Creality Ender 3/Courtesy: Creality
The Creality Ender 3 is a popular and widely used desktop FDM 3D printer. It is ideal for beginners, students, hobbyists, and makers, especially given the features it offers for the price. It consistently produces high-quality prints with dependable precision.
However, there is a significant disadvantage to this printer. It is not a powerful 3D printer right out of the box. To compensate, you can upgrade your Ender 3 with the appropriate mods that will improve your 3D printing experience. The mods are an excellent way to boost overall performance and bring your 3D printer up to the level of premium printers at a fraction of the cost.
In this article, we'll discuss the following Ender 3 upgrades:
- Fans And Silent Mainboard
- BLTouch Auto-Leveling
- Update Marlin for Advanced Functionality
- Install OctoPrint
- Install OctoPrint Plugins
We will also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the Ender 3 3D printer.
1: Fans & Silent Mainboard
A printer has two noise sources namely the fans and the mainboard. It is quite easy to eliminate sounds from both its sources and we tell you how to do it below.
Sunon MagLev Fan/Courtesy: Mouser
The Ender 3 has four fans: the PSU fan, the mainboard fan, the hot end fan, and the part cooling fan. The ideal solution would be to replace all four fans to eliminate the noises, but this is easier said than done. The hot end fan is always on, and changing the PSU fan is difficult due to the numerous motherboard connections and residual current in the capacitors. Any mistake in replacing this fan can take your breath away.
According to estimates, the Ender 3 PSU and mainboard fans produce 30-50 dB of sound/noise. If you are confident in your ability to replace these fans, you can look for a few low decibel alternatives that are Ender compatible. A few fans options for you to consider are as below:
Sunon MagLev's 24 V fan is very inexpensive, costing close to $2 and operating at only 29.5 dB.
Another option is Noctua's fans (approximately $15), which operate quietly and produce only 18 dB of noise.
Anvision fans are also popular because they produce only 23 decibels of sound.
Users frequently replace the hot end fans, and you can also try to upgrade yours to ones that produce less noise. The fan on the TH3D is widely used and produces only 25 dB of noise while pushing a significant amount of air.
Finally, you could try upgrading your part cooling fan. However, this should be the last priority. Two common options are as below:
Evercool's 4010 fan has a noise level of only 21 decibels.
Silent 40 mm fan by Fractal Designs.
Creality Silent Mainboard (V4.2.7)/Courtesy: Creality
The Ender 3 is associated with a high-pitched grinding noise from its motors due to the lack of silent drivers on its 8-bit motherboard. The more you use the printer, the more noticeable this becomes.
The solution to this vexing problem is straightforward. The issue is with your printer's motherboard, and all you need to do is install the all-new Creality Silent Mainboard (V4.2.7). This is the motherboard that Creality now includes in all of its 3D printers starting with V2. Upgrading your Ender 3 to this new silent TMC2208 stepper motor driver will eliminate the noise issue and allow your printer to operate quietly. The upgraded stepper motor drivers improve the quality of your 3D prints as well.
Another advantage of this new driver is that it has thermal runaway protection built-in. The thermal runaway protection is essentially a firmware code that protects the printer's temperature when it becomes out of control for any reason.
2: BLTouch Auto-Leveling
Antclabs BLTouch Sensor/Courtesy: Amazon
The majority of the early 3D printing issues encountered by beginners are related to poor bed leveling. Furthermore, bed leveling is an annoying and time-consuming task. You can make a mistake no matter how experienced you are.
To ensure your print bed is always properly leveled and ready to print high-quality prints, consider upgrading your Ender 3 to an auto-leveling sensor. This upgrade will drastically reduce print failures and provide you with peace of mind while printing.
BLTouch is a simple auto bed leveling proximity sensor that works in the same way as a switch. It is ideal for detecting measurements on any surface material, such as glass, wood, or metal. This is a small probe that creates a mesh of points at the start of each print to determine how and in which direction your print bed is tilted. When the sensor detects a tilt, it modifies each G-code as needed to account for the imperfect build surface.
By using the BLTouch sensor, you can cut calibration time in half and eliminate the pain of leveling a bed for each print. It is compatible with a wide range of 3D printers, including the Ender 3.
3: Update Marlin for Advanced Functionality
Creality 3D printers run on Marlin Firmware with an 8-bit controller board. This smaller controller board limits the functionality of the Ender 3D printers who run on this board. As these printers are built for budget friendly customers they lack a lot of features that most popular 3D printers provide.
