The Dremel Digilab 3D45 is their 3rd generation fully-enclosed turn-key 3D printer. I have been running a loaned test sample for over 450 hours and have printed over 180 objects.
I previously talked about the specs and features of the Dremel Digilab 3D45 in my first impressions review, so I’m just going to skip ahead to the meat of the review.
First off I’ll talk about using the online software to print an object, then I’ll share some of my experiences testing the printer and show off some more of the features, Finally I’ll finish off with a summary including what I think the strengths and weaknesses of the printer are.
Printing Using Dremel’s Online Software
I mainly used the online software while testing this printer. I did install the Cura Ultimaker-based software that came on the included USB drive, but I only really needed it once to fix an issue with a model that I couldn’t fix in the online software.
Most of the time, I think using Dremel’s online software is sufficient — plus if you don’t use the online software, you miss out one of the features that make this printer really cool: the ability to check up on it from anywhere.
Let me take you through my typical workflow for printing an object using the online software.
The screen you see above is the what you get after you upload the STL (print file) to the website. You have three choices: Repair, Layout, or Slice.
The “Repair” option fixes some common issues with files. It’ll move the object to the center of the build plate, rotate it if need be to fit on the build plate, and even shrink it if it is too big.
I ended up using this option regularly because many of the models I downloaded weren’t centered properly and ended up being 10 feet off the build plate or partially below it.
The “Layout” option shows you a virtual print bed and the object in relation. For this particular object I should have run it through the “Repair” option first, because it isn’t actually resting on the bed and it isn’t centered. You can still fix those problems in this layout dialog though.
This screen allows you to move, rotate, and scale the object as well as copying or adding more objects to print.
Once you’re satisfied you can either save and exit back to the main screen or “save and slice” which brings you to the next step.
The “slicing’ dialog gives you several options on how to print the model. The most important step is choosing the proper material and resolution from the drop-down menu shown.
It’s important to note that the temperature profile of the material isn’t chosen here like it is with many printers, it’s chosen when you load the filament into the printer. So if you choose nylon here, and you have PLA loaded into the printer, the printer will heat up the nozzle and bed to the correct temperatures for PLA, not nylon.
The reason that you choose the material here is that Dremel has created several material/resolution profiles that are tuned for their printer. For instance, Draft (PLA) and Draft (Nylon) will have different settings for things like infill and number of perimeters. You still have the option to tweak most of the slicing parameters to your liking.
You’ll notice that there are three tabs: Simple, Advanced, and Expert. For most prints, the Simple mode will suffice, but if you need access to more advanced options you can chose the Advanced tab. If you like editing all the parameters in a text box, Expert would be your choice.
You can click “Slice” and the software will prepare the model for printing and bring you back to the main screen, or you can pick “Slice & toolpath preview” which will allow you to check that there are no surprises before you print.
In the preview window you can view the print layer by layer, as well as all of the relevant build information, such as estimated print time, and print the object.
Once you’re started the print you can leave the printer and monitor it from anywhere you have internet service. Above, I’m watching a print on my phone from a grocery store parking lot.
The quality of the image isn’t the greatest, but it’s good enough to see if there’s a problem so you can stop the print if it’s going wrong.
When the print is done you’ll receive an email with a photo of the finished object.
Preparing the Build Plate
In the first impressions post, I mentioned that I was having problems with getting nylon filament to stick to the bed. Since that post I have also tried getting ABS to stick to the print bed with less than satisfying results. ABS is a notoriously finicky material to print because it tend to shrink as it cools, so this wasn’t really a surprise.
Not only that, but I was finding that sometimes on larger PLA prints the corners would start lifting off the build plate as well.
Part of the reason I was having problems with adhesion had to do with not preparing the build plate properly. I was putting on a thin layer of glue, as both the quick start guide and the printer itself directed in its own quick start guide.
After talking to the Product Manager, he told me that rather than following the instructions that came with the printer, I should be putting a much thicker layer on the build platform:
You want a layer that’s fairly substantial to help parts stick… The purple color that the glue stick leaves behind should be pretty dark if you do this properly.
