3D printers have really hit their stride, with dozens of models to choose from. Monoprice, well known for its cables and other components, has a growing number of printers including the reasonably priced Voxel 3D.
The Voxel isn’t Monoprice’s only offering—they have a growing stable of models, many under $500, and both FFF (fused filament fabrication) and SLA (stereolithography) resin printers. The Voxel, however, is kind of like Goldilocks, not too expensive, but not too cheap either. The $399 price positions it right above entry-level printers from both Monoprice, and XYZprinting, whose da Vinci printers are direct price-range competitors with the Voxel.
3D Printing Types and Terms
Before we dive into the review, a little bit of background information is in order. 3D printers are not all alike. There are two major technologies at play in the under $3,000 market. The more expensive models for the most part are SLA resin printers. These use a liquid resin material that solidifies when exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) light. The other technology in use is Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), also sometimes called Filament Deposition Manufacturing, or FDM. With FFF, a thin plastic filament is melted and extruded onto a build plate layer by layer, building up the printed object. If you are familiar with a glue gun, think of an FFF printer as a glue gun type device that is moved in three dimensions.
With the Voxel, the hot end, or place where the filament is actually extruded from, moves up and down and side to side, while the build plate also moves forward and backward. This double set of movements reduces the distance the extrusion head has to travel when building the object and reduces the amount of time it takes to build the object. Keep in mind, though, that FFF printing is very slow, and it can take hours to produce even a small object.
About the Voxel
The Voxel—actually a rebadged FlashForge Adventurer 3—is well designed and enclosed in all directions with a clear front door that swings open to allow access to the build platform. There are transparent panels on the left side and top of the printer so build progress can be monitored from a variety of angles. This serves to keep fingers away from the hot moving parts within the printer when it is in use, a nice safety feature if the printer is to be used by younger builders.
The right side of the printer has a removable panel which covers the filament spool and feeder. The Voxel uses standard 1.75mm filament on a 7-inch spool, but can’t accommodate standard 1-gram spools since the width of the Voxel spools is narrower than standard, with a maximum capacity of 700 grams.
The printer has a heated print bed, a must if you want to print using ABS filament, which is somewhat sturdier than PLA. PLA filament is printed at a lower extruder temperature, is slightly more flexible than ABS, and is biodegradable, where ABS is not. PLA also does not require a heated bed. The Voxel measures 15.7 x 15 x 15.9 inches, so it should fit pretty much anywhere. It does not special ventilation, though some people find the smell generated when printing ABS plastic to be objectionable.
Monoprice can supply these narrow filament spools in both PLA and ABS plastic, and they are not unreasonably priced. Monoprice .5-gram spools of PLA and ABS run between $13 and $15 depending on material and color. 1-gram spools (which won’t fit internally on the Voxel) run about $18. If you don’t mind leaving off the door on the right side of the printer which covers the filament spool and feeder, you can 3D print an external spool holder that will let you use standard filament spools available from many vendors. The Voxel comes with a spool of filament, so you might want to put this project on your to-do list once you’ve printed a few objects and become familiar with the process.
What’s in the Box?
The review printer arrived well packaged and in good condition. Included in box are the printer with the extruder already installed, a spool of filament, the power cord, User’s Manual, several tools for adjusting the print bed if it becomes necessary (which it didn’t in my testing), an unclogging tool in case the extruder becomes clogged with melted plastic, and a package of grease. The User’s Manual also lists a USB drive, which was not included in my box, nor is it listed on the Vendor’s web site as being included.
The Flashprint slicer software can be downloaded from Monoprice’s web site as can a larger format copy of the user manual. Not included was a tool I think every user of a 3D printer should have—a scraper. One problem with 3D printing that you’ll encounter sooner rather than later is that a print will either refuse to stick to the build platform, or be almost impossible to remove.
The Voxel addresses the later by providing a build platform where the top surface slides off and is flexible, so you can flex the removable surface and hopefully the print will pop off, or an edge will lift far enough that you can slide a scraper under it. In my testing, I did get an occasional print that failed due to not sticking to the build plate. But it didn’t happen nearly as often as I’ve experienced with other printers. Failed prints are just something you have to accept with 3D printers, regardless of the cost. Scrapers are readily available in the paint department of any hardware store.
Setup: Quick to Configure, Bring Your Own Software
Setting up the printer was easy. After removing the packing materials and plugging in the printer, I loaded the filament provided. It fits in a spool holder beneath a door on the right side of the Voxel. There’s a Load function available on the 2.8-inch color touch screen.
