3D printers are moving into the mainstream, cropping up in schools, offices and homes. Power tool giant Dremel is getting in on the action with the Dremel 3D Idea Builder, a 3D printer intended to corner the home consumer market and provide the perfect printer for those looking to get their toes wet. Available in Australia at Bunning's Warehouse it's one of the most accessible printers for the Australian consumer — so how does it stack up to other printers on the market?
What Is It?
The $1399 Dremel Idea Builder is a plug-and-play single-extruder 3D printer that is available directly from Bunnings Warehouse in Australia — making it one of the few 3D printers that you can pick up in person from a brick-and-mortar store (though you will have to ask them to order it in). As a company that's already one of the most well-known names in power tools, Dremel's expansion into the world of 3D printing comes at a time when more and more enthusiasts are picking up on this technology.
Thanks to a partnership with Chinese manufacturer Flashforge, the Idea Builder is based off one of its models, the Flashforge Dreamer, utilising the same ARM Cortex-M4 processor. Dremel has also worked with Autodesk on their design software, also offering compatibility with a number of Autodesk's other 3D modelling programs. The recommended software includes Meshmixer and in-browser app Tinkercad: both free, simplified 3D design programs.
The Idea Builder is fully enclosed, with a removable panel on each side, a removable lid and a hinged front window that snaps closed thanks to two small magnets. It also features LED lighting inside the printer, which can be programmed to different colours when connected to a computer running the software. The build platform is detachable, so you can more easily remove your printed objects.
The Idea Builder has a decent build volume of 230mm x 150mm x 140mm, with outer dimensions of 485mm x 335mm x 400mm. The Idea Builder has an SD card slot for cards up to 32GB only, along with 4GB of internal storage, coming pre-loaded with a number of basic 3D models ranging from sculptural pieces to functional objects. It can also connect to a computer via USB, and can operate straight out of the box with a 3.5” full color IPS touch screen.
With no heated build platform, the Dremel Idea Builder only prints with PLA filament, and additionally will only support its own brand of filament, which comes in ten different colours and finishes. Dremel's filament costs $50 per spool from Bunnings, but is also a 'special order' item which you won't be able to just pick up off the shelf. Technically you can also use other (cheaper) branded filaments, other spools won't fit on the Idea Builder's spool holder, and using other brands of filament will void your warranty.
While it's a pain that other types of filament aren't technically supported, Dremel offers a range of colours and finishes. Aside from the plain white filament that the Idea Builder comes with, I also got to test the translucent white filament. While it's not quite as translucent as other options on the market, and seems to have a slight yellowish tinge, it's an interesting material to play with and would definitely be useful in creating items made to defuse light.
Out of the box, the Idea Builder also comes with a sheet of Dremel-branded build tape, a levelling guide, an unclogging tool, a plastic spatula to remove models from the build platform and an included spool of white filament. While the included build tape is good quality and easy to apply, it may also be difficult to find, with the product page having disappeared from the Bunnings website — it'll also set you back $50 for three sheets, though this should be good for up to 300 prints according to Dremel's specifications.
What's It Good At?
While the Idea Builder falls just a little short of being the beginner-friendly consumer printer it aims to be, its build quality is still surprisingly good. The software comes with three pre-set build qualities — high, standard and medium — which include automatic settings for parameters like build speed, travel speed, layer height, infill pattern and percentage and number of shells.
By enabling advanced build options either when installing the program or in the preferences menu, you can change each one of these parameters individually, along with tweaking the temperature and overhang threshold. The printer supports a maximum resolution of 100 microns (a layer height of 0.10mm) and a minimum of 300 microns (0.30mm) and can print at up to 150mm/s, though the recommended speed for higher quality prints is around 80mm/s.
The Idea Builder will have you building straight out of the box with only a short set-up time, though the process is much simpler when printing Dremel's inbuilt models than trying to input one of your own. After removing it from its packaging, the process of setting it up to print one of these pre-loaded models involves only a few steps — plug in the printer, level the build platform, load the filament and pick a model.
