Desktop 3D Printers for CAD Professionals24 Jun, 2015 By: Robert Green
Cadalyst Labs Report: This evaluation of three compact, affordable, office-friendly models can help you determine which solution is right for your workplace.
Pros: Good resolution, decent sized build envelope, Wi-Fi connectivity, great cost-to-performance ratio.
Cons: Small filament rolls, light-duty plastic enclosure, poor web site.
Overall Grade: B+
The Flashforge Dreamer is a $1,299 fused deposition modeling (FDM) dual-extruder (printhead) device capable of 100-micron (0.004") resolution with a build envelope of approximately 9" x 6" x 5.5". The company describes the unit as a "business-level" model, and it is also marketed toward the upper end of the maker market. The Dreamer has a simple, low-maintenance design, using industry-standard 1.75-mm roll-based filaments routed through dual heated extruders. Given the low cost and decent — if not ample — build envelope, the Dreamer could be a viable entry-level 3D printer for companies that want to provide basic tools for a small group of users without breaking the bank.
The Flashforge Dreamer is a compact desktop unit priced at less than $1,300. Image courtesy of FlashForge.
Upon opening the Dreamer's box, it becomes clear this device won't tolerate a lot of abuse — it's mostly plastic. The removable top, side vent plates, media spools, toolkit, and other pieces are all stored in secure Styrofoam shipping materials and go together easily. The translucent front door and heated baseplate of the unit are affixed to the machine chassis itself, so the assembly process is largely a matter of threading the spooled printer material into the extruder heads and leveling the baseplate, then proceeding to get the device and FlashPrint 2.1 model manipulation software ready.
As our test unit had been opened previously, there was no documentation with the device, so a few trips to the Flashforge site to acquire the user manuals and software were required. This experience was less than ideal as the company's web site did not contain links to the FlashPrint software and was slow. After some searching, I found the software on a separate site. Upon loading FlashPrint 2.1 and its device drivers, I had to update the firmware of the Dreamer printer, which required another trip back to the Web. Everything ultimately worked, but the experience was somewhat frustrating. (Editor's note: The company states that now all documentation, software, and firmware is available in the Support Center of its web site.)
Getting to Work
After installing the software, and leveling the baseplate (a procedure that is clearly illustrated in the user's guide), it was time for the fun to begin. With two different filaments loaded (at $34 per 1.5 pound roll), you can create multicolor parts or use two materials (one for the object, another for removable support structures) to create a variety of parts using either high or low temperature settings as appropriate for the materials used.
For my test, I used some detailed mechanical parts that were modeled with Autodesk Inventor and exported to STL files. I opened FlashPrint 2.1 and imported each STL file, centered and scaled the part to fit within the printable volume of the Dreamer, and set the slicing resolution for printing.
Preparing a print job in the FlashPrint software.
At this point it is time to output the file for actual printing, and here's where the Dreamer has tremendous flexibility. You can use a USB 2.0 cable or an SD media card to transfer geometry to the Dreamer's internal memory. (You can also use Wi-Fi, although it is a much slower method.) The range of connection options should make the Dreamer an easily sharable device in small workgroup environments, which is a big plus in an economy machine.
Once the file is loaded into the Dreamer, the FlashPrint-enabled computer no longer needs to be part of the printing equation, as the front panel controls may be used to start, stop, pause, change filaments, etc. After you wait for the print job to finish, all you have to do is pry the finished print off the baseplate with the supplied putty knife–style tool. The whole process was very straightforward.
Positives: While the Dreamer can yield very smooth print resolutions at its medium 200-micron (0.2-mm) resolution, it looks much better in 100-micron mode. The more precision you use, however, the slower the printing is — as is the case with most any 3D printer. Output from this device is good enough to convey all but the most perfect finishes with minimal faceting, and is clearly more than adequate for rough conceptual models.
Negatives: The very small print filament rolls (which fit inside the Dreamer's chassis) are somewhat difficult to insert and remove — especially if you have big hands — and will need to be changed often, given their low capacity. Since the Dreamer uses standard filaments, much larger rolls can be purchased and mounted outside the machine to get around this limitation.
The Dreamer’s filament rolls are small and challenging to access. Image courtesy of Flashforge.
The other issue I can see is that the FlashPrint software doesn't provide useful features for combining multiple STL files together, as a complex mechanical assembly would require, but given the ease-of-use of the software, I'm probably being too picky.
The Flashforge Dreamer printer delivers great value in an easy-to-load and non-finicky FDM performance with superior part resolution at a low $1,299 price point. If you have the patience to navigate the installation process and can live with the FlashPrint software's limitations, the Dreamer is a logical choice to get your feet wet with 3D printing.