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Monoprice Dual Extrusion 3D Printer review: A time-consuming, yet fun machine for 3D-printing hobbyists

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MSRP: $1,199.00

The Good Monoprice's Dual Extrusion 3D Printer has a dual-extruder print head and a large print platform. The printer is very user-serviceable, can produce detailed objects, and is cheaper than competing printers.

The Bad Due to the nascent state of 3D printing, the printer is not user-friendly and requires a lot of time to prepare and then to print. At $1,200, it's still an investment.

The Bottom Line The Monoprice Dual Extrusion 3D Printer is a fun, versatile, and comparatively affordable machine for hobbyists who want to enter the emerging world of 3D printing.

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7.4 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Feature 8
  • Support 8
  • Performance 7

The Monoprice Dual Extrusion 3D Printer is a challenging gadget. And at $1,200, it's an expensive one, too, even though it's among the most affordable of dual-extruder 3D printers. (Pricing for the UK and Australia is not available at this time, but the US price converts to £725 or AU$1,290.) But like all challenges, it can also be tons of fun, and deliver a great sense of accomplishment -- as long as you're up to the difficult task of mastering the relatively nascent state of 3D printing.

For first-time users, there's a major learning curve with the Monoprice at every step, from putting it together and calibrating the build platform, to installing and using the software. If you're familiar with 3D printing, however, it's similar to other printers on the market, such as the MakerBot Replicator .

Keep in mind that, like all other 3D printers, the Monoprice requires a good deal of tweaking before you can create its first successful simple 3D object. And it will remain a learning process for a long time, since even more tweaking might be needed when you want to print more complex 3D models.

As a result, the Monoprice Dual Extrusion 3D Printer is not for everyone, especially those expecting to use it the way they do a regular inkjet or laser printer. But if you're into making your own 3D objects and are prepared for the amount of work involved, this is a very good machine to start with.

The new Dual Extrusion 3D Printer can handle two spools of filament at the same time. Dong Ngo/CNET

Assembly required

The 3D printer is a prepackaged machine, yet it looks like a do-it-yourself project that needs finishing. On the outside, it is a rectangular, cube-shaped box that measures 18.7 by 12.7 by 15.1 inches (476 by 322 by 383 mm) and weighs about 28 pounds (13kg). It consists of a sturdy metal frame and four covers made of soft material attached to it. The entire box is painted black and has no smooth surface. In fact there are a lot of sharp edges that could scratch your fingers if you're not careful.

Looking closer, a bunch of hex bolts keep all the parts together. Also included is a small bag of tools that contains a few hex wrenches and a large selection of extra bolts. Using these tools, you can disassemble the printer entirely, for troubleshooting or part replacement. Monoprice makes all the parts available for purchase separately for those who want to tinker around with the machine.

Note that the machine is not plug-and-play, and getting it up and running can be intimidating. Make sure you watch this instruction video closely, since the included manual doesn't have all the needed information.

Out of the box, the printer is about 90 percent assembled. You'll need to attach the dual-extruder print-head and assemble some other parts, including the filament-holding brackets, and two filament guide tubes. The machine includes two 2 pound (1kg) spools of PLA filament (one each of black and white) that will need to be installed on the brackets on the back of the printer. The machine also works with other types of filaments, including PVA and ABS.

The filament is the material used for printing -- similar to an inkjet printer's ink cartridges. They are basically easily melting and fast-congealing plastic strings that are fed through the print head's nozzles during a printing job.

The entire machine can be easily taken apart and re-assembled, include the dual-extruder print head, as shown here. Dong Ngo/CNET

The Monoprice uses standard filament spools that you can use with other 3D printers, including those from Makerbot. When you run out of filament, you can buy more from Monoprice, including those of different colors. Each 1kg filament spool costs around $35. In my trial, after a busy week of printing, I used up only about a third of the included filament.

Monoprice Dual Extrusion 3D Printer specs

Extruder MK-8 dual head
Plate Heated metal build plate
Print technology Fused Deposition Modeling
Build volume 8.9" x 5.7" x 5.9" (225 x 145 x 150 mm)
Printing material ABS/PLA/PVA/HIPS filament 1.75mm
Layer resolution ±0.10mm
Positioning precision XY: 11 microns (0.0004) / Z: 2.5 microns (0.0001)
Layer thickness 0.1 - 0.5mm
Nozzle diameter 0.40mm
Printing speed 24cc/hour
Extruder temp. 0-250°C
Heating plate temp. 0-120°C
Connectivity USB cable, SD card
Opering system supported Windows XP or later, Linux, Mac 10.4 or later
AC input 100~240 VAC, ~2 amps, 50~60 Hz, 350W
Dimensions 18.7" x 12.7" x 15.1" (476 x 322 x 383 mm)
Weight 28.7 pounds (13kg)
Software ReplicatorG
3D file type Input: STL/OBJ, Output: X3G

The printer's dual-extruder print head means that at any given time you can use two types of filaments with it, making it very convenient if you want to work with two colors at the same time. (With a single-extruder print-head, you'll need to swap out the filament each time you want to change the color.) When printing a dual-color object, its software is used to assign each of the Monoprice's two extruders a color.

In the end, though, because the printer uses whichever filament is currently loaded to a given extruder, assigning the colors doesn't really matter. Indeed, you can print in two colors, but unlike a standard printer, a 3D printer will print according to the color of the filament loaded, not to the color of the model.

The printer builds a 3D model by extruding melted filament layer by layer. Dong Ngo/CNET

Note that generally, you should use only one type of filament at a time since they require different temperature to melt. However, since HIPS and PVA are for support only, they can be used together with PLA and ABS, respectively. On the other hand, you can't use ABS and PLA filaments together.

The printer connects to a computer using a standard USB cable (included) via its port on the back. But it can also print directly from files stored on an SD card. (A 4GB card is also included; it contains the manual in PDF format.) The SD slot, however, is hidden on the inside of the printer, which makes it a little hard to reach.

On the front, there's a control panel that includes a four-line resolution LCD screen and five navigation buttons. You can use this panel to control many of the printer's functions, including calibrating the build platform, loading materials, preheating the print head, and so on.

Fused-deposition modeling

What a 3D printer does is mold melted material in the shape and size of the desired object. The Dual Extrusion is the first 3D printer from Monoprice, and like virtually all consumer-grade 3D printers, uses fused-deposition modeling (FDM) technology. FDM is an additive process in which a layer of plastic is extruded on top of the previous layer, one at a time. This process is very similar to caulking or icing a cake using a tube, but much more precise.

Similar to all 3D printers, the Monoprice has a plate -- called a build platform -- that stays underneath the print-head. During a printing job, the print head pulls the filament string from a spool, melts the plastic, and extrudes it onto the platform. The platform itself raises and lowers depending on the height of the object being built, and the plastic congeals very fast once it's extruded to form the 3D object.

The printer can accommodate 3D objects of up to 8.9 by 5.7 by 5.9 inches (225 by 145 by 150 mm) in volume, which is quite large. In reality, you'll likely print much smaller objects. Generally the larger the print, the longer it takes, and a maximum size object could take days to finish, considering the printer can print just 24 cubic centimeters per hour at most.

As for finding things to print, there is a huge collection of 3D object models at Thingiverse that you can use, or you can create one yourself using one of the various free modeling programs out there, such as Sketchup or Autodesk 123D. You can also invest in a personal 3D scanner, although those are probably best for committed hobbyists, given that prices start at $400.

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