But in order to get access to better features and advanced functionality, you can modify your Marlin firmware. We will show you how to get it done.
Step 1: Flashing a Bootloader
To flash the firmware through an USB device, you need to install a bootloader first in your Ender 3. Though the process is lengthy, it is fairly simple. You can find multiple YouTube videos to help you install the bootloader.
Step 2: Install Marlin
The next step is to Install Marlin. The process is as shared below:
Download the most recent version of Marlin firmware.
Unzip the package and go to the example configurations folder (in the Marlin folder). Copy all of the files in the Ender 3 folder back into the Marlin folder. When asked if you want to overwrite what's already there, select "yes".
Scroll down to the marlin.ino file and double-click it to open it in the Arduino IDE, or use PlatformIO with a Visual Studio Code extension. If you're using a 32-bit ARM board, you'll want to go with the latter option.
Now the next step is to add Automatic Bed Levelling.
Step 3: Adding Automatic Bed Leveling
Automatic bed leveling means the autonomous leveling of the print bed eliminating/reducing the need for manual intervention. This eliminates the tedious task of bed leveling and reduces chances of manual errors. This is accomplished by probing the bed in a series of nine points, and you can use a piece of paper or a feeler gauge to move the Z-axis up and down in small increments, and the printer will automatically account for this in your prints.
To add the bed leveling feature, follow the below steps:
Select configuration.h from the marlin.ino file.
Press "Ctrl F" and look for PROBE MANUALLY and uncomment it.
Then look for LCD BED LEVELING and uncomment it.
Search for AUTO BED LEVELING BILINEAR and press the "Find" button twice. Then, uncomment both times.
Find SLIM LCD and uncomment it. You are now ready to compile.
Check that the printer is connected via USB, that the port is correct, and that the board is Sanguino. Then select the upload option. You're done once it finishes.
Unplug the printer from the computer and reconnect it to the power supply. Be aware that the printer may take longer than usual to boot up.
Unplug the printer from the computer and plug it into the power socket. Be aware the printer may take longer to boot up than usual.
4: Install OctoPrint
OctoPrint interface/Courtesy: Adafruit Learning System
We saw three hardware upgrades, and the next two upgrades were software modifications. And, when it comes to software, the first and most important upgrade that benefits everyone is OctoPrint.
We all know that we can't always be near our printers to supervise them, and OctoPrint effectively solves this problem. OctoPrint is one of the best 3D printer remote monitoring, management, and control software applications. It simplifies your life by allowing you to remotely monitor your 3D printer (or an entire 3D print farm). Furthermore, OctoPrint is open-source software, which means that it is constantly upgraded by its users, and you can use all of its latest features for free.
The software application is simple to use, learn, and operate, and no matter where you are in your 3D printing journey, you will undoubtedly benefit greatly from OctoPrint.
As an open-source application, it also has a large database of plugins created by skilled engineers. These plugins are constantly improved by the community, and you get the best features that are normally only available as paid plugins from established brands.
If you haven't heard of OctoPrint or haven't used it yet, don't worry; we have a simple guide on how to set up OctoPrint. You can get started right away.
5. Install OctoPrint Plugins
OctoPrint, as previously stated, has a massive plugin database. These plugins allow you to receive notifications on your mobile device via SMS, email, Telegram, and/or Discord, improve your OctoPrint UI, highlight the top parameters to view, and improve OctoPrint's overall capabilities.
The Spaghetti Detective (TSD) is a fantastic OctoPrint plugin. It enhances what the OctoPrint aims to do, namely, remote monitoring. In today's world, simply being able to remotely monitor your 3D printer is insufficient. You will also require a smart application that can detect and identify potential threats and make decisions on its own to protect the print, the printer, and the entire setup.
Well, The Spaghetti Detective does just that. This application has developed AI-powered error detection algorithms to detect and correct fire hazards or other printing issues such as Spaghettis. It eliminates many of the time-consuming tasks required for a successful 3D print. When running a print farm, the power of this plugin is amplified exponentially.
It is a recommended upgrade for anyone unaware of the power of autonomous error detection. If you're not sure how to install TSD, read The Spaghetti Detective OctoPrint plugin setup guide.
If you're interested in OctoPrint and its plugins, take a look at our list of the best OctoPrint plugins to improve your 3D printing experience.
Ender 3: Frequently Asked Questions
How high can the Ender 3 print?
