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Unboxing the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen!

Hi Guys! One of our very good friends recently took delivery of one brand spanking new MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation, which he had ordered straight from the show floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. We were fortunate enough to be there as he unboxed his Bot and wanted to share that good fortune with you. Below is a gallery of what we saw, sprinkled in with our observations about the setup process. If there are additional shots you’d like to see, write a comment- we still have access!

MakerBot has taken a page from Apple, Samsung, et. al and stepped up their packaging. The first thing you see when you open the box is the MakerBot logo. Flip open a flap and you receive a personal welcome. Flip open another flap and the accessories are packed securely in place. Each bot comes with cables, a spool of clear PLA (2lbs on a new, proprietary spool), the build platform, documents, and the amazing new v8 extruder.

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Underneath the accessories, the Replicator is lightly packaged, preassembled in a plastic bag with hefty ziptie with protective foam all around and on top. This is meant to be simple to setup and start printing. The only pieces to install are the bed, extruder, and filament.

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The new extruder is a work of art. The attention to detail is pretty amazing. Stuff we noted:

  • The built-in spring-loaded lever which holds the filament securely to the built-in drive mechanism (and note that it’s no longer a NEMA-17 motor!).
  • Spring-loaded contacts on the back side.
  • Built in fan ducting surrounding the nozzle and enclosed fans
  • We presume thermocouple, heater controls, and drive pulses go through these contacts.
  • This design uses four STRONG neodymium magnets (check it holding a full altoids can) to hold the extruder to the gantry carriage.

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The Replicator Gen5 ships with two printed shipping clips that hold the Z-axis carriage in place. You need to pull those out before installing the build platform, which is now glass in a plastic carrier.  The carrier+glass slides into the Z-axis carriage on two rails and locks into place with detentes and are retained by molded-in stops.

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Filament is stored inside a sliding compartment on the back of the printer. It holds exactly one spool at a time, and routes it through a teflon tube into the extruder.  Though it should keep it dust-free, the new spool is new, proprietary addition to the 2014 lineup. On one hand, it makes filament handling simpler and more consistent and it is still 1.75mm diameter. On the other, it does lock out the use of third party filaments unless they make spools of the same size or you don’t mind an external spool.

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One of the most welcome features is a color LCD at the top of the front frame rail. No more crouching down to read backlit text- MakerBot puts this screen to good use with graphical setup tips from bed leveling through print, to downloading models.  Also new are jog dial and button controls. We found them simple and intuitive. The jog wheel has a rubber outer ring, has dozens of detentes for a positive feel,  is backlight, and is itself a “Select” button. The other two buttons to the left are purely for navigating options or going back. Check out the variety of messages given below.

One unfortunate addition to the experience was mandatory firmware upgrade on initial boot. The Replicator shipped with Firmware and we had to install the new MakerBot Desktop Bundle (which replaces MakerWare) to install the firmware upgrade. Upgrading the firmware using the ethernet port was not an option!  Though we did get the upgrade to installed, the process wasn’t without hiccups. MakerBot Desktop took two tries to install- the first pass just uninstalled our copy of MakerWare without warning. The second time the entire bundle installed. Did we mention the firmware took 15 minutes to upgrade?

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We were super-impressed with the new semi-automated leveling feature. Though a little slow, you simply let printer calibrate itself at the center, then let it move to two points, at the front and to the right of the build platform. At each point you will be asked to turn the dial until an LED on the extruder turns on. It takes almost no time and no need to slip paper under the nozzle any more!  We did encounter an “HES” error twice during leveling; this cleared up with a power cycle.

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Printing was straightforward, with two exceptions. First, there is a new setting in MakerBot Desktop that you must check before you can print direct to printer. The only option offered initially was to export to file. Also note the Thingiverse and MakerBot store integration. That extends into the printer UI as well. Camera function was curiously absent from both the software and UI. However, that might be exposed when you link the printer to your Thingiverse account, which we were unable to do (since this was not our printer).

