Dual extrusion 3D printing is something that I have had very little experience with until now. I have used it a tiny bit at work on some of the higher end Ultimaker 3D printers as well as MakerGears but never on a lower end budget 3D printer. Lately, there has been quite an increase in extremely cheap budget 3D printers that now offer dual extrusion. Most of them use some form of an E3D Cyclops clone hotend. This is a type of hotend that has two two filaments coming into the hotend and only one nozzle for the filament to come out of. Using this type of hotend will require you to have a pretty large prime tower or purge tower.
Gearbest reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the ZONESTAR Z5M Printer. This machine is a dual extrusion machine with a print volume of 220x220x230. It has an LCD screen and an SD card slot to print directly from the printer untethered from a computer. The printer’s hotend can get up to 260C and the bed can reach 110C. The bed is aluminum with some knock off BuildTak which is pretty standard on many machines now. The printer uses mostly 2020 extrusions so it is quite a sturdy frame.
The printer looked very promising, and from what I can see it was almost an Ender 3 clone but with the dual extrusion on it. So I was sold and could not wait to get my hands on this printer and start playing around with dual extrusion. The product page says that it is semi assembled so I was anticipating that the printer would be a similar build to the Ender 3 which on my first go took me a little under an hour to have up and running.
This was unfortunately not the case at all. Yes, there where a few things on the machine that did come pre assembled primarily in the hotend and cables from the baord but much of the printer was in pieces. I would definitely say that this printer is very much a kit printer and not a semi assembled. Assembling the printer was somewhere in the 4-5 hour range. It may have even been a bit longer but I did build it all in one sitting on one of my days off. The directions were very poor, it was confusing to see what was happening in some of the photos, the screws and parts came in a box that was pretty mixed together so I had to manually separate and measure everything.
The kit had a few missing screws which required me to grab some spare screws I had laying around. The worst part of it was the hotend carriage. The part that connects the hotend assembly to the frame was machined incorrectly and none of the screw holes lined up. This forced me to take a power drill to it and drill out my own holes which was quite a mess. I did get it to at least work but it was definitely the icing on the cake for me and it would be a complete nightmare for anyone that has not built a printer before. The instructions also have the other two variants of the machine mixed in so you are constantly having to make sure that the image you are looking at is correct for the machine you are trying to build.
With the instructions just being on a PDF and not a print out, I cannot understand why they did not separate the instructions to the specific machine configuration you were building. Let’s move on beyond the painful build and talk about the printer itself and the print quality. To start off, I wanted to print a bit with single extrusion and see how it would work. I shoved a needle or pin that came with the printer into the second extrusion slot to keep filament from coming out of the empty bowden tube and was off printing some of the test files on the card. I printed a vase, a lizard, and a lucky cat. They really did not turn out bad. There was a bit of under extrusion and layer adhesion could have been a bit better but for right out of the box it was not bad.
Then I decided it was time to test out the dual extrusion and this is where my headache started. There were no instructions or profile provided for this printer so I had no idea how to set it up. I tried both Cura and Repetier with changing retraction settings and wipe tower settings but have had no luck getting a successful dual extrusion print. I probably ran a print on it with different settings every day for a little over a week and could not get it. Usually, it would clog, skip steps, switch colors once and not go back or some variation of this.
I honestly think that with enough calibration you could potentially get some decent dual extrusion prints off of this machine. However, without a profile or instructions for the sake of this review I really cannot recommend this machine. It was just a disappointing experience. If ZONESTAR wanted to fix their instructions, have better qc on their parts, and create a profile I would be more than happy to use this machine but it just feels like a early prototype or beta of a machine.
If you are looking for a single extrusion machine that can print very well I still highly recommend the Creality Ender 3. If you are looking for a dual extrusion machine that is low cost and actually works I would recommend looking into the Geeetech A10M. I have not owned the Geeetech machine myself but quite a few of my buddies have it and have gotten some awesome prints off of it. There is an active community behind this machine so there will be much more help and documentation on it.