Last fall, ELEGOO sent me their Mars Pro MSLA 3D printer to take a look at. I was very impressed with that affordable little printer’s capabilities, as my review can attest to. While ELEGOO is best known for their resin printers, they also have an FDM printer, the Neptune 2. If you’re unfamiliar with the two types of 3D printing, here’s a quick primer again on SLA and FDM:
SLA vs. FDM: The Two Types of 3D Printing
Briefly, for our readers who aren’t that familiar with 3D printers but are thinking about dipping their toes in the water:
There are essentially two types of printers available: stereolithographic (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM). FDM models use a heated filament (most frequently PLA plastic) to build up a model, adding layer after layer until the model is complete. SLA printers use light to solidify a layer of resin at a time, creating the model. In the case of the Mars Pro, which is a masked stereolithographic (MSLA) printer, it uses light specifically from an LED array combined with an LCD photomask.
Both types of printers use their own type of “slicer” software to prepare a 3D model for printing, allowing you to adjust for the type of material you’re printing, how much detail you want to put into the final product (the finer detail, the longer it takes to print), and if you need to add any “supports” into the model to help ensure that the model doesn’t break or deform during the printing the process.
If you’re new to 3D printing, this can all seem a bit overwhelming. Think about it this way: SLA printers like the Mars Pro are best if you want to print smoother, more detailed figures such as tabletop miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons, while FDM printers like the Neptune 2 excel at printing larger, less detailed parts and objects, such as cosplay armor pieces and weapons.
What Is the ELEGOO Neptune 2?
The ELEGOO Neptune 2 is an entry-level FDM 3D printer. While it is inexpensive, it does have a couple of features usually found on more expensive printers: a filament sensor, to stop printing in case you run out of filament, and a resume print function, to finish a print-in-progress that has been interrupted due to a power outage or running out of filament.
- Print Principle: FDM
- Build Volume: 220x220x250mm
- Print Precision: +/- 0.1mm
- Nozzle Diameter: 0.4mm
- Print Speed: 30–180mm/s
- Ambient Environment Temperature: 5°C-40°C
- Maximum Temperature of Nozzle: 260°C
- Maximum Temperature of Hotbed: 100°C
- Slicer Software: Cura
- Input Format: STL, OBJ
- Output Format: Gcode
- Connection Type: TF Card, USB Wire
- Power Input: 100–120V/200–240V
- Power Output: 24V
- Machine Dimensions: 430x426x613
- Machine Weight: 6.9kg
Unboxing the Neptune 2
Much like with the Mars Pro, ELEGOO has packed the Neptune 2 very securely in foam. Opening the box, you’ll find two foam trays filled with components and accessories, covered by an additional foam sheet.
The packing does a good job of protecting the components. Unfortunately, a couple of the knobs and springs used when leveling the print bed had come loose during transit, but those were easy enough to reattach to the bottom of the bed.
Here’s what it looks like once you’ve removed everything from the foam:
If you read my review of the Mars Pro, you saw that there was very little work to do to assemble that printer. There are quite a few more steps involved with the Neptune 2.
While it looks daunting, if you’ve ever assembled your own computer, you’re looking at about the same level of difficulty in assembling the Neptune 2. Overall, the instructions are fairly clear, but you’ll want to take your time and pay very close attention to the illustrations. I was proceeding slowly, and found that it took me about an hour to put the machine together.
One very important bit of information was missing from the manual: the power supply has a small switch to choose between 110V and 220V. My unit was sent with the switch set at 220V, which you would use in Europe, or China where ELEGOO is based. If you are in the United States like I am, you’re going to want to set the switch to 110V. Otherwise, at best your 3D printer won’t turn on, and at worst, you could short out the power supply.
Here’s the Neptune 2, fully assembled and ready to pop on a roll of filament and get to printing:
Powering up the printer, you’ll be greeted with a nice-looking and responsive color touchscreen. The only downside to the touchscreen is that it really picks up fingerprints, so you’ll likely be cleaning it often.
Adventures in Printing With the Neptune 2
The Neptune 2 ships with a small bag containing 5 meters of white filament, which is probably about enough to print the small sample model that comes on the micro-SD card included with the printer. Knowing that I was going to need much more filament for printing, I picked up some Hatchbox 1.75mm Gray PLA filament to print on. Hatchbox filament is widely considered to be good quality at an affordable price.
