A few months ago, I wrote a about an interesting blog by Kees Kamper, who had “tamed” the robot he had won from Dutch 3D printer manufacturer Leapfrog and started recounting the adventures he’d had with his Dual Creatr 3D printer throughout Amsterdam. While the Leapfrog Creatr Experience blog is still regularly updated, I had since forgotten about it. At least, until Saswitha de Kok, Leapfrog’s marketing and commercial director, came through on my request to test and review their new Creatr HS. After a few days at it, I can say that I finally tamed my robot, too, and now I am having a great time with it (unfortunately, it’s time to give it back).
That, however, is the problem when you give a 3D printer to a journalist to review. We media people generally spend so much time writing about what everybody else does that we don’t really have time to do anything ourselves. So, although I’ve probably written about 3D printing software Simplify3D’s new features in the past, I had never actually used Simplify3D. I admit I know very little about advanced 3D printing settings and I need the process to be as automated as possible, while still making me feel like I am doing it all by myself.
So, the first times I printed with Simplify3D and the Creatr, I ran into a lot of problems that I had no idea how to fix. Fortunately, manufacturers generally know that journalists need some help and Saswitha asked one of Leapfrog’s technicians, Pim Rutgers, to follow me through the first steps. Since I was not at home at the time, we did the “training” through a three-way Skype call with Pim in the Netherlands, my friend and business partner Matteo at my house in Milan, and I in Sicily.
Fortunately, it was enough to give me the necessary jumpstart because, since I returned home, I have seriously put that robot to work and it has been my workhorse. My issues really were mainly a matter of calibrating the plate, importing the Leapfrog presets into the software, and following some extremely clear instructions, then Simplify3D finally lived up to its name. After a little playing around, setting up both single extruder and dual extruder prints was as simple as it gets. While Simplify3D is certainly a great tool, I still missed the ease of printing directly from a USB key. You can do this on a Leapfrog Creatr, but the functionalities of the on-board computer are very limited.
Compared to the delta-style 3D printer I recently tested, I also found the machine had some more difficulties in performing more geometrically complex builds. It probably would have helped if I had removed the second extruder when 3D printing with just one filament, but time is money and I just had to cruise through it. The top speed also was not as fast as I had imagined (could it ever be?); however, the quality-to-speed ratio was very positive, meaning that speeding up the extruder made virtually no difference to the final quality of the prints. I did not get a chance to try soluble supports with the machine, but the set up process for double extrusion, once you find Simplify3D’s very clear instructions online, is very easy to follow, so I would assume the results are going to be at least equal to the dual-extrusion test-build of a Cone-shaped object that I performed.
One more thing to keep in mind is that, although I found the Creatr HS had some difficulties in printing thin, intricate geometries – like the vases I tried to design using Shapeshifter (because that is the highest level I can achieve in 3D modeling) – it was excellent at producing solid, smooth parts, which is what it is built for. This is a machine that should be in a factory or in a small rapid prototyping office. It has a solid metal case and a very sturdy feel. Nothing in the printer moves unless it has to, which means that it is very stable when printing. Once you have the settings right on the Creatr HS, it prints the same (or just about the same) way every time, without the user having to touch anything.
One other very convenient aspect about Leapfrog printers is that, although Leapfrog does offer its own line of Maxx-branded filament, all of its 3D printers work fine with any other filament as well. So, I got to try a few different PLAs, the woodfill Cinnamon from fillamentum, and a few of Dr3D’s ABS feedstocks, running into no issues at all. Actually, fillamentum’s materials, in particular, always print perfectly on any printer and they certainly did on the Creatr HS.
In the end, I have to say that I understand why some people are sometimes frightened when initially approaching Leapfrog 3D printers, while some of its competitors appear to be more immediately usable. However, setting up a Leapfrog Creatr HS is not that difficult and doing so can act as a great learning ground. Which, incidentally, is probably why Saswitha and the Leapfrog team have been targeting schools and education, in general, from the very beginning. Simplify3D does most of the printing work, but, in the end, you feel like you did it yourself, and that can give you a great sense of accomplishment. Not to mention, some very nice 3D printed objects.