Review

On test: XYZprinting da Vinci Junior 3-in-1

E&T puts a low-cost printing, scanning and engraving combo through its paces

The Da Vinci Junior 3-in-1 is unique, thanks to its combination of 3D printer, 3D scanner and optional laser engraving (£99 extra) in one affordable unit. Only pricier pro models (see below) offer the same triple play.

And play it is. This is fun but very much designed for home use, so although it's big (38x42x43cm) it’s lightweight and enclosed. This makes it quieter and safer – fun for all the family.

The enclosed design has a downside that 3D printing veterans will spot immediately. Your spool of plastic (1.75mm PLA only, theres no heated bed so it cant print ABS) is stowed inside the printer, which leaves less space for the actual printing. As a result, youre limited to printing objects no bigger than 15x15x15cm. Some machines offer a bigger build volume.

Whats more, the printer is designed to only work with XYZprinting branded filament, identified thanks to an RFID tag on the spool. This doesnt just cost more than generic filament, it limits your range of colours. More on this (and how to get around it) later…

Prints charming

Setup was quick and simple. For example, you quickly learn the path through which to feed the filament when loading it, much like you would thread a sewing machine.

We followed the instruction manual to set the printer up physically, downloaded the free software and then told the printer to calibrate itself and level the bed, which it did with no problem. This was impressive: levelling the bed can be a palaver on some printers.

For our first print, we selected a model pre-loaded on the SD card supplied with the printer. Cue much “can you guess what it is yet?” excitement as we waited to find out what it was, as there was no clue in the file name.

Pretty quickly (25 minutes) it printed a heart-shaped base, then a honeycomb structure and finally a cute top. It was a heart-shaped pendant. Frankly it could have come out of a Christmas cracker, but it was wonderful simply because we’d printed it.

You can prepare a file to print on your computer and copy to the SD card. Or plug your computer into the printer or connect via Wi-Fi, but the advantage of the SD card is youre no longer dependent on the computer – if it crashes or goes to sleep theres no danger of the print being disturbed.

And it doesnt take much to disturb a 3D print. A mistake on one layer quickly becomes a mess as the machine throws good plastic after bad, unaware that its gone wrong. We discovered this when trying to print a model of K9 downloaded from Thingyverse. The print failed through no fault of the printer, the design included a mistake. This was fixable by lowering the design and adding a brim around the tip of K9s tail, but only with third-party software. The free software supplied does include advanced options though: to add a raft, brim, supports, infill type (rectilinear or honeycomb) and density, layer height and speed. Print resolution is 100, 200, 300 or 400 microns.

We had more success making a two-piece Dalek cookie cutter, which took 22 minutes to print. The free software let us scale the design up and down and orient it on the print bed however we liked, but it didnt let us print the two pieces alongside each other at the same time, which should theoretically be possible.

Note though that 3D prints arent generally food-safe because of the little crevices in objects that have been built one layer at a time. So youd have to use the cookie cutter with cling film. Still, its worth it for Dalek biscuits…

Printing is quiet thanks to the enclosed design and the small display on the front tells you how its doing: time passed, time to go, progress as a percentage.

Scan-tastic?

Next we tried 3D scanning. To do this, you send the print bed to the back and clip two pieces of plastic in front, creating a turntable. Then it auto-calibrates by spending around five minutes laser-scanning a supplied checked board.

It can scan objects measuring anywhere between 3x3x3 to 12x12x12cm (3kg max) and resolution is 0.25mm. We tried it on a couple of 3D-printed busts of a suitable size.

Our initial scan of Alexander the Great looked impressive on the laptop screen but because the top of his head and the base of his plinth were both flat, as a 3D object it had big holes. So we chose to multi-scan. This lets you reposition your object on the turntable and scan again, then combine the two scans into one via software.

Sadly, stitching the two scans together proved tricky. The software asks you to select three points on one scan and three corresponding ones on the other. But this frustratingly showed the free softwares limitations. Place any one of the six points wrong and you have to cancel them all and start again.

When we finally got all six in seemingly the right place and combined them, poor Alexander still looked like hed been brutally trepanned. We rescanned and tried again… this time a facsimile of Zaphod Beeblebrox emerged. Worse still, when we instructed the software to turn this into a 3D model ready for printing (after all, who wouldn't want a two-headed bust of Alexander the Great?) the result was just a plinth.

Our other bust, which didnt have such a flat head, worked much better though. The scan looked holey but there was no need to multi-scan because the free software intelligently filled in the blanks and created a good 3D scan that could be printed.

Burn, baby burn

The third in the hat trick is an optional laser engraver module (£99) that you swap for the print head. You need to remove the filament and pop the print head off; this only takes a mo. Then more fun begins because this is a very unusual toy to have in a domestic setting.

It's designed to engrave paper, cardboard, leather, wood and plastic. You choose the laser's strength/depth, although there's scant guidance as to what setting to choose. Again the working area is 15x15cm.

We downloaded clipart of a Cyberman (obviously), chose a print size, popped a leather-bound notepad on the print bed, closed the door and prayed that we wouldn’t burn the house down…

It was slow work (2 hours) but largely because there was a large area to engrave. Line art would have been much quicker than blocks of colour.

The only problem was that as the print bed moved backwards and forwards (like the 3D print head, the laser moves left to right and up and down, but it’s the print bed that moves along the third axis) the notebook kept banging the door, which stopped the machine and was at risk of knocking the notepad itself out of position.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and when we saw our Cyberman was under attack we acted fast. A couple of pieces of masking tape were enough to hold down the sensor that tells the printer its door is shut. Bingo: door can be left open. This is of course not a great idea safety-wise when lasers are in play, so we only propped the door open very slightly – just enough for the book not to bang it.

Which in turn lead to inspiration for how to get around their insistence on using proprietary PLA that costs twice as much as generic filament – it would be easy to leave an XYZprinting spool in position but feed another filament in through the propped-open door.

And finally, the Cyberman itself. The results were very impressive and made for a unique gift. So all in all we were impressed.

As a 3D printer it’s good but not outstanding. And the free software is a bit clunky at times (you can always use third-party software). But as a three-in-one it’s remarkable: good value and great fun.

£529, eu.xyzprinting.com

Alternatives

XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 Pro 3-in-1, £995

This pro version of the 3-in-1 is bigger and better than the Junior. 20x20cm print/etch area and a heated plate so you can print ABS too. eu.xyzprinting.com

M3D Micro 3D Printer, from $349

This compact cube (185mm on each side) has a small print area but it’s affordable and can print using a range of filaments. printm3d.com

Flashforge Finder, £399

Another 3D printer that has a door to keep it safe and quiet. Build size is similar to the da Vinci Junior but no scanner or etching. flashforge.com

Thanks to Cris at www.3dmigos.net for assistance with this hands-on test.

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