The LulzBot Mini 3D printer strikes a nice balance between ease of use and flexibility. The heated, self-leveling print bed and the ability to use many filament types are excellent features leading to high quality results. While the device has some drawbacks, we highly recommend it for the casual hobbyist who may want to delve deeper into 3D printing.
- Best for: Casual Hobbyists and Enthusiasts
- Might be good for: Educators and Pragmatists
- Not appropriate for: Semi-Professionals
When the market for home 3D printers first gained traction a few years ago, most devices were based on open source designs. These devices, sold mainly to 3D printing enthusiasts, invited tinkering and customization. Good examples of 3D printers that fit into this category are the HICTOP Prusa i3 and the FlashForge Creator Pro.
As the market has matured, we’re seeing more products striving for plug-and-play simplicity and ease of use. 3D printers of this type, like the Dremel Idea Builder, are targeted at the casual hobbyist who doesn’t care to take apart, modify or customize their device. They just want something that works, even if that means limitations on flexibility or the need to use proprietary filament or software.
The LulzBot Mini, introduced in early 2015, sits at the intersection of these two seemingly contrary approaches. On the one hand, the Mini is incredibly easy to set up and use. It has features like automated nozzle cleaning and bed leveling that are clearly designed for users who don’t want to fret and fuss. On the other hand, the LulzBot Mini supports open source principles of freely licensed and available designs and use of non-proprietary software and filaments. This gives users flexibility and allows them to fully understand and customize every aspect of the device.
One could argue that this puts the LulzBot Mini in “neither fish nor fowl” territory; in other words not an ideal solution for either type of user. However, we think it strikes a nice balance, especially for the casual hobbyist who may want to go a little deeper with 3D printing.
- Easy to use, as close to plug-and-play as it gets
- Heated, self-leveling print bed with PEI surface
- Ability to use many filament types
- Must be tethered to computer to operate
- Lack of enclosed print area
- Relatively small print envelope
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LulzBot Mini Setup and Calibration
Getting the LulzBot Mini from the box to printing your first part is incredibly fast and easy compared to most 3D printers on the market today. Aside from unpacking and connecting USB and power, all that’s involved is installing the software on your computer (it comes with Cura LulzBot Edition), setting the temperature and loading your filament.
The included Quick Start Guide is easy to follow and illustrates every step of the setup process. For most users it should take no more than 15 minutes.
One slight negative is that the device comes with only a small piece of filament, just enough to print the sample ‘rocktopus’ part. So be sure to buy filament when you order your LulzBot Mini, and note that it uses 3mm filament, which is less common than the 1.75mm filament supported by most 3D printers. The good news is that, given the open source LulzBot approach, you are not locked into any proprietary filament cartridges.
The hot end (the part that heats up to melt the filament) of the LulzBot Mini has an impressive max temperature of 300°C (572°F). Combined with the heated print bed, this gives the device flexibility to support many different types of filament beyond just the ABS and PLA materials used by most 3D printers. This is great if you are looking to experiment with different material types.
One of the best features of the LulzBot Mini is the automatic nozzle cleaning and bed leveling. When you kick off a print job, the print head will first move to the back of the device and self-clean the nozzle, then it will move to touch each of the leveling sensors on the four corners of the print bed. Eventually we expect the bed leveling process to be this easy for all 3D printers, but for now the LulzBot Mini is in a class of its own.
Auto-leveling is just one nice aspect of the print bed. The bed is heated to help prevent warping of parts and is made of borosilicate glass, which is well suited to handle the heat without expanding or breaking. The glass is covered with a material called polyetherimide, or PEI, which is the gold standard for maintenance-free, reusable part adhesion and removal. What that means in plain English is that you won’t need to use any materials like blue tape or hairspray before each print, and parts will be easy to remove when finished.
Cura LulzBot Edition Software
The LulzBot Mini comes with a special version of the open source Cura software for preparing files and controlling your 3D printer. While the device is open enough to work with other software packages, we find Cura to be capable, intuitive and well documented. The software includes basic settings for selecting material and print quality, but users can also use advanced settings to tweak and control every aspect of the machine.
Reliability and Support
Users of the LulzBot Mini have reported good overall product quality, but some defects and filament jamming issues have arisen. Customer support from Aleph Objects is top-notch. In addition to email and phone support, company representatives are active and responsive on various 3D printing forums, providing quick and helpful advice. The LulzBot Community forums are also active. This is a good source for tips and tricks from other users.
While overall we are big fans of the LulzBot Mini, especially for the casual hobbyist looking to go a bit deeper, there are a few drawbacks.
First, the device must be tethered to your computer during the print process. This is important to be aware of, especially for laptop users. You won’t be able to take your laptop to another room while your 3D printer is working. It is possible to modify your device with a Rasberry Pi to enable offline functionality, but this is more than most casual hobbyists will want to undertake.
Second, the print area of the LulzBot Mini is not enclosed. An enclosed print area helps to maintain a consistent temperature, which can contribute to print quality. It can also help reduce noise, odor and act as a safety feature. With the hot end getting up above 500°F, you don’t want children or pets getting near an unenclosed device. If this is a concern, you may want to purchase a third-party enclosure like this one.
Lastly, the print envelope, or maximum size object that can be printed, is on the small side at 6 x 6 x 6.2 inches. If creating larger objects is important to you, the LulzBot Mini may not be the right choice.
We really like the LulzBot Mini, especially for the casual hobbyist who may want to delve a bit deeper into 3D printing. The device is incredibly easy to use but at the same time provides some powerful capabilities and flexibility not found in other “plug-and-play” 3D printers. As long as the need to be tethered to your computer, the lack of enclosure, and the relatively small print envelope are not issues for you, the LulzBot Mini should definitely be on your shortlist of 3D printers to consider.
While the LulzBot Mini has a few drawbacks, we highly recommend it for the casual hobbyist who may want to delve deeper into 3D printing.
LulzBot Mini Desktop 3D Printer
- Enjoy awesome ease-of-use features including auto-bed leveling, auto-nozzle cleaning, an easy carry handle, new Cura software, and a low maintenance PEI print surface
- Print Volume: 6in x 6in x 6.2in (152mm x 152mm x 158mm). Layer resolution as fine as 50 micron and as coarse as 500 micron, depending on part geometry and speed/finish requirements
- The LulzBot Hexagon all metal hot end can heat to 300°C (572°F) and the print bed can heat to 120°C (248°F), both software configurable for advanced users. Material versatility is built-in
- Freedom to use any number of 3D printing software programs, Cura LulzBot Edition comes standard. Other compatible software includes OctoPrint, BotQueue, Slic3r, Printrun, MatterControl, and more