There have been a lot of developments in 3D printers for home use in recent years. Although I did not have high expectations for the print quality of “low cost” 3D printers, I decided to give it a try and purchased a Flashforge Dreamer around one year ago. This printer seemed to be a good option because it is a user friendly machine targeted at beginners, but still has enough features to satisfy the needs of someone exploring the possibilities of 3D printing.
In this review I will discuss my experiences with this printer over the past year in an effort to provide an overview of the pros and cons and thereby help people considering to purchase this 3D printer. Although it was introduced in 2014, it is still a current model and Flashforge has not (yet) announced a direct successor at the time of writing.
The model is also available as a rebranded version by Dremel, the Idea Builder. The Dremel version has to make do without a second extruder and heated bed, but is otherwise machanically the same.
Like most 3D printers, the Flashforge Dreamer is based on the Fused Deposition Modeling process, or FDM for short. It features dual extruders and a heated bed. It can print PLA, ABS, PETG and various other filaments that do not require extrusion temperatures above 230°C. Filament with a diameter of 1.75 mm is used, which is a positive point, since this diameter seems to be the most popular size at the moment. Nearly all types of filament are available in this diameter.
The extruders are of the direct drive type with the extruder stepper motors mounted side by side on the X-carriage. The direct drive system should make it easier to print with flexible filaments, but also adds more weight to the extruder. This limits the maximum accelerations the machine can handle and thereby effectively the speed at which can be printed. Printing at speeds higher than the default settings may induce visible mechanical resonance in printed parts.
Below some of the most important specifications are listed:
- Build Volume: 230 L X 150 W X 140 H mm (9.0 X 5.9 X 5.5 in)
- Layer Resolution: 50-400 microns (0.0020~0.016 in)
- Positioning Precision XY: 11 microns [0.0004 in], Z: 2.5 microns [0.0001 in]
- Filament Diameter:1.75 mm [0.069 in]
- Nozzle Diameter: 0.4 mm [0.015 in]
- Product Dimension: 467 x 381 x 320 mm [18.4 x 15.0 x 12.6 in]
- Product Weight: 14.0 kg [30.9 lbs]
- Electrical: 100-240 V, ~2amps, 50-60 Hz, 350 W
Design and Build Quality
The FF Dreamer is has a clean look. The casing does not appear as intimidating as some of the 3D printers with a more open design or Flashforge’s own Creator Pro for that matter. When the housing is closed most people do not even recognize it as a 3D printer. More than once I have heard the comment that it looks like a micro wave oven.
I actually quite like the design, that has some practical benefits like the removable top cover, which can be taken off when printing PLA or kept on for printing ABS or other plastics requiring a stable heated environment.
Although the complete outer casing is made out of plastic panels, the box shape provides enough rigidity for the mechanical components and does not flex noticeably when the printer is in operation.
There seem to be several versions of this printer. It initially came out with an opaque door. The later versions have a transparent door and some other cosmetic changes on the inside of the printer. My version, although purchased in 2015, still has the opaque door, which can be a (minor) nuisance when printing ABS. It means you have to open the door to see the status of your print.
The printer did not come with a radial cooling fan mounted on the extruder carriage. It is equipped with two large fans mounted behind the print bed, generating a steady air flow across the entire print bed. This is sufficient for cooling most prints, but the print quality is less stellar for steep overhangs or bridges. Print quality when using PLA is improved when using rapid cooling, especially in the aforementioned situations.
I have recently ordered a Flashforge extruder fan from Aliexpress and installed it on the left extruder, at the same position as it is mounted in current production models of the Dreamer. The quality of overhangs and bridges is improved tremendously when using the side fan. The details of the installation and comparisons of before and after prints are covered in this post.
Spool holders are fitted inside the printer on either side of the build platform. This is a nice solution to keep your desk clutter free. However, the holders only fit smaller 600 gram spools. This is quite impractical since most filaments manufacturers use spools which are either too large in diameter (most 750 gram spools) or too wide (1kg spools). Due to this limitation I have only used the internal spool holders for a couple of parts when I first started using the printer. Luckily, it is very easy to use an external spool holder for incompatible spools. Thingiverse is littered with examples, ready to be printed.
The linear motion system for the X, Y and Z axes consists of dual 8mm steel rods and LM8SUU bearings for ” and X and Y axes. The Z axis uses the 45mm long LM8LUU type. The X and Y axes are driven by pulleys and GT2 timing belts.