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Printing was a good experience, after we put painter’s tape on glass. We tried to print our friend the Octopus directly on the glass with a raft, but found that the raft became detached rather easily. Interestingly, MakerBot Desktop’s raft pattern is significantly different than MakerWare. Rafts seem to be a bit thicker with more cross-hatching. Heating percentage and time are prominently displayed on the LCD. Prep time feels to be slower than the Replicator 2, but print speed feels faster. We’re working on adding some videos of both.

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Thanks for reading this far! We’ll be updating the blog as we get more pics and video uploaded, but we wanted to get these out there as soon as we could. Please leave us a comment if you’d like to see something specific!

We’d like to give a shout out to our friends at Smart Mocha who make a simple, sensor based monitoring platform for just about any task. This Replicator 5th Gen will be used to develop cases and sensor brackets for their product line. They generously allowed us to document and share the fun of their unboxing. Thanks guys!



(C) 2014 MatterCompilers LLC
All Rights Reserved. Ping us if you’d like to use any of our images.

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Make Your Printer Reliable with BuildTak


TL/DR: BuildTak is a reliable build surface for your printer

Making your 3D print stay in one place is surprisingly hard, particularly for long prints. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a complex print fail because the corners peeled up or the model lifted off entirely. The choice of build surface plays an important part.  For extrusion printers, the options include:

  • Bare (Acrylic, Glass, Metal), either heated or un-heated
  • Tape – Kapton, Painter
  • Liquids – Cubify’s spray glue or hairspray

You almost need a rubric to figure out which surface is best for a given print. Just recently I was made aware of a product called BuildTak, which replaces all of these options. Per the manufacturer:

“We believe offers a superior alternative to using masking tape or heat resistant films (such as kapton) on your FDM 3D printer’s build plate. BuildTak is a proprietary, patent-pending composition that comes in pre-cut, specially textured plastic sheets that adhere to your build platform with its heat-resistant adhesive backing.”

BuildTak is essentially a textured melamine pad with a glue backing that covers the entire build surface of your printer. The texture isn’t sticky or rough, but is noticeable to the touch.  I was a bit skeptical of the “total replacement” claim, so I decided to test it it for a few weeks against the other options. I was primarily looking at this from a mainstream consumer perspective. In short, they want reliability. That breaks down into four categories:

  • Stickiness – Do the models stick to the build surface? Do the corners stay as flat as possible? Do I have misprints or need large rafts?
  • Replacement cycle – How often the surface needs replacement or replenishment?
  • Mess – Does the surface stick to the print and require cleanup? Does it cause a mess inside the printer? Is it a pain to remove?
  • Expense – How much does it cost relative to the number of prints. Is this simply another consumable for the printer?

I tried printing exclusively on each surface for 2 weeks on my MakerBot Replicator 2 with a stock, un-heated Acrylic platform, printing PLA on the “rough” side. This is what I found. In general, lower is better, except for stickiness:

Bare Kapton Painter’s Tape Hairspray BuildTak
Stickiness Low High Medium Exceptional High
– Corner Lift High Medium Medium Low Low
Replacement Low Medium Medium High Low
Mess Low Low High High Low
Expense Included with Printer $30 for 3”x36 yards $12 for 3” x 60 yards $5 for 8oz can $20 $12 for one sheet


Hairspray was the stickiest material of the lot. Bare platform was the most variable; for some small-footprint objects, I experienced great adhesion. For others, I couldn’t make them stick even with a raft.  Models reliably stuck to both Buildtak and Kapton tape, even without rafts. Painter’s tape was somewhere in between Kapton and Bare platform.  Corner lift was an entirely different story. Without helper disks or rafts, corners lifted off of Kapton and Painter’s tape relatively frequently (>50% of the time). With BuildTak, I hardly observed any corner lift.  I also observed that the more I printed the same object in the same spot, the “stickier” that spot became and the better the prints turned out. These surfaces never totally eliminated the need for rafts or helper disks, but I used them far less frequently.

