3D printers are one of those things that seems to constantly be on the verge of both futuristic and the cusp of what “normal” people can go out and buy. This is bolstered by the fact that more people that get into 3D printing, the cheaper the machines can be, the more developed the slicers can be, and the more materials there are. One of the many problems with home 3D printing is the sheer size of the machines though, something PrimaCreator seems to have overcome by just making a smaller machine.
Disclaimer: 3D Prima and PrimaCreator sent me (Dom) the P120 for the purposes of this review. 3D Prima and PrimaCreator however have no bearing on the outcome of this review. The did however provide the Printer, the PEI print surface and the initial 750g of grey PLA for me to use. I (Dom) have been using the P120 since it arrived at my office on the 10th of July.
- Build Area : 120x120x120mm (4.7”x4.7”x4.7”)
- 0.4mm Nozzle
- 0.1-0.4mm layer height (100 Microns-400 Microns)
- Heated bed (up to 80 Degrees Celsius)
- Manually leveled bed.
- Colour LCD display
- Clickwheel interface
- MicroSD and MicroUSB inputs
- Accepts normal GCode
- Has WiFi 802.11b/g/n
- Fully assembled
- Slicers supported
- Anything else that spits out Gcode.
For more details head on over to the PrimaCreator P120 page on 3D Prima, Here.
Looking at the P120, it’s hard not to be impressed. Whilst the P120 is my first 3D printer, the fact that pretty much every part you touch (aside from the encoder dial) is metal, it really helps to give the machine a sense of quality, and keeps it far away from the flimsy, plastic machines that bear the name printer too.
What strikes me as odd when I first took the P120 out of it’s box was how small it was. I knew how small the build area was, and I knew it was meant as a pure desktop 3D printer, meant as it was actually meant to be able to sit on your desk, and not a separate table you put up somewhere just for this machine, but even though I knew all of that, the P120 still struck me as being unbelievably tiny, and this is helped by the cantilever design of the system.
What this means is that instead of being supported on either side of the frame, the P120 is an L shape, there is a wide base, and a large vertical extrusion from the left hand side and nothing on the top or the right hand side, everything is handled that way. Now this does not use linear rails like the Cetus 3D, but the P120 is remarkable solid and even fully extended I can’t say I’ve noticed much if any Z wobble, wherein on the far side of the system where the X axis is fully extended away from the left side arm and the vibrations make it into the print, I haven’t noticed any of that, and I’ve very impressed.
Taking a quick look around the machine, on the front we have the colour LCD, which isn’t a touchscreen, and the encoder knob next to it on a raised surface which looks like metal but feels like plastic. Up next is the vertical support with the Prima Creator logo. Next to that is the build plate. A sheet of Aluminium with 4 allen bolts for adjusting the bed. This build surface is heated, to a maximum temp of 80 degrees celsius, though, out in the open as this machine is, i had a really hard time hitting and staying about 58 degrees Celsius, so materials that require a heated build plate, you might have some trouble printing without modifications,
Taking a look at the left hand side of the machine is… the spool holder, and that is it, seriously that is all there is on the left hand side, and it’s not even all that great of a Spool holder, as it lacks any way to secure it to the printer, it just slots in and doesn’t have any sort of retention mechanism, so more than once I’ve come running back to the office because i’ve heard metal clanging, only to find out the short 10m filament spools I was using have lifted the spool holder out of the little ledge it nestles into, causing me more gray hairs than the ones I dye. Taking a 180 to the right hand side of the printer we have the MicroUSb Type B port, and the MicroSD slot. There has been lots of talk over what is better, MicroSD or full-sized SD, and I fall in the camp of thinking that full-sized SD is better, but whilst I say that, I would have prefered a MicroSD card slot like this over forgoing one completely and forcing users to either tether or use WiFi to send prints to the printer, so it’s the lesser of two evils, but that doesn’t mean it is a great choice. On the subject of the MicroUSB, well more people have those Cables than USB Type-B cables (the ones that usually come with printers) so I really can’t complain here, although I really would have prefered USB-C, that is just because I am a nerd.
Lastly we have the rear of the machine with the power jack (thankfully a separate power brick, not internal mains here.) and the power switch.
Lastly I want to take you up top, where the P120 has the filament extruder assembly. The P120 is what is known as a Bowden extruder assembly, wherein instead of the filament being driven directly into the hotend, like is common with a direct drive extruder, the Filament on a Bowden extruder is pushed through a PTFE (Teflon) tube away from the hotend extruder assembly, this saves weight on the hot end and has other benefits that, as a first time 3D printer user, I’m not all that sure of. The P120 is a nice and sleek design, minimalist without being too spartan, and I must say, I like it. Though it isn’t perfect.
The best part about the software experience of the P120 is that there is very little for me to say. Unlike some machines which are closed or don’t run on standard Gcode, the P120 just takes standard Gcode, whether you sliced it in Cura (my Slicer of Choice), Slic3r (spoken as Slicer, or Slick-3-R If you’re Tom over at Tom’s 3D), Simplify 3D, Craftware or many of the other Slicers.
