Wanhao Duplicator i3 (V2.1) Review

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The Wanhao Duplicator i3, as the model name suggests, is based on the Prusa i3 design. It’s one of the best budget 3D printers on the market, offering excellent long-term value while retailing for less than $400. But out of the box, the Duplicator i3 is best used as a secondary 3D printer – it needs a significant amount of modifications before it can be a lead singer.

USAWanhao is the official US distributor of the Duplicator i3 and other Wanhao products, although the company is not an arm of the Chinese manufacturer itself. Despite the obvious similarity in name, the reseller should not be confused with WanhaoUSA, which had its ties with Wanhao severed last year after a heap of complaints from customers about its shoddy business practices.

The official support for the Duplicator i3 isn’t the most reliable. But the unofficial support, on the other hand, is outstanding. The Duplicator i3 has a large online community, with active user groups on Facebook and Reddit. There are also numerous instructional videos on the internet, ranging from bed calibration tutorials to software optimization guides.

The Design

The Duplicator i3 is an open-framed machine housed in a durable metal frame. The open-framed setup makes it easy to upgrade this 3D printer. The older versions had stability issues and came with low-quality parts, especially the bearings. But this isn’t the case now for the current version – the V2.1 is more stable and better equipped to handle extended printing sessions.

The Duplicator i3 comes with an MK10 single extruder and a heated print bed. The latter means it’s possible to print with high-temperature materials. However, the MK10 extruder isn’t exactly the best at handling high temperatures, so upgrades are necessary in order to print with more advanced materials.

This printer is accompanied by a control box. The interface, a standard knob-operated LCD, is located on the control box, as well as the USB and SD slots. A spool holder also sits at the top of the control box. Connecting the main unit and the control box is a thick set of cables. While not all over the place like with other open-framed 3D printers, the other cables connecting the moving parts could have been managed better.

At 8 x 8 x 7 inches, the build volume of the Duplicator i3 is generous for a 3D printer that sometimes retails for less than $300 during big sales. But it’s not all that surprising, though, considering most Prusa-based 3D printers in the same price range have similar numbers. The generous build volume of the Duplicator i3 means you are not limited to small, non-functional items, that most mini desktop 3D printers are limited to.

There’s nothing fancy about the Duplicator i3’s overall design. It’s a straightforward open-framed setup similarly adopted by other Prusa-based 3D printers – although the all-black finish gives the Duplicator i3 a more professional look, making it easier to identify in a market full of copycats.

The Features

The Duplicator i3 is not the kind of 3D printer that boasts a wealth of innovative features that can make your jaw drop to the floor. While other manufacturers try to stuff their 3D printers with half-baked features in order to give them an edge over the competition, Wanhao kept it simple.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary here. There are none of those smart sensors featured on the Original Prusa i3 MK3. It’s totally up to you to upgrade the Duplicator i3 and add features that can make 3D printing easier and more convenient.

The heated print bed comes with a BuildTak surface. It’s not the best at holding down prints, so you will have to turn to the usual adhesion tricks such as applying glue or hairspray in order to get optimum adhesion. The Duplicator i3 doesn’t have automatic bed leveling technology, which means the bed leveling process can be tricky for beginners. The good news is there are lots of guides on the internet that tell you exactly what you need to do to make the bed calibration as smooth and as hassle-free as possible.

On the software side, the Duplicator i3 is not limited to a specific slicer at the onset. There are some companies that tell you to use their custom slicers, which are often too limited and are not suitable for anything other than the first few prints. With the Duplicator i3, you’re free to use any slicer on the market, and that includes the most popular ones such as Cura, Slic3r, Simplify3D, and Repetier. Just use whichever slicer you are comfortable with.

Companies love to put a scare on customers by declaring their 3D printers are “optimized” for first-party filaments, which, more often than not, tend to be more expensive than other filaments on the market. This discourages some customers from using third-party filaments, even though their 3D printer is not really locked into proprietary filaments.

That’s not the case with Wanhao. The Duplicator i3 has an open filament system. It has no problem with filaments from other sellers, producing good results all the same as long as the print settings are properly configured. The open filament system also means you can go for affordable filaments, allowing you to save up and buy even more filaments. But we’d advice against going for those extremely cheap filaments – there’s a reason they’re extremely cheap (mainly terrible quality).

The Setup

The Duplicator i3 comes in a well-secured packaged. But since resellers are not exactly known for their quality control, it’s best to double-check every nook and cranny for loose crews and other parts that seem suspiciously out of place. In case you’re unlucky enough to receive a unit with broken or cracked parts, the best option would be to return the item and ask for another one.

Since the Duplicator i3 is mostly assembled out of the box, there’s no lengthy assembly process involved during the initial setup. Just pop the frames together and that’s it. There’s no need to solder anything. Everything you need to assemble the Duplicator i3 is included in the package.

