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March 9, 2018

Zortrax M300 review

by John_A

Research Center:
Zortrax M300

When it comes to 3D printing companies, Zortrax doesn’t enjoy the same level of name recognition as, say, Makerbot or Ultimaker — but it’s been making 3D printers for quite some time. In fact, the company’s M200 printer (which was released back in 2012) is widely regarded as one of the best FDM printers you can buy.

For this reason, we were very excited when the company announced the new M300: a bigger, badder version of its flagship machine. To find out how it stacks up, we put the printer through its paces over the course of a month. Here’s how it went.

Standout Features and Specs

The first thing that you’ll likely notice about the M300 is that it’s huge. This isn’t exactly a desktop printer, so you should definitely plan to allocate some space for it. Weighing in at 110.2 pounds, and measuring 18.6” x 19.2” x 26.1” in external dimensions, this thing is a big, beefy bastard of a printer. Luckily, that also means that it has a rather large build area — boasting a spacious 11.8” x 11.8” x 11.8” envelope.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Some other neat features you’ll find on this machine are: a heated bed (which boosts adhesion and helps prevent print warping), semi-automated bed leveling, a small LCD screen for navigation, and removable front/side panels.

The M300’s otherwise great foundation is marred by a myriad of small design flaws.

The M300 also comes with something we’ve never seen before, which had us scratching our heads in confusion. This “feature” is a perforated build plate — something that doesn’t make much sense for a machine that squirts out molten plastic to make objects. We’ll get into why shortly.

Unfortunately, this seemed to be a running theme with the printer. While it’s clearly well-made and boasts an admirable feature set, the M300’s otherwise great foundation is marred by a myriad of small design flaws and puzzling oversights.

Setup and Config

Getting the M300 set up is relatively straightforward and easy to do, but does require a bit of assembly and some heavy lifting. Once you’ve got the printer freed of its packaging and tie downs, you’ll need to attach the printer’s build plate. Luckily, doing so isn’t particularly difficult, and only requires you to attach a few wires into a clearly-marked socket.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

After that, you can fire the printer up and start feeding filament through to the hot end, which Zortrax’s onboard instructions will walk you through. The printer’s semi-automatic bed calibration is also quite simple, and guides you through the leveling process before you fire up your first print.

Overall, the M300 certainly isn’t the simplest machine we’ve ever set up, but it’s still pretty damn easy. As long as you’re capable of reading and following basic instructions, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

User Interface/software

While the M300’s onboard controls are simple to use and understand, there are a couple little hiccups in the onboard software interface that make it a pain to print with. For example, once a print is started, you’re locked out from interacting with the machine any further. There’s no pause/resume function, and no way to adjust settings on the fly, or even cancel a print outright. The only way to stop a print is to switch the machine off — which is puzzling, because in most modern printers, these features come standard. Needless to say, the M300’s unfinished software led to some annoying usage issues down the line.

Removing a finished print from the M300 is like pulling Excalibur from its stone while you’re trapped in a broom closet.

As for offboard software, the M300 is designed to work exclusively with Zortrax’s proprietary slicing program, Z-Suite. Downloading the program required the serial code from the back of our printer, and asked for it again during installation. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world, we felt it was excessive, redundant, and mildly annoying.

Once we had Z-Suite up and running, we were pleased with it’s clean interface, easy-to-navigate design, and fun visuals — then immediately disappointed with its oversimplified print options. The program seems geared more toward beginners and is therefore very easy to use, but unfortunately it leaves out a bunch of “advanced” print customization options that are extremely important. For example, there’s no clear way to turn off support structures, rafts, or even fine-tune the infill settings. This is extremely frustrating, and generally means you’ll burn through filament more quickly.

Design/Build Quality

The M300’s design takes a page of Z-Suite’s book, and by that we mean it has a strong foundation and is clearly well made, but is also peppered with annoying drawbacks. Individually, these problems aren’t a big deal, but together they’re enough to spoil an otherwise stellar machine.

We’ll start with the good stuff. The M300 boasts one of the sturdiest frames we’ve ever seen in a 3D printer. It’s built like a bomb shelter, and would probably print just fine during a magnitude 8.7 earthquake. It also has a clean, attractive look to it, and comes with side panels that allow you to hide its mechanical guts from view.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

But then there’s the perforated build plate. It’s a bit of a double edged sword, since it keeps prints stable during printing, but also makes them a huge pain to remove once the print is finished. To make matters worse, there’s also no easy way to remove the print bed from the printer — so you’re forced to pry, scrape, and wrench on the print from within the limited confines of the printer’s interior chamber. In other words, removing a finished print from the M300 is like pulling Excalibur from its stone while you’re trapped in a broom closet.

Most of our prints came out incredibly clean, detailed, and almost completely error free.

