Sep 8, 2018

3D Printer Enclosure – 5 Cheap DIY Options

A 3D printer enclosure is, put simply, a box. But if you’re wondering about building one on the cheap, you might want to consider a few other factors. too. Read on to find out what they are.

Safety, Aesthetics, and Functionality

The main reason to have a 3D printer enclosure is to reduce warping of some materials upon extrusion. An enclosure will keep the temperature in the vicinity of the print bed more homogeneous, protecting the area from drafts, but also from dust. It also adds a safety layer to your printer, reduces noise, and helps organize space.

When considering an enclosure there are a few things to ponder. On the one hand, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of money on it. On the other hand, you may think on aesthetics if, for example, your printer is going to be standing in your home office rather than in your garage.

Also, you may want to reflect on what is the true purpose of your printer. Let’s say you primarily use your printer to entertain your 6-year-old. In that case, there’s a level of accessibility to the printer and its internals that you might want to limit. In contrast, if the printer serves as a personal learning tool and you foresee the frequent implementation of mods, then easy access is a perk.

The existence of an enclosure will also help to reduce contact with toxic particles and fumes that may exude while printing certain materials. If you think you’re going to print a lot of ABS for example, you might want to couple an enclosure with an extraction system, especially if the room where the printer will be sitting has poor ventilation. It’s not advisable to be sitting in the same room while printing ABS, even in a ventilated room.

In making your enclosure, you might want to think about isolating the printing area from other printer components. Once you start running a print with an enclosure, the temperatures inside the enclosure can increase substantially. This can pose a problem for electronic components, so it’s a good idea to place your power supply, control boards and display outside.

Also, particularly when printing with PLA, which has a lower melting temperature compared to other polymers, the high temperatures can degrade the material in the filament spool, so it’s better if they’re not enclosed together with the print bed.

Finally, a word of warning: Most of us have FDM printers at home that, by necessity, run at high temperatures, making them a fire hazard. Ideally, you should make your enclosure out of nonflammable material (e.g. metal and glass), which may not be cheap.  Keep in mind that a good thermal insulator can be easily flammable (e.g. polystyrene) so it’s a good idea to always add a smoke detector to your enclosure.

Having gone over the most important considerations, let’s jump right some 3D printer enclosures!

1. Schrödinger's 3D Printer

A 3D printer enclosure is, as we said earlier, a box. So, if you have a stable table on which to put your 3D printer, get a big enough cardboard box and invert it over your printer. Just make sure there is enough room for all moving parts to reach their full range of motion.

In this case, you might want to use some spare acrylic sheets and cut out some windows so that you can easily monitor the printing process. Place a smoke detector inside and a light source of your choosing and you’re good to go. Whenever you want to reach out for your printer, just remove the box. Easy! Hopefully you’re reusing some leftover material, in which case this enclosure will be free.

2. Studio Print

A hassle-free 3D printer enclosure option is to get a benchtop photo studio tent. Amazon sells these for under $25. They’re typically white and made of flexible synthetic material, which acts as a light diffuser so that objects inside can be more evenly illuminated. So, on top of keeping the temperature even, you can get good shots of your printer in action.

You needn’t worry about footprint. With a wide range of sizes to choose from, you can find the one that fits your printer just right. Beware, however, that the material typically used to make these tents is highly flammable.

3. The Way of the Tupperware

We’re back to boxes, but this time of the plastic variety. A transparent container of any kind can do the trick. Particularly for larger printers, finding a big-enough container may not be so easy or cheap. You may have to do with combining two containers. In that case, we recommend following this instructable using IKEA plastic boxes for a Mendel 90. The set of two boxes will cost you about $60 to $70, you will need to cut a few holes and slits to accommodate the printer and its cables.

4. Upcycle Old Furniture

This can be a very fun project to build if you like playing with wood. Many old cabinets and closets can be converted into enclosures. Depending on the state of the furniture, there may be different things you need to do to bring out some of the old glory. To get you started, we recommend that you look into repairing furniture, in particular refinishing furniture.

One of the problems you might encounter with upcycling old cabinets is that the doors, if made entirely of wood, won’t allow you to inspect the printer without opening. In this case, consider removing a section of the door in order to install a glass window. If you don’t have the tools, talk to your local hardware store. They might be able to help cut the door or rent equipment. You might also consider installing a couple of drawer runners so that printer can sit on a sliding platform for easy access.

A price range is difficult to provide here, as it really depends on the furniture you use and how much effort you put into modifying it.

5. How do you LACK it?

This is one the most popular and budget-friendly options for a 3D printer enclosure. It’s the IKEA LACK enclosure made from two (or three) tables stacked on top of each other. While the bottom table serves as an actual stand onto which you place the printer, the top table is typically fitted with thin acrylic sheets and serves as a hood onto which a spool-holder can be placed. Depending on the implementation of this enclosure system, the assembly may require some additional components, such as hinges, joiners, knobs and a filament guide, which can be 3D printed.

Thingiverse has many different versions of this enclosure. For us, the one designed by Prusa Research is a good place to start. With the Prusa design, you can actually fit the two tables together, but you can also easily detach them for easy acess to you printer. You can get a good tutorial on how to build it here.

One thing to keep in mind with this enclosure: With the filament spool standing outside, filament will be transferred to the extruder across the top table via a filament guide, which typically forms a small circular hole. This design is not appropriate if you want to build tall objects, where the extruder needs to move side-to-side close to the top table. This is particularly true for PLA, which is rather stiff and doesn’t bend easily, resulting in tensions accross the filament that may impede proper printing. Therefore, you’re advised to use instead a filament guide featuring a slit profile, rather than a circular one. Try this one, for example. 

The bill for this 3D printer enclosure, without the costs for printing and screws, includes 2 x $12 for the LACK tables and roughly $46 for the Plexiglass, for a total of $70.

License: The text of "3D Printer Enclosure – 5 Cheap DIY Options" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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