Understanding the Nine Advanced Features of a 3D Printer

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What might be the advanced features on today’s desktop 3D printers? [Source: Fabbaloo / LAI]

The latest 3D printers offer a slew of new features, but which ones are important?

I’ve been working with desktop 3D printers for more than 15 years, and the past year or so has been quite different — and dramatic.

For literally a decade, desktop FFF 3D printers were rather primitive. They were often rough kits that required assembly to one degree or another, and they required considerable tuning and attention.

Since the inception of the earliest machines that were prone to catching fire, there has been consistent improvement in technology every year. The initial desktop FFF devices would boast about having “end stops” or a “control panel”, as there were many systems that didn’t feature these at all.

Indeed, times have evolved. Over the years, we’ve observed the gradual standardization of many features that are now considered fundamental, for example:

  • End stops
  • Touch screen control panels
  • Filament out sensor
  • Handling of power loss
  • Interchangeable nozzles
  • Magnetic print plate made of spring steel
  • WiFi

Presently, you can hardly market a FFF 3D printer without including these vital features and a few more.

However, innovation still happens, and new features continue to appear, particularly in the last year or so.

What are these advanced features? Which ones are important and should be considered when purchasing a machine? Let’s take a look at what I consider today’s advanced FFF 3D printer features.

Active Heating

The METHOD X is actively heated to 90C [Source: Fabbaloo]

Enclosed 3D printers trap heat, minimizing the thermal differences between the surrounding environment and extrusion temperatures. This reduces potential warping. Most enclosures are passive and simply hold in excess heat from the printer’s hot end and plate. Conversely, “actively” heated 3D printing enclosures have specialized equipment to warm and maintain the temperature of the chamber.

Flow Management

3D printing processes typically assume the material being extruded from the nozzle is consistent and predictable. However, this isn’t always the case. There may be inconsistency in the filament’s shape, or certain areas might have varying densities. An advanced feature some 3D printers offer is the ability to monitor the actual amount of material flowing through the nozzle and adjust dynamically to these conditions. This can lead to highly accurate printouts, making it a very desirable feature.

Vibration Compensation & Input Shaping

These two features, combined with a suitable motion system, can allow for high speed printing. The issues with moving at high speed are that the toolhead vibrates when changing direction at high speed, and those vibrations are reflected in the print quality. These features identify and are able to cancel these effects, leading to higher quality prints at high speeds.

Closed Loop

Closed-loop systems encompass components that relay their current status to the system. For instance, if a 3D printer’s controller requests a 5mm move on the X-axis, does the machine definitively move 5mm? Many systems merely take the proper movement for granted without any confirmation. However, a closed-loop system discloses the actual position, enabling the controller to adjust if it diverges. This leads to more accurate prints and dependable operations.

Filament Type Detection

Despite the absence of established standards for this procedure, it proves to be extremely beneficial. Some manufacturers may embed RFID chips in the spools, which allows the machinery to immediately identify the material type. If this is not the case, the operator must ensure the mounted spool meets the job’s specifications. Automated filament detection removes the chance of incorrect matches.

Filament Odometer

Many 3D printers possess the capability of filament out detection, but this only helps in identifying whether there is a filament present or not. It doesn’t, however, determine if the filament is in the motion state.

A system dubbed as filament odometer is designed to observe the motion of the filament. This then allows the 3D printer’s controller to work out if the movement of the filament is too slow, perhaps due to a tangle or another filament issue. This odometer feature drastically enhances the reliability of the printer.

High Flow Capacity

The extruder and hot end combination will always be limited in their maximum capacity; the largest volume of material that can be extruded within a specified time duration. We usually measure this in cubic millimeters per second, where typical machines are around 10, while advanced machines might reach 20s or even 30s.

The point here is that printing at high speed requires extrusion of more material each second. Though it is possible to operate a machine with minuscule layers at high speeds, this doesn’t really provide extra material. Rather than focusing on toolhead movement speed, a high flow capacity should be the focus.

High Temperature

In the past, the only filament materials capable of being 3D printed by desktop equipment were PLA, ABS, and later PETG. Presently, there exist dozens of unique materials, with several having higher glass transition temperatures. To print these, you need 3D printers that can withstand high temperatures. Several specifications can assist in identifying such printers; the maximum hot end temperature, the highest plate temperature, an all-metal hot end, and the chamber temperature.


Desktop 3D printers have utilized a multitude of methods for leveling the print plate. Leveling is a necessary process that accounts for nearly imperceptible inconsistencies in the build plate’s surface, allowing the printer to properly acclimate.

The norm for this process previously entailed the use of various sensors fitted to the toolhead. Prominently among these were force sensors or touch sensors, with a handful implementing magnetic techniques.

The novel approach being adopted is the use of LIDAR. This light-based radar mechanism enables the sending out of multiple light points and efficiently measures the distance to each point. Cutting-edge desktop 3D printers are beginning to employ LIDAR for detecting plate contours, producing incredibly precise maps that facilitate superior initial layers.

That’s what I consider the key advanced features of today’s desktop FFF 3D printers. Do you have more that should be added to the list?

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