What I found to work was to cover the plate in overlapping stripes of glue in one direction, then reapply the glue in overlapping stripes in the perpendicular direction. And if I am printing ABS I’ll go over the print area a third time, because I’ve still had a few issues with ABS prints not sticking.
Once I started following the Product Manager’s suggestion, I was getting much better adhesion with nylon filament, and I experienced fewer failed prints.
Heated Bed Uniformity
In troubleshooting the problem with prints adhering to the build plate, I wanted to take a look at how evenly the build plate heated. Several types of materials require a certain temperature to stick to the build plate, and if some areas aren’t getting hot enough the material won’t stick in those areas.
Above is a thermal image of the build plate when set to be heated to 60°C. You’ll notice the highest temperature areas are measured to be 50°C (122°F), and around the perimeter the temperature is about 42°C (109°F).
I’m not as interested in the absolute temperatures, as I’m sure there’s probably some emissivity issues with reading the temperature of glass and I know the Seek thermal imaging camera I’m using reads a little low. What the photo above tells me is that as long as you keep the print in the center of the build plate, the temperature is pretty even.
More About Build Plate Adherence
Even with proper build plate preparation, you can still have issues with prints not sticking. That’s when you use a feature called a “brim.”
A brim is a border that you print around the object to give the material more surface area to stick to the build plate. It also pushes the “edge” of the print out beyond the edge of the object, so as the filament cools it has to pull against the middle of the base rather than the edge, making it harder to pull away from the build plate.
In this image, you can see the white sections in the upper left and lower right corners where the nylon filament puled away from the build plate. If I hadn’t used a brim, the corners would have been able to lift off the build plate completely.
It’s possible that the print could have warped enough to pull the entire print off the plate, and I would have had a mess like in the following photo.
I was able to take care of all of my print sticking issues using some combination of more glue and printing with a brim.
In fact, the Product Manager told me that they were probably going to make using a brim the default setting when using nylon filament. As for ABS, they don’t have an official profile for that material, as they instead recommend that you use their ECO-ABS filament, which is actually a special blend of PLA.
One cool feature the 3D45 has is that you can pause printing and resume at another time. What this allows you to do is change the filament in the middle of a print.
I can think of two reasons to change filament: you might want to change colors, or you might run out of filament before the print is finished. The latter is what I show in the video above.
The printer does have a filament detector, and will tell you when it’s out of filament. I noticed that it didn’t hold the bed temperature while it’s on this screen, so you might want to monitor your print more closely if you are low on filament, otherwise the part may pop off the bed.
Very Long Prints
One thing you get (or at least should get) when you buy an expensive institutional printer like this is reliability. You want to be able to trust that when you start a long print, the printer isn’t going to screw it up 16 hours in.
I’ve never had this kind of reliability before. On my current 3D printer, I get itchy trying to print something that will take longer than 4 or 5 hours. This is because about every 20 hours or so the print head will drift and print a layer that’s not in line with the previous layer.
With my 3D printer, I’m not sure whether it’s an electronics issue, a stepper issue, or a physical bump like a wire getting caught or the print head crashing into the print. I’ve had much better luck since I’ve replaced the power supply, but it still happens every once in a while.
For the 400+ hours I’ve used the Digilab, I haven’t had one hiccup. Yes, I’ve had prints not stick to the build plate and ruin the print, but not one layer has ever been misaligned.
This Tardis print was the longest object I have ever 3D printed before, with the next-largest object being at most 1/4 the size. The printer took over 50 hours to complete this print, and it pulled it off perfectly.
Other Example Prints
I was able to successfully print with all the recommended filament types (PLA, ECO-ABS, Nylon, and PET-G), as well as some other types (Flexible and ABS).
ECO-ABS is just Dremel’s name for a special blend of PLA that doesn’t actually contain ABS, so it’s really not interesting that the printer can handle it.
I printed these My Hero Acedemia character cookie cutters for my daughter in PET-G filament. I ended up printing about 10 different cookie cutters.
