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Review: The da Vinci Mini leads as a low-cost 3D printer

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 17, 2016
While not flawless, the Mini is reliable and produces good quality 3D builds.

One thing I really like about XYZprinting's machines is they all have onboard memory, so once an object is downloaded to the machine, you can unplug your computer and walk away. Other machines I've reviewed require you to keep your computer attached until the print job is completed. In my opinion, a tethering requirement is a non-starter.

Filament lock-in

The Mini can only use one type of filament: the popular polylactic acid (PLA) in a standard 1.75 mm diameter, which is fine for an entry-level machine. Spools of PLA aren't terribly expensive -- a 1.8-lb. spool costs about $23.

However, here is my biggest complaint with XYZprinting: Filament lock-in. XYZprinting requires the use of its filament spools and no others for its printers. The company locks users in by inserting a computer chip in filament spools that, while allowing users to monitor filament usage, also keeps them from refilling spools on their own.

You cannot reset the chip or operate the machine without a chipped filament spool. When you are out of filament, you must reorder another spool of filament and that spool will arrive with a new chip.

"We do this because ... we make 3D printers for the average consumer, and we want to make it easy and accessible for people," an XYZprinting representative stated in an email response to Computerworld. "If it was an open-source printer, beginners would be struggling to match the correct temperatures to the filament, and this can result in clogs."

PLA filament, which commonly comes in a 1.75mm diameter, melts at roughly the same temperature no matter who manufactures it, so I can't agree with the explanation that users would somehow struggle to make other PLA brands work in their machines. I would even be more apt to buy into XYZprinting's explanation for proprietary filaments if it wasn't for the fact that its higher-end intermediate and professional models also use a chipped, sealed cartridge that cannot be refilled with third-party filaments.

That said, the da Vinci Mini does boast impressive resolution with that PLA filament (resolution refers to the thickness of each layer of melted filament that it lays down). The resolution, which is the same as the more expensive da Vinci Junior, can be adjusted from 0.1 mm (100 microns) through 0.4 mm (400 microns). The default setting is 0.2mm.

Setup

Like other XYZprinting 3D printers I've reviewed, unboxing and setting up the Mini was a snap. The only hang-up I had was in initially pushing the thermoplastic filament through the feed mechanism. For some reason, there was a lot of resistance and it took me a good three to four minutes to force it all the way through a guide tube before it reached the heated printer extruder. Once the filament was loaded, however, the machine went about its business without a hiccup.

 

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