This system works reliably and fast, but the bearings do benefit from a bit of lubrication from time to time to limit noise and extend the life of the bearings. I use Super Lube, which contains PTFE particles which provides low friction. It must be said that at higher feed rates above 80 mm/sec, the bearings still are more noisy than I would like. It is possible to replace the LM8SUU bearings with bronze or polymer bushings to reduce noise (and possible increase accuracy), but if the printer is not in your living room I would say the noise level is quite acceptable.
When the printer was delivered, the X-axis was out of alignment by a couple of millimeters across the length of the axis. This may have been due to improper alignment at the factory or rough handling during transport. Regardless of the cause, the problem was easily fixed by loosening one of the pulleys with an allen wrench, aligning the axis and re-tightening the pulley. It is actually good practice to verify if all pulleys are tightened properly before first use and better still, on a regular basis.
The Z axis uses a lead screw, which is adequate for the job. During prints the Z-axis only has to move at small increments between layers. Therefore speed of the Z axis is not an issue for printing parts. Only during the homing cycle, when the Z axis travels across the entire range, is appears to be a bit on the slow side. Since this is only done once, just before starting a print, the speed of the homing cycle has a negligible effect on the overall print time of a part.
The Dreamer uses a calibration procedure which guides the user through a the steps required to level the build plate. The nozzle is moved to 3 positions just above the build platform. At each position the user is prompted to place a piece of printing paper under the nozzle and move it back and fort while turning the nearest knob under the platform so that the paper can just be moved with a little friction. Afterwards the nozzle stays at the same Z height and travels to the center of the platform. This allows the user to (re)check height settings at various points on the build plate. Once you get the hang of it, the procedure is simple and can be executed in under 2 minutes.
The alignment of the build platform does not change a lot over time, so it is not required before each print. I personally perform the procedure only once in roughly every 10 prints, or when there are bed adhesion issues. I was surprised how stable the build platform is, given that sometimes quite a bit of force is needed to remove parts at the end of the print cycle.
It can be useful to use a feeler gauge for adjusting the distance between the nozzle and the bed. This allows you to experiment with several heights to find the distance that works best for the used print surface and first layer settings.
The printer came supplied with a blue-transparent roll of PLA and a roll of white ABS. Both materials printed very well directly from the start. With the ABS I printed several parts that required increased thermal stability. The parts had a very nice finish. Also, when printing with the heated bed at 100°C and at limited speeds, there are no issues with warping or layer bonding. Therefore I would say that the printer is very suitable for printing with ABS. Due to the smell and unhealthy fumes emitted when printing with ABS I stopped printing with this material almost entirely. When printing in a well ventilated workshop however, this may not be an issue.
The supplied PLA material also yielded parts with a good surface finish and also allowed for higher feed rates up to 80 mm/sec. Higher feed rates may be possible with PLA, depending on the material supplier. But as mentioned earlier I typically stick to 80mm/sec or lower. At 60mm/sec the printer runs a bit smoother and there are less issues with mechanical vibrations, which are already kept quite well under control on this printer.
Over the past year I have used various types of PLA, such as PLA/PHA from Colorfab, Easyfil PLA from Formfutura and cheaper regular PLA types from local suppliers. All types of PLA tested consistently lead to the same very good printing results.
As an alternative to ABS I have experimented with PETG filament. It proved to be a very good alternative with high thermal stability, printing temperatures within the range of the printer and odorless extrusion. Up to now I have only used it for decorative pieces like vases, but PETG can also be used for functional parts.
The extruders have proven to be very durable. I typically use the left extruder when printing with a single material. Therefore this extruder has been used for more than 90 percent of the print jobs. After more than 200 print jobs containing anything from small to medium sized parts, the extruder still performs well.
The only issues I have had with this extruder was due to burnt or otherwise clogged PTFE tubes. A tube is used inside the nozzle to help guide the filament and act as a heat brake between the hot and cold side of the extruder. If the PTFE material get too hot due to a temperature setting that was chosen too high or due to an overshoot (not sure what caused my issue), the material disintegrates and turns black. In this process the tube diameter is no longer large or smooth enough, which results in the filament getting stuck inside the tube.
The PTFE tube can be removed from the extruder assembly by unscrewing the brass nozzle using a spanner to hold the heating block in place and another spanner to unscrew the nozzle. In the confined area of the printer this may be hard to achieve. If that is the case, the entire nozzle assembly can be removed from the X-carriage by unscrewing 2 bolts. This allows for much better access to the underside of the extruder.
