Makerbot Howto / Tutorial

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Revision as of 10:47, 20 November 2010 by Hexagon5un (talk | contribs) (→‎Print)

Set up the Software Side

Get your bits set up.

  • Download the latest version of replicator-G:
  • Run it at least once. It creates a secret .replicatorg directory in your home directory.
  • Download something fun to print. If this is your first time, something cool but quick like the penny bottle opener or a dodecahedron is a good idea. You should now have a .stl file.
  • Open up your .stl file in replicator-G. You should see a 3-D representation of it on a wireframe of the build platform. If it's too big, scale it. I always press "Move...Center" which puts the object on the build platform for you.

Fire up the Machine

Here we connect to the machine, and start it warming up.

  • Plug in the USB cable that's coming out of the Makerbot.
  • Select Machine...Driver and choose Andy's Cupcake. (You _did_ replace the machines.xml file in the step above, right?)
  • Select Machine...Serial Port and choose /dev/ttyUSB*
  • The top bar should now be green and the machine's name ("Slick") visible. If not, try clicking on the disconnect and re-connect icons. The next time you connect, replicator-G will remember these settings and it should just connect automagically.
  • The four-way arrow icon opens up the Control Panel. Do that.
  • On the right-hand side are controls for temperatures. Since it takes a while to heat up, we're going to pre-heat the machine now. Set the extruder temperature for 220 and the build platform for 100 (celcius). You will need to wait at least 5 minutes (maybe 10) until it's ready to go. _DO NOT_ start extruding when the extruder temperature gets up to 220 -- the thermistor is on the outside of the barrel and it heats up before the plastic is melted.
  • On the left are the platform controls. Honestly, it's easiest to zero the machine by hand. Press the "Set Zero" button. Now, push the platform so that the nozzle is in the center, and using the crank on the top right of the machine, lower the nozzle until it's almost touching the platform (0.1-0.2 mm above).
  • (Optional test extrusion) If it's been 5 minutes already and the extruder head is good and hot, you can raise the nozzle (press z+ to step up 10mm) and do a test extrusion. Type "255" into the PWM box at the top right, and select "Forward". If a noodle doesn't start coming out in a few seconds, make sure that the cord is feeding in. Sometimes it helps to reverse it back out, clip off the end, and re-feed. The extruder is slightly temperamental. If you do a test extrusion, be sure to place the nozzle back down at zero when you're done.

Build the G-code for your Model

G-code describes the path that the extruder head needs to follow to make your object, along with temperatures and motor speeds and other necessary details. Skeinforge is the program that turns your 3-D model into a tool path for the machine. (This is where all the bodies are buried.)

  • While the bot is warming up, press the "Generate GCode" button. It will open up a dialog box with a choice something like "cupcake-mk4-heated-platform-abs". Select that. Check the "Use raft" checkbox if it's not already.
  • For now, we'll be using the vanilla settings, but if you were going to change some of the skeinforge parameters, you'd click "Edit" or "Create" to edit or duplicate and edit the skeinforge settings to your liking.
  • OK, I lied. There's one setting you might want to change. (Optional.) With "cupcake-mk4-heated-platform-abs" selected, click "Edit" and then "Raft". Set "Interface Layers" to 1. Press save and close.
  • Back at the first menu, pressing "OK" will start compiling. This can take a while. Good thing the machine is warming up... Pace around expectantly for a few minutes.
  • When it's done, you should have a tab labelled "gcode". Click it if you want to see what gcode is like.
  • The leftmost button on the top row (arrow pointing to a ghostly jelly bean) enables you to simulate the build. Click it, wait a few seconds, and then watch as it traces out the planned object path. Cool, huh? This will be an important pre-flight check in the future, once you get used to what it means.


Here goes nothing...

  • Are you ready to rumble?
  • Has the extruder heated up? (Feel free to re-open the control panel to check that it's been at temp for a while.)
  • Does the machine think it's at zero? (Feel free to re-open the control panel and press "Set Zero" again.)
  • Is the nozzle physically at zero? (Move the nozzle center and almost-touching if not.)
  • Press the arrow-pointing-to-solid-jelly-bean button ("Build") to start the build!
  • The nozzle will raise up in a few seconds, it will run a test extrusion. If it worked, pull the extra plastic off of the extruder and click "yes" and it will start the print in earnest.
  • (If it didn't extrude, you'll need to see the section on troubleshooting)
  • The nozzle will move back down to the zero position and it'll start printing out the raft.
  • The first layer of the raft is slow and low, and ends up being fat. That's to make it stick better to the platform.
  • The next layer (or layers) are skinnier. They're just there to get the height right and the surface level. They will peel off your model when it's all done.
  • Watch in amazement for a few minutes. It's cool.

Advanced Tricks for Your Second Print

There's a bunch of options in rendering to g-code that you may be interested in changing. You should probably preview your model before printing it out.


  • The z-axis lead screws are modified and super-beefy on Andy's bot. You'll need to modify your machines.xml file to get it to work. See Makerbot machines.xml.
  • As noted above, the temperature indicated on the nozzle is _not_ the interior temperature that's relevant for melting the plastic, but the exterior temperature right next to the heating elements. You'll need to give it 5 min or so to soak in and melt the plastic.
  • The plastic feed reel (or lack thereof) binds. You will have to manually un-spool plastic by rotating the whole bundle from time to time. Just make sure it's not twisted or under tension -- either of those circumstances will cause your build to stop printing.