While I highly recommend going through each part of the guide, I decided to put together a quick start guide for your convenience. Links contained may be affiliate links.
Printers & Upgrades
Coming in between $300 and $500, the Ender 5 Pro is a no-frills machine. However, with the cubic frame structure, it lends to better long-term reliability than its “Bed Flinger” counterparts. Since one landed in my office a few years ago it has become my standard workhorse printer. (I now have 5 on the CTRLPew Print Farm)
With the cubic design, the print bed only moves vertically leading to less stress applied to the bed assembly while printing. This means the bed stays level longer, no rollers are degrading as they do on the Ender 3, and no rotational torque at the bed’s end of travel throwing your print accuracy off.
(Note: Do not buy the base model Ender 5 or the Ender 5 Plus. The base model is very loud and the plus is an entirely different machine.)
The Ender 3 Pro retails for around $200 and has been a standard of most 3D printing communities for a long time. It’s the minimum we recommend for our community, or if you’re just not sure if you will enjoy 3D printing.
The V2 and NEO are modernized updates to the base Ender 3. They are nice quality-of-life improvements but for someone getting started in printing it may not be worth the extra cost. I recommend buying the base machine to see if you enjoy this and then upgrading to an Ender 5 if you stick with it for a year or more.
A recent addition to my print farm the Bambu Lab X1 is as close to a plug-and-play printer as I have seen. However, it’s $1500.
That price tag gives you the closest consumer-level out-of-the-box printing experience on top of automatic filament switching, a networkable printing experience, and automation of the first few steps a beginner printer will struggle with like bed leveling and machine calibration.
My opinion – If you have been printing for over a year and you have a constant backlog of prints waiting to start, This might be a good option. But then, it may be worthwhile getting three more Ender 5s for the same price…
(Pew’s Note: This printer has its own proprietary slicer that you will have to use to enable all its features)
PLA + / PRO
Suitable for most prints this material is easy to work with and durable enough for structural printing. It has been the standard material for firearm printing for the last few years, and its durability has been well-tested. It’s also relatively cheap at about$22-$24 per spool. There are other more durable materials but they also come with a higher cost and tougher requirements on both your skill as a printer and the equipment you use. For a beginner, it’s not recommended.
Polymaker PolyMax has demonstrated an exceptionally high level of performance for this material and excellent finish quality and quality control. This is my material of choice for finishing a print to show off. These are commonly half-sized spools for $24 but for me, the finish quality alone is enough to justify the extra cost.
Polymaker’s PLA Professional(+) is a nice utility filament for every day and prototype printing. It was difficult to choose between this and the 3rd place Oveture filament. The deciding factor is Polymaker’s involvement and willingness to interact with the 3d printing firearm community.
Cura – The standard
One of the first open-source slicers, Cura has been a staple of the printing hobby forever. It does most things well and the team of developers behind it at Ultimaker are consistently improving things. Its free too!
Prusa Slicer – Promising Newcomer
Another open-source favorite slicer of the community is Prusa Slicer. This software is a little more refined and has some treats inside for the advanced gun printer.
A quick and dirty of the default settings for your slicer software. This is a broad suggestion for default settings. Use the settings from the readme file in the download or from your own printer tuning experience. Lacking either of those default to these here.
- Layer Height – 0.2mm. Your printer likely comes with a 0.4mm nozzle and the maximum layer height we would recommend is half of that.
- Walls – Minimum 8. Walls add rigidity to your frame along all the major contact surfaces that experience load when firing.
- Infiill – 100%. Some “Engineers” will tell you that 89% is just as good. It isn’t. Squish matters. Fill it up.
- Top/Bottom Layers – Minimum 8. Same reason as walls.
- Generate support – yes
- Support – Everywhere. Its hard to squirt plastic floating in the air.
- Support Overhang – 45 degrees.
- Build Plate Adhesion Type – Personal preference – Brim. Does really well sticking parts down with some extra material around the base of the parts.
- Small gunsmithing hammer – Best for driving in pins or using punches to knock support material out of pesky screw holes in your models.
- Feeler Gauges – A great and much more precise tool for leveling your bed.
- Food dehydrator – Plastic Filament absorbs moisture from the air. If you have a spool that prints badly it might be due to moisture. A dehydrator is an optimal tool for fixing this.
- Calipers – Measuring is important. Check the parts you make and use the data to calibrate your printer.
- Needle files – Useful for cleaning up inside tight spaces
- Metric Drill Bits – Most of guncad is done in metric units. You will encounter metric holes.
- Imperial Drill Bits – Holes need drillin.
- Allen keys – Because hex head screws are better.
- Roll pin starter punches – Roll pins suck. Having the right tools helps.
- Roll pin punch – See above.
- Standard Punch – Pins need punchin.
- Chisels – Good for smoothing flat surfaces and clearing stubborn support material.
- Pliers – Grip, rip, and tear support material.
- Shooting glasses – for when you cleanup prints. Plastic poots at eyeballs.
- Really good soldering iron – Great for smoothing surfaces and required for some builds.