The 8 Best Extruder Upgrades for Creality Ender 3 [2020]

After buying yet another Creality 3D Printer last month, it was a disappointing to find that the latest Ender 3 V2 extruder is still made of cheap plastic. These have an average life expectancy of 2-3 months, where the lever arm breaks, or filament just grinds through the plastic. As such, I decided to revisit the best extruder upgrades for the Creality Ender 3 in 2020.

The aftermarket industry has exploded in the last few years, and there are plenty of great choices available. Whether we’re doing a complete Ender 3 extruder Direct Drive conversion, or just looking for something more reliable than stock, there are a lot of possibilities.

To pick the best option for our needs, there are a few points we should consider first. Do we want single drive or dual drive? Will we keep it bowden or switch to direct drive? Can the new extruder handle the filaments we use? Understanding the differences and knowing what’s available will help to make the right decision.

Single Gear vs Dual Drive Extruder

When it comes to extruders, there are two types, Single Gear and Dual Drive (not to be mistaken for Direct Drive). Both serve the same purpose and function more or less the same, but the difference is how the filament is pushed into the hotend.

Single Gear

Creality single drive gear extruder

On a Single Gear extruder, a toothed gear is mounted on the motor shaft. A free spinning idler wheel presses against the gear, which places tension on the filament and helps it feed through. Single gear is the most common.

Dual Drive

Bondtech BMG dual drive gear extruder

A Dual Drive extruder replaces the idler wheel with a second “hobbed” drive gear, gripping the filament from both sides for greater control. This reduces slippage and missed steps while increasing precision and accuracy.

For most, a well made single drive extruder is more than sufficient. Dual drive is superior, and a core feature of the “next generation” extrusion systems, but aren’t necessarily a must have for everyone. These are however a must for printing flexible filaments like TPU and NinjaFlex.

Bowden vs Direct Drive Extruder

Most Creality 3D Printers use a Bowden system. However, with a renewed community interest in Direct Drive, we’re seeing a resurgence in demand for such systems. Conversion kits are available from Micro Swiss, Printer Mods, etc. Creality even took notice and switched their latest CR10 V3 to a Direct Drive extruder.

Bowden Extruder

Creality CR10 V2 Bowden Extruder

Bowden extruders are mounted remotely on the 3D Printer’s frame, pushing filament to the hotend through a “bowden” tube. This significantly reduces excess weight on the hotend, allowing for faster and more accurate prints.

Direct Drive Extruder

Creality CR10 V3 Direct Drive Extruder

Direct drive extruders sit directly above the hotend, feeding filament straight down into the melting chamber. It eliminates print defects like blobs and zits common with bowden extruders, at the expense of slower speeds and vastly increased weight.

More often than not, aftermarket extruders work as both bowden and direct drive configurations. Manufacturers tend to favor one over the other, but usually offer extra adapters and brackets to make it cross compatible.

Bondtech BMG Dual Drive Extruder

Bondtech BMG Extruder

Editor’s Choice


Bondtech has pioneered the dual drive extruder market for years, and the BMG extruder is the pinnacle of their success. It’s a compact, lightweight and high performance design that’s built with one purpose in mind, pushing filament.

At it’s core, we find two hardened steel drive gears. These might not look like much at first glance, but they are precision CNC machined to the highest standards. Every tooth and every groove has been carefully crafted to achieve maximum pushing force with no filament degradation. Pinching the filament from both sides for a uniform grip, they handle everything you can throw at it, from soft flexible filaments to abrasive materials.

Bondtech even published an article recently, comparing China’s attempt to clone their gears versus the genuine version. In a nutshell, the significant difference in tooth definition and profile results in grinding filament and unreliable performance long term.

Read: Comparing an Original Bondtech Mini Geared BMG with a Clone

Bondtech BMG Hardened Tool Steel Gear quality comparison
Clone gear on the left side, Bondtech BMG gear on the right
Bondtech BMG Hardened Tool Steel Gear side by side comparison
Clone gear on the left side, Bondtech BMG gear on the right

But enough about the gears, there is a lot more to love about the Bondtech BMG Extruder. It has a thumbscrew tensioner to adjust the gear pressure on filament. It also features a quick release lever for quick material swaps. Best of all, it has near universal fitment, compatible with bowden and direct drive configurations on practically any 3D Printer.

