Ultimaker 3 Review – What makes it so special?

Ultimaker 3 Review
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By now you probably now that the Ultimaker 3 is a Dual extruder Open source 3D Printer that claims to bring soluble supports to the desktop printing market. Will it do that and much more?

I did end up making a movie about the new Ultimaker 3, as you see above, where you will see much more moving pictures, but please read the full story, it has more photos, prints, examples and written a long time after the first intense testing period that lead to the video.

First off, for us YouTubers, the release of the new Ultimaker 3 was quite interesting. There were some really good marketing by the company which hyped the machine and the whole community was excited! Apparently there seem to have been NDA’s and a bunch restrictions for the few selected by Ultimaker to review the units for the community which seemed to hinder most content published before a certain date. I’m sure that’s a good way to control what goes out before the printers actually ship, but lead to frustration when there was resellers and companies pushing titles like “review” when it was just reading the marketing material from Ultimaker.

My name is Anton Månsson of the YouTube channel 3D Print Tech Design and I’m a guest writer at 3DPrinterChat. I was lucky to be able loan Creative Tools Sweden‘s 3D printer Ultimaker 3 and spend evening and weekends with this new machine (UM3) and really try it out before most others had a chance to use it!

—- THE REVIEW —-

As of any review, the story begins at the box.  Packaging is very neat and although the Styrofoam was pretty hard, it protects the Printer well. Around the Styrofoam is just a regular cardboard box. I our case, there were no plastic to cover up the machine, but again, it was an early shipment. One really neat thing Ultimaker did was to add a belt that tensions the packaging together. It looks really neat and give a great experience on unboxing (and getting it back into a box if you need to ship it somewhere)

Ultimaker 3

Note the included Silver Ultimaker NFC-enabled PLA and neatural Ultimaker NFC-enabled PVA material

Digging a bit deeper we reach the accessories box, located just under that top Styrofoam part. In it you find the following goodies:

  • Glass build Plate
  • 1x AA Print head (this is for “normal” material)
  • 1x BB Print head (this one is designed for PVA)
  • Power brick/supply
  • USB thumb drive (not using SD-card)
  • Grease for rods
  • Unilube for lubrication
  • Network cable
  • Spoolholder including NFC-reader
  • Screwdriver
  • Glue stick
  • Calibration documentation
  • Calibration card

On to the more interesting part of the review; The actual printer!

The Ultimaker 3 Is very similar to the previous models when it comes to looks. It’s an efficient design, keeping the core parts inside the tower-like design while maxi-maxing the use of the volume, making the printer feel very “thin” when looking at it. The LED’s covering the inside of the machine creates a spectacular illumination of both the build volume and shines through the frame. It’s not surprise people like the design of the Ultimakers. They really are a beautiful 3D Printer to look at and to take photos of.

Ultimaker 3

Image credit goes to Ultimaker. Pretty nice marketing image!

Now when the printer is out of the box and looking nice. We have to do a few things before we start printing. How about we list the new features? We need to know what’s to expect and test.

According to marketing, Ultimaker  promises complete design freedom with reliable dual extrusion with water soluble support material. Ultimaker also promised high up time and fast changeovers with swapable print cores combined with an cohesive 3D Printing ecosystem and connectivity.

  • Dual Extrusion – This is arguable the biggest thing on the Ultimaker 3. It’s been craved for years by the community. Two materials or colors in the same print!
  • Swappable hot ends/build cores – The above mentioned Dual extrusion uses separate hot ends, small and clever enough to be removed and swapped without any tools.
  • Efficient cooling – Runs quiet and cools the print and build cores better.
  • NFC material Detection – Enables communication between the printer, the spool and cura.
  • Build In WiFi and LAN-port with USB-port – Connectivity for the internet age
  • Remote camera-monitoring with app and Cura – Lets you monitor your print via the built-in camera and app.

Setting up the Ultimaker 3

This step is really nice and easy.The only thing that is new is that you need to plug the spool holder in. Yes, an actual contact that runs under a cover on the backside of the machine, into the underside of the printer. You should do this step before plugging the machine in. The cable is so that the UM3 can communicate with the NFC-readers in the spool holder. Pretty cool!

Ultimaker 3

Ultimaker 3

Plugging the NFC-reading spool holder into the motherboard

After that, all I had to do was to plug in the power-cable and turn on the Ultimaker 3! Nice glowing lights. POOF they are gone. It sounded like something shorted?! Actually it’s just some procedure at the boot-up. Don’t be alarmed, it kinds shuts down itself before starting again. To be honest the boot time could be a bit quicker, but again. One doesn’t have to turn it of so often, right?