The entire setup takes about one hour, including the bed calibration and software installation and also taking into account the filament loading process, which, like the bed calibration, can be tricky for beginners. If you’re a tinkerer or have extensive experience with 3D printers, the initial setup will only take 30 minutes or less.

Perhaps the biggest reason for that fast turnaround time is the detailed instruction manual. Chinese manufacturers are often associated with poorly written instruction manuals, which can turn an otherwise easy task even for newbies into a complicated one. But not Wanhao; the company put in the effort and created an easy-to-follow instruction manual for the Duplicator i3, and that’s really saying something. Yes, the texts are not written in perfect English, but at least Wanhao cared enough to even include a documentation when other manufacturers don’t even bother with that sort of stuff. Seriously, some 3D printers don’t even come with instruction manuals.

Most budget 3D printers require a significant amount of tinkering during the initial setup. The Duplicator i3 is not in the same boat. That’s why it stands out and is one of the few budget 3D printers that users can happily recommend to friends who are completely new to 3D printing. Sure, the filament loading and bed leveling can be tricky, but after repeated tries, both processes turn into a cakewalk.

If we had to rate the Duplicator i3 based on its initial setup alone, we’d give it a solid four stars out of five, with the deducted one star accounting for the aforementioned initial difficulties, at least for beginners, with the filament loading and bed leveling.

The Performance

Just like with other 3D printers, there’s a mix of both good and bad when it comes to the Duplicator i3’s performance. Before you get discouraged at some of the negative things you’ll read in this section, it’s best to remember that this is a budget 3D printer that retails for less than $400. So don’t judge the Duplicator i3 the same way you would judge the Original Prusa i3 MK3, or the LulzBot TAZ 6, or the Ultimaker 3.

Let’s start with print-bed-related points. The print bed heats up relatively fast, with the heat spreading evenly on the print bed surface. This is already a big plus for us since there are lots of budget Prusa-based 3D printers with heating issues. Some might as well remove “heated print bed” from their product features list. The fast-heating print bed means the wait before you start every print is barely noticeable.

On the flip side, the Duplicator i3, out of the box, is not capable of producing successful results with materials that actually need a heated print bed in the first place, and that includes ABS. As mentioned, the default extruder is not ideal for high-temperature printing. In other words, you’re limited to PLA until you can make some upgrades. For beginners, this limitation isn’t glaring because they normally stay away from more advanced materials until they can consistently produce good results with PLA.

At its default setup, the Duplicator i3 can produce good results. The print quality is impressive, with smooth edges and well-defined details. It’s relatively slow, which is not surprising for a budget 3D printer, but it gets the job done. The power supply fan is really noisy, though.

In order to get the Duplicator i3 to produce great results with outstanding print quality, a significant amount of modifications is necessary. For starters, you can replace the default extruder with an E3D V6 hotend and build (or buy) a full enclosure. Doing so will allow you to dive into high-temperature printing, with the latter helping the Duplicator i3 maintain the temperature, as well as protect it against dust.

If you have the time and money, it’s really easy to upgrade the Duplicator i3. As mentioned, it’s backed by a large community. The folks at the Facebook user group will be more than happy to point you in the right direction and tell you all about the best mods to turn your 3D printer into a machine that can compete with premium 3D printers that go more than triple the price. It’s easy to find parts for the Duplicator i3, too.

The Duplicator i3 turns into a badass once configured with the right mods in the right places, capable of producing extremely detailed 3D models with amazing consistency. It can print non-stop for weeks and barely needs maintenance after every print job. If you want to see what the Duplicator i3 can do at optimum settings, check out some of the user-submitted print samples at the Facebook or Reddit page.

The Verdict

Tech Specs
Resolution: 100 microns
Volume: 8 x 8 x 7 in
Filament: 1.75 mm
Types: ABS, PLA, PETG, HIPS, and others
Weight: 22 lb
Connect: USB, SD card
The Pros
Budget 3D printer
Easy to set up
Large community
Heated print bed
Good build volume
Sturdy metal frame
Open filament system
Compatible with different slicers
Good print quality out of the box
Easy to find replacement parts
The Cons
No enclosure
Unreliable official support
Filament loading and bed leveling can be really tricky
Noisy power supply fan
Slow print speed

The Duplicator i3 is an excellent budget 3D printer. It’s easy to set up and comes with a large build volume and a heated built plate. It performs well out of the box, albeit with some caveats, such as the slow print speed and the fact that it can only print with PLA. In its default form, the Duplicator i3, as mentioned in the intro, is best used as a secondary 3D printer. But once supplemented with upgrades, it can grab the spotlight and outshine even some of the high-end professional 3D printers on the market.

This budget 3D printer is recommended for tinkerers and beginners who have the patience and are willing to commit to upgrades down the line. It’s not the most loaded with tantalizing features or boasts specifications that jump out of the page, but it can produce impressive results in a reliable manner in the right hands.

Rating: 4.5/5

5/53 ratings
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