With the Dremel build tape properly applied, the PLA has no problems adhering to the build platform — in fact some of my first builds with wider bases were even quite difficult to remove from the plate. With 3D printing, base adhesion that is too strong is always better than not strong enough. The removable build plate is also handy, making applying build tape and removing stubborn objects a much more convenient process.
Presentation and design is one of the Idea Builder's strongest points, with a durable but lightweight body that takes up around the same footprint as a desktop (2D) printer. In standard Dremel blue and silver, the Idea Builder is an attractive addition to any home workshop or office, with the filament spool hidden neatly inside. The customisable LED lighting is also a cute, if ultimately useless feature, though could be a bit of fun for anyone looking to chronicle their build process.
While testing the Idea Builder I actually had to send the first printer to be replaced after the layers shifted in every attempted print, resulting in unusable prints. Since I haven't encountered that issue since, I'm confident that it was only a problem with that single printer, though trying to troubleshoot that issue revealed one of Dremel's other strengths — its great customer service. The Idea Builder has its own dedicated customer service number in Australia, staffed by a team who actually know their stuff.
What's It Not Good At?
The Idea Builder's biggest weakness is its software — which, thankfully, is also the easiest and least expensive part to upgrade. Dremel's own software doesn't automatically generate supports for models that need it, which is one of the biggest roadblocks for the Idea Builder being a truly entry level printer.
Instead, users will have to import their models into Autodesk's Meshmixer to generate supports. While Meshmixer's support generation system is actually a great tool for producing high quality, minimum impact support structures, it's also not too accessible for beginners.
Meshmixer's default settings tend to generate far too much support material, and can sometimes miss a few vital areas needing supports. Building support structures manually can give great results, however the effort needed to do so detracts from the Idea Builder's accessibility. As a beginner myself I often had trouble discerning whether models would need supports or not, which can lead to wasted filament both on supported models that didn't require it, or on non-supported models that failed to print.
While the lack of supports in Dremel's software is an inconvenience, the lack of rafts is downright problematic — though it seems to have been left out in the name of simplifying user experience. Unlike supports, rafts can't be generated in Autodesk's Meshmixer, seeing as the software assumes that your slicer will add them automatically. Dremel's included build tape is actually surprisingly good, cutting down on the need for rafts on many prints, but ones with small areas of contact and fiddly details on the baseplate still suffer for that oversight.
The Dremel also has a tendency to 'ooze', leaving behind stringy bits of plastic when the extruder moves across blank spaces in the print. While these little blobs and defects are easy enough to remove as they generally aren't fused to the model, they can also be avoided completely with retraction control, a feature not currently supported by Dremel's software. You could get around this (and many of the other problems I encountered) by using the Idea Builder with a slicer like Simplify3D, though.
While the Idea Builder walks you through the quick and easy levelling process, having an auto-levelling bed would be much more accessible for most beginners. The problem isn't the process itself, but knowing when to do it — sometimes my bed would still be perfectly levelled after tens of prints, and sometimes it would require drastic re-levelling after only a single print. Having a well-levelled bed is of vital importance to print quality, with poor levelling potentially leading to a number of different build imperfections.
Should You Buy It?
In the end, print quality is the most important factor when making a choice in 3D printers, and the Idea Builder offers top-quality hardware at an entry-level price. The Idea Builder is perfect for enthusiasts who already know the basics of 3D printing, especially those willing to make a further investment in a slicer like Simplify3D.
For beginners, the Idea Builder may require a little more research prior to printing than some of the easier-to-use (though likely more expensive) beginner printers, but it's a solid entry to an exciting new technology. The printer's pre-loaded library contains a bunch of interesting projects for beginners to figure out how it all works before they delve into designing their own models, and the Dremel website has even more.
The Idea Builder comes with a 2 year warranty when used for non-commercial purposes, meaning you don't have to worry about the printer mysteriously dying on you after six months. If you do plan on using the printer for commercial or professional purposes you will only get a 60 day warranty period, however.
While other printers may be able to offer comparable quality at a similar or better price, the Dremel's biggest selling point against competitors in its price point is accessibility. Being available from Bunnings without having to ship it (or parts and materials) in from overseas is a huge advantage, as well as its Australian support network and locally based repairers.