A few months ago, a very inexpensive 3D printer appeared on Monoprice. My curiosity for this printer was worth more than $200, so I picked one of these machines up. The Monoprice MP Select Mini is an awesome 3D printer. It’s the perfect printer to buy for a 13-year-old who might be going through a ‘3D printing phase’. It’s a great printer to print a better printer on. This printer is a sign the 3D printing industry is not collapsing, despite Makerbot, and foreshadows the coming age of consumer 3D printers.

The MP Select Mini isn’t Monoprice’s only 3D printer; the printer I bought was merely the ‘good’ printer in the good-better-best lineup. Since my review of the MP Select Mini, Monoprice has introduced their top of the line, the Maker Ultimate 3D printer. Monoprice asked if I would like to take a look at this offering, and I’m more than happy to oblige.

After a week of burn-in, I can safely say you’re not wasting your money on this $700 3D printer. It’s not a starter printer — it’s one that will last you a long time. 2016 is the beginning of the age of consumer 3D printers, and the Monoprice Maker Ultimate is more than proof of this.

Yes, It’s A Rebadge

One feature missing from the Monoprice version is the acrylic side panels and top. If you have a laser cutter, these can be easily fabricated. Image source: wanhaousa.com.

The Monoprice Maker Ultimate is a rebadge of the Wanhao Duplicator 6, and should be regarded as the same exact printer. The Monoprice sells for $700, whereas the Wanhao sells for $800, but the Monoprice does not come with acrylic panels for the sides and top of the printer. Other than that small difference, you’re looking at the same printer. Whether the addition of acrylic enclosure panels is worth the $100 markup depends on the user. Anyone with access to a laser cutter could easily make a replacement for these panels, and I eagerly look forward to those .DXF files appearing online shortly.

The fact that this is a rebadge of a Wanhao printer is a selling point. Wanhao has a rather large following because of their version of the i3, and with that following comes the availability of spare parts. My review of the low-end Monoprice printer, the MP Select Mini, lamented the fact that no spare parts were sold by Monoprice, and no distributor for the original manufacturer could be found in the US. At the very least, you can get parts for the Monoprice Maker Ultimate from the US distributor of Wanhao printers. This printer is also slightly more standardized than the built-to-a-price MP Select Mini, and replacement nozzles and hotends are available through the usual online retailers.

Specs, Construction, and Impressions

HeroSqLet’s get one thing out of the way right now. This is an Ultimaker clone. The software menus for the OLED control panel are exactly what you would find on an Ultimaker. The mechanical setup for the X and Y axes are almost Ultimaker, except there are two cross-bars on the carriage instead of one. The Z axis is exactly the same, except the two ‘corner’ bed adjustment points are in the back, not the front. The only significant difference between the Monoprice Maker Ultimate and an Ultimaker is the extruder on the XY carriage. The Ultimaker uses a Bowden setup, whereas the Monoprice stacks a stepper and a direct drive extruder on the carriage. That’s it. That’s the only difference. With the extruder on the carriage, the top speed of this printer is theoretically lower than the Ultimaker, but I haven’t noticed any issues.

The enclosure for this printer is exceptionally solid. The front, top, and side of the printer are a single sheet of aluminum. The sides are welded on to this sheet, and all the components are attached to this very strong, very robust frame. The powder coat finish will hold up reasonably well. This printer is all about mass, and this design choice continues to the 1/4″ thick aluminum build plate. This aluminum build plate heats up fast compared to my 6″ square Printrbot Metal Simple, and all the electrical connections are solidly crimped and covered with heat shrink.

While I’ve only used this printer for about 130 hours in the week or so I’ve been using it, that is much more time per 3D printer review than I’ve seen at other usual outlets. It’s not accurate to say a week or so or run time is enough to properly assess a printer. For that, I would need months of print time, I’d need the nozzle to clog, and with any luck a few bearings would give out. I pushed this thing hard, though, grinded some ABS in the extruder, and put a few nice, deep marks in the replaceable build surface. I have come away with the impression this is a very robust 3D printer. It can handle daily use in a workshop and daily abuse in a classroom. It’s built to last, and I don’t see this printer going out of commission anytime soon.

The specs — as given in the manual, not the online spec sheet — list the build volume as 200 x 200 x 175mm. The position precision in the X and Y axes are 12.5 micron, in the Z is 5 micron.  This is a printer built for 1.75mm filament, and comes equipped with a 0.4mm nozzle. Print speed is listed as 1- 300 mm/s, travel speed is 1-350mm/s. The printer weighs thirty pounds.

Sample Prints, Print Quality, and Capabilities

During testing, I only used the stock settings on the printer (changeable through the OLED display), and the suggested settings for Cura. These settings are more than sufficient to produce excellent quality prints, although I did have issues with stringing on retraction. That issue is easily cured with a bit of fiddling with the retraction settings in the slicer and by setting the temperature a bit lower.

Sappho's Head printed at 0.02mm layer height. Click to embiggen
Sappho’s Head printed at 0.02mm layer height. Click to embiggen

For years now, the highest quality prints have always seemed to come out of an Ultimaker, and since this printer is effectively a clone of the Ultimaker, there’s a certain expectation I had in testing. I was not disappointed.

