XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. 3D Printer review: Low-priced, reliable and easy to use

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MSRP: $349.00

The Good The XYZprinting Da Vinci Jr. 3D Printer is easy to set up and use, requires no calibration and is currently the most inexpensive 3D printer on the market.

The Bad The printer is relatively bulky considering its small build platform. It uses XYZprinting proprietary consumables and glue may be needed for it to offer a high success rate.

The Bottom Line The XYZprinting Da Vinci Jr. 3D Printer's low cost and high ease of use make it an ideal entry-level 3D printer for anyone.

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8.5 Overall
  • Setup 9
  • Feature 9
  • Support 7
  • Performance 8

At just $349, the XYZprinting Da Vinci Jr. 3D Printer is the lowest-priced 3D printer to date. (The official price for the UK is £299; XYZprinting says it will announce pricing and availability for Australia at a later time, but the UK price converts to AU$580.)

But don't let that low price fool you -- this is one of the best-designed, easy-to-use 3D printers on the market. The machine doesn't require a manual calibration and is ready to use right out of the box. I also encountered very few issues during my testing.

It's not perfect -- the printer is only compatible with XYZPrint's proprietary filament spools. Also, it has a small build platform despite its large physical size, so you can't use it to make large objects. I also needed to tweak it it a bit before I could get a consistent successful print rate.

Most 3D printers start at $1,000 and can be as expensive as $5,000. And even then, they're not always as easy to use and don't offer features as good as those of the Da Vinci Jr. In comparison, the Da Vinci Jr. is an absolute steal for anyone who wants to dabble in the world of 3D printing.

And speaking of good deals, if you also want to do 3D scanning or to print larger objects, the Da Vinci 1.0 AiO is also an excellent buy.

The Da Vinci Jr. is the latest 3D printer from XYZprinting. Josh Miller/CNET

No calibration needed, proprietary filaments

The Da Vinci Jr. is basically a scaled-down version of its predecessor, the all-in-one Da Vinci 1.0 AiO. The new and smaller printer does away with the scanning option but now features the ability to print directly from an SD card, which its older brother doesn't. The rest is very similar, from the setup process to software, to print speed and quality.

I was able to get the Da Vinci Jr. up and running in less than 10 minutes, including the time needed to unbox it. The whole process was easy, but if you've never dealt with a 3D printer before and need help, there's a very well-illustrated, step-by-step guide included. Out of the box, the 3D printer is assembled and almost ready to use. All you need to do are remove the packing materials, install the included filament spool, and plug it in. To my pleasant surprise, the printer didn't require a manual calibration before use.

In 3D printing, calibration (also known as alignment or leveling) is a tricky process where you must make sure the print platform's entire surface is at a consistent and perfect distance from the print-head's nozzle. If you don't do it correctly, the printer can't produce an object that accurately reflects the 3D model. Many printers require a manual calibration before they can make their first print. And in my experience, the calibration is by far the biggest hurdle you need to overcome when first entering the world of 3D printing.

That said, you need to have experienced other calibration-required printers, such as the Cel Robox, the Ultimaker 2 or the Monoprice Dual Extrusion before you can truly appreciation how pleasantly easy to use the Da Vinci Jr. is.

The Da Vinci Jr. uses proprietary filaments, which are the raw materials for 3D printing, just like ink cartridges in inkjet printers. They come in different colors and are basically easy-to-melt, quickly congealing plastic strings that are fed through the print-head nozzles during a print job. With most 3D printers, filaments come in open spools. In the case of the Da Vinci Jr, the spool itself has a small chip, and according to XYZprinting, connects to the printer via near-field communication (NFC) to inform the printer of the type of filament being used, its color and how much is left. The printer won't work with any other spools but ones made for this model.

The printer has a small print-platform despite its rather large physical size. Josh Miller/CNET

The requirement for proprietary filament spools means that you can only get them from XYZprinting and might have to pay a higher price than for generic filament. But in return, they makes life easier since you don't have to manually change the printer's settings to match the type of filament. In the case of the Da Vinci Jr, you don't have a choice. At the time of this review, white is the only color available. But the company says other colors are going to be available soon. Each spool contains about 1.3 pounds (600 grams) of filament and costs somewhere between $25 and $30 each.

Note that propriatary filament is a new trend in 3D printing. It seems that more and more vendors are taking this route: 3D Systems, for example, with its Cube 3, and Cel with the Robox. In the future, I suspect that most vendors will make their own filament for their printers.

Large physical size, small build platform

In my experience, XYZprinting's 3D printers generally have a small ratio of build platform (aka print-bed) to physical size. In other words, the large physical size of the printer doesn't necessarily mean you can print proportionately large objects with them.

The Da Vinci Jr. is a prime example of this. Intended to be an entry-level compact printer, the machine is indeed significantly smaller than the Da Vinci AiO. However, measuring 16.5x15x17 inches (420 by 380 by 430mm), it's still quite big, much bigger than other printers I've worked with. Despite that, it has a modest build platform that can make objects only as large as 5.9 inches cubed (150mm). By comparison, the 3D Systems Cube 3, is significantly smaller in physical size but has a larger build platform of 6 inches cubed.

Though it's big, the Da Vinci Jr. is actually very light, weighing in at just 26 pounds (12 kg). It just has lots of empty space on the inside.

The printer's build-bed is not heated and nonremovable. Instead, the package include a set of three re-usable form-fitting bed tapes that cover the top of the build platform when in use. You can buy more of these tapes when they run out or just use painter's tape. These tapes are intended to keep the object being built from moving around (though they didn't work every well; more on this below).