I am going to start this review by saying the Wanhao Duplicator i3 is my favourite printer out of my entire (always growing) collection.
It edges out printers more than double the price, more well known, and in fact even edges out the Official Prusa i3 Mk2 in my affections, which is a pretty much universally loved 3d printer.
Why do I like this Chinese machine so much?
Read on to find out!
Wanhao Duplicator Basics
First, for those of you unfamiliar with this bad-boy, let’s run through some basic details and background.
- RepRap/Prusa i3 cartesian design and firmware – As you can see in the picture above, the design is super familiar to anyone who has been around 3d printers over the last few years. It’s essentially a Prusa i3 design but with an all-metal frame. This means you can use your favourite slicer software, paid or open source.
- “Kit” – It comes in a couple of pieces that you bolt together.
- Build area – 200x200mm heated bed, comes with a Build Tak style surface.
- Manual levelling – Has thumb screws to level the bed.
- Display – Graphical scroll wheel type monochrome display. It can print tethered or from SD card.
- Direct drive Mk10 extruder – Handles all the usual filaments.
- Price – $300-$500 USD *
Why the * by price? Well one of the things you should know about this printer is there are a lot of people who own one who don’t realize …
About those Wanhao White Label / Rebadges
While most people talk about the Wanhao Duplicator, the manufacturer actually supplies many other companies who sell under their own brands. So the Monoprice, Cocoon, etc are the same printer (or with minor variations), just with different suppliers, prices, and warranties. Then there are the resellers of the original Wanhao who have varying reputations. For example don’t be fooled into thinking WanhaoUSA is the same company as Wanhao in China – they are reseller.
Why Love the Wanhao Duplicator?
OK so we have established it is pretty much a Prusa i3 clone and runs under $500 USD. Those details alone are often sufficient for people to purchase. If you are buying a set of machines for a maker space, the budget and familiarity/maintainability is enough to tip you over (my local maker space has Wanhao Duplicator and Ordbot machines for that reason).
The printer is so popular there is a huge community of helpful folks behind it, particularly the Wanhao/Monoprice/Cocoon i3 Facebook Group. You can get replacement or upgraded parts, and you don’t need fancy tools or expertise to keep it ticking over very nicely from out of the box.
That out of the box experience is one of the best, by the way. It comes with instructions and tools, and there are online videos, but really it is a couple of screws, a bit of levelling and away you go.
Now, most people, myself included, don’t stick with the out of box configuration, but that is one of the main charms about the machine – it’s a platform that is good out of the box but excels if you are willing to put some effort in.
Price, Effort and Benefit Equations
This is where we get to the meat of the discussion.
People tend to fall somewhere between a couple of broad buckets:
- Time rich, money poor
- Money rich, time poor
Yes, over generalizing of course, but for the sake of discussion please stick with me, ok? 🙂
Now, you might argue you are neither time or money rich, and to be honest that is probably most of us reading this, but you will either have spare time or have enough money to save time. You will either be investing more up front so you do less building/hands on, or investing time up front to save money.
I feel the Wanhao is at the sweet spot. It comes almost flat packed, saving on shipping, but you can be up and running very fast with great results.
- OK, so unlike the Official Prusa Mk2 it doesn’t have fancy bed level compensation, or brand-name parts, but because of that you save a lot of money.
- Prusa has better support and reputation, but you can purchase from Monoprice who have decent customer service and returns policy.
- The community has done a great deal of work to make it as plug and play as possible, with slicer profiles for all the most popular software.
- With a few cheap and easy upgrades it goes from good to extremely good.
That last point is the big one, I would say.
I am not kidding when I tell you over a period of months my Wanaho Duplicator i3 upgrades made my printer go from decent to Ultimaker quality. Out of all my printers, the Wanhao prints the best, and that includes my Prusa Mk2 and the $1,000 3D Systems Cube3. Heck, it prints better than the $10,000 resin printer we had at our maker space.
Upgrading for Success
Upgrades for the Wanhao are cheap, easy, and plentiful, with lots of community support for every single one. For anyone feeling intimidated by that, let me give you some examples:
- Glass bed and enhanced thumb wheels – Better adhesion and bed levelling
- Micro Swiss all metal upgrade – Allows you to print anything, from abrasive filament to high temperature filament
- 3d printed filament cooling – Many, many cooling fan nozzle designs on Thingiverse are available to print that take your cooling/bridging/overhangs to the next level.
I built an IKEA enclosure and now it prints ABS like a dream. It’s seriously my go-to printer.
With just those few changes the Wanhao Duplicator becomes a joy to own 🙂
People often ask about the best $300 printer or best budget printer, but really most of us want a balance of budget and capabilities, they are happy to do a little work but want to do more printing than fixing. I believe this is still the printer that hits that spot perfectly.
Got a different suggestion or recommendation in mind? Of course you can feel free to disagree – we welcome it! So let us know in the comments 🙂