Creality Ender 3 Review: The End-all Budget Printer
The Creality Ender 3 is hands-down the best 3D printer in its price segment.
- Incredibly affordable
- Decent print volume
- Capable of high-quality prints
- Open source
- Tight filament path improves compatibility with flexible filament
- Easy assembly
- Compact design
- Increasing number of available upgrades
- Slightly uneven base, making it difficult to level
- Occasional adhesion issues
- Manual calibration required
- Flimsy bed requires occasional re-leveling
The Creality Ender 3 is an extraordinary 3D printer for the price. There are several reasons the Ender 3 is among the most popular machines on the market. It has a build volume of 220 x 220 x 250 mm, a BuildTak-like heated build plate, power recovery mode, and a tight filament pathway that makes it easier to print with flexible materials. These features aren’t standard in several higher end printers, which already sets the Ender 3 apart from its competition.
You might be expecting average print quality for this low price, but the Ender 3 exceeds expectations. Whether its PLA, PETG, ABS, flexible and exotic filament printing, this printer reliably outputs great prints with only minor quality and stability drawbacks.
Although it requires manual calibration, it is easy to assemble, and bed leveling is a breeze with the enlarged knobs. Once the machine is calibrated, the Ender 3 is nearly indistinguishable from printers closer to the $1000 range.
The most significant problem is the printer’s uneven base, which can lead the whole printer to wobble slightly. This can be addressed by stabilizing the base with another object, but it can still produce notable issues if not addressed early on.
Other than the uneven base and some adhesion problems, the Ender 3 seems free of major problems or print defects—an incredible accomplishment for a budget printer.
The Ender 3 is an excellent option for beginners or makers on a budget. It is prepared for high-quality 3D printing right out of the box. The thriving Creality community is an added bonus as lively community discussion and support can improve any project.
Creality also offers an ‘Ender 3 Pro’ with a detachable magnetic heated bed and an improved Y-axis for better print quality.
There are certainly better 3D printers available on the market, but none seem to fuse quality and affordable quite like this one. While it will require a bit of tweaking and patience to achieve your ideal setup, the final prints are definitely worth it.
One of the most appealing features of the Creality Ender 3 is clearly its wildly low price point. While the cost slightly varies depending on the seller, it can be found for under $199. In some online stores, the Ender 3 is cheaper than its predecessor.
Speaking of its predecessor, the Ender 2, there are several minor yet notable improvements in the newest iteration. The Ender 3 reflects the overall CR-10 aesthetic with a frame featuring aluminum extrusions and a single leadscrew driving the Z-axis from the left side of the frame. Unlike its earlier version, which featured a cantilever style that projected X-axis rail outward, the Ender 3 completes the loop with a closed frame.
Heated print bed
The Ender 3 features a modestly sized heated print bed of 220 x 220 x 250 mm, which is nearly double the size of the bed on the Ender 2. A BuildTak-like print bed sticker tops it, which should aid in reducing print slipping.
Another impressive feature of the Ender 3 is its ability to fully recover and resume printing after power loss. This feature was popularized by the Prusa i3 MK3, but its inclusion in a printer under $200 is still noteworthy.
Integrated LCD display
An LCD display with a control wheel sits to the right of the printer’s frame. With some minor changes, this design choice reflects that which we’ve come to expect from Creality printers. Unlike the CR-10, however, this control panel is attached to the printer itself rather than being a standalone component, improving portability.
Creality recently made the Ender 3 completely open source—a first for Chinese 3D printer manufacturers.
Out of the box
Aside from the compact printer itself, the Creality team provided the following goodies in the box:
- A USB drive equipped with the manual, test models, and more
- Basic tools (wrenches, hex keys, and a small screwdriver)
- A spatula
- A White PLA filament sample
- Nozzle cleaner and assorted nozzles
- Wire cutters
- Zip ties
While the Ender 3 is marketed as a pre-assembled printer, it does require some tinkering to get fully print-ready. It’s more reasonable to call this machine semi-assembled, rather than pre-assembled.