Replacement Cycle

Painter’s tape tore every time I removed the printed piece and needed replacement after almost every print. I replaced sanded Kapton twice due to tearing or wear-out twice, primarily after printing several identical parts in the same spot in succession. Unsanded Kapton held up well, at the expense of stickiness. With both types of tape, I had to be careful to avoid overlaps or gaps and to ensure it was pressed firmly to prevent de-lamination early in the print. I never had to replace BuildTak, but I had to be a LOT more careful removing items to prevent scratching or slicing the surface. Note: I use a thin pocketknife blade to lift extremely stuck prints. A side effect of replacement is that you need to recalibrate/level the print bed. With BuildTak, I recalibrated once per week using MakerBot’s firmware level utility, but I never had to adjust the leveling screws.


Hairspray is the WORST when it comes to mess. Either you need to coat the platform outside the printer and recalibrate or you end up with fine sticky particles inside of it. I found painter’s tape stuck TOO well to small prints and I had to remove small pieces constantly. When that happened, the tape was compromised and I had to reapply it.  Kapton went on cleanly and removed cleanly; the only messy part was sanding it down. BuildTak provided mess-free installation and usage. I did reposition the BuildTak once and there was no glue residue on the platform. Both Kapton and BuildTak attracted dust, which was easily removed with an alcohol wipe.


On the value side, I went through almost a third of a roll of painter’s tape in 2 weeks with a few 2-3 hour prints per day. With similar usage, I consumed perhaps 1/8 of the Kapton tape roll. I went through almost the whole can of hairspray.  Extrapolating to one month, that’s around $8 in painter’s tape and around $5 in hairspray and Kapton.  It would take 3-4 months  of usage to justify one piece of BuildTak, purely from a cost perspective. That said, convenience is a big part of value, for me. BuildTak costs about the same as 6 weeks worth of tape; considering the other benefits, it’s totally worth it.

Edit:  Readers have kindly pointed out that pricing for a sheet that will fit a Replicator 2’s build surface costs $12, not $20 as I originally indicated. I’ve updated the table and this paragraph accordingly. Also note I’ve not figured shipping into any of these estimates!


Overall BuildTak makes my 3D printer feel like it “just works.”  It’s not perfect, but the complaints are minor (see below). I plan to use it long term on my Replicator 2 and also on a printer with a heated build platform. Stay tuned!

My Recommendation: BuildTak makes your printer reliable. Buy it.


  • Set and forget. No need to install, reinstall or remove once it’s there.
  • No residue to clean off of the print.
  • Reduced the number of rafts I use dramatically. This won’t replace rafts and helper disks entirely, but will really reduce the need.
  • Simple to install and calibrate.


  • Need to be careful about gouging BuildTak when removing prints.
  • Seems to need “seasoning” before it really becomes sticky.
  • We’d prefer a single solid color w/o logo. It’s hard to see corner lift without getting in close.
  • Attracts dust.


BuildTak pad fresh out of the package
BuildTak pad fresh out of the package


Stock MakerBot Replicator 2 Build surface.
Stock MakerBot Replicator 2 Build surface.


Prior to Installing BuildTak, prepare the build plate by removing all dust and material. Swab it down with alcohol to get rid of oils.
Prior to Installing BuildTak, prepare the build plate by removing all dust and material. Swab it down with alcohol to get rid of oils.


BuildTak cut to fit the MakerBot Replicator 2 build plate.
BuildTak cut to fit the MakerBot Replicator 2 build plate.


Remove backing, align, and apply. Squeeze out bubbles by pressing down using a plastic wedge (credit card used here).
Remove backing, align, and apply. Squeeze out bubbles by pressing down using a plastic wedge (credit card used here).


BuildTak-dressed build platform reinstalled in MakerBot Replicator 2.
BuildTak-dressed build platform reinstalled in MakerBot Replicator 2.


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Find a local 3D printer with

3D Pinpoint logo showing a map with the location of one 3D printer.

Earlier this year we found, a brand new service for listing and finding local 3D printers in your community, on Reddit. We had a chance to catch up with the creator about this site and where he thinks the industry is going. Here’s what we found!

Practical3DP:     Please tell us about yourself.
Daniel Brooks:  My name is Daniel Brooks, and I am from Houston, Texas. I’ve been in various manufacturing, sales and computer related careers for the last 6 years – the most recent being in IT administration for a mid-size software development company. 

