I got my first 3D Printer on January 6, 2016. I ordered a Maker Architect 3D Printer from Monoprice for $299. It turns out that the Maker Architect 3D is basically a Flashforge Creator, with a single extruder and no heated bed. It came with 1kg of white PLA filament.
The unboxing experience of this printer was pretty poor. I had already read the reviews and knew that the instructions were limited at best, so it wasn't surprising. As poor as the experience was, it was pretty easy to get going. Just a matter of bolting the extruder to the rails, attaching the filament holder, then booting it up and running the startup script.
Leveling the Bed
As I was reading up on 3D printing before my printer arrived I kept reading over and over how important it is to have a perfectly level print bed to get good prints. So when it came time to walk through the bed leveling process I went very slowly, following the instructions as closely as possible.
One problem I've run into is that, during the leveling process, the printer moves the head to the back-center position and asks me to slide a piece of paper for measurment between the bed and the extrusion head. The problem is that the head is actually beyond the bed at this point, so there's no great way to measure. I haven't figured out how to fix this yet.
My 3D printer came with an SD card that included some test prints available for you right away. I started printing the 42mm test cube, but pretty quickly aborted the process. It was going to take forever to print this cube.
Instead, I downloaded a 22mm test cube from thingiverse to print. This is where I first ran into confusion in dealing with software, which at least at this time was very convoluted.
In order to print on my printer, I need to give it files in x3g format. X3G is a kind of GCode format that's common among Makerbot and compatitble printers. However, the object files you download are in STL format. So, what do you do?
Go download and install Makerbot Desktop. Then, drag your STL file into Makerbot. From there, click Settings, and configure your print settings. For your first test print, try just going with the standard quality preset. The only things to look for would be bed temperature (set to 0° if you don't have a heated bed) and max movement speeds. In my case the manual listed those out, and all of the standard template values were within range, so I just stuck with the defaults. Then, it was time to export the X3G file, copy it to the SD card, take the SD card over to the printer, and try to print.
First Print, Actually Printing
This time, the print moved along at the speed I was expecting. It took about 15 minutes to print the 20mm cube on top of a raft.
Getting the Print off the Bed
My printer came with a sheet of 3M material that I stuck to the top of the acrylic bed before leveling. For me, getting the prints off has been pretty easy with my knife. Just stick the edge of the knife under the edge of the raft or part, and start prying gently. I haven't had a problem with a part sticking to the board (parts sticking to the raft is another story). For the cube, it popped right off, and the raft also peeled right off for me. First print success!
I've printed about a dozen items since then. I'll cover the more interesting ones in other articles. For those looking for objects to print, there's a reason everyone goes to Thingiverse.