My Experience with My First 3D Printer: a Creality Ender 5 (With Mini Getting Started Guide)

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About 2 months ago, I decided to finally pull the trigger on purchasing a 3D printer. I settled on the Creality Ender 5. I felt that it struck the right balance between bed size, price, and the community behind it. Although the community isn’t extremely large on its own, I felt that it’s similar enough to the Ender 3 that I should be able to able to figure out any issues by using the same types of advice. I have found that to be accurate for the most part. In addition, it looks like the number of Ender 5 users have increased sharply around the time I bought it. I also liked how it had the 4  vertical rails, which I’m sure gives it a lot more stability.

However, not too long ago, Creality released the Ender 5 Plus. It’s a similar printer, but it’s a good bit larger and has a lot of the upgrades that I have done or would want to do with the Ender 5.

After getting the printer, I really wanted a sort of guide that contains the main bits of information that someone would need to get started with this printer. I felt that all the information I needed was definitely out there, but I had to go through tons of websites and YouTube videos to finally get things the way I wanted. So I figured I would attempt to create such a guide. If anyone reading this feels I should add something to this, please let me know.

Assembly

I’m actually not going to spend a lot of time on this, because the instruction book was amazing. There are even pictures on the printer’s electronics box that would probably be good enough for many people. I do have a few suggestions:

  • Make sure you set the voltage on the back correctly. Again, something that was in the manual, but I had overlooked. The printer actually worked with the switch set to 220v, even though we have 120v. I ran it that way for 2 weeks not knowing any better. But the screen would do weird things. When I Googled the issue, this was the first suggestion. After fixing that, I found that the bed/hot-end took MUCH less time to heatup. From about 10-15 minutes to less than 5 minutes.
  • I mounted the spool holder so the spool holder sits parallel to the side of the printer. This Thingiverse link has pictures showing what I’m talking about. UPDATE 17Nov19: I have done the direct drive mod. Because of that, I have mounted the spool holder to the wall about 3 feet above the printer. This has worked out well.
  • When I purchased the printer, I also went ahead and purchased an Aluminum Extruder. The extruder connects to a motor, and that is how it pushes the filament, through a tube, into the hot-end(this is what melts the filament). I put that one on as I was putting the printer together. This seems to be the consensus ‘must-have’ upgrade for this printer. You don’t absolutely need it on day one, but eventually, the extruder that comes with the printer will eventually get worn out from the filament rubbing against it. This Reddit post shows what I’m talking about. I don’t think that this gives any performance benefit or anything, but it’s just easier to go ahead and do it.
  • Make sure you orient your vertical posts correctly. I messed up 2 of them, and had to unscrew them and flip them over. The instructions are clear on this, but I just missed it.
  • Make sure the belts aren’t loose. This can cause problems because when the printer moves in one direction, and then changes to another, the nozzle wont move for a split second because the belt has to ‘catch up’. Also, it can cause the teeth on the belt to skip. This makes the printer think it moved, when it didn’t, resulting in something called ‘layer shift’. This video shows how to do it. I actually printed THESE to make tightening easier. UPDATE 17Nov19: It looks like you also need to make sure that your belt isn’t too tight. I have been getting layer shifts on the x axis at random points in my prints. Not sure yet, but I’m fairly confident that it is because my x axis was too tight. I have loosened it and my print was fine. I need to do like 5 more before I’m certain that was it. Especially with the tensioner mod, it’s super easy to over tighten so just watch out for that.
  • Eccentric nuts. On each of the Y-Axis rails, one of the 4 wheels has a nut on it. One of the 3 wheels on the X-Axis also has one. You need to make sure these are just tight enough and not too tight. When you move the hot-end along the access, the wheel should turn, and it shouldn’t be too hard to move. If the wheel doesn’t turn at all when you move it, then it’s too loose. For the X-Axis, the assembly should NOT jiggle. If these are loose, you will just see bad print quality on the outside of the model.
  • Make sure you have a solid surface to put the printer on. Mine sits in the basement, on concrete so it’s not an issue for me, but if you have to put it on a table make sure it doesn’t move much. The printer is throwing some weight around as it moves so any extra vibrations will affect your print.
  • When making sure your bed is level, be sure to go check each of the 4 corners a few times using the sheet of paper. Only doing it once might not work because adjusting one corner will slightly throw off another corner. And we’re dealing with tolerances of less than .1mm here. UPDATE 17Nov19: Be sure to check you leveling every 5 to 10 prints. I started having adhesion issues and I tried a ton of other things before doing this.

