Following the immense success of the CR-10, Creality has once again outdone themselves with the new Ender-3. Taking notes from its big brother, this budget friendly machine is nearly identical in many regards, with small yet effective design changes to meet a lower price point.
Despite the vast number of similarities, one of the most notable differences with the Ender-3 is the assembly process. In contrast to the CR-10 which takes less than 30 minutes to setup, the Ender-3 for the most part is just a box of parts, requiring a greater time investment to complete the build. The official assembly video has a run-time of just under 1 1/2 minutes and suggests a rapid build time, but the reality is closer to several hours at least.
Nonetheless, the Ender-3 assembly process is straight forward and painless for the most part. The brief instructional video is concise and to the point, showing exactly what goes where without any further explanation. Owners can also reference the printed 12 step sheet (included in the package) for additional information as well, but neither offers an in-depth look at the build process.
Estimated Build Time: 2-4 Hours
We will first start by looking at what is included in the package, followed by the necessary steps for assembly and what to watch out for along the way. If you have questions or need assistance, I recommend the Ender-3 Facebook Support Group.
The Ender-3 is a complete 3D Printer kit from Creality3D, packed with everything you will need to complete the build. This includes the 3D printer components, basic tools for assembly and printing… and even spare hardware should you drop a screw into the abyss.
The styrofoam suffered some minor damage during transit, however none of the components appeared to be affected. Everything has been packed neatly into a single tray, with the smaller bits placed into labeled bags for organization. Here is a full look at the contents of the box and what is included with the Ender-3 kit.
As the Ender-3 is a 3D Printer kit and not a pre-built machine, the assembly process has been broken down into several different stages. The entire process should take between 2-4 hours depending upon your level of experience. To provide simple navigation, you can use the links below to jump to a specific section.
Since the base of the Ender-3 comes pre-assembled, we will only need to attach the vertical beams at this stage. These consist of (2) 20×40 aluminum extrusion, secured to the frame using two screws on each side (inserted from the bottom). For easier access, I would advise turning the base on to the side.
Right Side: We will start with the right side of the frame first, where you need (1) 20×40 beam with the vertical pre-drilled holes. The hole that is closer to the end (approximately 80mm distance) goes on the bottom, meaning this is the side that will screw into the base. Using (2) M5x45 screws, insert these through the bottom and into the beam, making sure these are tight and the beam is locked into place.
Left Side: The second 20×40 beam should have pre-drilled holes positioned side by side on one end of the beam. This end should be screwed into the base of the frame, just as we did with the right side before.
Use the image above for reference, ensuring that the holes in the vertical beams are correct on both sides.
Facing the machine from the front, we have two electrical components which need to be installed on the right side, the LCD screen and the Power Supply. The LCD Screen comes with a bracket which mounts on the front right, while the power supply unit mounts to the right vertical beam from behind.
LCD Screen: The LCD screen is attached to the base of the frame using (2) M5x8 screws. Align the diagonal holes on the screen bracket with the matching holes in the extrusion behind it, then insert and tighten the screws as pictured in the first image.
Power Supply: The Power Supply is attached to the right vertical beam using (2) M4x20 screws. Align the holes in the power supply with the holes in the extrusion, then insert and tighten the screws as pictured in the second image.
On the left side of the frame, we must install two more components, the Z-Limit Switch and the Z Motor. The Z-Limit Switch will mount to the side of the left vertical beam, while the Z Motor is attached using a bracket on the back of the vertical frame.
Z-Limit Switch: The Z-Limit Switch is the L shaped bracket with two screws and T-nuts, packaged in one of the plastic zip-lock bags. This bracket will be installed upside down, with the switch facing the top of the frame. Adjust the T-nuts as needed so that they can move freely, turn them to face vertical and insert the bracket into the side channel as shown. The actual location will be adjusted at a later time, where the exact position is not important at this stage.
Z Motor: The Z Motor attaches to the rear side of the left vertical beam using (2) M4x18 screws. The motor comes with a bracket installed, where this will be used to mount the assembly to the frame. Insert and tighten the screws to secure the motor in place.
Go ahead and insert the lead screw into the Z motor coupler now, leaving the set screws loose for the time being. Make sure to use the rubber sheath when handling it. The lead screw has been lubricated and the protective cover will prevent your hands from removing the grease.
The X-Axis is the thin 20×20 extrusion that runs horizontal across the frame. Mounted to the vertical beams on either side, it can move up, down, left and right during the printing process. The X-axis has a mounting assembly on either side while the extruder carriage sits in the middle, where the motion is controlled via belt.
Note: There are (2) beams in the kit with the same dimensions, but the pre-drilled holes have a different layout. The X-Axis beam that we will be using has 6 holes (3 per side).
The left mount contains two motors, the X-axis motor and the Extruder motor, but can also be identified by the Facebook QR code. This assembly is attached to the X-axis beam using (2) M4x16 screws, inserted from the inside of the metal plate (shown in figure 2). Align this with the smaller holes at the end of the beam, then hand tighten the screws to secure the unit in place.
Once the mount has been fastened to the beam, insert the hex wrench through the holes in the second metal plate and tighten the screws down.
Note: The X-axis beam’s inner most hole is larger than the rest, drilled out to make space for the large bolt head on the motor assembly. This allows for the unit to sit flush against the beam. Due to the limited visibility at this stage, positioning the bolt head first can help with alignment of the other two holes.
From the open end of the X-axis beam, slide the gantry into place by positioning the wheels at the top and bottom. The wheels should now be able to roll back and fourth in a smooth motion. In the event that all 3 wheels do not sit flush against the beam, turn the eccentric nut behind the bottom wheel until it clamps in place.
