3d printer

Setting up and using the Rock Space Ant Mini 3D Printer


The Rock Space Ant Mini 3D Printer is an awesome printer but the instructions for it are not great. This guide will walk you through how to setup everything with this printer to get some high quality prints. I will also give you some tips for things that I have tried to make 3D printing a little easier.
If you are a brave soul and want to attempt setting up this 3D printer using the official instructions, you can find them here.


Unboxing and Hardware Setup


The awesome thing about the Ant Mini is that there is no real hardware setup. Once you get the printer out of the box, it is basically ready to print!


Leveling the Bed and setting the correct Z-Axis

The first thing you will want to do after turning on this printer is set the Z-Axis. To do this go to the printer menu and select "Auto Home." This will guide the nozzle to the back right corner.

If you notice that the nozzle pushes down on the bed, the nozzle is down too far. If you notice that the nozzle is more than a millimeter above the bed, then it is up too high.

To adjust, you will need to go to the menu and raise the z-Axis. With the Z-Axis raised all the way, you can adjust the Z-Axis screw on the left side of the machine.



Raise the screw if the nozzle is going down too far and lower the screw if the nozzle is too far up above the bed. This is a lot of trial and error guesswork, but the good news is, once this is set you rarely have to do it again. After the auto home is correctly set, go to the Menu>Prepare> "Disable Steppers"

After the Z-Axis is set, move the X and Y Axis around and adjust the corner screws until the bed is completely level. The manual suggest putting bond paper down to see if you can move the paper under the nozzle with just a bit of tension. I found it easier just to get on eye level and eyeball the space in-between the bed and the nozzle.

I also found that when I was printing and parts of the bed were not sticking as well as others, I could actually adjust the bed levelness as it was printing.

Loading the filament


Out of all of the tasks for printing with this printer, I found this one to be the most difficult. On the top of the printer is the loader. Press the spring in and push the filament through while turning on the load filament option in the menu. When I did this, the filament would usually come through the side and I would have to keep trying and adjusting. I don't have any good tips for this other than to simply be persistent.

Printing your first model


Before you attempt to download and models to print, you should use one of the models that comes on the SD card. I suggest the Bunny model as that uses the least amount of filament. If that is not printing correctly then you will need to repeat the steps above until it is. This model is designed for this printer so if this model is not printing well, nothing will print well.

Downloading a model to print

Once you are confident that the printer is working as it should, you can go online and start looking for models to print. I recommend Thinkiverse.com

Setting up Cura 


Cura is open source (free) 3D printing slicing software. Basically, Cura prepares the model for printing for your specific printer and filament. You can download it here.

For Cura to work, you will need to setup the printer and filament.

THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT

If you neglect this next part, you will get terrible prints like I did before I realized I was using the wrong filament size.

Here are the things you need to specify (note: the Ant Mini manual specifies more things. This is confusing and can mess things up. I recommend you don't use the manual for this).


  • Add a new Printer
    • Settings>Printers>Add Printer>Custom - Add whatever name you want
  • Printer Settings
    • Machine Settings>Printer 
    • X=105, Y=130, Z=120 - Everything else, leave the default
  • Extrude Settings
    • Machine Settings>Extrude
    • Nozzle = .4
    • Compatible material diameter = 1.75mm
      • That step is super important to verify. This is what caused me the most problems. I left this on the default and all my prints were coming out too thin because the printer thought that my filament was bigger than it actually was.
  • Custom Material
    • Preferences>Material>Create
      • Give appropriate Display Name, Brand, Material Type, and Color.
      • Leave density default (unless you know you need to change this).
      • Change Diameter to the correct settings. (Rock Space Filament is 1.75mm)


The Rock Space Any Mini manual tells you to change other printing parameters but this is not necessary and can even create some issues if you make the wrong changes. I suggest you avoid changing anything else unless you know what you are doing.

Once you have Cura setup, open an STL file that you downloaded, then set whatever settings you want. If this is your first time printing, I recommend that you just keep the defaults that Cura sets for you. After you have more experience, you can start playing around with different settings like setting the layer height and infill percentage.

Press the "Prepare" button to slice your model, then export the file as a .gcode file and save it to your SD card.

Once on your SD card, you can put your SD card in the printer and start printing!



Creating your own models


Eventually you will get to the point where you need to create your own models for very specific things. I have tried a bunch of different software and will give you my thoughts on what I have tried:


  • Sketchup online - This is probably the easiest to use but it also quite limiting. A nice thing about this is that it is online so you don't have to download anything. If you only need to create a really basic shape, I recommend you start with this.
  • TinkerCAD 3D - This is also online. I did not use this very much as I found it to be less intuitive to use than Sketchup. 
  • FreeCAD - This is open source (free) and very powerful. While not quite as simple to use as Sketchup, it has vast features that allow you to make very detailed models. This is ultimately what I ended up using.
  • Blender - Blender is designed as animation software but can be used for 3D modeling. This might be able to give you the most detailed 3D models but it has a very steep learning curve.

Problems and solutions


These problems are solutions are specific to the Ant Mini but are applicable to other 3D printers.

  • Problem: The filament is not sticking to the bed.
    • Solution: Either the Z-Axis is not low enough or you need to add glue or tape to the bed to give it a better surface to cling to.
  • Problem: The filament is not coming out at all.
    • Solution: Check to see if the Z-Axis is too low; there may not be enough room for the filament to come out. The nozzle may also be clogged or not hot enough.
  • Problem: The filament is sticking to part of the bed but not other parts of the bed.
    • Solution: The bed is not level. Level the bed.
  • Problem: The model is stuck to the bed
    • Solution: Try using painters tape on the bed. This can help remove the model and makes it so you don't have to clean up glue.
  • Problem: The filament is coming out to thin and models don't look solid like they sure.
    • Solution: Verify that your filament selected in Cura is correct
  • Tip: Use a smart socket for your 3D printer. The Ant Mini and some other 3D printers don't come with an on/off button. A smart socket can allow you to turn the 3D printer on and off easily, it can also let you remotely turn off the printer or turn off the printer for a given set of time. Some smart sockets even allow you to measure wattage so you can see how much electricity you are using when you print.
  • Tip: Setup an IP camera. Prints take a long time. Sometimes I will monitor my print at work using a baby monitor or IP camera to make sure that everything is printing as it should. When I can see that the model is finished printing, I will turn off the printer remotely using my smart socket.

About McKay Christensen

After having lived in Oregon, Alaska, and China for the past 10 years doing landscape design and English teaching, I have returned to my home state of Utah and currently work for a growing tech company.

In my free time I enjoy working on my TutorialGeek.net website where I post tutorials and reviews (and anything else I think is geeky) and I also like to write songs for my Super English Kid Youtube channel.

My favorite things to do include anything with my wife and son. Hiking, camping, and photography (or anything else outdoors). Playing Ultimate Frisbee or Ping Pong. Listening to 60s, 70s, or 80s, music. 

Feel free to contact me using my contact page. I would love to hear from any of you!

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