Ultimaker 3

To level or not to level…

First things first. Let’s level the buildplate! Wait, this should be easy? It’s an automated leveling system? I simply clicked “level build plate” and the machine started to use a proximity sensor and move the print head around on a few places. I counted 3 points at this stage. The result was super, its exactly what a user wants. Just questions from the machine, no actual work being needed. All I had to do next was to tell the Ultimaker 3 how often I want it to level itself. If you are into the tech of things, you can read this blogpost from the company on how the leveling actually works. All I know is that I’m very happy with the result and the process.

Actually, I never used glue on the first few prints, I probably just took some PrintaFix or something laying around…

Next up, FILAMENTS!

The Ultimaker 3 has two bowden extrudes, located at each side on the back. These are upgraded from the Ultimaker 2+ and uses a dual-gear system to provide exceptional grip on the 2.85mm filament. Yes, it’s still 2.85mm filament as a standard. No surprises here!

When Loading filament, All you need to do is to select which build core to load/unload (1 is left, 2 is right), then, when using Ultimakers NFC-spools, the spool holder will detect and select material. Note that you can select presets if you don’t have NFC-materials, and of course make custom presets if you wish. In som cases you need to spin the spool around since the NFC-chip sits at one spot. I really didn’t have any issues here. Loading/extruding was super easy!

Ultimaker 3

3 steps to success. Load, Detect and feed it.

Alright, Printer is ready. Time for Software! I Downloaded the Special Cura relase for this 3D printer, Cura is the open-source slicer for 3D Printers, so we can actually print something right now.

Cura 2.3 was the released version with Ultimaker 3 and the one I had time to choose, I’m sure there are improvements to come in the future releases (version 2.4 sounds promising and fixes a lot of the things I reacted on).

The whole User Interface of Cura 2.3 is great. Before I dive into that I want to note that connecting the printer via wifi which was simple enough and within a minute or so I had it communicating  via Wifi in cura. Then we’re all set to explore how the machine communicates and what you see and how to use it of course.

On your right side there is a “quick-settings” menu, that works SUPER nice. It displays what machine you are connected to (if you’re a baller with many machines, that might be handy) and the loaded materials/print cores. The Ultimaker 3 detects what build core and NFC-spool you have loaded/configured in the machine and displays it here in Cura. I think that alone is great! Larger user groups (student groups, work-groups, offices) won’t have to run to the machine and check whats loaded and configured. Just GO, as my buddy Joel say. Teachers for example to tend to have to run between classrooms might use the printer off site and have students use them as well. Having the opportunity to verify what settings and what’s loaded can save you a lot of time and pain.

So to sum it up, the NFC-functions and print head communication not only makes it easier to share the printer, it also acts as a warning system. If you try to print with a profile for, let’s say ABS on the PLA-loaded material, it will warn you. You can ignore this message if course (if you want to experiment) but the safety is there. It does really protect from clumsy colleagues or inexperienced students. Maybe you’re thinking; “But It’s just me and I’m awesome at printing?” I’ll get into the whole targeted users later.. don’t worry!

After just going through everything looks good, you can then choose quality from a set profiles (4 options standard) and if you wish to use adhesion (brim) and support material (and choose what extruder). So yes, obviously it helps you select the PVA loaded in a BB-build core when you have that loaded, and the system warns you if you don’t.

So this Quick settings is what most users SHOULD use. Use the standard profiles and Ultimaker materials and “everything will be fine”. They do work, and work really really well. Testing confirms they are reliable and works with a variation of advanced and easy models. When I start using third party materials I also need to deviate from the standard profiles, which isn’t a problem at all, it’s just that your machine now goes from a super 3D printer to a super platform.

Drawbacks? Well yeah. First of all the recommended Prime Pillar’s preset is WAY to slow. Its 100% solid and takes forever to print (I hear this is being solved in 2.4). I also think the whole “reliable, slow and safe” presets gets a bit to slow after a few prints if you are an experienced 3D-print operator and don’t lend your machine to friends and colleagues. As the picture shows below, a 3Dbenchy printed at 0.1mm layers with “normal” quality, upside down using PVA support takes around 15 hours…

Ultimaker 3

Left; The quick-settings menu. Super simple – Right; The custom settings

So, what if you are then using third party materials or want to experiment and optimize? Well Cura go you covered. You still have access to all the juicy settings that any Cura version have. So yes, it’s fully functional. That’s pretty freaking nice! So for my case where I want to speed this #3Dbenchy up a bit, I can! The settings are not always shown, so next to every settings is an option button where you can choose to show ever more hidden gems among the settings.

Ultimaker 3

The left picture shows the 3D printing of and upside down #3Dbenchy, on the right its cut loose, almost ready to release into the wild.