As I said, I decided to use Cura for my testing, as I found it the most stable, and the easiest to set up, and PrimaCreator give you a profile on their downloads site for Cura and for the profiles you should run for your P120. What is important to note is that if your slicer isn’t set up properly, you’re going to have a bad time. Your slicer needs to be set up properly, by that I mean the slicer needs to know how big your build area is, otherwise It won’t know what dimensions are the limits. It also needs to know what size nozzle you have. All of this information is easy to acquire and for the P120 it is literally printed on the box the printer is shipped to you in, but it is something you have to keep in mind. Once again, on the downloads part of the PrimaCreator site, they give you a profile for both Cura and Simplify3D, but a part of me thinks that people will buy it, plug it in, and wonder why it isn’t working the way they wanted to, and then the 3D printer will end up in the corner of the room not getting used, like the 2D printer usually does.
Once you have put in the trivial amount of time getting the P120 set up in your slicer of choice (I would recommend trying all of the free ones, and wouldn’t recommend Simplify3D unless you were doing this as a job as the price tag is quite high.) all you have to do is drop in a file, the P120 takes STL files and OBJ files, of which the STL format is much easier to find, configure stuff such as the layer height (what works out to be the resolution) the speed that the printer will move at, and the infill percentage. These are all important things to know and can ruin a print if done wrong, and without playing about there really isn’t much you can do unless you want to spend hours researching the ideal settings, so what I would say is to keep things at the defaults for the first few prints, and gradually change things a little bit, so for instance if you’re printing something quite large, a scaled up version of the 3D benchy boat for example, maybe you want to scale down the infill percentage, so you waste less material that isn’t needed, maybe you can also up the speed a little from say 30mm per second to 35mm per second or 40mm, this type of small adjustment means that it’s easier to diagnose what went wrong if you only change one thing at a time.
The biggest software issues I had with the P120 came from two things, the lack of information in the documentation, and the fact I was new at this (this is my first 3D printer) and I was rushing. Starting with the second one as it is easier to talk about. This being my first 3D printer, I got used to importing a model into Cura, seeing how long it’d take to print, and exporting the Gcode, the problem with that is that Cura for example keeps the last used settings when you next open it up. So if I was printing something that needed to be strong, so I had used 75% infill in it, and then I went to print a Low-Poly Pikachu, and I didn’t change that Infill percentage to something more reasonable like 5-10%, I’d be looking at a print taking nearly 5 hours instead of the hour or so the “normal” Pikachu would take, and there is nothing stopping you from doing this, because as far as the printer knows, it can print something at 75% infil, so why shouldn’t it?.
This becomes even more of a problem when you print something in Vase mode. Vase mode, is, what it sounds it is a mode designed for printing things, mainly vases. So Vase mode is also called spiralised outer contour, and that means instead of drawing each line and stopping and moving somewhere else, in vase mode, the entire print is just one very long line, which is great when the part has been designed for vase mode, but if it hasn’t, that print will fail, this is something where I feel the slicers themselves shouldn’t let you slice something that’ll fail, at least the first few times so you learn what the nuances are.
The Other? Well that’s the only really problem with the printer. The P120 has a users guide and a quick start manual, but they are woefully understocked on Information that is actually needed by the user. Let’s start with something that you’re going to need to do, which is level the bed. The manual tells you to level the bed, but not how to level the bed. Same with connecting to WiFi, it tells you it has WiFi and that you need to connect to it, but not how to connect to it. This kind of lack of information lead to me taking gauges out of my PEI print sheet, and just thinking for the better part of 2 weeks that my Unit just had broken WiFi. I had to resort to a YouTube video to learn how to level the bed (and even then, I had to use a reference of a different model of this printer) and for WiFi, I had to download and sideload an APK file and install on my Phone, and then go on forums to learn how to put the printer into pairing mode. Even after all that, I learnt that the printer only supports 2.4Ghz networking, so if your home router meshes both 2.4ghz and 5ghz like mine does, the only way to connect your P120 is to use a device that only has 2.4Ghz, which for me was an old smartphone, but I’m a nerd with lots of smartphones lying about, most people aren’t and shouldn’t have to do this sort of faffing about to figure out their printer.
So, After all that, how does the P120 Print?
Really, Really well.
Like I said, this is my first 3D printer, but it isn’t the first 3D printer or 3D printed parts I’ve ever seen, so I roughly knew what to expect, but using the 1.75mm PLA that PrimaSelect sent me, I was able to print a bucketload of little knick knacks. Starting from Low Polygon Pokemon from Thingiverse (Thank’s Flowalistik!) to 2.5” HDD mounts and even designing my own £1 sized Shopping cart coins. No matter what Filament I used, I was able to get stunning prints from all of them, whether I used the 0.1mm layer height, the 0.15mm layer height or 0.2mm. I printed most of my stuff at 0.1mm or 0.15mm as they are quite small pieces that have lots of detail, such as the Aria Dragon model by Loubie on Thingiverse.
