3D Printer Review: Ultimaker 2+

The Ultimaker 2 was phenomenon, but there are people who were still wishing that some features in it were improved. That’s why the news on release of an improved version, at CES 2016, was welcomed with so much jubilation. But does the new version, dabbed Ultimaker 2+, keep up to its expectations? Can it fir in the shoes of the famous Ultimaker 2? Well, read on to find out…

 

In this Review…

  • Introduction to Ultimaker 2+
  • Let’s talk about the Ultimaker 2+
  • Design and Features of the Ultimaker 2+
  • A Comparison between the Ultimaker 2 and the Ultimaker 2+
  • Merits of Ultimaker 2+
  • Demerits of Ultimaker 2+
  • Final Say on the Ultimaker 2+
  • Printing with Ultimaker 2+: the 3D Printer Setup
  • Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: The Printer Software
  • Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: 3D Printer Calibration
  • Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: Print Quality Tests
  • Addressing Concerns with the Ultimaker 2+
  • Conclusion and Recommendation

Let’s Talk about the Ultimaker 2+

This workhorse is a genius product of Ultimaker, a Geldermalsen Netherlands based company. This company is famous for a wide variety of other famous 3D printers and supporting ecosystem. Some of other household name creations from .Ultimaker include; The Ultimaker Original+ in kit form, the Ultimaker 2 Go, and the Ultimaker 2+ Extended (which replaced the Ultimaker 2 Extended). This company wholly committed to the open source movement and has therefore comprehensively documented all the software and hardware it has created and these can be freely copied, converted or modified by all users.

The Ultimaker 2+ is an upgraded version of the widely talked about Ultimaker 2. It therefore features a similar user base as it’s its predecessor. This 3D printer model is ideal for production and prototyping and can therefor come handy for libraries, schools, small businesses, industrial designers and even home-users.

According to Ultimaker, the Ultimaker 2+ is the most advanced, reliable and accurate 3D printer in the market as per now. We partly agree with this claim seeing that the Ultimaker was able to print for us very mesmerizing test objects, and we experienced no major drawbacks during our testing process. The part of this claim that we don’t subscribe to is that it’s the most advanced technology…we have actually tested other more advanced printers so unfortunately Ultimaker doesn’t hold the trophy for this one.

What this Review Covers

Design and Features of the Ultimaker 2+

Ultimaker 2+ features a white, plastic acrylic semi-open frame measuring 15.3 X 13.5 X 14 inches (HWD). “Open Frame” means it’s partly enclosed on all four sides, but it lacks a top cover or door. The build area measures 8.8 X 8.8 X 8.1 inches, which is the exact same on the Ultimaker 2. Its resolution is between 600 microns to 20 macrons, a micron being 0.001mm. It features a heated glass plate print bed that is stationed on a motorized, moveable carriage; it moves on the Z (vertical) axis. The extruder is also on the same position with the print bed, except that it moves on the X and Y (horizontal) axes.

The physical design of the 2+ is almost a mirror image of the Ultimaker 2. To see the difference, you will have to look closely to the very intricate details. One of these is the redesign of the cooling fan that’s attached to the extruder assembly. This has been made flatter, and the fans have been fixed closer to the extruder as opposed to an angle. The effect of this is that the cooling air is now funneled towards the print head instead of the fans directly blowing on it. This ensures a firmer control and greater consistency.

Picture

The second addition is found on the back of the machine. Here you’ll find a new and improved material feeder that’s been put in place to service the filament. The biggest complaint that was always seen with the Original Ultimaker 2 was print job failure resulting from the filament being “stripped” while moving back and forth in the old material feeder. Due to this, it was extremely hard for the teeth in the feeder to get a grip on the filament, and the extruder assembly upfront could therefore not be fed any filament to print with. This was very annoying and that’s why this upgrade has been received with excitement.

Picture

The last very important and exciting upgrade is the inclusion of the latest feature by Ultimaker, the Olsson Block kit. I’ll tell you more about this new feature in a bit.

What this Review Covers

A Comparison between the Ultimaker 2 and the Ultimaker 2+

Like I said earlier, the physical outlay of the Ultimaker 2 and the 2+ is the same. The difference is only in very minute details that are not easily noticeable like the cooling fan that’s been added to the extruder assembly, the new and improved material feeder servicing the filament and finally the Olsson Block it.