I believe machines that only move the bed in the Z direction invariably produce higher quality prints. Extremely well-tuned i3-style printers are the exception to this rule, but the Monoprice Maker Ultimate is what I would expect in this regard: very high-quality when printing at very small layer height.

Unlike the $200 Monoprice MP Select Mini, there was no Z-banding to speak of. The trapezoidal Z axis leadscrew was more than capable of moving the bed down to exactly where it needed to be, and the Ultimaker-style cartesian arrangement had very little slop in it.

This does not mean the printer is without its faults, though. One glaring oversight can be found in the fan used to blow air onto the freshly extruded plastic. There’s one problem with this fan: it doesn’t blow air onto freshly extruded plastic. Instead, it blows air a few centimeters to the right of the print.

The part cooling fan blows straight down, and does not actually cool the filament as it is extruded.
The part cooling fan blows straight down, and does not actually cool the filament as it is extruded.

The best example I can come up with to demonstrate this filament-cooling problem is an overhang, and the Benchy tugboat I printed provides more than enough evidence that overhangs will be a problem with this printer. The duct for the part cooling fan can be taken off easily, and once I tear down this machine a bit more, I’ll start work on designing a better low-profile duct that blows air a little closer to the nozzle.

Aside from a problem with overhangs, this really is a printer with remarkable build quality. All sample prints were dimensionally accurate, the bow of the 3D Benchy was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and even the name on the back of this little tugboat was readable. Apart from an issue with retraction — a function of tuning, and one that is fixable with the right settings — I can easily see the potential for this printer to produce Ultimaker-quality prints.

As far as the bed is concerned, it’s acceptable, despite the limited information available on the build surface. The bed is aluminum, heated by a 24V PCB. It comes up to temperature quickly. This printer ships with an ‘adhesive sheet’, and the only data on what this build surface actually is comes from the Wanhao product description: it’s a “Wanhao Adhesive Sheet”. That’s not a lot of information, but it seems to be a perfectly acceptable build surface. ABS, PLA, PETG, and Ninjaflex sticks to the bed and the prints are easy to remove.

I’m a believer in a PEI build surface. It’s the build surface of the future, and the build surface I’ll eventually slap on this printer. That’s not to knock the ‘adhesive sheet’ that ships with this printer — it’s acceptable, even if it is a pain to remove. My advice, though, would be to ignore the spare build sheet included with this printer and spend $16 on a PEI sheet.

A Word On Speed And Acceleration

In the review for the Monoprice MP Select Mini, I called out Monoprice for not knowing what they were selling. In that particular case, it wasn’t a bad thing — the printer was better than what their spec sheet said. It could print at a much lower layer height than the stated 100 microns, and the product copy makes no mention of the ARM controller board. The MP Select Mini was undersold, which can only be the result of two mutually exclusive truths. Either Monoprice wants to undersell their cheapest printer to bump potential buyers up to the next best printer in their lineup, or Monoprice doesn’t have the institutional knowledge needed to properly assess or write copy for 3D printers.

Now, with two data points, it’s a little more clear which truth is more likely.

Push filament out of the nozzle too fast, and you're going to grind some filament.
Push filament out of the nozzle too fast, and you’re going to grind some filament.

The online spec sheet for this printer says the printing speed of Monoprice Maker Ultimate printer is 150 mm/sec. This is fast, but comparable to a very well-tuned Ultimaker. The specs for this printer found in the product manual, however, list the top print speed as 300 mm/sec and the top travel speed of 350 mm/sec. This is a bit high.

Just to test things, I tried printing at 300 mm/sec. At this speed, and at a 0.1mm layer height, the nozzle is squirting plastic out at a rate of 12mm³/sec. This volume of plastic per second would be too much for a 12V heater, but the 24V hotend performed admirably — until the extruder started stripping filament, of course. You simply can’t push plastic out of a nozzle that fast, no matter what a spec sheet says. It may have worked at a lower layer height, but that brings us to another problem of high print and travel speeds: acceleration.

The stock acceleration of this printer is 800mm/sec². The default acceleration for Marlin is 3000mm/sec².
The stock acceleration of this printer is 800mm/sec². The default acceleration for Marlin is 3000mm/sec².

With the top speed of the print and travel moves set to 300mm/sec, and the acceleration set to 800mm/sec², the printer might never even reach those speeds. At these travel settings, the print head will only reach a speed of 300mm/sec after about 50mm. Fast travel and print speeds are great if you’re building a printer with a meter long build plate (more on that later), but if you plug a few numbers into [Prusa]’s handy acceleration calculator, you’ll find you need acceleration to hit those travel speeds, anyway.

I don’t know why this machine shipped with a default acceleration of 800mm/sec². The default acceleration for the Marlin Firmware is 3000mm/sec², and every RepRap I’ve seen seems to do alright with that. The default acceleration can be changed through the on-screen menu, though, and after changing it, the printer performed very well.

