While 3D printing has been around in the corporate and academic worlds for years, the average consumer barely has a home computer, much less a 3D printer. These companies don’t release many sales numbers, and media reports and statistics are thin for the industry. Analysts estimate there are between 100,000-300,000 3D printers on the consumer market, and that number is further segmented by craft hobbyists, DIYers, and hungry entrepreneurs.
I’ve yet to come across a home 3D printer that’s capable of creating anything that can be professionally sold without the help of an Exacto knife and some Bondo, and a DIY 3D printer is typically your best bet for a sub $2000 3D printer. XYZ’s Da Vinci Mini, however, has pretty much the same feature set and capabilities as the $1300 Dremel I tested last year, but it’s much smaller and more affordable at under $300. Still, that low price tag isn’t without limitations that hold it back from being capable of printing consumer-grade goods, although it could be used to build a Vertex, Tevo, or Prusa kit.
Under the Hood
The Da Vinci Mini is capable of printing 0.1 mm (100 microns) resolution, although the default Standard mode is 200 microns. This makes it equivalent to most of the best home 3D printers, but will leave noticeable lines in fine detailed sculptures and shapes.
Da Vinci Mini’s printing capacity is 15cm, or 5.9 inches in every direction. It can only run using XYZ’s proprietary 1.75mm PLA filament spools, as there’s a QR code used by the XYZware printing program to measure filament levels. Using any other reel will make the program think the ink is empty unless you counterfeit the XYZ QR codes (you can’t reuse the ones you already have, as they’ll continue to show empty, much like ink cartridges for 2D printers).
This 3D printer can connect via USB 2.0 or WiFi, and can accept .stl, .3W, and .3mf file formats. It runs on Windows 7 and above or Mac OSX 10.8 and above, so long as you have at least 4GB RAM on an X86 machine.
Printing in 3D With Da Vinci
The economic problem with the Da Vinci Mini is 600g Da Vinci Mini PLA filament replacements are $28 on XYZ’s site or $26 on Amazon, whereas there are plenty of 1.75mm PLA filaments on the market for ~$25 per 1kg. This means for 6kg of filament, you’ll need 10 XYZ filaments ($260-$280) vs 6 generics (~$150).
The price difference continues to grow exponentially with continuous usage, meaning it’s not economically viable to use it for anything other than a prototyping machine for small objects, toys, etc.
We printed a planter on it that could barely accommodate the smallest of cacti and other than perhaps the occasional tool grip or utensil, there’s not much of value you can design on it.
I did create a few pieces from an adorable minion chess set, however, and found it did detail quite well, and as I’m a bit new to 3D printing, I wanted to save on filament and didn’t print supports, so a few layers would print in mid air until they reached a connection with the main body. It wasn’t a major problem, and more due to flaws in the actual design and user error.
Overall the quality of the prints were actually quite good. With some sealant and paint, it looks like I have a bronze bust of Einstein, which I created with a 50% fill that gave him a bit of weight. He may not be real metal, but it’d certainly hurt if you picked him up and hit someone with him.
My neighbor is a freelance artist, so I gave it to her to play with as well, and she agreed that it was mostly just a hobbyist toy and while the printing program worked well, it was too basic to do any real design work. You’d have to prepare everything on AutoCAD in advance, and it lacked Dremel’s ability to fully control the inside structural components of your designs.
Instead, you’re able to select a fill percentage from 0 (a hollowed-out design) to 100 (completely solid). It would’ve been nice to control the thickness of the skin and even create a slot to turn him into a piggy bank, but, alas, Einstein remains Einstein.
And this highlights one of the biggest problems with 3D printing reaching mainstream acceptance. Although it’s nice that XYZ allows you to print wirelessly from any device connected to your network, it’s not easy for someone off the streets to create a custom 3D design that can be printed on it.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the industry, because we had Print Shop back in the day to help us design birthday banners and such. Word processors mostly took care of the rest, and my professional typist mom made sure I understood how to navigate those. It wasn’t until over a decade later that Photoshop and photo-realistic printers with the ability to print photo-quality prints at home made all but large-format printing accessible to the average person.
While the 3D printing industry is old news to today’s workforce and still hasn’t fully caught on in the consumer market, the Da Vinci Mini stands out as the one pre-made, consumer-friendly way to learn about it.
I’m disappointed, however, in the lack of filament varieties it can do. I have wood, silk, nylon, metal, and other filaments that would work on Dremel’s IdeaBuilder, but not on the Da Vinci Mini. These specialty filaments often cost up to $50 per 500g, depending on the materials, which cuts into the potential cost savings of the Dremel.
If you’re looking for a 3D printer that’ll last a decade of continuous usage, you’re honestly not going to find one, as even my overpriced Dremel failed out the box due to an issue with the heat sensor. You’d have to keep it running a decade before the filament cost savings added up, and the extra 3 inches of height and build size don’t justify the expense.
In the race for a consumer-friendly, entry-level 3D printer, XYZ got there first with a simple to use, sleek printer with a small desktop footprint. It’ll print some amazing crafts and you can easy make prototypes to recreate using silicon molds and any material you’d like.
It’s a bit slow, however, and the finishing time needed to sand and fill things to a professional smoothness adds to the difficulty level. For a 3D printer that requires third party design software and some minor artistic tools to polish what comes out, there’s nothing better.
Professionals will definitely want something that can print 50 microns and accepts generic filaments.
Final Grade: A-