I’ve owned a first-generation Cube 3D printer
for almost a year (I ordered it in April 2012, but it was not delivered until a few months later). I’ve printed a lot of parts with it and most were successful. So if you are considering this machine, let me summarize the good and bad. BTW the second generation machine is almost identical but for the build plate and material selection, but more on that later. Both first and second generation machines offer only a single nozzle, but the client software does provide for rafts and supports.
First the good:
If you are a novice to 3D printing looking for a 3D printer that is more of an appliance than others, then this is a reasonable choice. Think of this as a 3D printer with a 2D printer business model – most everything is proprietary and you really only have one source of supply – 3D Systems who sells it. You can’t use your own filament (the cartridges are chipped to prevent this like ink cartridges in a 2D printer), the software to run it is proprietary (free and updated now and then, but still fairly “bare bones” at that), the Cube glue for adding adhesion is theirs, etc., etc. In fact, the options are so limited in the driver software (both Windows and Mac versions) it severely limits making engineering strength parts (the second generation Cube will do “solid” fill parts though).
If you are looking for a very controlled experience, then here it is. As for materials, they do offer a range of colors and two materials: ABS and PLA. However, PLA is only usable in the second generation machine, but people have hacked the first gens to work with this. And you are effectively paying $49 for .75 pounds of ABS (or PLA) which amounts to $65 a pound, when good quality ABS filament can be had for $16-18/lb. in the open market. The ecosystem is well integrated into a special Cube web site, so much so that you have to “activate” your printer online before you can use it!
The web site has plenty of supporting materials: latest driver software download, manuals, guides, etc. The supplies and some replacement parts are easily purchased there. Customer support (when I needed it on a few occasions) was fairly fast and responsive.
The machine is quite compact and hidden inside it are some good mechanical components. The axes are linear dovetail sliders with plastic bearing interfaces. The Z and X axes are mounted to a rigid sheet metal frame while the Y axis is on a separate gantry that moves the platform. The aluminum build platform is heated and can be easily removed – it is magnetically attached with locating pins. There is an optical encoder on the extruder pinch wheel, and the processor is a fairly capable PIC32MX440. There is a 2Gb mini SD card buried inside on the controller board, probably buffering space for job files. There are two USB ports, one only for updates the other for a USB thumb drive. WiFi is built in and can be configured in ad-hoc or networked mode. The touch screen interface, while small, is still easy to navigate. The power supply is a “floor brick” like a laptop, but much bigger.
The first thing you will notice is this: the first generation machine is downright noisy! I tried to use it in a demo during a virtual statewide teacher’s conference and even putting it in the back of the room was too much for the participants to bear at the remote facilities – the noise got picked up by the microphone and drowned out the speaker. Now, it isn’t so bad in a room but you will notice it. I’ve heard the official second generation machine is quieter, but I have no idea if it is really “quiet.” Slicing a model in the driver software is pretty fast, but there are no choices of layer height. And you can use .STL files (thankfully!) from anywhere, but they also distribute models in an internal format that can’t be changed or used elsewhere but on the Cube machine. And in my opinion, the closed system with software and supplies is only an advantage if you are looking for an appliance that serves your needs in 3D printing and you want to put in the least “sweat equity” to get models made.
As for the second generation machines, the aluminum build plate was changed to a glass plate, and the heater for the build plate was removed. Support for PLA as well as ABS material was added, and the second generation setting in the client software unlocks some new options for model fills. But from all I can see, the basic machine is the same. The price as of writing this was still $1299, but with other competition on the horizon, I don’t see how this will remain at that level for much longer.