Printing

The first thing I printing, like many others, is the dog that is included on the SD card. This is most people’s first print. It turned out amazing. It usually does for most people. The reason for that is that the file is perfectly tuned for this printer. When you find an 3D file on the Internet, you have to run it through a piece of software called a slicer, like Cura. This is the software that takes the 3D files, and turns into GCODE file with thousands of commands for your printer based on the settings you specified. Those settings include things like the speed the nozzle moves, the thickness of each layer, temperatures of the bed and hot-end, and the amount of infill to use. There are also settings for creating easily breakable supports for things that are hanging in the air. An important setting is retraction. This tells the printer to pull some filament back before it has to move somewhere. This helps prevent stringing that can occur because of some plastic sticking as it moves.

This is something that usually takes a good bit of tweaking and testing to get right. I suggest checking out some of the small quick prints to get things the way you want them. A lot of times, you will need to change settings based on the object you are printing. Some need more infill for a stronger print while some might need to printer thinner and slower for more quality.

CHEP has some pre-configured profiles for the Enders that you can download HERE. I personally haven’t tried it, but I have heard that they are a great starting point.

I typically use printing speeds of 50 to 60 mm/s. Retraction distance of 5 to 8mm. My hot-end temperature is 200 to 210 depending on the filament, and my bed temperature is 65 to 70, although I’m thinking I might be able to drop that down a little.

Upgrades

I have purchased and printed a few upgrades for the printer. Other than the bed strain reliefs, I don’t think any of these are absolute must-haves, especially not on day one. :

  • Glass bed. I went ahead and bought this one when I got the printer. I only tried the magnet bed a few times. If I keep the glass bed clean with rubbing alcohol, it has really good adhesion. The magnet bed was OK in that regard. I do feel like the magnet bed will almost definitely get warped over time. It has clips, but I took them off after a week, and the glass doesn’t really move. I definitely recommend this one if you start seeing weird issues with your first layer that leveling and cleaning the bed doesn’t fix.
  • TL-Smoothers: When I ordered these, I had misread something, and thought that they are designed to make the printer quieter and to reduce vibration. I was wrong about that. It doesn’t do anything about the noise. I believe an upgrade controller board would do that. And I didn’t really notice any less vibration either. Print quality doesn’t appear to change either. After more research, it looks like it might help people that have ‘ringing’ on their prints. I didn’t have any problem like that before. They are still installed on mine since there was no negative impact, but I doubt these would be useful for most people.
  • As mentioned earlier, I printed THESE. To make tightening and loosening belts a lot easier. I recommend these after you get your printer making decent prints. It does have screw threads, so your prints need to be somewhat accurate for things to fit together.
  • I also recommend this tool holder. It clips onto a vertical rail and holds all the tools that came with the printer. I also created this to hold my cheap screwdriver set.
  • Damper shims. I was looking to reduce the vibrations on my printer, so I figured I would try these out. They definitely made a difference. The skin quality on my prints felt like it got a little better with these. The biggest benefit for me was that the camera I have mounted on the frame is a lot clearer because the vibrations are not as great. For the X-Axis motor, I found that actually tilted because of the flex from the damper and the tension of the belt. So I designed and printed this shim to prevent that. Before the shim, I had a couple prints that had a layer shift. Since then, I haven’t had that problem.
  • Cable Strain Relief. In my opinion that are absolutely necessary. There is one for the bed and one for the hot-end. Basically, the printer has moving parts with wires soldered to them. Those wires deliver 120v/220v. However as the hot-end and bed move around, those cables move as well. Not a big deal for the cable itself, since it is designed to be flexible and it’s well insulated. However, that’s not the case for the solder points. Those are rigid and over time can become brittle. If the cable moves at the solder points, they WILL eventually come loose. When that happens, your printer becomes a potential fire hazard. This are 20 minute prints. They need to be one of your first prints after you get things figured out.
  • Bed supports. If you press down on the front part of the bed, you will notice that it sags fairly easily. These supports took care of a good bit of sag. They also had an added bonus in that the bed doesn’t vibrate nearly as much. I think that although you don’t absolutely need it, I highly recommend it.
  • Legs/Feet replacements to raise it off the ground. I wanted to add some storage to the printer so I can have all the parts and the printer in one place. Raising it off the ground seemed like the easiest way to do that. In order to do that, I took some legs from another Thingiverse post and made them longer, and posted them on Thingiverse. The links to the drawers I used are also on the Thingiverse link.  b     
  • You may want to purchase some extra Bowden tubing(not needed if you do the direct drive mod). When I had to remove the tubing, it wouldn’t come out of the coupler, so I had to cut the tube, and trash the coupler. After that, the tube wasn’t long enough to reach the far end of the printer, so I had to order a replacement.
  • And because of the issue with the tubing, you will want some extra couplers as well. I had some extra which either came with the extruder or the printer, but I don’t remember which one.
  • Silent Auto Home: This is a great little mod. Normally, when the printer auto-homes, it slams into the end stop switches to figure out where ‘home’ is. With this, it orients those switches so they are parallel to the axis. This way, the carriage slides into the switch instead of slamming into it. Not required, but considering the fact that it is a quick print, and an easy install, I highly recommend this one.

