, I’ll go for it.
It’s not to say I only want to find shortcuts to be able to make stuff, but I do want to make up for not having years of experience in doing this stuff. I didn’t grow up making stuff on my own, having felt that I was no good at it the whole time. If there’s something that can help me accelerate that learning process like 3D printing, I’ll take it.
Besides, it’s not like I’m not engaging in traditional methods since I already am.
That helped me justify to myself the decision to finally get a 3D printer. Add to that how I wanted to make things right away like a spoiled brat, I had no mental resistance to buying something that would make stuff for me while I do something else. The future is now.
My Starting Options
I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to 3D printer brands in this day and age, so much that I know if I looked at all of them at once, I’ll likely be locked in analysis paralysis. Therefore, right from the start, I had to have a short list. Fortunately, I had already been looking up 3D printing for quite some time. I knew of the popular brands, so I wasn’t going in completely blind.
If I had been shopping for 3D printers a decade ago, I would’ve been swimming in a sea of compromises. But the 3D printers of the 2020s are an evolved species.
Having looked up 3D printing in the past, I knew of the Creality Ender 3 S1 Pro. It’s perhaps the most popular entry-level choice out there. Not only is it one of the best-selling 3D printers in the world, but it also has tremendous community support. You can buy an Ender 3 Pro and mod it up the gills if you either know what you’re doing or are willing to read tons of forum threads to learn as you go. I wasn’t that willing to tear my hair out just yet.
Maybe I’ll get into this in the future if I have the time and desire.
I knew of Prusa from watching Linus Tech Tips. They have a printing farm composed of Prusa MK3S’s, which they used to print face shields during the pandemic. They worked with company founder Josef Prusa on that, so that’s a proxy seal of approval by one of the biggest tech influencers on the Internet. The updated version, the Prusa MK4, was met with fairly positive reviews. With a proven track record, it was indeed a strong contender.
The Prusa brand is a pretty big brand in 3D printing, as far as I’m aware.
The Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro popped up in my search on YouTube, and its reception seems split. Some reviews said it was the best bang for buck, while others state that it’s so fast that it seemed rushed out the door. What truly intrigued me was its ease of assembly. While that doesn’t seem that consequential at first, that meant it was designed to be beginner-friendly to begin with. That was what I needed since I was just getting started.
I’ve never heard of this brand before, so I didn’t know what to think of it.
If I wanted to go absolutely nuts and ball out of control, then I would’ve chosen the Bambu Lab P1S. It’s not quite the X1 Carbon, but it’s still extravagant for a beginner 3D printer. But then, I realized that I didn’t know yet if I would really get into this field of interest and if such a high-end printer would allow me to learn all the basics since such a model would have advanced features that did stuff on its own.
Also, I didn’t want to be an asshat who drops ₱65,000 on my very first 3D printer like it’s a Lambo.
The final choice was between the Prusa and the Elegoo. The two deciding factors were price and availability. The Prusa turned out to cost way more than I first thought, almost as much as the Bambu Labs P1S. Also, Makerlab Electronics — the nearest retailer to my residence — only carried Creality and Elegoo 3D printers.
So, I got the Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro.
My Experience with the Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro
This 3D printer cost me ₱17,000, along with four 1kg spools of PLA filament in different colors for ₱650 each, for a total of just over ₱20,000. I now know there are PLA filament brands out there that go for just a bit over ₱500 per spool, although I don’t know yet if they’re equal in quality. The spools I got are pretty good.
I had to cart the box in, then took a whole evening to assemble it and learn the basics of using it. Apparently, this is one of the easiest models to assemble out of the box compared to other 3D printers. It was easy enough to put together, considering that I did no research into the different parts of a 3D printer beforehand.
As far as first contact goes, the Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro has made it a fairly easy entry into the hobby. I may consider this brand for resin printing in the future, if I ever dare venture into that realm.
Assembly and Placement
The box was pretty big. It came with the base that includes the main board, the Y-axis motor, the print bed, and a build plate; the Z-axis with the extruder and the X-axis and Z-axis motors; a touchscreen; a lot of screws; and a lot of accessories.
It turned out that among 3D printers, this is as easy as assembly can get. All I really had to do was screw the vertical thing on the horizontal thing, put the filament detector where it was, and put the spool holder on top, and plug the wires to nearby connectors.