There is an integrated groove mount that fits the E3D V6 hotend. They also maintain an entire STL library of official designs with mounting brackets, filament guides and more. If you prefer the look of their SLS printed Nylon parts, they even make a variety of kits with these included.

Pros

  • Lightweight assembly (75g)
  • Hardened steel dual drive gears
  • 3:1 gearing ratio for precision control
  • Thumbscrew tensioner for fine tuning
  • Quick release lever for quick material swaps
  • Universal fitment with printable brackets

Cons

  • Pricing – most expensive package
  • Bowden adapter sold separately

If you’re not ready to shell out $80+ for an extruder just yet, genuine Bondtech Drive Gears can be purchased standalone. These should be compatible with generic dual drive extruders and even clones. Innovation is expensive, support the company that spearheaded this project.

Micro Swiss Direct Drive Extruder and All Metal Hotend

Micro Swiss Direct Drive Extruder

Hybrid Direct Drive


The Micro Swiss Direct Drive Extruder is created for Creality 3D Printers. No printed mounting brackets or retrofitting parts, this is a plug-n-play solution that’s ready to go.

As we’ve come to expect, the CNC machining quality from Micro Swiss is exceptional as usual. It features a lightweight, aluminum dual drive chain, hardened tool steel gears and an integrated backing plate. A spring tensioned lever makes filament loading a breeze, and the short, constrained filament path is great for flexible filaments.

It’s worth a mention, this isn’t a standard Direct Drive configuration, at least not in the traditional sense. Using a piece of Capricorn bowden tubing between the extruder and hotend would place it into the “hybrid” category, but this is just semantics. Performance wise, there is very little to differentiate the print results.

Pros

  • Hardened steel dual drive gears
  • Lightweight aluminum assembly
  • Adjustable filament grip
  • Compatible with the stock Creality and Micro Swiss all metal hotend

Cons

  • Not a geared extruder
  • Reduces print volume (Z axis)

For Ender 3 and CR10 owners ready to make the switch, the Micro Swiss Direct Drive Extruder is a no brainer. It’s precision CNC machined by a US based company, offers high performance dual drive extrusion and designed with Creality 3D Printers in mind. Ender 5 owners should note that due to slight variations in the backing plate, this version is required.

E3D Hemera Extruder Direct Drive

E3D Hemera Extruder

The Complete Package


In contrast to other solutions, the E3D Hemera (formerly known as Hermes) is a complete hotend-extruder bundle. It comes with a genuine E3D V6 hotend and proprietary stepper motor included, making for one compact, all inclusive package.

Taking inspiration from the Bondtech BMG, the Hemera extruder is also a dual geared extruder. However, it’s small integrated design results in a significantly shorter filament path between the gears and nozzle.

This reduced distance means less retraction, less binding and less friction. In fact, it features an entirely all metal drivetrain, CNC machined from hardened stainless steel (same as the gears). Combined with IGUS bushings and shielded ball bearings, it’s a completely dry setup that is self cleaning and easy to maintain.

As with most E3D products, it’s not a drop-in replacement for Creality 3D Printers, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. There are dozens of printable mounting brackets published on Thingiverse, making it compatible with a range of different 3D Printers.

Pros

  • Hardened steel dual drive gears
  • Short filament path for flexible filament
  • Backwards compatible with E3D V6 and Volcano
  • Pricing is much more competitive than Bondtech BMG

Cons

While the price tag may look a bit steep at first glance, keep in mind that their flagship V6 hotend starts out at $60 retail. Taking this and the motor cost into account, the extruder itself is actually quite affordable, set somewhere around the $40 mark. After we factor in the sheer amount of research and development (explained here), the E3D Hemera extruder looks like a steal at the current price point.

SeeMeCNC EZR Extruder or EZStruder

SeeMeCNC EZR Extruder

Best for Flexible Filaments


SeeMeCNC makes high end Delta 3D Printers, and the EZR Extruder was built with these in mind. Despite that, it just so happens to be a bolt-on solution for many other 3D Printers as well, the Creality Ender 3 included. In fact, it mounts right on the stock extruder bracket, no customization or retrofitting required.