Fortunately, you don’t have to purchase a new Ultimaker 2* to enjoy the benefits of the added features. You can buy the Extrusion Upgrade Kit that was recently released by Ultimaker for upgrading your Original Ultimaker 2, or your Ultimaker to Extended to the capabilities of the 2+.

Upgrading your machine with this kit has been made extremely easy by the video tutorials and the step-by-step instructions that they come with. Plus this is an excellent idea if you want to prolong the life of your old machine.

I must say the Extrusion Upgrade machine is the most genius idea that Ultimaker has crated in the spirit of exclusivity. They really deserve a pat on the back for this idea that helps long-standing customers to also participate in the greatest and the latest innovations that this company has to avail.

The only people who can’t benefit from this upgrade kit are the owners of the Extrusion Upgrade Kit. This is because this Ultimaker machine has very small dimensions that make it logistically challenging to do any physical upgrades. All other owners of Ultimaker machines can safely shout Hooray!

What this Review Covers

Merits of the Ultimaker 2+

  • Accommodates a wider variety of filament types
  • Accepts third-party filament
  • Noise levels are significantly reduced
  • Support open-source software and hardware
  • It features an “Olsson Block” kit that allows for interchangeable extruders
  • Design improvement to material extruder fans and feeder
  • Works with windows, Linux and OS X
  • Capable of high resolution
  • Amazingly easy to build and use

 

Demerits of Ultimaker 2+

  • The control panel interface is disappointingly basic
  • Foul odor is produced when printing with ABS
  • It lacks automatic calibration
  • The slicer applications are too fast for the Cura software
  • The open frame design makes the prints produced so sensitive to atmospheric changes
  • Removing the finished products from the print bed is sometimes very difficult

 

Final Say on the Ultimaker 2+

The release of the Ultimaker 2+ into the fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer market has raised the competition in that particular space. This machine is definitely an evolution in this category, and the numerous unnoticeable but extremely critical improvements that have been made on it make this machine more luxurious to use in comparison to previous versions.

Everything is perfect about the Ultimaker 2+…well, everything except for the price. With some features still missing in this newest upgrade, it isn’t really worth the buy. This machine is therefore recommended for purchase by 3D printer junkie…anyone who won’t hear news of the release of a 3D printer twice without being tempted to buy it.

What this Review Covers

 

Printing with Ultimaker 2+: the 3D Printer Setup

Setting up the Ultimaker 2+ is extremely easy. Here are simple steps that will help you do that.

  1. After unboxing, remove the bits of cardboard and plastic ties, and the bits of foam that had been inserted between the components to keep them from moving during shipping.
  2. Next plug in your printer into an electric switch and turn on the switch.
  • Follow the steps that have been provided on the tiny LED interface for calibrating the print bed and also loading up the spool of filament. You are now ready to print.
  1. To help you with your first prints you can use the provided 4GB SD card that comes preloaded with test files; one of which is a little retro robot that represents the company mascot, if you like you can start with this.

 

About the SD card, although you might feel like purchasing an SD card reader is an added cost, there’s really no way to get around this one. The SD card is extremely important as it creates a means of communication between your computer and the printer. Besides, it also helps in simplifying the day to day operation.

And now let’s talk about the Olsson Block Kit that you’ll also find in the box. Like I said earlier, this is the newest impressive feature by Ultimaker. This is a set of four print head extruders with a range of nozzle diameters from 0.25 0.4, 0.6, to 0.8mm. This has increased the flexibility in printing since it allows for the extremely detailed objects and the ultra large objects to be printed and at a very fast speed. The first time that the kit became available to buy by Ultimaker owners was late last year, but as standard, it has now been included in all the new machines. Maybe we will actually review the Olsson Block separately seeing that it’s not just applicable to the Ultimaker 2+ but applies to the entire range of Ultimaker machines.

Picture

As per the manufacturer recommendation, the first step for printing your own models is to download and install the latest version of the Cura slicing software to your computer. After installation, open the software and tailor it for the Ultimaker 2+ machine. You can also use any other slicing software f your preference, but I must warn you that the Ultimaker 2+ machine hasn’t currently trickled out to other applications.

What this Review Covers

Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: The Printer Software

Ultimaker 2+ supports the easy-to-use Cura 3D printing software and a variety of other open source 3D printing programs. If it’s your first time using this machine, it’s best to first try the Cura slicing software.

On opening the application, a representation of the print bed will appear on the screen. With it you will see the position of the Ultimaker logo mirroring it as it appears on the physical printer. This will help you determine the direction your model is facing.