Upgrades That I’m Considering Currently

  • New Stepper Motor for Z-Axis – I saw a discussion about the bed dropping when the print ends, and people are saying that motor like this one holds the weight of the bed better when it’s off. It’s only $10, so I might take the plunge. Especially now that my bed has started dropping like 2/3 of the way down after the print is done, which puts it out of the range of the camera.
  • Direct Drive Extruder – The stock extruder system has a long bowden tube from between the extruder and the hotend. When the extruder restracts filament, it doesn’t really start moving instantly on the hotend side because it will have a tiny bit of wiggle room in that long bowden tube. With direct drive, it puts the extruder and motor right on top of the hotend. This makes the patch between the extruder and the hotend about an inch, which is pretty much negligible. This make it so that your retractions can be much shorter. about 1mm vs 6-8mm before. The possible down side is that it will add more weight onto the x and y axis. However, I haven’t really seen many reports of that weight being significant enough to affect print quality.  There are kits that can be bought and someone designed a printable bracket for it as well. I am probably going to try the bracket first to see how that goes, since it seems like it’s the same functionally.
    UPDATE: While still writing this article, I realized that printed bracket won’t work with the cable strain relief. So I fired up Fusion 360 and added some cable strain relief to the direct drive bracket above. Here’s my updated version, which I haven’t had a chance to try yet: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3897426 UPDATE 17Nov19: I have done the update. My cable strain works good enough. I probably won’t mess with it, but if I were to do it again I might change the angle of it. But otherwise it definitely does the job. One thing I might add is some reinforcement for the part that holds the motor. Mine actually snapped off while I was changing filament. I ended up just putting it back together using my 3D pen. I just added a giant blob on top of the crack and it seems solid now. As far as performance: I’m happy with it. Much less stringing. The downside is that I have to print slower because of the added weight of the gantry. I’m doing like 30mm/s. That said, I think my issue might have been that my jerk and acceleration were crazy high from my Klipper firmware. I have turned those down in Cura and things are already a lot better. I’m going to soon try upping the speed.

OctoPrint

OctoPrint is such an awesome upgrade, that it gets its own section. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail as it probably deserves a post of its own, which I plan on writing. But OctoPrint basically turns a 3D printer into a network connected 3D printer. It is some software that can be run on a Raspberry Pi 3 . I personally just run it on my Home Assistant computer that is running Linux Mint(Ubuntu). This gives you the benefit of being able to monitor your print remotely, watch the print via a camera, along with a TON of other things. There are over 150 plugins that do enhance it to do all kinds of things. These include Telegram(which I already use for Home Assistant) to send you updates messages/pics/gifs about your print. There are also many plugins that allow you to control smart plugs, which can be turned off if OctoPrint senses there is something wrong, and even turn off when you aren’t using the printer(And save that 5w of energy). The developer and the community behind OctoPrint are extremely responsive and helpful.  There are a TON of other plugins I use that I will discuss in detail another day.

There’s also AstroPrint, which is a freemium cloud based service that connects to OctoPrint and allows you to control your printer from anywhere in the world. There have been a number of times over the past month where I’ve been out somewhere and I see something I want printed, and I was able to do it all from my phone. AstroPrint slices it (There are a few slicer engines available), and sends it to your printer. The only major limitation on the free version is that you can only have 2 printers associated with the account and you get a gig of storage. Other than that it’s full featured for free users.

UPDATE 17Nov19: OctoPrint is still awesome. Astroprint is awesome as well. I would say 90% of my prints since writing this have been sent to my printer straight from my phone via Astroprint. But be sure to keep an eye on things like the orientation of the object. It might not be laid down in the optimal orientation.

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