Last year, I bought a 3D printer. Since then, 3d printing has become a bit of an obsession. I’ve owned quite a few printers over the last year and I figured it’s time to do a run-down and some recommendations. In this post, I’m looking at the Creality Ender 5
Summary: Buy an Ender 5 Plus
This review is going to be different than I originally intended. See, Creality, when I wasn’t looking, launched an Ender 5 variant that covers my complaints, at least on paper. But my complaints are still worth talking about because (a) this is my site and what else am I going to do? (b) they still hold true for almost every other printer that Creality makes.
The Ender 5 is a large format printer from Creality. It uses a bowden tube system with a simple “MK8” type extruder, all of which sits on a large aluminum frame. The printhead sits at the top of the frame, handling X and Y, while Z is handled by the bed which sits on two rods and one screw. The electronics and power supply are all bundled away nice and neat in a box that attached to the bottom of the frame, helping add rigidity.
Like so many printers, when the stars align, the Ender 5 is a nice printer. It’s quiet and the frame allows for all sorts of add-ons and modifications without doing anything that voids your warranty. In my experience, though, the stars are fickle creatures.
First, there is no auto-leveling on this unit and it has no probes. Advertising sometimes says this is an “assisted level” unit because the firmware has the ability to move the print head to the places you should check for level. The actual levelling work is done by you, a piece of paper, and some wheels attached to the corner screws. The default springs are not great and the wheels move during a print. All that nice leveling work you did will likely be undone during the print by the printer itself. I had to relevel after every print and the slow drift of those wheels caused some lost prints too.
Second, the design of the bed is ridiculous. This is a large format printer with 220mm by 220mm bed with a max vertical of 300mm. It is supposed to handle a large volume of plastc which can weigh a decent amount. As I mentioned above, the Z-axis work is handled by the bed itself. The hotend sits at the top of the frame and the bed lowers itself as the print progress. So, we have a growing volume of plastic moving slowly downward. One would expect that volume to be well supported. At least I did. However, the bed rides on two rails in the back and attached to a single drive screw in the back. There is no under-bed support at all. As such, the bed tilts a bit towards the front and it is prone to bounce. If one configures the slicer to z-hop on retraction, one can watch the unsupported end bounce. As if that’s not bad enough, the bounce can cause the leveling wheels to work lose.
Third, the bed material is a pain to deal with. The bed itself is a magnetic flex plate system which is fantastic. However, the default plate is squishy. It has a really nice texture but it’s very easy to damage if one is trying to remove a print by flexing. If the nozzle is too close the bed, the material begins to bunch up and flex which causes damage to the bed and failed prints. The upside is that this is a standard flex plate system so it’s easy to buy replacements that better suit your tastes.
Fourth, the extruder just really doesn’t cut it. As a MK8, it’s a single hobbed gear on an all plastic extruder with a motor on the small side. MK8 extruders typically have an unconstrained filament path around the hobbed gear and the Ender 5 is no exception. This is not an extruder that you want to feed with flexibles. This is also not an extruder that is likely to keep up with high print speeds. The bowden tube is mercifully relatively short, at least. The upside here, like the build plate, is that the extruder and its motor are in a very accessible place and can be swapped out for something more powerful with minimal fuss.
Is There Anything To Like?
The Ender 5 is a large format printer and, when it’s working properly, can produce some very large items. I found, when tuned, that its print quality was pretty good. I still have Ender 5 prints in happy use around the house today. Also, the frame is made of standard 2020 and 2040 aluminum extrusions so modifications are relatively easy. Mounting a camera, for instance, is trivial and there are dozens of prints on the model sites to help. I also really like the electronics box. It’s a very clean build and the wiring is unlikely to get damaged during regular operations. The filament spool is mounted on the bottom near the back which my short legs like a lot. It can be a bit awkward on a table but the spool’s placement is adjustable.
What’s This About A Plus Model?
In the many moons since I owned an Ender 5, Creality launched the Ender 5 Plus. While I’ve not physically possessed a unit, it seems to solve all my complaints about the Ender 5. The bed is now on four rails, with two lead screws, one on each side in the center. It comes with a BL Touch probe for mesh bed compensation. The levelling wheels are still present but with a properly supported bed and a probe, they shouldn’t be needed all that often. The bed’s been upgraded to tempered glass and the extruder now carries a filament runout sensor. Add to it all that the bed size has grown from 220x220 to 350x350 and the Ender 5 Plus is a very compelling printer, particularly as an upgrade from the Ender 5.
If an Ender 5 seems good to you, go buy an Ender 5 Plus instead. It appears to have fixed many of the flaws I encountered with the regular Ender 5.