Best way to send G-code to your 3D Printer.
Note: This analysis is based on my experiences with Repetier Host and the Wanhao Duplicator i3 V2. Other programs and printers may work differently. But, there are no large differences across budget printers in this analysis.
TL;DR of course an Ultimaker will act differently that the printer I use.
Two months ago I had a very common problem amongst the Wanhao Duplicator i3 user community. Namely, the printer would not reach the target temperature, and the printing would not commence, even if several minutes passed. To correct this, I had to perform a PID-Autotune check through the program called Repetier-Host.
After connecting the printer with my PC through an extended USB cable, and following a greatly structured and analytical setup video, I fixed my printer’s problem in a matter of minutes.
I had no idea, however, that one could print from the PC using this very program. Being accustomed to using the SD-card, some while passed until I tried printing with Repetier. So, I have been printing for 4 months using an SD-card and 2 months using Repetier Host.
I believe I have gathered enough experience to reach a sound conclusion in the problem of which medium to use to start a print. Is it better to print using the SD-card or the Repetier-Host?
I am also aware that some printers, like the Cube Pro by 3D Systems, use a USB stick instead of an SD-card. Some problems and analysis does not apply, but the final verdict remains.
+Less power needed
Printing by an SD-card requires that only the printer be powered during the entire print. Having a computer also on consumes extra power and produces extra noise. So, whether you are environmentally or money conscious, this should be taken in consideration.
If the printer crashes, the print will stop no matter what. If the PC crashes, and the print is being fed through the PC, then the print will stop. If it is not connected, no such problem can occur. Auto-updates that may mess with the software also add to this point.
There is nothing one can do if a print is to take more than 16 hours. S/He could of course slice the model further but that is both difficult and visually displeasing. Keeping the printer on overnight by itself is much more economical and safe than connecting it to a PC and leaving that also on overnight.
-Hard to customize settings mid-print
It takes many steps to even change the temperature of the nozzle. And the noise accompanying every turn of the dial, however a useful indicator, is irritating after a long time.
-Easily gets lost
Self explanatory, really. It is a very small card and can easily be lost or misplaced between the printer and the PC.
-Has known issues
On the Wanhao Duplicator i3, at least, the SD-card is known to malfunction and either fails to start a print, or even worse, stop mid-print. Changing to a store-bought, trusted brand card solves this problem.
-Hard to kill print
It is important that one can kill a print very fast, in the probable case that something goes wrong. There are two choices when using an SD-card: either navigate to the stop print option which is irritating and slow, or kill the power through the switch. Plus by switching the power off you lose much time and head that you will have to compensate for by reheating the bed and head.
Unlike using an SD-card, using Repetier-Host allows you to change the Flow rate, Fan Speed, Bed Temperature and Nozzle Temperature, at the slide and click of the mouse. It is that straightforward and easy.
After you press the Start Print button, you can see the G-Code being executed and rendered in the actual screen. It is a really cool feature all round and every one can find a use of their own for it.
+Better print progress
Whereas all that was available concerning print progress indicators was a percentage, which was usually a bit off. Now there is an ETA and a progress bar. Though to be fair, the ETA time displayed is also a bit off by up to 20%.
+Quickly Kill print
There are two options to kill a print from the computer. There is a Kill Print option that simply does not send the next G-Code line, and an emergency button that semi-crashes the printer and reboots it. One is of course immediate, but the other is also quite fast.
It is the most useful feature of Repetier-Host. It fixes various temperature problems that have and will cause various problems during printing. It dampens the temperature fluctuations and the aforementioned problem of not reaching the proper temperature.
Repetier-Host also provides other insights, such as a temperature graphs. One can uncover and use them as s/he wishes.
+Immediate, No Steps In Between
No more disconnecting the SD-card, mounting it on the PC, disconnecting it, moving over to the printer, mounting the SD, navigating the menu until you find the file you want and press start. With Repetier-Host, all you have to do is drag and drop the .gcode file in the window and press Start Print, and that’s that.
I personally have had no problem connecting, but some people have reported some issues while trying to setup the connection. There is a very useful video tutorial guiding you through the process and guaranteeing no error is made.
-Power Shortages Kill the Print
Previously I showed how only using the printer saves energy. Small power shortages will be a thing because more power is drawn from more devices. Especially in a day when energy is much needed, a really hot or cold day, for example, expect some shutdowns and power failures.
-Open Source Only
I gave an example of how some printers use USB’s instead of SD-cards. Similarly, some high-end printers operate through their own slicers and protocols. Repetier-Host operates in printers that function with open-source programs and are not limited by the production company.
When thinking about which printing technique to use, be mindful of the duration of the print and whether electricity costs are more important than control over the printing process.
Personally me, I have switched to mainly using the Repetier-Host over the SD-card, except for special occasions, like a long print.
Important note: There is a major and important issue when printing from the SD card while having the printer connected to the PC through the USB cable. The print may stop at a random time, leaving the user to either have to discard the failed print or slice the model from the point it stopped (A very hard print to actually achieve without flaws). So when printing through the SD and you alternate between the SD and Repetier Host, be sure to remove the USB-cable from the printer.
Also, of course Repetier Host is a very capable and in-debth program. I have just barely scratched the surface of its capabilities. This program has many more possibilities and capabilities to explore and utilise.