A couple of PTFE tubes are supplied as spare parts with the printer, but it is easy to obtain PTFE tube on a roll with an inner diameter of 2 and an outer diameter of 4 mm. This can simply be cut to size and does the job just as well.
I have also had to replace a tube due to cheap filament contaminated with large embedded particles, which also made the filament get stuck inside the tube.
My Flashforge Dreamer was fitted with a rev A motherboard and driver board. During a firmware update, the printer locked up completely. It became unresponsive and it was not possible to undo the upgrade by either USB or the built in micro SD. My local supplier would not assist in the issue, even though it was reported within the legal warranty period, indicating it was at he users own risk to upgrade firmware.
When I contacted Flashforge directly about the firmware issue, they were very helpful and sent me a new coreboard (rev H) and driver board (rev F) completely free of charge. These included upgrade instructions since the new boards required some minor changes to wiring. Also support on follow up questions during installation was responsive and helpful. The printer was up and running again in no time. I can only say my experience with the Flashforge support team was very positive.
SD Card, USB or WiFi?
The Dreamer has no less than 3 methods of getting your G-code from the Flashprint software to the printer. My preferred option is by using an SD card to transfer the files. When inserted into the printer files can either be printed directly from the SD card or first copied to an internal micro SD card. Copying files to the internal card is not very fast, but since most files are no more than a couple of megabytes, transfer times are acceptable. Since there is typically no added value for me in doing this, I mostly print directly from the SD card and leave it in the machine during the printing process.
The files can also be transferred using a USB cable. Additionally, connection via USB allows the user to control certain features of the printer, like preheating extruders, moving axes and setting a new zero position for the heated bed.
The same features are available when using a WiFi connection. After an initial setup, the printer can be reached by connecting the PC to the Dreamer’s WiFi network and then connecting to the printer using the Flashprint software.
Both the USB and WiFi option make more sense to me when a PC is permanently located near the printer, but again, using the SD card is just based on personal preference. All three methods work well and I have had no issues with either USB or WiFi when I Did use it.
Flashforge uses the proprietary Flashprint software for most of it’s printers. The program is easy to use and yet offers enough features for most situations. It features both automatic and user customizable support structures. Parts can be moved, rotated, scaled and cut into 2 parts at a specific z-height. If parts are outside the printable area the program provides a visual warning. In previous versions there was an option to choose between Skeinforge and Slic3r for generating the G-code. In later versions this option was removed. The program now only uses the Slic3r engine. Flashprint receives updates very frequently (almost every month). Every time new features are added, stability is increased and speed is improved. The speed of the slicing engine is very good in the latest versions. Most models are sliced in a matter of seconds, whereas they used to take up to a minute or even longer.
The print menu has enough settings for most users. A profile can be selected for ABS, PLA or dissolvable material. There are options adding a raft of wall for dual extrusion prints. Vase mode is also available. This generates a print with a continuous move around the outer contour of the part.
There are 3 or 4 presets for layer height based on the selected material:
- Low – 300 micron
- Standard – 200 micron
- High – 150 micron
- Hyper – 80 micron (PLA only)
The selection is however not limited to these layer heights. A custom layer height can also be entered, with a minimum of 50 microns and a maximum of 400 microns.
Other settings include the number of shells, first layer height, infill type and percentage, speeds, nozzle/bed temperatures and fan mode.
A recent addition, which can come in handy when you want to apply a (metal) insert mid-print is the pause function. This allows the user to enter a specific height at which the printer will pause, allowing time for placing the insert. A pause function was already available from the printer’s menu, but the new addition to the Flashprint software makes pausing at the correct height much easier.
When the slicing process is finished the prgram shows a preview of the generated layers. This is very useful to verify if the slicing process performed according to expectations.
After watching the preview, the print can be directly transferred using USB or WiFi, or saved to disk for when using an SD card.
The Flashforge Dreamer printer is a very capable 3D printer, delivering good print results while being user friendly. The dual extrusion capability and heated bed make it flexible enough to print parts using a large variety of materials, if needed with dual color or dissolvable support. A good choice for first time enthusiasts, requiring a bit more functionality than what the cheaper PLA-only machines can offer.
Good overall print quality
Clean design with enclosed build chamber for temperature control
User friendly interface and software
SD-card reader, USB and WiFi
Room for improvement:
Build platform; non-removable and no auto leveling
Internal spool holders not very useful
Noise level (acceptable, but not for use in living room)