The Anet A8 3D printer is an absurdly low-cost solution to the problem of getting 3D printers into the hands of the general public. We’ve talked a lot about 3D printing and how well it lines up with the drone enthusiast hobby we are all in – but it is hard to justify purchasing one for $1000 or more. Coming in at under $200, though, the Anet A8 starts to make a lot of sense as a “must have” tool for your workspace.
I started writing this article as a 2-in-1 build guide and review but ultimately decided to separate the two as the build guide is pretty extensive – especially for those who have never built a 3D printer before. This article a the review of the Anet A8. In it, I’ll talk about my general impressions with the build, the quality of the components and the general value proposition of this printer. The build guide is also now up – access it by clicking here.
Anet A8 Kit
The Anet A8 ships as a large set of bare parts. The most assembled components you will get are the stepper motors and the main computer board which controls everything. The parts all came inside of a surprisingly small (but heavy!) box.
I received my Anet A8 from Gearbest. The printer came with free shipping. That’s a pretty staggering deal at $165 considering the package itself weighs almost 40lbs. What’s even better for our American readers is that the printer ships from the Gearbest US warehouse. It arrived at my doorstep in California less than 3 days after it was ordered. Awesome!
The kit comes with pretty much every tool you should need to assemble it. I did find a few minor defects in the provided parts which required some drilling and reaming to properly finish, but I assume that most miniquad builders will have access to an electric drill and some drill bits. It also ships with a small amount of plastic filament which you can use to do your first print. I would suggest purchasing some extra filament, however. For first time printers, I would recommend 1.75mm PLA filament of any color.
I was pleased to find that when I had completed the Anet A8 build, I had plenty of spare hardware. This means that Anet is purposefully shipping the printer with extra screws and nuts. I really like this approach – it means you don’t have to worry about missing screws or nuts, even if you accidentally strip or damage a few while building the printer.
Anet A8 Build Review
For your average person, I would consider the build process of this kit as “complicated”. However, I have no doubt that a person who can build a quadcopter from scratch can also build this 3D printer with no problems.
This was the first 3D printer I have ever built from parts and I was able to complete it from opening the shipping box to making my first 3D print in a total time of about 8 hours. I’m sure someone more experienced could assemble it in half the time or less. The build video I followed, for example, is only one hour long.
My next article with be an extensive guide on getting your Anet A8 built and printing, stay tuned for that.
So How Does it Print?
Into the meat of the review – how does the Anet A8 actually work? My basis of comparison is the other 3D printer I have worked with extensively – the Lulzbot Mini. Compared to the Lulzbot, the stock Anet A8 prints with a bit less accuracy and takes about 30-40% more time. The Lulzbot has an automatic bed level calibration at the start of every print and connects directly to you computer for uploading prints. It is definitely a much nicer printer – but it’d be hard to argue that these features are worth the $1000.
Since building the Anet A8, I’ve run it for at least 50 hours of printing time. During this time, the only major problem I have experienced is the controller computer heating up to the point of smelling like burning electronics during 48-hour long print. I’ve heard that this is a common problem with this printer and has to do with an insufficient power rating for the parts used to supply electricity to the hotbed and extruder. There are several ways of addressing the problem. The first is to simply get some airflow over the mainboard to provide some cooling to that area. I accomplished this by simply putting a desk fan next to the main board and having it running while the printer is going. The second solution is to upgrade the electronics that supply power to the heated elements. Parts for this upgrade cost $10 and I highly recommend this as a long term fix. I will outline the process more in my forthcoming build guide. Special thanks to Kenny Murphy and other members of the Rotor Riot group for the feedback!
The other major gripe I have with the A8 is the extruder mechanism. It is a real pain in the ass to work with. Removing the filament to change colors, for example, will often require removal of a few screws to loosen the fan assembly so the plastic can be released. Inserting new filament is equally as painful. I’m also not a huge fan of the overall design of the extruder and think it is a fairly lazy approach which probably results in some significant build imprecision. For example, my printer will often not flow filament for the first 3-5 seconds of a print, which I attribute to the crappy extruder design. However, this is easily worked around by enabling a pre-print border in Cura.