Of course, it would come disassembled since it’d be harder to package and transport if they boxed up the whole thing already put together.
I then had to figure out where to put it in the workshop, which is still a mess as of this writing. Cleaning things up is still a long process due to not being able to throw a lot of things away under pain of death, but at least I have a computer workstation already set up.
The new 3D printer fought for space against my new Canon Pixma inkjet printer and scanner with CISS (I should call it a 2D printer). I took my old childhood nightstand from my mother’s bedroom, cleared the contents of the bottom cabinet, and turned it into my new 3D printing station. The 3D printer sits on top and the cabinet now houses my filaments.
I still have to clear the contents of the top drawer, but that’s for another time.
Reasonably close to the computer, connected to the home network, and on a fairly stable platform, the 3D printer adds quite a lot to the workshop, but in function and aesthetics.
First Print and the 3DBenchy
I spent my Christmas going through my first ever prints. The first model I printed was a little buddha figurine with the included sample Rapid PLA+ filament. I gave it to my mother, who was quite pleased with it as a Buddhist. That certainly afforded me some peace as she hasn’t commented much about my new hobby — something that she tends to do on reflex.
Once I gained some confidence, I then went into the 3DBenchy — the GOAT boat. It was designed to serve as the perfect torture test for a 3D printer’s capabilities. The bottom tests the Z-offset; the hull tests the temperature control; the symmetry reveals any skewing or warping; the holes and gaps may yield stringing and oozing; the high resolution of the model reveals artifacts like zebra-striping and other defects.
It would take 24 minutes to print one Benchy with my 3D printer. There are videos on YouTube showing how the same model can turn out an 18-minute Benchy, which I’m willing to try once I understand how to better fine-tune the performance.
Being Surprised by Prints
After my initial Benchies, I decided to try another one from the included flash drive. I chose the flower pot, which took 2 hours and 42 minutes. This was where the rubber met the road as I was about to have my first hours-long print. I was both nervous and excited for this project.
I was already pleasantly surprised by how the smiling buddha model turned out, but this one was about to blow me out of the water. What came out showed the potential of this technology as it now stands. I’ve heard of 3D printing horror stories throughout the years, and I was expecting to be on the receiving end of one as well.
However, entering this field of interest in the 2020s may have been the best thing for me not only due to the availability of resources, but also the advancement of technology. Much of the hard work by the industry and global community had been done, which meant the quality has reached a zenith of sorts. It used to be a lot harder and messier.
It remains to be seen if we’ve now entered the era of diminishing returns, but the simple fact is that 3D printing has never been better and easier than now. 3D printing still demands a good bit of work and study, but there’s a lot less 3D printing for 3D printing that’s necessary.
I kept holding and staring at the flower pot for days. I printed it with white PLA filament
Learning About Different Materials
There are two major forms of 3D printing available in the consumer market today — fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA). What I’m dealing with right now is FDM, wherein the machine deposits molten thermoplastic one layer at a time, and those layers would fuse as they dry.
There are many different types of plastic that can be used for this process. The major ones that you need to be familiar with are polylactic acid (PLA), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA), polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).
- PLA (and PLA+) are the bread and butter material, but it’s not heat-resistant.
- ABS was the former top dog, but is very delicate and smells really bad.
- ASA is what ABS wished it could be. Choose ABS only for price and availability.
- PETG is water bottle plastic, but glycolized for more strength and durability.
- TPU is tricky, bendy, and almost sticky. You must slow things down to print with it.
- TPE is like a softer and more flexible TPU. If you can print with this, TPU gets easier.
I also learned that filament — especially softer materials like TPU — can absorb moisture from the air and deteriorate over time. I got a rechargeable dehumidifier for my storage and an electric dryer box for prepping filament. I don’t yet know how well they work in preventing my plastic pasta from turning into overcooked spaghetti, so I’ll have to assess going forward.
There are then more advanced materials like nylon, polycarbonate, carbon fiber, composite materials, and so on. There are also PLAs with stuff in it like Silk PLA, Glow-in-the-Dark PLA, and so on. Some of them are too brittle to be functional, while others chew through nozzles like locusts going through harvests, but you’d put up with them for aesthetics.
I’m now also drawing up plans for a custom enclosure for the 3D printer itself for even more control over printing conditions.