Note: The side with the fan should face the front of the machine, same as the QR code on the left side of the beam (as shown in figure 2).
To finalize the X-axis assembly, we just need to install the mounting bracket and belt tensioner on the right side of the beam. The mounting bracket is attached to the rear of the X-axis beam, using (2) M4x16 screws to hold it in place. Align the bracket with the matching holes, then insert the screws and tighten it into place (as shown in figure 1).
On the opposite side of the extrusion, we will now install the belt tensioner using the pre-threaded bolts and T-nuts. Rotate the T-nuts to fit inside of the channel and position the bracket at the end of the beam. This will be adjusted after the belt is installed, where the position is not important at this stage.
With the X axis completely assembled, all that remains now is to install the GT2 belt. Although this may have been easier to do at an earlier stage, the official instructions defer this until the final steps. Unfortunately they failed to explain exactly how to actually install the belt, so I will share the method that worked best for me.
With the teeth facing into the beam, insert the GT2 belt inside of the channel and lay it over the edge. As demonstrated in picture 2 above, roll the extruder carriage over the belt with minimal force, allowing it to slide under the wheel and feed into the empty space below. Do this once again for the second wheel, where the belt should now be positioned beneath the carriage.
On each end of the X axis, there is a pulley that the belt must wrap around. These act as guides to keep the belt in place and allow for smooth motion during use. With the teeth of the belt facing inward towards the pulleys, wrap this around both ends and feed it back towards the extruder carriage, passing along the underside of the beam.
As shown picture 2, there is a notch on either side of the lower wheel, designed to lock the ends of the belt into place. Insert the brass ends of the belt just below these notches, where this should create moderate tension.
To finalize the process, go ahead and loosen the bolts on the X-axis belt tensioner that we installed before. Pull this outwards as much as possible, removing unwanted slack and creating tension on the GT2 belt. Proceed to tighten the bolts back down to secure the tensioner in the new position and make sure it is taught.
With the frame and X-axis both assembled, all that remains now is to put these pieces together. During the previous steps, we left the lead screw loose until a later stage. We will now proceed to…
With the front of the X-axis facing forwards, position the entire unit above the vertical beams on either side of the machine. Lower the X-axis down on to the frame, allowing the outer wheels to slide into the side channels of the extrusion. You may need to press the Z beams slightly inwards in order for the X-axis to fit.
Thread the lead screw up into the gold bracket behind the bowden motor (shown in figure 1), loosening the bracket if extra wiggle room is needed. Rotate the Z coupler by hand, lowering the X-axis towards the bottom and then tighten the set screws, locking the lead screw into place.
Note: Raise and lower the X-axis using the Z coupler to ensure smooth movement. If it locks up, it may be necessary to make adjustments so that the lead screw is not restricted.
Using the remaining 20×20 beam, thread (4) M5x25 screws into the available holes. Keep in mind that one side has larger openings for the washers to fit into. Make sure to insert the screws through here to ensure proper fitment, where they will not sit flush otherwise.
- Power Cable: Uses (2) XT-60 connectors to connect the main board and electronics to the power supply unit. Securely plug these ends into each other, making sure that the red and black wires match on both sides.
- Z-Axis Motor Cable: Powers the Z-axis motor which raises and lowers the gantry.
- X-Axis Motor Cable: Powers the X-axis motor which moves the gantry left and right.
- Extruder Motor Cable: Powers the extruder motor which feeds filament into the extruder’s hotend.
- Z-Axis Limit Switch: Triggers when the Z-Axis has reached this switch. Stops the printer from trying to move outside of the defined bounding box.
- X-Axis Limit Switch: Triggers when the X-Axis has reached this switch. Stops the printer from trying to move outside of the defined bounding box.
The Ender-3 is now assembled and just about ready to use. Before we power on the machine though, there are still several quick adjustments that we need to make first. In the earlier stages, we left certain items with default settings or temporary positions for later calibration.
Power Supply Voltage
The Ender-3 comes equipped with a 24V switching power supply, meaning it can run on 110 volts or 220 volts. It is important to make sure that you have this configured correctly, where the wrong setting will bring your 3D printer to a screeching halt. Before we power on the machine, make absolutely sure to double check this is set.
The switch is quite visible with a yellow sticker indicating which side to use for each voltage. It has a notch to insert a tool and change the setting, where a small flat head screwdriver or equivalent will work well in this case.
Note: If you are unsure which to use, 110 volts is standard in the United States, where 220 volts is the European standard.
The Z-Limit Switch (upside down L bracket on the left side of the frame) is what tells the Ender-3 to stop lowering the X-axis towards the bed. We installed this during the frame assembly but used an estimated position that would later be changed.
Start by rotating the (4) thumb wheels under the bed counter-clockwise, where this will contract the springs and lower the build plate. Don’t over tighten these but keep turning them until the springs are fully compressed. This tension will distance the bed from the extruder, providing ample room to level it once we are finished.
Now loosen the Z-Limit Switch on the left side of the frame and slide the bracket up or down, where the switch should be several millimeters above the bed itself. We don’t want the extruder to smash into the build plate when homing, so positioning it higher at the start is preferred.
Now turn on the Ender-3 using the power switch underneath the power supply. From the LCD Screen, push the knob once to bring up the menu, then navigate to Prepare -> Auto Home, and push the knob once again to select it. This will home your extruder, moving it to the far left and then lowering it until it triggers the Z-Limit Switch.
Once the homing process is complete, look at the nozzle’s distance from the bed. Since the build plate is currently at the lowest point, we want to have a small gap (around 3-5mm of space) between the nozzle and bed. If the nozzle is considerably further away from the build plate than that, lower the Z-Limit Switch as needed and Auto Home again until this distance is minimized.