If you're reading this, it's safe to assume you've heard conflicting opinions about Ender 3's bed size. To Creality's credit, the product is always marketed as having a bed size of 220 x 220 x 250 mm. If you physically measure the print bed, the x and y dimensions are 235 x 235 mm. So, why is Creality marketing a printer with 14% smaller dimensions?
The solution is straightforward. The ideal bed size is always slightly smaller, regardless of the physical size of the print bed, and it is not possible to use every corner of the bed. This difference in usage area is to accommodate clips used to hold down the build plate as well as clearance for the system's moving parts. The extruder's clearance in X and Y dimensions takes up some space on the bed.
You can also upgrade the printer to print a larger model and it is not so difficult to do that. The method for increasing Ender 3 build volume is outlined below.
Step #1: Hardware Upgrade
The first option is to substitute photo frame springs for the standard binder clips. This will immediately give you more printing space. Another option is to replace the build plate. Try using a magnetic plate, which Creality sells for Ender 3, to eliminate the need for clips.
The first stage concludes with hardware modifications. The firmware will then be modified.
Step #2: Firmware Upgrade
Now that you've made more room on the print bed, you'll need to notify the printer of the extra space. This is accomplished by upgrading the firmware. The Ender 3 runs a basic version of the Marlin firmware, and upgrading it is not as simple as it appears. It will take a lot of trial and error, but thankfully, many manufacturers have already done this and all instructions to update the firmware online.
This new update will essentially allow you to change the print area and print larger parts.
Can I make my Ender 3 bigger?
Ender Extender XL/Courtesy: Ender Extender
Yes, you can certainly enlarge your Ender 3.
Now, let's go over how to go about doing it. We already saw that the print bed size can be increased, but only slightly, and what if you want to print larger objects, such as a product up to 400mm in length, width, and height?
Ender 3's build volume can be increased by installing a conversion kit. Ender Extender kits, which are ideal for Ender 3/Pro printers, are what these kits are called. Because these kits are customized, they come in a variety of sizes. You can customize them to increase your length, width, and height. Some of these kits are listed below:
The Ender Extender XL can increase the height of Ender 3 to 500mm. This kit comes with x2 aluminum extrusions (Z-axis), x1 lead screw, and 1x-meter length wiring harness for the extruder/X axis motors & X-axis endstop.
Ender Extender 300 will extend your length and width by 300mm while maintaining your height.
Ender Extender 400 will extend your length and width to 400mm while maintaining your height.
Ender Extender 400XL extends the 400 kit's height to 500mm.
All Ender Extender installation guides are available here.
It is important to note that these conversion kits are sold as a customized option by third-party vendors rather than Creality. Though these kits work and many makers swear by them, changing the default hardware and firmware of your printer will void your Creality warranty.
Can the Ender 3 print 2 colors?
It is common knowledge that if you want to print in two colors efficiently, you will need two extruders (Dual extrusion system). Can an Ender 3 print in two colors because it only has one extruder? Yes, it is possible in a variety of ways, but you must buckle up and be prepared for some technical work.
Method #1: Material Replacement
This is the most commonly used method, and almost all users are familiar with it. It simply entails printing half of the part with one color filament and then replacing the material with a different color of the same material to finish the print. You will have two colors in the same print this way. However, this is not the most appealing method because the transition layer is visible on the print where the two colors blend. This is a very crude way to experiment with multi-color printing that is rarely used by makers.
Method #2: Using Chimera+
E3D Chimera+ hot-end/Courtesy: E3D
This approach is more practical. You can use E3D's Chimera+ hot-end. This hot end effectively converts your extruder into a dual extruder, allowing you to print with two different filament types in the same print. You can upgrade to a dual extrusion system in a single stroke. This hot-end is intended for Ender 4, but it is also compatible with Ender 3. You can contact the Ender 3 community for more information on usage compatibility.
Method #3: Two Bowden Tubes
Zemistr, a YouTuber, came up with this very innovative solution. He devised a system of two Bowden tubes that combine to form a single tube. In addition, depending on the color requirements, the material from each Bowden tube can be used alternatively with a few other parts.
Method #4: Cyclops Hot End
E3D Cyclops hot-end/Courtesy: E3D
The E3D Cyclops hot-end is used in this solution. The cyclops hot-end is a Chimera+ hot-end extension. It combines Chimera's two nozzles into a single nozzle but allows for faster and more efficient material switching from two input Bowden tubes.