Press this and push the filament into the feed mechanism, and the printer automatically grabs and loads the filament. You can also perform a build platform calibration from the control panel, and even print the object if you put the sliced file onto a USB flash drive. There’s a USB port on the front of the Voxel. I did not find the calibration to be necessary, but depending on how much jostling the printer has undergone before you use it, you may need to level the bed. If you do, it’s not particularly difficult or time consuming.
The USB port, unlike some 3D printers, is not for connecting the printer to a PC or Mac. Monoprice’s documentation says you can switch the USB port between a Flash drive and the internal camera. I was not able to get the camera feature working on my network, but a YouTube video shows how it should work. You should also be able to view the camera in the cloud if you subscribe to Polar’s Cloud service (Polar resells the Voxel printer). The Cloud connection also allows you to store models in the Cloud and perform print operations, like slicing models, remotely. More information on the Polar Cloud, and how to configure and use it, can be found at Polar 3D’s website, including several videos that walk you through the process of setup and use. To be clear, the product works just fine without the Polar 3D subscription.
The Voxel can connect to a PC or Mac via Wi-Fi, or, as in my case, through an Ethernet connection with an RJ-45 jack on the rear panel. The slicer software, which converts a model into G-Code instructions that tell the printer how to print the model, can be downloaded from the printer’s product page on Monoprice’s web site. Installing the MP Flashprint software also installs the driver.
Monoprice does not provide 3D modeling software. If you want to create your own models, you’ll need to use an application like TinkerCAD or Fusion 360. Prebuilt models for you to modify or print are plentiful on sites such as Thingverse.
For my testing, I printed a standard benchmark model of a tugboat called Benchy. Looking at different parts of the printed Benchy can help you determine problems and/or quality of the printed model. There’s a guide to evaluating the printed model available on the website.
The accompanying screenshots show the software capabilities. If you aren’t familiar with 3D printing you can go with the default settings and get good results.
When you first install and start to use the MP Flashprint software, you will see a very simple screen. After you have loaded the model using the “Load” commend, you can position it on the build plate. change the view, Rotate the model if you think it will print better after being repositioned, or Scale the model to make it larger or smaller. It there is a significant overhang of your model over the build plate, you may want to add supports (which are manually removed when the model is finished printing). Clicking on Supports icon lets you do this, and then you are ready to print, Hitting the Print button brings up a simplified Control Panel. Until you become familiar with printing, you’re probably best off sticking with the default settings.
As you become more familiar, advanced setting menus are available that let you control layer height, speed, extruder and platform temperatures, and more.
Before you actually print, it will give you an estimated filament usage and print time. Benchy took 3 hours and 48 minutes to print, and used 4.4 meters of filament. Unfortunately, no vendor actually lists how long the filament on the spool is, just the starting weight (in this case .5 kilograms), so you really don’t have much of an idea of what’s actually been used. This limitation is pretty common across FFF type printers, however.
Here is the finished Benchy still attached to the build platform. There is a tiny bit of stringing on the bottom of the model as well as a raft—a horizontal latticework of filaments—which I use with most prints to help the model stick to the build platform. The raft (and strings) just peel off.
The finished model can then be examined for quality or print problems. In this print, it was easy to see that the Voxel easily handled gaps such as the windows in the wheelhouse and round hole in the front for an anchor.
The Verdict: Great Value, Cheap and Easy Part Replacement
Overall, I feel that the Voxel is one of the best printers currently available under $500 and a good choice for either a step-up from the $150-$200 models or as a user’s first 3D Printer. You can get less expensive models from Monoprice and other vendors, but they will have print areas smaller than the Voxel’s 6.9-inch square platform, which is very large for a printer at this price.
I also like the Voxel’s slide-out platform surface which makes it easier to get the object released. If the print nozzle on the extruder becomes hopelessly clogged, replacement print nozzles are available, though these are a proprietary design that’s only available from Monoprice or FlashForge.
Finally, the print quality on the Benchy benchmark and other objects I printed at the default slicer settings were very good for a FFF printer, even better than some of the more expensive printers I’ve tested. My one real complaint is the small spool width. You can, however, leave the door off, and use an external spool holder. If you don’t feel like printing one (designs for an external holder are on Thingiverse and other sites), you can easily buy a prefabbed one like this popular bearing-based design.
Here’s What We Like
- Excellent print quality
- Large slide out build platform eases object release
- Enclosed design keeps fingers away from hot parts
- Heated print bed lets you use a wide variety of filament types
And What We Don't
- Uses non-standard filament spool
- Should have come with a spatula