Fast travel and low acceleration mean the specs are overly ambitious at best, and slightly deceptive at worst. Of course ambition or deception doesn’t matter, as all of this can be fixed with a few changes in the settings. I’d recommend setting the acceleration at 2000-3000mm/sec² (configurable through the OLED menu), and setting the slicer to around 100mm/sec. That’s a good ballpark for this printer.

The Guts

PowerTwenty four Volts. Finally. Since the early days of RepRap, printers have been built with twelve volts in mind. Hotends were designed for 12V. Heated build plates were designed for 12V. Slowly, this has been changing, and I would suggest to anyone who wants to build their own printer to choose 24V. V=IR, and higher voltage means the hotend comes up to temperature quicker. You can push filament through a nozzle faster. Commercial printers have been slow to catch on. Not this printer, it’s 24V. The heated bed comes up to temperature quickly, and is almost impressive in that it’s heating a quarter-inch aluminum plate.

BottomUnscrew four screws on the bottom of the machine, and the guts are revealed. Underneath the printer you’ll find the power supply, the controller board, and the OLED/knob/SD card board.

The controller board is based on the ATmega2560, but is not based on any board I can readily identify. It does use integrated stepper drivers, and there do seem to be a few spare connections available should I ever want to dig into this board to add an enclosure heater. No, it’s not an ARM board with fancy acceleration, but that’s the future and this is a 3D printer from the present.

The OLED display/interface is, as far as I can tell, exactly the same as a Ultimaker. There are options to set the motor current, and the bed leveling wizard is exactly the same. For anyone who has ever used a Ultimaker, the interface for this printer will be very familiar.

Contextualizing

Lulzbot
I’ll take my 3D printing cred now, thanks.

Deep in my email inbox, dated almost exactly five years ago today, I hold an invoice for Lulzbot order #000032. Take this as proof I have seen this industry grow before my eyes, and I’m a big believer in what Open Hardware can do.

Today, Lulzbot is going gangbusters, the TAZ 6 is still completely open source, and Lulzbot is the perfect example of what you can do with Open Hardware. The RepRap project and Lulzbot in particular have upended an entire industry, forced innovation, greatly expanded the mind share of a technology. 3D printers can print Pokemon. It doesn’t get more revolutionary than that.

The $200 MP Select Mini is the antithesis of Open Hardware. It is not built for modification. You can’t get spare parts. It is a black box, and when it breaks, you’ll just buy another. You don’t own that printer, it owns you. I can accept the low-end Monoprice printer, though. It’s just enough to get someone interested in 3D printing, it can print parts for a better 3D printer.

I don’t know if you can print a better 3D printer with the Monoprice Maker Ultimate. This $700 machine is capable of nearly everything you could ever want from a 3D printer. The quality of the prints coming out of this printer are really, really good. The potential for a (passively) heated enclosure is simply awesome. No, you’re not going to do dual extrusion, and the PTFE tube in the extruder won’t let you print really exotic plastics, but most people aren’t printing with those, anyway.

Compared to any printer you can build yourself, the Monoprice Maker Ultimate wins. It’s everything you need, and with a bit of tuning, know-how, and maybe an adapter to fix the fan issue, there’s nothing you can’t do with this printer. My poor Prusa Mendel weeps. The Open Hardware community should be philosophically opposed to this printer. It’s a true consumer 3D printer. Plug it in, turn it on, and in an hour or so you have some plastic trinkets in your hand. Learn how 3D printing works, and you can produce some really fantastic prints with this printer.

It’s a good printer, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

In Conclusion…

Should you buy this printer? If you’re one of those people who would use GIMP instead of pirating Photoshop, no, this is not the printer for you.

For normal people, at $700, this printer is hard to beat. Software-wise, the stock firmware could use a bit of help, but everything that’s wrong with it can be fixed via the OLED control panel. Whoever is writing up the Monoprice manual and product copy needs to spend a few week cruising the RepRap forums.

This is a very good printer, and it’s very likely you won’t outgrow it. If you’re looking for your first 3D printer, you could do much worse and spend much more money in the process. It’s a bit higher quality than the innumerable $500 i3 clones I’ve seen (and at that price you should give Prusa a ring, anyway).  The Monoprice Maker Ultimate is a solid printer. Even though Monoprice won’t sell as many of these compared to their $200 MP Select Mini, they’ve done their job. The Monoprice Maker Ultimate is one of the best values in 3D printing I’ve seen, and should be on the short list for anyone planning to buy a printer for under $1000.

Concerning the question over the $700 Monoprice Maker Ultimate and the $800 Wanhao Duplicator 6, that’s an issue that could go either way. Judging from the availability of the MP Select Mini on Monoprice, I expect their Maker Ultimate to be out of stock often. For people whose patience is worth less than $100, this will tip the balance to Wanhao. That $100 impatience fee also gets you acrylic side panels and top. That isn’t a terrible deal, although I do desperately wish the US distributor would put a ‘Duplicator 6’ category in their online store.

Our Review Policy

It’s this. For this review, Monoprice provided me with this printer. Negative disclosure, or stating how this review was not influenced by a vendor or company, is an illegitimate concept and incompatible with civilized discourse.



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