Writing a 3D printer review can be complicated. On the one hand, you want to be as clear and straightforward as you can in your analysis. On the other, you don’t want to disappoint the companies behind the machines because you know that they are generally really hard working people with a great passion for what they do. The way I try to balance this is by generally accepting (or proposing) only to review machines that I have heard or read good things about.
So, when Joe Scott from Afinia suggested I test and review the new H800 3D printer, I gladly accepted. I had already seen it at work and knew what it could do when in capable hands. And that is the second issue: a 3D printer may be great when you know what you are doing and, as most people who read my reviews already know, I generally do not. It’s only partially due to the fact that I don’t learn and that I am mechanically challenged; it’s also that every time I try a new 3D printer, it is almost like starting over from the beginning, especially if they use proprietary software.
I see this as a positive factor. I am not testing the machines to find out if an expert user can do amazing things with it (I’ll leave that to Makezine and other experts in the field). I am testing the machine to find out if the average, overworked, always rushing and highly demanding Joe or Jane consumer can manage to find the 3D printer accessible and, therefore, useful enough to buy one.
If that is the case, it also means that many other professional can find that it is right for them: educators, architects, designers, engineers, anyone who only wants to press print to get their designs into a physical form. Well, the Afinia H800 is definitely a great machine for them and it is about as close to a serious consumer product as I have had the opportunity to test.
However, as I did before, I’d like to begin by focusing on the things that Afinia could do better, rather than those that it does really well. As is often the case, the H800’s biggest limit is the software. I understand that using open source software means relinquishing all control over an already open system and technology; however, all the proprietary software I have tried so far are far from satisfactory.
The Afinia 3D slicing software works well on Windows platforms, but I ran into several issues when trying to run it on my Macs. Even when it does work, it is limiting and not particularly intuitive to become familiar with and you really need to open up the hated instruction manual.The second issue I ran into with the H800 is trying to figure out where the SD card goes. Unfortunately I never managed to do it, since there is no SD card slot or an on-board LCD control screen.
Finally, I had to struggle a little to level the plate, first manually, and then by running an automatic procedure. Mainly because of the issues I ran into on the Mac software, it did take me more than a couple of hours to start my first print. If I had gone straight to Windows, it would have taken just a few minutes.
These were all the issues I experienced. Ever since I resolved these, the machine has been printing both proprietary and third party ABS continuously for several days, with almost no issues encountered. So, let’s move on to the things that I liked about the H4800.
The plate system works well. It uses a metal plate filled with tiny holes (similar to the Zortrax M200), but you can easily remove it and then lay it back onto the tray by simply fitting its four corner holes onto four fixed screws. I also very much liked the fact that it is a fully enclosed machine, with the top and side door easy to open and close. In such a closed system – which is primarily ideal for ABS – the particulate air filer is also a nice addition. Although it does not remove all odors and fumes, it does make a significant difference.
The enclosed spool holder is definitely a nice feature to improve the machine’s aesthetics which, by the way, are actually very nice. The black plastic covers enclosing it make the Afinia H800 look entirely like a futuristic system which can sit well on many studio and classroom desks. The lighting system make the “Afinia” brand shine through the machine’s front door, and the interior light also comes in handy to check on progresses. The filament feeding system is simple and functional, with no issues encountered whatsoever, even when using an external third party spools (other than the fact that it does not look as nice)
Moving on to the really important aspects, the price point is impressive. This is a 3D printer with a 10 x 8 x 8-inch fully enclosed build volume which runs less than $2,000 ($1,899 on the Afinia online shop). It comes with several accessories (sharp pliers, gloves, extra plates) and it can 3D print with excellent 100-micron resolution. On simpler objects, even when printing at 150 micron, the surface is completely smooth, with almost invisible layer lines.
I have tested it on a few challenging prints and generally the results were excellent. Once the plate was properly calibrated, all I had to do was load a file into the software and basically 3D print it using the default settings for ABS. I used both Afinia’s white ABS and a third party black test material, with similar results (the Afinia material was a little more flexible). I had some occasional issues with the parts closer to the front door detaching from the plate, which was probably due to the temperature difference in the room from the chamber.
The only other issue I encountered was related to supports. The system generates its own supports and learning how to manage them is not intuitive enough. Removing them is generally easy, but, on some particularly challenging prints, I had some parts come out defective because the supports were not sufficient. Nothing that cannot be resolved without a little practice though. According to Afinia, several school districts are turning to them for a reliable and affordable 3D printer. Judging by my own experience with it, that makes perfect sense.