When filament extrusion technology became accessible (at least in terms of price), we began reviewing products from a consumer point of view (as journalists we are more similar to consumers when it comes to actually using 3D printers rather than write about their business). Even in the early days of affordable 3D printing, FFF systems rapidly became quite accessible in terms of their learning curve. Now, finally, photopolymer 3D printers such as the Paladin 3D, which recently launched successfully on Kickstarter, have also reached a price point that makes them accessible to just about anyone. Thanks to the team at Panda 3D, that developed the machine, we had the chance to test the Paladin 3D Printer. It was not as easy as we had imagined – so we turned to the experts at Shapemode and Fab Lab Milano for support. In the end, the machine proved a bit challenging to get started but certainly fully functional and a great bargain for the price. This is our Paladin 3D Printer review (and test).
Learning by failing
Unpacking and setting up the Paladin 3D printer was incredibly easy. All we had to do was take it out of its cardboard and styrofoam packaging and plug it in. It did come with a broken plug but that was very quick and easy to fix. For a system available for as little as $300 it does look really good. The full metal-body feels very solid as do all its parts. The color LCD screen is sufficiently responsive and the machine’s design is elegant enough to fit well on any desktop.
Getting it started was a bit more challenging. The version we received is the basic Paladin 3D Air version. Panda 3D is going to offer two models: the basic Paladin 3D Air (starting at $300 on KS) and the full Paladin 3D, which is the same with the added benefits of automatic resin refilling capabilities and auto-leveling. Both features would have been nice to have since Panda 3D does not yet have a fully functional support website.
This is also understandable at this stage: we have learned not to trust Kickstarter companies with very pretty looking websites and no real product in sight. We did finally find a PDF guide in the USB drive that was included in the printer. The guide itself could be written more clearly but it does include all the necessary information on manual leveling and print settings.
The next step was getting a file ready for printing. Unfortunately, the software is only for PC at this time so we had to find one (update: Panda 3D confirmed that a Mac version does exist and will send it to us to test as well). Once we did, we installed the software and got it running. It ran very smoothly. Although some icons were not immediately clear, it did not take too long to figure out how to upload a 3D model, generate rafts and supports, slice the STL and export it in the Paladin 3D format.
We filled the vat with the ABS-like resin material that Paladin 3D recommend, loaded the file into the USB and pressed “Print” on the touch screen menu. Unfortunately, the first print failed and our illusion of consumer-friendly DLP 3D printing definitively collapsed when we realized how messy and complicated it can be to add and remove – and generally handle – toxic resin materials. It should be noted that the high-end Paladin 3D version has automatic resin refilling and that both systems have a powerful air purifying vent. But we decided that to do our test properly we should turn to someone with a little more experience.
Leaving it to the experts
So we went to visit our friends at Shapemode, a leading Milan-based 3D printing service, and reseller. They work with top high-end brands such as DWS but they also run several educational projects. One is the Fab Lab Milano, which is a space where several 3D printing technologies are available to use. Another is the Numen Institute, a leading private school offering several high-level courses on both 3D printing and 3D modeling.
Shapemode’s co-founder, Salvatore Saldano, was enthusiastic about working with us on testing the machine. Since they are based only about a kilometer from my house, I went there on my new Segway Ninebot S2. The idea of going to a Fab Lab to test a 3D printer on my Ninebot made me feel very much like the future is here.
Salvatore pointed out some of the issues. One was that the print plate had to be locked in place after leveling, something I had totally missed. Another issue we encountered in the following print was that we did not use the correct setting for the initial exposure.
This would be something similar to the first layers in filament extrusion technology but it is a bit more complicated as there are more variables involved. The main issue with resin 3D printing is that every time you need to start over, you need to remove the resin from the vat. This can be a very messy process that should be done in a lab, with rubber gloves on.
On our third try, we finally got to our first completed print (that’s not bad at all for a $300 3D printer, especially considering that the first two fails were mainly due to our own errors). We printed one of the files supplied by Panda 3D: a mini Darth Vader figure. Unfortunately, it came out deformed, roughly 30% shorter on the Z axis than it was supposed to be. We contacted the Panda 3D team who provided an update to the machine’s setting (but we have not yet had time to test it). In the meantime, we retried the print by setting the 3D model 30% taller on the Z axis. This time the print came out perfectly so it really seems that only a minor adjustment is required.
Another issue is that in the version we had we could not select any materials on the machine’s firmware. Panda 3D assured us that the final version of the machine will support all third party materials.
In the end, the Paladin 3D experience was quite positive. The machine is real and – as our mini Darth Vader could witness – “quite operational”. At just over $300, it is a real bargain if you want to get your hands a bit dirty resin 3D printing. And reap the benefits of high-resolution 3D printing.