Picture

By default, a Quick Print menu will appear on the left edge of the screen. This is broken down into three choices “Profile”, “Material”, and “Nozzle”. The default setting for the nozzle is 0.4mm and you will therefore not need to temper with this unless you had changed it.  The profile will let you pick the resolution, “Fast Low-Quality Print” (0.15mm layer height), “Normal-Quality Print” (0.1mm layer height), or “High-Quality Print” (with a 0.06mm layer height). Finally, the material setting is between PLA, ABS and the new generation CPE.  You will also see a pull-down menu along the top of the screen. The menu items on this are; “File”, “Machine”, “Tools”, “Expert”, and “Help”.

On the furthest let of the upper-left corner of the screen is a “Load” icon. The fastest way to print is to click on this. Your computers system dialogue will be called up to find any 3D printable STL files that are on your computer. On selecting an opening one, it shows to scale the virtual on-screen print bed. From here you can tweak, resize, and rotate the model to your preference. When you are satisfied with the settings, click on the “Save” icon to save the prepared model to an SD card.  You can then slot the SD card into your Ultimaker 2+ to begin printing.

Like I said earlier, the best option for slicer software is Cura. However, this also has its own limitations. For instance, it will chug away every small change or tweak that’s been made to a model and take it behind the scenes to recalculate the print time and filament required. The drawbacks in the Cura software architecture that make it somewhat unsatisfactory cannot even be mitigated by a very powerful computer.

To add on this, the tweaking options on Cura are not as deep or as rich as that of other applications in the market. For example, while Cura only has one option for a square grid, other applications will allow you to change the infill pattern, which will greatly impact the structural integrity of your model.

All in all, one is not confined to using Cura. If you are an intermediate or advanced user, you have other alternatives like the paid Simplify3D, or the free Repetier and Slic3r. Besides, Cura is open source software, so complaining too much about it is not even fair.

If you are printing objects that have overhanging parts, you can add print supports on them to help print the hanging parts in a compact form. Alternatively, you can add an extremely thin plastic extension, called a print brim, around the base to help you secure it.

Finally, there’s an “Expert” tab from where you can access Full Settings for a more intense experience. From here you can set the extrusion speed, resolution (layer height), plus multiple other settings. The best resolution that you can get from the Ultimaker 2+ is 20 microns. Let me remind you that this is actually the benchmark that every other printer is measured by.

What this Review Covers

Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: 3D Printer Calibration

For a wide number of 3D printers that use plastic filament, this process, termed calibration, determines how the first (and subsequent) filament layers are applied when printing starts. Unfortunately, the tedious calibration process that we experienced with Ultimaker 2 is what we found on the Ultimaker 2+.

This is very disappointing because the trend for new model FDM machines is an automated setting on the extruder height and bed leveling before the start of each job.  This feature is very important as it makes preparation of a model for printing and troubleshooting very easy. Ultimaker will probably need to make a top to bottom redesign if they’re to make this auto-calibration feature a reality.

Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: 3D Printer Filament

The two most common sizes of 3D filament used are the 1.75mm and the 2.85mm. Ultimaker 2+ uses the thicker 2.85mm filament. As for the filament types that the Ultimaker can work with, there’s a wide variety. So it’s not just the common PLA (polylactic acid) or ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), but Ultimaker 2+ has now added a new filament category known as CPE for the technical prints. This filament type is said to be just as strong as ABS but lacks the characteristic full smell that comes with the latter. But that’s all we know about it for now.

Another excellent filament type that can be used with this machine, as with the rest of the Ultimaker range, is recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This is also as strong as ABS, but printing with it is as easy as printing with PLA.  Other filament types that the 2+ accepts are; conductive ABS and PLA polycarbonate, bronze and copper filled filaments, wood-filled filaments, UV luminescent filament and nylon. If you want to know more about this exotic range of 3D printer filament, click here.

When it comes to printing, you will appreciate the dedicated spool holder that the 2+ features. This extends outwards behind the printer and is flexible for all standard filament spools. To start you off, Ultimaker has provided a 750g sample spool of its brand Silver PLA.

This machine also features an LED control panel from where you can call up a dialog to guide you through several processes for example switching filaments from the extruder. The process replacing filament is very easy, the extruder is heated up and the material feeder then reverses out the unwanted filament up to a position where you can safely pull it out. You can then insert the new filament and the feeder will guide it forward until it starts being extruded. It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3, no?