The best description I can come up with for the Anet A8 is that “it works”. This doesn’t sound like high praise, but it really is. It is capable of printing almost anything the Lulzbot Mini can, and most importantly for us racing drone enthusiasts, certainly the blocky parts you will generally want for your miniquad. This is truly a case of getting 95% of the functionality for 20% of the price.
What’s even more awesome is that upgrading the Anet A8 to be more competitive with more expensive printers only requires cheap (and sometimes free) parts. A $15 glass bed will drastically improve the print accuracy of the bottom of your model. An $80 extruder upgrade will allow you to print all sorts of new materials besides ABS and PLA. You can use your new printer to print parts like fan ducts and frame supports, which will improve print accuracy further.
For that reason, I like to think of this printer as less of a “low end” printer, and more of a “beginner” printer you can buy to get started, then upgrade as your printing desires evolve.
Parts, Upgrade, and Community
The Anet A8 is largely based on the open-source Prusa i3 3D printer. This printer is one of the most popular 3D printers in the world, especially when you account for the dozen or so “forks” like the Anet A8. This means you can take advantage of massive community that has developed behind the Prusa i3 when it comes to finding parts, upgrades, or simply asking about build and configuration questions.
When it comes to getting support specific to the Anet A8, there is a very active Facebook group which is incredibly responsive and helpful. I asked a question on this group at one point during the build process during the middle of a Wednesday and had a detailed response within 30 minutes. I’m not a huge fan of using Facebook for this sort of stuff because the search indexing is awful, but this group is standout nonetheless.
The low-end 3D printer market is a growing segment as stepper motors and controllers slowly come down in price. Traditionally these low-end printers lack third-party support, build volume, or features that are very important for a functioning printer. As explained in this review, there is no such compromise with the Anet A8. In preparation for this review, I did some research into some of the other inexpensive printers on the market. There are many other Prusa i3 clone kits on the market that are nearly identical to the Anet A8 so I will omit these. I’ll provide a table listing what I feel are the relevant features for these printers below:
|Printer||Price||Plastic Support||Print Volume||Z-accuracy (micron)||Heated Bed||Enclosure|
|Anet A8||$164 Shipped||PLA/ABS/PET/Nylon||220x220x240||4||Yes||No|
|Turnigy Mini Fabrikator v2||$210+Shipping||PLA/ABS/PET||100x100x100||2.5||Yes||Yes|
|MonoPrice Select Mini||$210 Shipped||PLA/ABS/PET||120x120x120||100||Yes||No|
When looking at these figures, it’s worth keeping in mind that the primary driver in 3D printer cost is print volume. The Anet A8 comes in at the lowest price and has almost twice the print volume of every competitor I could find.
I wasn’t expecting much for the $160 spent on the Anet A8. At that price point, I was thinking I would be able to print some basic quadcopter parts and expected to have some problems with the quality of the printer. I was surprised to find that the Anet A8 was not just a stunted printer – it is a fully featured one. While our $1200 Lulzbot Mini is definitely still the superior printer, the Anet A8 does a great job at a fraction of the price.
We maintain that if you’re serious about staying in the model aircraft hobby you should purchase a 3D printer. The Anet A8 reaffirms this belief by bringing a printer to the price point of a pair of FPV goggles or a nice solder iron. If you have CAD experience, the value proposition of a 3D printer heightens substantially. For example, within a week of finishing the Anet A8 build, I designed and printed a tool I used to remove the fuel filter from my truck. Had I purchased this tool from FCA, it would have cost more than $100. This sort of occurrence is not all that rare and demonstrates the fact that a 3D printer at $160 can pay for itself quite quickly.