Learning About Different 3D Printer Designs
I also learned of the difference between Bedslingers and CoreXY 3D printers. These are different 3D printer designs based on how they move the two most crucial parts, which are the extruder and the bed. The extruder spews out the hot plastic onto the bed one layer after another — that’s basically how FDM 3D printing is done.
A bedslinger 3D printer has the extruder going up the Z-axis while moving left and right along the X-axis, while the print bed is slinging back and forth along the Y-axis, thus the name. This is an older style of printer, and it’s a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro is a prime example of a bedslinger. It slings that bed so hard, I have to be wary of inertia.
The newer style is the CoreXY 3D printer, which has the extruder moving along both the X-axis and the Y-axis at the top of the printer, while the print bed goes down the Z-axis. The Bambu Labs P1S that I was considering is a good example of a CoreXY 3D printer. The bed is held and moved by all four corners of the 3D printer, so they tend to look like boxes.
Bedslingers tend to be cheaper and easier to disassemble while CoreXY printers tend to be pricier and more stable due to the nature of their design. That’s what I know thus far.
Once you make your first truly practical print, that’s when 3D printing really hooks you. That’s when you realize the true potential of what you’ve acquired, no longer just about making nifty knick-knacks. It’s not life-changing, but it does make you feel a tad bit more useful.
The tools for making practical prints are calipers, Blender, and your 3D printer that should be getting less new and shiny with each use. The first practical thing I printed was a second spool holder for the 3D printer, which is only useful if you’re really getting into 3D printing.
I then designed a screwless blank socket cover for this hole on the wall right next to the 3D printer. It was an air conditioning power outlet that shorted due to rain water seeping through the walls. I haven’t learned yet how to make rounded corners and other complicated shapes as of this writing, but I can make simple boxes well enough to print out some simple containers.
The first socket cover I made was too big, so I salvaged it by turning it into a cover for a black box. It also taught me that 2mm is too thick for that purpose, so my next one was only 1mm thick. That one worked and it fastened onto the hole on my wall nicely enough.
In my search for more practical prints, I did some minor stuff like modeling and printing a shroud for the exposed wiring in my mini belt sander. That let me practice more with Blender and understand how much I can do with what I can already do. Perhaps in the future, I’ll get more into 3D modeling out of necessity.
For instance, I just learned how to modify an existing 3D model to suit my needs, namely a webcam mount for the 3D printer that I had to tilt by around 45 degrees to have the webcam point down the print bed more easily.
And then, I learned about Gridfinity — a DIY storage organization system created by YouTuber and Google Glasses enthusiast Zack Freedman. The great thing about it is that it’s indeed a pretty good system. However, existing designs use a fuckton of filament.
For instance, when printing out a storage bin, over half of the time is spent on the bottom alone because it tends to be quite thick.
But the benefit of that thick bottom is it slips right through the grid frame of the Gridfinity. I’ll be printing more of it over time to organize my drawers. Once I’ve organized all of them, maybe I’ll print more to organize the rest of the workshop.
My Modifications to the Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro
Choosing this particular model turned out to be a happy accident. If Creality is the Toyota of 3D printers, then Elegoo may be Nissan. Not only do they have a pretty solid product line that includes a larger version of the Neptune 4 Pro (called the Max) and resin printers (which I may get into in the future), but they also include pretty good software in their 3D printers.
I then discovered two more things — the Fluidd web interface for Klipper and the ability to plug in a webcam to the USB port to monitor prints remotely. Klipper is a firmware that provides users numerous convenient features and a tremendous amount of control over their 3D printers. It’s usually installed in a Raspberry Pi to assist the mainboard of the 3D printer. You can then add various plugins that extend its functionality.
After figuring out that I can upload files and start prints through the web interface, it meant I could use the USB port for peripherals like a webcam.
I had a spare Rapoo C270L webcam that I now use to monitor my prints in real time. If the print goes awry — which has happened a couple of times already — I can stop the print to save on filament. The camera feed is then shown in a stream whose URL can then be added on OBS so I can record it. I also can try to have the 3D printer record it on its own or a separate device like a Raspberry Pi through Crowsnest.
If I choose to, I can also stream the printing on Twitch or YouTube (I’m never streaming on Facebook ever again).
I also printed a simple mount for the webcam for a better viewing angle. The first one didn’t let me tilt the webcam towards the print bed, so I painstakingly modified the 3D model on Blender to make it tilt down around 45 degrees. It seems to have worked, although the mounting itself could use some work. I just taped it to the Z-axis thing and it seems to be holding.