What this Review Covers

Printing with the Ultimaker 2+: Print Quality Tests

Since we are used to using Simplify3D for testing print quality, we decided to go with it instead of Cura for our test print job on Ultimaker 2+.

We used three different quality settings to print 10 test objects. Our quality settings switched from fast (0.25mm layer height), medium (0.15mm layer height) and high (0.1mm layer height). While it will take you longer to print with the high quality setting than the normal one, there is no noticeable difference between the print qualities of the two settings.

Printing with Ultimaker 2+ was pure bliss, and we never experienced any misprint. None of the prints was unusable, outright broken, or faulty.  However, we experienced some slight deformity with one or two test prints that we were impatient with and therefore the plastic didn’t properly cool. So it’s not really that the printer produced the wobbly result, but our hurry to shut it off the build platform is what got these dented or warped.

Overall, the print quality with the 2+ was impressive. We printed our usual 3DBenchy model in fast, medium and high settings and the machine was able to efficiently cruise over all 3 in one afternoon. The medium and the high prints of these came out in a blissful shape, while the fast version was somehow shoddy as you can see (top).   On the medium resolution, we could even make out fine details like the underside and the name-plate.

Picture

For our Print+ Kickstarter headphones, we downloaded some beta files. We printed the speaker housing at high quality. The outcome of the print was a compact, sturdy object with very minimal flaws. To get more variety, we used both the recycled PET material and PLA, and for both we got amazing results. The recycled PET test print object was relatively light weight.

Picture

This next print, the large, two-part self-watering plant pot, we printed at medium quality was originally designed by Parallel Goods. The design is extremely sophisticated, but the real challenge is to achieve water tightness. This print would make for a lovely accessory in any office space or even home, but for that to be possible and mess-free, you need to get the details right.

We were very excited about this print. But sadly our pot suffered a leak after only one day of being filled with water and two pebbles. We must have done something wrong, or we needed to perfect post-processing.

Picture

So back to our overall printing experience with Ultimaker 2+, the noise in this machine is greatly reduced. The stepper motors were obviously upgraded from the sound of it, and even the whirring and buzzing sounds that were with previous versions is missing with this one. You will really appreciate this upgrade if you have used the chaotic Ultimaker 2 Go. However, there’s one characteristic sound made when the printer switches gears. This is a non-irritating beeping sound that’s not in previous versions.

What this Review Covers

Addressing Concerns with the Ultimaker 2+

Generally, we feel that the semi-open frame design of the Ultimaker 2+ is a missed opportunity. The advantage of an open frame is that the user is provided with an unobstructed view of the printing process. However, it comes with some mishaps. One of this is the foul smell of burning plastic that’s produced when printing with ABS filament. The smell is exaggerated by the lack of the top cover in the printer, making this printer unusable in an office, home or classroom setting.

The open end setting also presents a burning danger to small unknowing curious children in the event that they touch the hot extruder. For this reason, you are advised to use this machine far away from children.

Lastly, there’s the impact of ambient temperature on an open source printer. Using this printer will mean you are extremely careful of even small actions like opening a door or a window as this could greatly affect the result of your final print object. Even worse, a longer print job is likely to experience more temperature shift, and therefore the possibilities of failure with it are increased.

Although the Ultimaker 2+ open source 3D printer is a great machine, we hope Ultimaker will soon close up all the chambers, because there’s obviously a good reason why most manufacturers are now going the closed-frame design way. And it’s a good reason.

What this Review Covers

Conclusion and Recommendation

The Ultimaker 2+ is an absolute charmer. And it’s not just because of its ease of setup and use, but also the new innovative designs like the new material feeder, its ability to accommodate a wide range of filament types, and the consistency in the resolution of prints.

However, this printer disappointed by its lack of an auto-leveling build platform (auto-calibration). Other features that would have improved its ratings are; improved software design and a closed frame design. And with the rapidly improving technology, fans will soon expect next generation features like the ability to preview models on the control panel through a touchscreen interface, and the ability to manage the printer over a local network.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, maybe Ultimaker will just surprise us by availing these luxurious features in a new update, say Ultimaker 3? But before we reach that point, let’s enjoy this classic workhorse of a machine, because there’s no doubt it features in the list of the best FDM 3D printers on the market.

I recommend the Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer for every person looking for a reliable printer, which will consistently print high quality prints.

Leave a Reply