The assembly process is outlined in an included pamphlet that indicates the process can be completed in 12 steps. Considering both the assembly and bed-leveling, the entire process will take an average 3D printing hobbyist around 1–2 hours to complete.
Each component requires assembly and calibration before finally mounting the holder to the top of the frame. The Creality Ender 3 manual is suitable enough to explain the build process, but I’d recommend finding a video explaining the assembly process to ensure that you don’t miss anything.
An important aspect of any printer is the software you’re going to be using to make your prints. For Ultimaker Cura, there aren’t any printer profiles to upload into the slicer software.
Additionally, the included USB drive only provides a Windows download for Cura. Therefore, if you’re relying on Mac OS, you’re out of luck for manufacturer-provided settings and updates. Thankfully, a strong community has begun developing around this printer, and finding community-developed slicer settings for non-Windows platforms isn’t too difficult.
When adding the Ender 3 as a custom FDM 3D printer to Cura, it’s important to double check all settings, including the nozzle diameter. It’s easy to forget the little things, but you will be glad you checked when you don’t have to scrap you first project due to a minor oversight. While the settings are solid overall, they’ll require some tweaking before meeting most people’s expectations.
While this machine reflects the general design scheme of its predecessors, its included components yield a more compact printer.
This build platform of the Ender 3 is on an integrated base unit that houses the mainboard and power supply unit. This improves stability when it is suitably fixed to the frame along the X- and Y-axis. Additionally, having the mainboard tucked underneath the printer also helps prevent wire clustering and produces a nice, clean look.
The Ender 3 is equipped with V-slot wheels that run along the aluminum extrusions, smoothing motion during operation.
The most glaring design issue is the slight unevenness of the base reported by several users. While this may only be an issue for some machines due to inconsistencies in manufacturing, it is still worth noting in the case that you come across this after buying one.
The Ender 3’s frame style easily allows the user to mod and upgrade the printer without compromising its core printing locomotion and performance.
The pre-measured X-axis belt is a bit too long, ultimately resulting in a loose belt. The toothed belt comes with gold fittings on each end, making mounting convenient, but they do not reduce the amount of slack in the belt. Some users have found that by attaching a zip tie above the fitting, the tension can be increased significantly.
This machine features a surprisingly well-designed Bowden style extruder system with a tight path to help when working with flexible filaments. The filament feed system is efficient, but it can be difficult to insert materials into the narrow entry.
The manual bed leveling process is improved by the inclusion of giant knobs. Under each corner of the Ender 3’s build platform, you’ll find large and easy-to-turn knobs that aid in the calibration process.
With the LCD panel, the X and Y-axis can be moved to each corner using a sheet of A4 paper to gauge whether the print bed requires readjustment.
The control panel of the Creality Ender 3 offers a wide range of settings, but it isn’t the most reliable system. The dial is somewhat imprecise and can skip or accidentally select other options, and the control panel is prone to the occasional delay or freeze. Other than these minor issues, the LCD panel is easy to use overall.
One other drawback to the Ender 3’s design is the lack of a filament extruder. When changing filaments, there isn’t an efficient way to extrude remaining filament from the nozzle, which can be a pain for larger projects or consistent use.
Although whisper-quite printing is a common feature of newer 3D printers, it should be noted that the Ender 3 ends up being somewhat noisy. This is less than a minor inconvenience and shouldn’t be a huge bother depending on your setup.
- Technology: FDM
- Print Area: 220 x 220 x 250 mm
- Nozzle: 0.4 mm
- Filament: 1.75 mm PLA, ABS, TPU
- Max. Print Speed: 200 mm/s
- Max. Layer Resolution: 0.1 mm
- Print Precision: +/-0.1 mm
- Heated Bed: Yes
- Connectivity: SD Card, USB
- LCD Screen: Yes