If, like us, you're among the many people who think 3D printing is awesome, but can’t justify the cost, you're in luck. CES 2014 Editor’s Choice winner Da Vinci 1.0 by XYZ Printing shows that you can have really high quality build design and still not break the bank. While it may be intended for the casual crowd, the Da Vinci packs an impressive feature set that will be sufficient to satisfy all but the most hardcore 3D printing crowd.
Unlike some of the more style-forward 3D printers, the DaVinci looks and feels similar to any top-brand laser or ink-jet printer. According to the design engineers, the similarities are entirely intended. XYZ Printing’s number one priority is to make 3D printing accessible to the broader market by making 3D printing safe, affordable, and attractive. By adopting an already widespread form factor, the DaVinci feels immediately familiar. Standing in front of it gives one a feeling of "I can use this!"
This is a well-built product. Usually, when a company offers something at less than half the cost of it’s similarly equipped competitors, we set our expectations for build quality and design pretty low. None of these drawbacks apply to the DaVinci.
The build well is surrounded by double-paned, transparent walls with a glossy clear door, which allows the user to observe your objects while they're being printed. The door is attached to the chassis with a simple plastic hinge that feels a tad flimsy, but the door swings nicely and the action feels solid. For safety, and the prevent damage to the unit, the door actually locks once printing is in progress.
The top, bottom, and back of the unit are composed of "printer-beige" matte plastic, which gives the unit that nostalgic. The transition is not seamless, but the edges meet well and give the impression of a sturdy, well-executed product. The matte finish makes scratches and fingerprints a non-issue as neither are noticeable on this type of plastic which should prolong that "brand new" look.
The front panel of the body shares the same matte plastic and houses a four-line black on green LCD, which provides all the important user feedback, such as time elapsed and estimated time to completion. A simple six-button (four directions, okay, and home) array completes this sufficient on-unit user interface.
The well itself is roomy and houses a 7.8 x 7.8 inch build plate. The plate itself comes with an assisted leveling function and is heated. Both of these features typically come at a premium on competing models, if they're even available. Plate leveling is a simple iterative process: The DaVinci tells you how far the plate is off and in which axis. You can then adjust the slant by turning one of three spring loaded screws until it tells you that you're good to go. The heating element in the plate ensures that the first layer deposited sticks well and also that the finished product can be released cleanly.
Once properly leveled and heated, the single-nozzle extruder lays down layers of user-defined thickness (between 100 – 300 microns) iteratively until the full model is built. Unlike the competition, the extruder is not particularly easy to remove, which won't appeal to those looking for modular design, but it fits perfectly in line with the utilitarian design. This product is not designed for those looking to tinker with their printer, but those looking for a 3D printer that just works.
Filament loading is achieved via proprietary filament cartridges, which come in 12 different colors. The cartridge system makes reloading the printer easy and painless: Simply pop open the back, pull out the empty cartridge, and slide in the full one. Currently, XYZ Printing is only offering ABS filament, but is looking to expand its materials selection into other commonly used plastics. We were assured, however, that no matter what materials they will bring to market, they will always be available in the same 12 colors, for continuity purposes.
Much like 2D printing, most of the preparation and interactivity happens on the software side, rather than the physical hardware. Before plastic meets the plate, the 3D model needs to be downloaded, imported, sized, and sliced into easily printed sections. Again, the DaVinci makes it as simple as possible. The companion software allows the user to import downloaded 3D models, rotate and scale the model to fit on the build plate using very intuitive and bold buttons. Once satisfied, the user submits the model to be automatically sliced. Supports are also added automatically if requested, removing much of the guesswork and frustration when building objects with overhangs.
XYZ Printing decided against including 3D modeling or editing capabilities, besides the global controls such as rotation and scaling. The rationale is that the DaVinci is designed for casual users that are looking to just print pre-made models, not the power user versed in 3D modeling.
Always looking to even further simplify the 3D printing process, the software developers at XYZ Printing are already looking to remove as many steps as possible from the process. The Simple Mode or the software, which will premier at some point this year, makes 3D printing into a four-click process. First, the software aggregates all models on your hard drive and on the cloud. Simply click on the thumbnail image of the model you wish to print, scale it, select the desired quality, and click print. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
The DaVinci printer succeeds at making 3D printing nearly fool-proof, without sacrificing too many advanced capabilities along the way. In terms of affordability and quality, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better deal. The DaVinci is a quality product at any price, and a well-deserved Editor’s Choice.