Categories: Printer Reviews

Author: Robert Zollo- Publisher of ProForma 3D Printing

Industry leader Stratasys’s MakerBot subsidiary announced its new like of Replicator desktop 3D printers two weeks ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The new “5th generation” MakerBot line includes three models in small medium and large printing capacities. All three use the same new controller board, extruder assembly and Wi-Fi interface for download of print files.

The Replicator™ Mini prints at 200 micron layer height, while the larger Replicator and Replicator Z18 models print at 100 microns.

Key new features include:

  • Ability to monitor print progress via Wi-Fi on smart phones, tablets and computers using the new MakerBot software
  • On board video camera that displays print status to MakerBot host and mobile applications
  • 3.5″ color LCD display on the larger two models
  • Ethernet on the larger two models
  • Support for USB flash drive input (Replicator and Replicator Z18)
  • Heated build chamber on the Replicator Z18 only.

These models offer print beds are the sized at:

  • Mini: 10 cm x 10 cm x 12.5 cm high
  • Replicator: 25.2 cm x 19.9 cm x 25.0 cm high
  • Zi8: 30.5 cm x 30.5 cm x 45.7 cm high.

While the new design, enclosed build chambers and new features are impressive, are these new printers really what MakerBot marketing claims:  “powerful enough for professionals; affordable enough for everyone”?

Here are a few things to consider when comparing these new models with competing products:

1. Price. while the Mini’s $1,375 price is affordable, it’s small build capacity is not competitive with a number of other vendor’s offerings in this price range. The Replicator lists at $2,899, which is several hundred dollars higher than the previous Replicator 2 and at the high end of full size desktop printers. The Z18, with a list price of $6,499, is the most expensive desktop printer in the category.

2. Filament Support: while the new MakerBot line supports PLA filament in a wide variety of colors, along with a recently announced flexible filament, support for industry standard ABS and higher performance nylon is lacking. After adding support for ABS filaments in its most recent Replicator model, the company appears to
be abandoning its effort to broaden its support for popular filament types. As nearly all competing FDM printers claim support for PLA and ABS, and several brands claim support for nylon, polycarbonate and other engineering class materials, the new Replicators are not keeping up with the industry.  One has to wonder why
Makerbot pulled the plug on ABS support, until you consider that their new parent company, Stratasys, offers ABS support in their entry level professional grade printers at prices starting in the $8,000+ range.

3. Print Quality: With layer heights at 200 and 100 microns respectively, the new Makerbot models are no better than the previous Replicator models, where both claimed support for100 micron layer height. In fact, the new Mini only claims 200 micron layer height, a step backwards in precision.

Considering that for most users print quality, breadth of plastic material support and affordable pricing are the most important criteria for selecting a desktop 3D printer, the new Replicator models are not, in our opinion, competitive with several other brand printers.

While these new models are easier to set up and use than their predecessors, MakerBot has failed to advance the quality and variety of its prints, while increasing the price for equivalent print capacity.

If you are currently  in the market for a desktop 3D printer, you may want to take a look at 3D System’s new entry level models, as well as lesser known competitors including Lulzbot, Afinia, Ultimaker, MakerGear, and newcomers DaVinci and Robox.

Over the coming weeks, we will be taking a closer look at these other vendors, so you will have a better understanding of what the capabilities and trade-offs are between the leading brands of desktop printers. With the new Replicator due to ship in February and the Mini and Z18 scheduled for May/June release, prospective buyers will have some time to consider the alternatives.  We’re not buying that new Replicator models live up to the MakerBot marketing claim: “powerful enough for professionals; affordable enough for everyone”.

Meanwhile, we value your feedback and welcome other points of view on the new Makerbot product line.

Robert Zollo
A “serial entrepreneur”, Bob has founded two companies that have contributed to the advancement of desktop FDM 3D printing, one in the software arena and one in the FDM plastic materials category.
Recognizing that desktop 3D printing has the potential to become as valuable and ubiquitous as personal computers in industry, Robert’s vision for is to educate, promote and assist the vast number of design, engineering and manufacturing professionals seeking to incorporate desktop 3D printing as part of their work process.
Posted on Jan 27, 2014