The EZR Extruder is also an excellent choice for any filament, and handles flexible materials such as TPU and Ninja Flex like a champ. Bowden tubing runs nearly the full length of the channel, bottoming out right at the drive gear and idler pulley. This creates a well constrained, low friction filament path that prevents soft filament from binding up.

It’s mostly intended for Bowden systems, and fits the stock CR10 and Ender 3 extruder bracket like a glove. However, the EZR Extruder can also be used for a direct drive conversion as well. Teaching Tech did a wonderful video covering this process in great detail.

Pros

  • Flexible filament friendly
  • Extremely easy to load and remove filament
  • Open source design

Cons

  • Single drive gear
  • Not officially supported by SeeMeCNC
Lightweight E3D Titan Extruder

E3D Titan Extruder

Lightweight Extruder


The E3D Titan Extruder is a long time favorite, but with better options on the market, its also starting to show its age. The lightweight design has always been the biggest selling point, capable of using an ultra slim Pancake Stepper Motor to drive filament, thanks to a balanced 3:1 gearing ratio.

Molded from Delrin, a durable engineering plastic, the entire unit weighs in at just over 2 ounces. When paired with a small 13N-cm stepper motor, the the total package comes out to around 8.5 oz (1.5x less than it’s successor, the E3D Hemera).

However, with a rising interest in Direct Drive Extruder conversions, reduced mass on the X axis is always a worthwhile consideration. Additional weight above the hotend will translate into vibrations as it continually changes speed and direction, and this ultimately increases ringing (a.k.a ghosting) in our prints.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Durable plastic frame
  • Compatible with 1.75 and 3mm filament

Cons

  • Pricing
  • Single drive gear
  • Bowden adapter sold separately

The E3D Titan may not be state of the art anymore, but it’s well built and fills a niche. Unfortunately, with retail prices starting at $63, cost is the real obstacle here. Despite a decline in demand, the price hasn’t decreased since it was released in 2016. This has driven many customers to purchase Chinese clones, often available at a fraction of the price.

Creality Aluminum Dual Drive Extruder

Dual Drive Extruder

Dual Drive on a Budget


This unbranded Dual Drive Extruder is a replica from the Creality CR10S Pro. It’s a pretty solid option on a tight budget and a step up from the single geared aluminum extruders.

The CR10S Pro version does use genuine Bondtech gears, so don’t expect to find comparable performance here, those gears alone are twice as expensive as this entire extruder. However, despite lower machining quality and sometimes questionable tolerances, dual drive at $15 certainly has it’s perks.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Dual drive gear extruder
  • Durable aluminum construction
  • Direct replacement (no modification required)

Cons

  • Poor quality control
  • No bushing between gear and the lever
  • Modification required for best performance

The biggest advantage for Creality owners, besides price, is the ease of use. While most aftermarket products require printed mounting brackets, this dual drive extruder is a drop-in replacement.

Generic Creality Aluminum Kit with single drive gear

Creality Aluminum Extruder

Lowest Cost Upgrade


The Creality Aluminum Extruder is a no frills, drop-in replacement for the Ender 3, Ender 5 and CR10 3D Printers. It’s metal construction is far superior to the injection molded plastic that come stock, but that’s about it.

These kits make a lot of claims regarding performance enhancements, but that’s just marketing fluff. It comes with the same weak compression spring and cheap brass gear found on the stock extruder, neither of which are anything special. This particular extruder is best paired with a 40T Stainless Steel Drive Gear that will firmly grip the filament and a Yellow Die Spring that will keep significant tension applied.

Pros

  • Extremely cheap
  • Aluminum parts are much more durable
  • Direct replacement (no modification required)
  • Anodized in 5 different colors

Cons

  • No performance improvements
  • Intake hole can cause filament wear
  • Single geared extruder

Starting out around $5 on Amazon, these aren’t a bad choice for makers on a budget. They can be further upgraded with a few small parts, and are very simple to install. Considering the ridiculously low cost and wide availability, these should really be what comes stock.

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