P3DP:     What is How did you come to find this problem?
DB:  3D Pinpoint is a website that brings together designers and customers together, which results in both parties getting their desired results. People who own 3D printers can make a profit from listing their 3D printing services, and customers can find someone nearby to print their items. Shipping, of course, is also an option. This reduces overall turnaround time, and prices. Our most successful printers list their services on social networks to draw in the attention from their “Local” customers.


P3DP:    How are you different from the other sites out there?
We have 2 competitors – MakeXYZ and 3D Hubs. The biggest differentiator is that we offer a filter by “Industrial” quality, which allows for businesses which extremely expensive high-end printers to list their services as well, and distinguish themselves from a high quality printer such as a Makerbot Replicator 2. MakeXYZ makes you find a printer first, and then upload your print. We’ve chosen to have you upload your print first, and then get a calculated price from each of the listed results. 

The biggest difference between 3D Pinpoint and 3DHubs is that anyone on 3D Pinpoint can join without any restrictions, and we are also US based(although we do have quite a few printers in Canada, Mexico, Italy, China, and many other countries) For instance, 3DHubs requires 10 printers in your city to register before you “unlock” your city. We believe that anyone, anywhere should be able to list your 3D printer services. If you are the only printer in your entire city – that’s great! That person can hopefully receive all sorts of print jobs and continue to build up their reputation.

To my knowledge, we have at least 5 $100K plus printers listed.


P3DP:    What is the biggest barrier in sharing your 3D printer?
DB:  The biggest barrier would be consistency and printability. Most customers just want their things printed in 3D, at the lowest price. They don’t realize the print may not be “printable”. We’ve included links to fix prints on, which solves 99% of any file upload issues. As far as consistency goes, its hard telling which printer will produce the best result at the best price. Which is why we’ve included the ability to upload images, and also rate your 3D printer to find the best combination of the two.

P3DP:     How do I know if a printer can produce my design?
DB:  When it comes down to it, its 100% up to the printer owner if they deem the print design to be “printable”. They know their own printer better than anyone, and therefore they have the final say. However, as I mentioned, can repair the STL ensuring it CAN be printed if the right printer is found. We have a custom invoice option available also, for those who may want bulk prints or custom designs.


P3DP:     How does your work make 3D printing more practical or usable?
DB:  It opens up an entire world to people who don’t own a 3D printer, can’t afford one, don’t have the time to learn CAD software, or for people who prefer to have a professional they can interact with directly. It supports local businesses, encourages repeat customers, and both Printers and Customers win in this business model.

P3DP: What is needed to make 3D printing easily usable by everyone?
DB:  Both hardware and software will need to continue advancing to ensure its usable by everyone. Once printers are sort of “plug-and-play”, and software just “works” and aligns the print bed automatically, more people will be interested in purchasing one. Even though 3D printing has been around for many years, it only recently has become more readily available in households.

P3DP:     What are you looking forward to being able to print someday?
DB:  I’m really interested to see how far medical advancements will go. So far I’ve seen 3D printed arms and legs, nose, jaws, and much more.

P3DP:  What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen printed?
DB:  The coolest thing I’ve seen printed is by a company called Whiteclouds. They’ve created an entire series of Steampunk dinosaurs which are truly amazing. They’ve also used 3D printing to enlarge microscopic organisms and bring them to life. Whiteclouds have also created a scale model of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. On Facebook:

P3DP: What materials would you like to print with one day that you cannot today? What would you build with it?
DB:  Concrete and wood. I’ve seen plastics and metals in action, but not concrete or wood. It may be unrealistic, but it would be really cool to see outdoor statues or Gargoyles printed out a 3D printer. 

P3DP:  What is some of the interesting research that you are following in the 3DP space?
DB:  I’m following it all. The newest I’ve seen is 3D printed noses. I really like all of the household decorations, such as light fixtures that can be made using 3D printed than cannot be made any other way. Here is an example. is a printer sharing service that makes it easy to find a local printer and price your print. You can find more information about on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.