I did one of those 15hrs 3Dbenchy prints and it works superb as you can see. The print is almost indistinguishable from a normal printed 3Dbenchy. The PVA settings in Cura are designed to print well supported and tight around the model, It uses a setting called “Support interface” to create a solid interface next to the actual model you are printing. Much like a bottom/top layer. This layer is by default (v.2.3) set to 0,3mm which is 3 layers. That means you get a good amount of comfort when the PVA should connect to the model, but also means it’s a bit slower.

For my 3DBenchy optimization I reduced the lower Support material resolution (since it will use this interface) to around 15% instead of 30% and played around with settings like support bottom thickness, Support Interface Resolution, Prime Tower size and this led to an print that took just under 9 hours (rounded to 9). Almost cut in half! See the result yourself. (The Left on each pair is the 9 hour version)

Ultimaker 3

If you look at the front of the boat it becomes quite clear that the railing is more wobbly on the efficient one. So this is absolutely something that can affect your model in the long run. Specially if you are doing advanced mega surfaces inside eachother.

PVA is cool, really cool actually. Removing it also very easy. Just drop in as much cold tap water as possible and it will become like syrup and then more or less dissolve completely. I find it best to rinse the water a few times and/or whirl around everything a bit so that water helps swirl some of that semi-solved material away. For pipes and stuff, rinsing with some water pressure is good!

The GIF above is from my “THEPRINT #048” episode you can see here.

So to summarize mid-review. 

The Ultimaker 3 really does handle PVA reliable. I printed a spool of PVA with the review and never had any serious issues. The worst that happened was a missed layer, but it looked more like a slicing issue than hardware. The issue was mid-print and didn’t affect any of the above layers (and therefore not where the PVA supported the print). To maintain a reliable and effortless solution I’d recommend using the built in settings as much as possible, in combination with Ultimakers material.

Ultimaker are clever. They make it open-source, but prepare it so well that you feel compelled to use the built-in solutions and Ultimaker materials to make sure a step above your general 3D-printing platform. Its the perfect “sneaky” (but not really) way of getting the customers to stay on your platform with your products. There’s nothing negative about it, just really impressive. BUT, the price and features also targets a customer group that might be less interested in tinkering and hacking their machines. So by keeping it’s core principles, moving forward into a direction that is further from the pro-sumers they make a very smart move into the professional sector and higher levels of educational customers. Smart play!

Ultimaker and Dual Extrusion.

The cool thing about Ultimakers Dual extruder is that it moves the right extruder up or down depending on what tool head you are using! This means the risk of having a tool head hitting your model is almost 0%. It works by a mechanical leaver on the right side of the printer (looking from the front). The machine runs the toolheads to that point, grabs a hook-thingy and by pushing the tool head forward, there is a “twisting” motion that moves the right extruder down or up, depending on if it’s going to be used. So, by having the left head at fixed height, it can lower (and compensate the buildplate) to make sure only one nozzle is at the hight of building. Really smart! It also works.  Combining this function with another script that cools down the extruder that isn’t working, you get a very clean dual extrusion. If you use Prime pillar (prime tower),which you should otherwise you get “poop” all over the place, you also get a priming of each nozzle before each print, making sure it’s ready to print (and lets the off-extruder cool down). This opens up for some super nice color mixing features, but adds quite a bit of time. I’ve heard rumors if this being improved in Cura 2.4 as well.

Ultimaker 3

This image kind of shows the nozzles offset in height. Right extruder is the one that can move lower and higher than the left one

OK, so we know it can use PLA well with PVA, how about mixing colors and trying out other materials?

Ultimaker are nice enough to give you two AA Build Cores (the ones that regular materials) together with the one BB Build Core (support material one) so you can use dual colors and materials in your prints. How about running red + white, Blue and yellow (yey, sweden) or just making a transparent PETG window in a house? Well, it’s all possible, but again, it works best using the materials provided by Ultimaker. I’ve not been able to try Ultimakers other materials myself, but I’ve seen good results from reliable sources that have printed CPE, CPE+ and the other materials well. I wish to revisit those materials as well, trying out the presets better.

I printed with third party materials of PLA, PLA/PHA, ABS, PETG, XT and had mixed results out of the box. The printer turns into any normal printer (but with a super well constructed platform) that you need to optimize your printing settings for your model. It’s not rocket science or anything new, it’s just that, the UM3 becomes a “regular 3D Printer” where you need to get the best settings for your materials. This means that there isn’t so much I can do for you here. My results are not much to go from since you will have another experience with the materials and your settings and models. I can just confirm the extrusion, settings and system works very well in conjunction with Cura. You really do get a great platform for printing.

With the PLA I was using from ECO (and some brand provided by BCN3D Sigma review) it was super easy getting it to work. I used the standard profiles and just increased temperature 5 degrees (as usually needed with ECO) and had a blast printing dual-color prints. As I mentioned above, there are some good features to really get nice Dual-extrusion prints like a boss (and not have color smearing all over the place). Just look at these PLA combos!