But at first, I banged my head against the wall figuring out how to turn on the webcam, but it turned out that I had to issue a couple of commands through SSH to start and enable a service in the printer.
I then watched a video on installing software to add more functionality. For instance, I could install Mainsail, which is another UI for Klipper like Fluidd. Mainsail has an ‘Upload & Print’ button on its main screen, while Fluidd has more settings I can adjust.
Having both is good so that I can issue prints with Mainsail and open Fluidd every now and then if I need to change some settings.
Mainsail told me that my Klipper firmware was outdated, thus I couldn’t use all its available features. I therefore fucked things up by choosing to upgrade Klipper through the Fluidd interface, thus having to manually reinstall the firmware via USB flash drive.
I had to follow instructions from this Reddit thread, which goes through step by step in restoring function in what may look like a bricked printer for the less adventurous. While I did end up bringing it back to life without too much of a panic, I was indeed walking on pretty thin ice.
The only thing left was to be able to turn the 3D printer on or off remotely. The power switch is a toggle switch, so I can only do this by controlling the power from the socket. That meant getting a smart plug, and I ended up getting a TP-Link Tapo P100. I can control it through the Tapo app on my phone, which is nigh instantaneous.
If I really want to, I can turn it on, upload a gcode file, start a print, monitor it, and turn it off when it’s done — all from the comfort of my bed.
I also installed Obico, which allows me to access my 3D printer remotely. It also has print fail detection, although I’ll only turn that on whenever I’m doing complicated prints since the free plan only provides 250 hours per month.
The only modifications left that I may be interested in are an enclosure and additional lights. I may build my own enclosure that’s 20x20x30 inches with a wood frame and an acrylic door. As for the lights, it’s because the LEDs on the Elegoo Neptune 4 Pro can’t be remotely controlled for some reason, so I’ll just have a light strip powered through a smart plug so I can still monitor my prints even with the room light turned off.
My Future Direction in 3D Printing
If I do actually get deeper into this field of interest, I’ll be exploring different materials, more difficult projects, and more applications. My focus is on utility first — printing out practical stuff. Perhaps as I get more experience in making good prints and finishing, then I’ll get into aesthetic stuff. If I go deep enough, I may even get into resin.
The material I’m most excited about is TPU, especially the flexible stuff. I’ll be procuring some soon to see if I can print up some training knives and guns. Once all the PLA filaments I have right now run out, I’ll try out ePLA, PLA+, and all the other PLA variants.
I’ll also be trying out PETG, which is the glycolized version of the same plastic that water bottles are made from. I may have to smear more glue on the bed before every print because PETG is infamous for sticking to naked beds. But if I’m able to master PETG, I can make some really solid stuff. I may even start doing commissions at that point.
Perhaps I may also try out the dreaded ABS, the former top dog before PLA took over. It’s known to offgas something fierce, so an enclosure with a ventilating fan is a must. Then again, I can just skip that and go with ASA — the bull that cucks ABS on the regular. Both of them can be polished with acetone vapor, which is an interesting option.
Once I’ve explored all those grounds and I still happen to still be into 3D printing, then perhaps I’ll get into nylon and composite materials like carbon fiber and fiberglass. At that point, I’ll likely get a more advanced 3D printer. I don’t even know if all that stuff will fit in my current space.
I may also choose to obtain a resin printer to get into SLA printing. I’ll be able to make really detailed stuff like figurines. Elegoo has the Mars and Saturn lines of SLA printers, as well as the Mercury washing and curing station. I just have to make sure that I can ventilate the workshop because resin printing is known to smell quite a bit. I’ll be able to print stuff for tabletop gaming.
But before all that, I’ll just try to enjoy the learning process as much as I can. There’s a chance I may end up not liking 3D printing that much, like how I had a Gunpla phase in early 2018 only to taper off and stop being that into it after three months. But I don’t mind having interests that come and go because the things I learn from them do carry over to other aspects in my life.
But I Do Have One Regret
Maybe I should’ve purchased the Creality Ender 5 S1 instead. Oh well, I’ll either get sick of 3D printing or earn my right to get a more advanced 3D printer and make something more out of this hobby, either turn it into a business or just do commissions on the side.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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