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XYZprinting Nobel 1.0 3D Printer review: Highly detailed prints at a high cost

XYZprinting says the resin used by the Nobel 1.0 is made mainly of acrylic monomer. It has a strong candylike smell and is not harmful to humans or the environment, though certain people might be allergic to it.

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With large self-explanatory icons, the XYZWareNobel software is easy to use. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Familiar software

The XYZWareNobel software comes with the Nobel 1.0, and you can also download it (registration required). The software for the most part is the same as the XYZWare software used with XYZprinting's FFF printers. The only difference is that the software for the Nobel 1.0 doesn't include customizations that the printer doesn't support, such as the filling level. And thanks to SLA, the Nobel 1.0 can easily print objects with overhanging features, such as a robot with extended arms, without needing to make supports for the arms.

The software is easy to use: its interface consists of large and self-explanatory buttons allowing you to import and manipulate the 3D object files, and print directly to the printer. Once the print command is invoked, depending on the size and complexity of the 3D model, the software takes from a few seconds to a few minutes to transfer the data to the printer. After that, the printer can print on its own, without having to be connected to the computer. Alternatively, you can also load 3D model files onto a USB thumbdrive, connect that drive to the printer's USB port and use the LCD screen to print directly from there.

Note that the printer in most cases prints the object upside down, since effectively it pulls the object up from the tank of liquid resin as mentioned above. In the software, however, you should still work with the object in the normal orientation. If you manually flip the object, the print might fail because the printer will print the top part first, which might not have enough surface to stick to the print-platform firmly enough to hold the rest of the object.

The Nobel 1.0 supports standard and popular 3D model files. There's a huge collection of free 3D object models at Thingiverse that you can use, or you can make your own using software, such as SketchUp or Autodesk 123D. XYZprinting also has a large collection of 3D model files to choose from at no cost.

Performance

Despite using laser to print, the Nobel 1.0's print speed is definitely not that of a regular laser printer. In my testing, it was slower than FFF printers most of the time. For example, for a small round object that an FFF printer takes about an hour to build, the Nobel took almost 2 hours. This difference varied, however, depending on the objects. When I printed something thin, such as an iPhone case, the Nobel 1.0 was about as fast as the Da Vinci Jr. But when I printed an object with thicker parts, such as a little puppy, the Nobel 1.0 took much longer.

This is because the Nobel 1.0 can't hollow out the middle. With an FFF printer you can choose the level of filling from 10 percent (mostly hollow) to 100 percent (solid). But an SLA printer such as the Nobel 1.0 prints only solid forms, which not only makes it take much more time to finish an object, it also means the printer needs more materials than an FFF printer. Depending on the object, the Nobel 1.0 can use up to three times the amount of materials for the same object.

While looking smaller, the Incredible Hulk printed by the Nobel 1.0 (left) uses much more material than the other one. Josh Miller/CNET

In my testing with a 500ml bottle of resin, I could print just three copies of the Incredible Hulk (see picture), while the da Vinci Jr could print about eight of them, each about 15 percent larger. With the bottle of resin costing about $60 each, effectively each Hulk print costs about $20 worth of materials with the Nobel 1.0.

Note that the Nobel 1.0 never uses up the amount of resin it has pumped into the build tank, either: the resin in the tanks needs to remain at certain level for the building process. In other words, once you've finished making an object, no matter how small, there will be about 50ml of resin left in the build tank, which will go to waste if you don't use the printer for a few days. So if you don't intend to print a lot of things, be prepared to waste a sizable portion of the resin.

On the other hand, the print quality of the Nobel 1.0 is significantly superior to that of any FFF printer I've worked with. Even at the Normal quality setting (which is the lowest and has a resolution of 0.1 micron), the printed object has incredible detail. The higher quality setting will increase the level of detail to up to 0.025 micron resolution. However, in this case the printer will take much longer to build the object.

In short, with the Nobel 1.0, you're accepting the expense of the material and the slow print speed in exchange for the extremely high-quality print. Also, since the resin is sticky, you will need a pair of gloves to work with the printer, especially when you remove the finished object off from the print platform. You will also need to rinse it with alcohol right away. In my testing, when left alone, the object would remain wet and sticky for longer than a week.

Conclusion

Despite being the least expensive SLA 3D printer on the market, the Nobel 1.0's $1,500 price tag still makes it cost prohibitive for most consumers. On top of that, the resin is not cheap, either, at $60 per 500ml bottle. And keep in mind XYZPrinting currently only sells the resin in kits of two bottles at a time, meaning in order to get more resin, you'll need to spend at least another $120.

However, my biggest problem with the printer is not the cost but its print speed. If the printer could print as fast as a regular laser printer, I would totally recommend it. Unfortunately, its print speed is disappointingly slow.

So at the end of the day, the Nobel 1.0 is an expensive 3D printer to own and its special capability of producing complex and highly detailed objects is outweighed by the cost. That said, if you're a 3D-printing enthusiast willing to spend the money, the Nobel 1.0 has its appeal. The combination of compact design, ease of use, high-quality prints and the fascinating way it build objects makes the printer a really fun and satisfying machine to have.

For those who just want to try out 3D printing, the Da Vinci Jr, the Da Vinci AiO 1.0 or the 3D System Cube 3 would be a much better choice. Though none of these FFF printers can produce a level of detail even close to that of the Nobel 1.0, they are significantly cheaper -- costing from just $350 to $800 -- and won't require you to clean the prints with alcohol.

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