The 3D printing revolution has begun and we are here to introduce you to all the cool stuff you can do with one. The M3D Micro is a small-as-it-gets 3D printer that is also one of the quietest on the market. As I write this, my little M3D Micro is faithfully printing an elephant from wooden filament. Watching the filament extruder print in its complicated patterns is a strangely relaxing meditative experience, akin to watching a Zamboni go round and round.
Diving Into the Deep End
3D printing is probably one of those hobbies you have curiously been interested in but never had the time to really delve into. It certainly was for me, and your and my trepidation is certainly warranted. This is not a beginner friendly activity — 3D printing is not ready for consumer prime time. It is persnickety, finicky, and downright touchy. Basically, it is going to be some time before you see a 3D printer in every house.
That being said, it is a fantastically fun hobby, and as a complete 3D printing noob, I couldn’t imagine a more welcoming and inviting experience into the world of 3D printing than the M3D Micro.
The M3D Micro began its life on Kickstarter and raised more than $3.4 million dollars. The creators hailed it as the first truly consumer-oriented 3D printer. Did it deliver? Yes…and no. To truly appreciate it, you have to understand what the world of 3D printers looks like right now.
Most 3D printers arrive in pieces and need to be assembled and calibrated before they can print anything resembling what you want. They run on complicated open-source software that takes tinkering and learning a whole lot of very specific jargon. Nozzle temperatures, extrusion speeds, backlash settings, print head speed, layer heights, etc… don’t even get me started on adhesion tricks and filament types. It can all be quite overwhelming to the bright-eyed newcomer.
The M3D Micro allays most of those beginner fears. It comes pre-built in its own adorable colored plastic enclosure (ours is blue). This 7.5″ cube is small and compact enough to fit on your desk and is quite the conversation piece, if nothing else. It has a built-in auto leveling system and motion sensor chip and the software auto-calibrates the whole thing for you with the click of a button. Loading filament and entering in print and temperature settings are very simple using the internal bay for storing M3D Micro’s own filament. Each of their filaments comes with a cheat code that configures everything for you. You can, of course, use third party filaments as well, but that takes a little more calibration. With M3D’s filaments, the whole process is almost seamless.
As a complete newbie to 3D printing, I couldn’t tell the difference between a spool and an extruder, and I thought ABS was only something you wanted on a car. However, the M3D Micro had me up and running and printing my first object in under 20 minutes. How’s that for consumer friendly?
The M3D Micro boasts a whole host of fancy features like carbon fiber rods, a self-leveling print bed, a motion sensor chip that can tell where it is at any given moment, an aerospace grade ceramic heater, and more. It can print at a resolution of 50 microns (pretty darn good when compared to the competition), and it has a print area of up to 4.4″ wide x 4.6″ high. The software comes with a number of helpers to assist with making sure your prints adhere to the print bed properly, and it works like a charm. The M3D Micro is also the quietest 3D printer on the market right now. All in all it is quite impressive that they fit all that into a package that costs $349 (a limited time price).
It’s not all fun and games, though. The software that comes with the printer is rough at best in its current state. It definitely lacks the polish of a finished piece of software that we are used to. It actually opens two windows/applications — the printer software where you do most of your work and the print spooler software that lets you manually move and control the printer. They are actively developing the software and it continues to improve with each version so it does not look as daunting as this:
The printer is also slower than molasses when it prints. Half as fast, in fact, as most of its competitors, so be prepared for it to take many hours to complete even relatively simple prints.
Our experience with the M3D Micro so far has been fantastic. Within a couple of hours I was hooked. My Amazon shopping cart was full of spatulas, Exacto knives, Buildtak print surfaces, model paint, and my downloads folder was brimming with 3D models to print. Within a couple of days I had modded out my little printer with custom pieces I printed myself and was printing objects in wood (yes, real printable wood!) and editing them myself in Google Sketchup.
You have to approach the whole hobby with an open mind and calm heart. Don’t panic and don’t get intimidated by the learning curve. I’ve had to push the emergency abort button a bunch of times, disassemble the printer head to get access to jammed filament, and straight up unplug the printer when it wouldn’t listen to the commands. But ultimately no harm was done, everything is easily fixable, and it was fun to tinker. Virtually any question you have has an answer online with a quick Google.