Ultimaker 3

When printing with the other materials I found that it works more or less like any other Ultimaker. Very well, reliable, easy to use and a slight under-extrusion on some models infill. easily fixed by adding 5% more extrusion in Cura!

The heated bed goes up to around 100C which is enough to adhere most materials. Although the ABS prints are more sensitive, it does keep hot air in it pretty OK, but as with any other ABS-printer it’s not only the ambient temperature that matters, it’s also your design. I would not recommend printing large ABS-parts. I don’t get good results and the ABS-filament usually cracks and warps outside of my control. With an even more enclosed printer, It does work better, but only to have higher temperatures that might wear extra on the printer (Ultimaker rates it for 32C ambient operating temperature, which is probable hard to stay below if you close any side of it. In most cases, for 3D-printing Co-polys (like XT, CPE and similar) are a good replacement for ABS when you need bigger parts. PETG is also very common and a material I love to use.

Running costs and service.

The Ultimaker 3 worked nice during my few hundred hours of print time and didn’t need any service. None of the rods were drying up or anything. Normal things like applying glue/cleaning the build plate is of course a thing. But there was no clogs, no dirty nozzles, no noisy mechanical parts or nothing. So for the average user, working with Ultimakers materials mostly, you will have less risk of failed prints and miss-matches of settings which in turn will keep your printer happy for longer.

For a customer who is more reliant on it’s printer, I’d recommend maybe getting a extra set of AA and BB build Cores since they can be switched easily if you happen to get any clogs or such. While the construction offers easy access to the hot end (since you can remove it) it’s very easy to do any type of service and maintenance on the hotends. I haven’t found anywhere where Ultimaker counts them as consumables like other, similar solutions (from other companies) do, but they are not covered by any warranty, which would indicate that one would have to buy a new one if they brake (for example connectors, heaters and thermometers).

The Ultimaker NFC-materials are really acceptable in price. Specially when you account for a scenario with more different users where the functionality and “safety net” of matching settings to material will lead to less downtime. It’s also interesting to compare the price/reliability/performance to other companies that runs a “calibrated” loop of materials, slicer and machine.

One of the thins I realized is that you need to store your PVA in a dry environment when not using it. PVA absorbs moisture, just like Nylon and some ABS-plastics and should be kept dry to ensure reliability. I’ve said it many times before, but I recommend a fruit dryer since they are cheap, safe to use and easy to get hold of. make sure it can regulate temperature and isn’t timer-operated. Like this one (you have to cut away the mesh to fit a spool). It can also be used for other materials that have been sitting out for too long and needs drying.

The conclusion?

So, what did I learn from using the Ultimaker and what do I think?

Well. There’s no doubt it’s good. The benefits really sits in the flow of the machine. It still behaves like a Ultimaker 2+ that is a great machine in itself, and that is very popular, but the Ultimaker 3 has taken things further, improving where possible, but not doing unnecessarily much. They had a good product with the UM2, the refined at UM2+ and with the UM3 we saw a step up from pro-sumer to professional desktop use. It’s not only marketing words. I really see this machine suitable for many industries and companies that used to have issues getting a match from either higher end machines for the “big players” with their higher prices and functionality, or from the lower end desktop market’s machines which often only offers a good platform, but not a echo system that they need. I see a segment of companies who doesn’t have engineers and designers with e a lot of time on their hand that now can get into desktop 3D-printing inhouse. The PVA supports is finally at a desktop level and will solve many issues for these customer groups. Don’t get me wrong, the increased time and 2x material costs are sometimes too high to only run one machine, but that’s the beauty of the customers that I see being fit for the UM3. They start of with one, but can quickly cut costs elsewhere and add more.

I do however believe the pro-sumers that like the ease of use with an Ultimaker 2+ and the open-source spirit might think one more time before upgrading. Do you need the new functions, and do you need dual extrusion? Can you spend extra time on cleaning models and support materials? If so, I don’t believe you are the target customer.

Another aspect that is really interesting is that universities and premium-makerspaces now have a great machine that is harder to fail with as long as you set up a few rules. Only use Cura, Only use Ultimaker Materials, and don’t do custom profiles.

I think I wan’t to sum up this review with that. The Ultimaker 3 is a superb platform for 3D-printing and works best when working in the environment and materials it was designed for.

Thank you for reading!

You can read more about my stories @3Dprinterchat here on this link.

Please consider visiting Creative Tools, who lent the Ultimaker 3 to me to show them some love! If you want a UM3, you can get it there (Europeans/Scandinavians)

You can find more about me here:

Or send me a mail at [email protected] 

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