The Part cooling fan on the P120’s Mk8 style hotend was powerful enough that very rarely did I have drooping on bridges or underhands, and very rarely, if ever did I see any stringing, which is nice to see from such a low-cost printer. All of my printing so far was done with PLA. PLA, or Polylactic Acid is a Filament made from biodegradeable and sustainable sources, most commonly of which are sugarcane and cornstarch, because of this, it is inexpensive compared to other materials like ABS,PETG,HIPS and others. The other benefit of PLA is that it is wicked easy to print. PLA needs lower temperatures, so lower end machines can print it easier. Most of the filaments I have print at around 200 degrees celsius, plus or minus 5 degres, but some, such as Rigid.Ink, one of my new favourites, is printed at an insanely low 180 degrees celsius. On top of having a low melting point, PLA also doesn’t require a heated bed to print, as other materials do either, so you can knock the price down even further by not having a heated build plate. Lastly PLA doesn’t give off nasty smells when it is printing. ABS is a petroleum-based plastic, which means it has a very strong smell, and people are torn over whether or not you should even print with it in a room without active ventilation, PLA on the other hand, smells of nothing or it smells somewhat sweet, So I really can’t complain.
Saying all that, the P120 does technically support printing other filaments, from the website PrimaCreator state you can print in PLA,ABS,ABS+,HIPS,PETG and other similar materials. Whilst I can’t comment on how those actually print, I can say that with an open build area and a bed that struggles to get up to and stay at 60 degrees celsius, you’re going to have a really hard time printing anything large in ABS,ABS+ and HIPS. PETG on the other hand, I’ve heard prints remarkably well, but if cooling isn’t done well, it’ll string like there is no tomorrow, so be prepared to spend some time dialling in the print settings for that particular filament, but the rule of thumb is, if you want something that just prints easily, stick with PLA, and leave the other materials for sample packs or dedicated machines with special hardware, such as those for printing flexible filaments.
I’ve already spoken about how the lack of documentation for the P120 seriously irks me and is souring my experience with it and is going to likely limit the number of people I recommend this machine to, purely because I don’t know if they’ll have the time, patience and energy to go looking for the right ways to do things because PrimaCreator don’t tell you how.
Next up is something small but it is something you interface with every time you use the machine, and it is the encoder knob. Whilst the screen on the P120 is nice, it’s a fairly high-resolution, bright colourful display, it isn’t touchscreen, there is an encoder knob to the side of it, and it is pure rubbish, it was so bad that I printed out a replacement knob, in luminous green PLA (it was all I had at the time) with more grip that stood out further form the base, so it was easier to grip and turn. For such an integral part of the experience, this knob just feels seriously last-minute. It also has the issue of just not working the way it should, for instance turning the knob one click doesn’t always move the “cursor” around one place, sometimes it takes multiple turns, and then if you click in, you might knock it forward or back, even if you know for a fact you didn’t turn it as there was no tactile bump of the knob moving. What I’m saying here is that this encoder knob sucks and a touchscreen would have been much, much better.
Lastly, and this one is slightly nit picky, the Z height is a little small. So the X and Y axis talk about how wide and deep something is, the Z axis is how tall it is, so on the P120, the build area for X,Y,Z is 120mm,120mm,120mm, meaning that the tallest thing you can print is 120mm, or 12cm, and that’s kinda small. Whilst I very rarely felt the 120mm in the X and Y was too small, I often felt that the 120mm in the Z was a little short, and switching it up to 150mm or even 180mm would have been great, especially seeing as the machine would only have to get slightly taller, still keeping it’s small footprint.
So overall, how has my time with the PrimaCreator P120 been? How was my first 3D printer experience? It’s been a blast, and there has not been a day that I was able to, that I wasn’t printing on this thing. Whether it be small knick knacks or actually functional parts, such as those SSD mounts or the part I modeled in Fusion 360 for my Camera, having a 3D printer in the office has enabled me to do things I didn’t think I could do, and also has opened up another avenue for me, as a 3D model printer for people if they provide their own model, or the models that I design, I can sell those, this low-cost 3D printer enables me to make money in ways that I couldn’t before.
The P120 isn’t perfect, the lack of documentation is seriously annoying and has actually prompted me to create some small instructional videos on my YouTube Channel about it, but I shouldn’t have to do that. I’m a nerd, I don’t mind looking for this information, but If i gave this to my sister or younger brothers, I can almost guarantee within a week I’d be called up as tech support to fix something, because they couldn’t figure out how, because the books didn’t tell them how.
I’m going to keep printing on the P120 as long as I can, so as I leave you with this Review, here is a gallery of everything I printed.
Also, here is a Benchy, because everyone loves boats.
- Extremely solid build.
- Great print quality
- Fully assembled out of box
- Takes standard Gcode
- Takes 1.75mm filament
- Absolutely Appalling documentation
- Heated bed is a bit weak
- 120mm Z height is a bit small
- Kits can be had for a lot cheaper