PET-G is pretty much the same stuff water bottles are made from. It is one of the more food safe filaments — although for applications like a cookie cutter, where there is very short contact, most filaments should be okay. I read about lead concerns lead due to the brass nozzle, but I think the same logic applies. If you were making drinking cups on the other hand…
This jigsaw insert I designed for the new see-through and stackable Dewalt accessory cases is printed in nylon filament.
This holder in a Craftsman accessory box, featuring the same dovetail mounting system as the Dewalt boxes, was an experiment to try and make a single holder for different tool diameters, but it didn’t work out very well.
The point is that I printed it in flexible filament, which the printer handled easily.
I designed a replacement handle for a Milwaukee parts organizer box and printed it in PLA. Can you tell which organizers handle was factory-made, and which one was 3D-printed?
The red Packout bin insert and middle-section cups are printed in ABS. I can’t remember if the black cup is made from PLA or ECO-ABS.
To wrap up the examples, here are a couple of Daleks (Doctor Who enemies) printed in different colors of PLA. I included them to try and show how much detail you can get from this printer.
Note that the printer can only handle one color at a time, and so each of the different colored parts were printed separately and then snapped together for the final models.
Stuart really wanted me to try out Dremel’s Customer Service, but I wasn’t so keen on the idea. Since they touted their support in their press release: “Accompanied by the Dremel brand’s world-class customer support,” and given that Dremel 3D printers are also marketed towards educators and educational institutions like libraries with many casual users, he felt it was only fair that I suffer.
To test the customer support I printed a fidget spinner with nylon, following their directions. I knew this would fail and unfortunately something that most people are going to encounter if they try to print nylon.
*Note: This all occurred between 2:30 and 3pm CST on a non-holiday weekday.
I called up the Dremel support page from within the online software. But first, I tried the online chat. As my daughter tells me, “dad, nobody uses voice anymore, duh.” Above is what happened during my short session. Let’s just say it wasn’t very productive.
They weren’t going to thwart me so easily, so I called the number on the Dremel support page using my cell phone. I got through to an automated message which started telling me about an offer that might interest me, and I got cut off.
I tried calling again on my land line and for some reason I didn’t hear the promotion this time, but I did get put on hold. After 8 minutes I got to talk to a person.
I told the support person I was trying to print something in nylon and the print didn’t stick to the bed. She asked me for more information, so I told her it started off okay and then came off in the middle of the print.
Then she asked me several questions: Did I level the build surface? Did I use glue? What was I printing? Before I could answer the last question, she added that nylon was a really hard material to print with and little trinkets didn’t work well.
I told her it was a fidget spinner. Then she said to try printing it in PLA or if I really wanted to use nylon I should try more glue. Finally she told me that if I was having problems with printing in general they could send me information about calibrating my printer. At that point I got cut off again.
The last option on the contact page was email. I sent off an email Wednesday afternoon and got a response Thursday morning. It turns out it was the same person that I had talked to over the phone and she gave me the same advice, and included some other tips like lowering the print speed and altering the retract settings.
The takeaway: It wasn’t as painful as I was expecting and I eventually got steered in the right direction to use more glue. At no point was I told to use a brim, which was pretty disappointing. I’m also puzzled that I was told you can’t print “trinkets” with nylon, as I have successfully printed these types of objects with this printer using nylon
I’m not impressed by their “world class support,” it just seemed average.
As the stats above show, I used this printer quite a bit in 3+ months.
To wrap up this review I’ll go over a short list of what I feel are the 3D45’s strengths and weaknesses
- Very easy to set up and use
- Very dependable with good print quality
- Online software is powerful, easy to use, and lets you see and stop prints from anywhere.
- Won’t hold standard filament spools, but you can use them with the filament door removed.
If this were a sub-$1000-level printer I don’t think I’d have any trouble recommending it, but with a retail price of $1800 and the best sale price running around $1400, it’s more expensive than many other capable printers.
On the other hand, if you work in an institution like a school, library, or a business, and are looking for an easy to use and trouble-free printer, the Dremel Digilab 3D45 would be a fine solution.
List Price: $1799
Sale Price: $1599 (as of the time of this posting)
Buy Now (via Amazon)
Thank you very much to Dremel for loaning us this test sample.