Oh, and one more thing: The perforations on the build platform effectively prevent you from printing without a raft (a support structure that’s a few layers thick, printed beneath the object to aid adhesion and prevent warping). If you do, the best case scenario is that you’ll end up with a bunch of plastic nubs on the bottom of your object. The worst case scenario is that your print won’t come free easily and will crack when you try to pull it off the build plate (which happened to us on a couple occasions).

What’s most frustrating, though, is that this perforated design is completely unnecessary. Our best guess is that Zortrax included the perforations in order to boost bed adhesion. But the thing is, the M300 already has a heated bed and automatically prints with rafts — both of which would’ve likely done the trick and mitigated any adhesion/warping problems. The perforations are redundant, and cause more problems than they solve.

Zortrax M300 Compared To

Robo C2

Monoprice Mini Delta

Ultimaker 3

FormLabs Form 2

NewMatter MOD-t

M3D Micro

MakerBot Replicator (5th Gen)

Pirate3D Buccaneer

3Doodler 2.0

3D Systems Cube

Ultimaker 2

Formlabs Form 1+

Unfortunately, the M300’s issues don’t end there. Another big design flaw we encountered was the printer’s the bowden tube assembly. The bowden tube, which is what guides the filament to the print head, is secured to the back of the printer via adhesive pads on the back of plastic clamps. The glue on these pads eventually failed mid print, causing the filament to unravel from the spool and knot up — ultimately jamming the printer and ruining a 13-hour print.

Without any sensors in place to detect filament running out or jamming, or even being able to pause it when it happens, attempting to use the M300 for large-format, multi-hour prints is risky business.

Print Performance

Despite the struggles on both the hardware side and software interface, both the included print (a strange, bottomless bottle) and our standard 3DBenchy test print came out remarkably well.

With it’s max print resolution of 90 microns and outstanding dimensional accuracy, most of our prints came out incredibly clean, detailed, and almost completely error free, giving us one of the best Benchy boats we’ve ever printed.

The M300 also handles gaps and overhangs right along with some of the best FDM printers we’ve seen, and earned our praise on virtually all the prints it finished. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to give it many more chances to prove itself due to hardware issues, but were thoughtfully impressed with the level of print quality we saw in the pieces we completed.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

When it comes to reliability, though, the M300 definitely needs some work. When it completes a print, that print will undoubtedly look great — but the machine doesn’t always complete the print jobs you give it. Until you secure the bowden tube and prevent it from breaking loose and tangling up your filament, the M300 shouldn’t be trusted with big, multi-hour prints. Thankfully, that’s the only real reliability issue, though. We never experienced any warping or prints that detached from the bed.

Our Take

The M300 is like a dumpy house built on a solid foundation. In its current state, it’s not something you’d want to live in, but if the landlord gave it a few small touch-ups, it’d be a great place to hang your hat.

In other words, the M300 has the potential to be an amazing machine, but its aforementioned design flaws are holding it back. With an update to the software and firmware, this printer could potentially be at the top of its class. Mid print options, more control in Z-Suite, and a print bed that doesn’t have holes in it would take the M300 to the next level.

Is there a better alternative?

Considering the M300’s $2,990 price point, there are dozens of alternatives that will provide better performance and reliability.

For a bit more money, you can get yourself a Formlabs Form 2 SLA printer — a machine that’s vastly superior to the M300 in terms of print quality, and is widely considered to be one of the best consumer-level 3D printers on the market. It’s worth noting, though, that due to the Form2’s resin-based printing technique, it’s a bit trickier (and stickier) to work with in some ways.

If SLA printing doesn’t sound appealing and you’d rather snag an FDM printer, we highly recommend the Ultimaker 2+. It offers better print performance, a comparably-sized build area, and none of the annoying problems that plague the M300. For $2,999, you can even get the Extended edition, which has a taller build area and allows you to create larger parts.

Another solid choice would be the Lulzbot Taz 6, which isn’t nearly as good-looking as the M300, but is far more reliable, upgradable, and streamlined. If what you’re after is a workhorse that can do job after job without fail, then the Taz 6 is the printer to get. It’s also a few hundred dollars cheaper, and offers a nearly identical build envelope.

How long will it last?

The M300’s sturdy construction and outstanding build quality will likely keep this printer running for a long, long time. That being said for the hardware, the software and firmware of this printer are already outdated and in need of an upgrade. If Zotrax comes through with an update that irons out some of the kinks, this printer will keep on tickin’ for years.

Should you buy it?

At this point, no. With other options out there that offer more bang for your buck, the M300 isn’t a printer we can recommend — at least not right now. While its large build volume, impressive print quality, and sturdy structure are alluring, its myriad design flaws and limited control of print parameters make it one of the most frustrating printers we’ve ever used. If those issues were addressed, the M300 would be a dream, but for now, you’d be wise to spend your money elsewhere.

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