If you are new to 3D printing, be aware that the instructions for the Neptune 2 don’t show you how to load the filament. It’s not a difficult process, but it would have been helpful if Elegoo had included the information, especially as this is a printer that will likely be chosen by people dipping their toes into the hobby. You can Google the information easily enough, and watch videos to see how to get the filament loaded into the printer hot end properly.
I decided to begin with printing up the aforementioned model included on the memory card, which was a tiny Buddha. I started by going through the process of manually leveling the bed, selecting “leveling” under the tools menu on the screen. This requires you to tighten or loosen the knobs under the print bed until you can move a piece of paper freely underneath the print nozzle at 5 different spots on the print bed, but with some friction.
Reasonably satisfied with my first leveling, I decided to go ahead and print the model. Starting a printing process is very simple: you select “Print” in the menu, choose a model you want to print from the memory card (or your computer if it’s connected), and press “Start.” The nozzle and bed will then start heating up, depending on what you’ve set things to in the Cura software. In this case, I was printing at the default for PLA on the Neptune 2, which is 200° for the hot end and 50° for the print bed. I also left the default layer height at 0.2.
The first layer of the print seemed to go down well, so I let it run. Soon, my Buddha was taking shape.
After a few hours, the Buddha was complete! I let everything cool down for a couple of hours (fans will continue to run automatically to cool off the hot end), then turned off the printer and popped the model off the build plate. Not bad for a first print, but I knew I could do better.
I used the Neptune 2 to print out some sample terrain in my coverage of the Terrain Machine Kickstarter. After that, I decided it was time to try a bigger print. I chose this Deadpool figure, downloading a free file from Thingiverse:
I was very pleased with that print. Having used up a lot of my roll of filament between that print and all the terrain I printed up, I thought I would print something small and fun. A Scottish artist has designed several small print and build model kits of planes and spaceships, and I chose a couple to print out at the same time, arranging them side by side in the Cura software.
I had hurriedly leveled the bed for this print, and it was a bit humid out (moisture can affect the quality of your PLA prints) so the kits didn’t come out quite as nicely as I would have liked, having a bit of stringing and inconsistency. Still, they are a lot of fun, and print pretty quickly so I could certainly print them out again.
Next, I was covering a Kickstarter for Fates End 3D printable dice towers, and figured I’d better change to a new roll of filament if I was going to be printing more big pieces. I stuck with Hatchbox, this time choosing a neon-green PLA. I printed out the Mayan Temple tower sample file from the Kickstarter:
I had printed that tower as a single piece, which took just shy of 40 hours to complete. Loving the results, I thought I would also try the Wizard’s Tower from the previous Fates End Kickstarter campaign. You can download those files from Thingiverse. As opposed to the Mayan Temple, I would need to print the Wizard’s Tower out as three separate, interlocking pieces. Here’s the process:
And here’s the finished piece, assembled:
ELEGOO Neptune 2: The Verdict
When this one showed up at my door, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A $160 printer from a company best known for its resin printers? But then I got down to printing, and I’ve got to say: I’ve been having a great time with the Neptune 2. Just using the default Cura settings, I’ve managed to pull off some pretty nice-looking prints. I haven’t yet taken the time to tweak things to get optimal printing results.
The Neptune 2 has a good print size and feature set for its cost. I didn’t get a chance to test out the filament sensor and print resume features, but I’m confident that they’ll work as well as they do on other printers. And as I noted before, those features are usually only available on printers that cost almost twice as much or more than the Neptune 2. The flexible build plate give great adhesion to your prints, and is removable as well, to make it easier to pop your prints off the plate. Though, in a sign of some of the cost-saving measures that ELEGOO went through to deliver a $160 printer, the build plate is attached to the printer bed with simple binder clips.
Similarly, there will be no fancy auto-leveling with the Neptune 2. You’ll be manually adjusting the four dials underneath the print bed, trying to make sure that the nozzle is equally distant from all the test points on the build plate. While not a difficult task, it can be a little tricky at first to get just the right feel for the leveling. And it’s also a process that you’ll be repeating before each print. I ran the leveling tool myself before each one, and found that I would have to make adjustments each time. It only takes a few minutes, and is well worthwhile. The one time I rushed the process, I ended up having to abort the print as the first layer wasn’t going down properly.
Assembly wasn’t too difficult, but I’d love to see ELEGOO come out with clearer, more detailed instructions. And especially a warning to switch the power supply to the proper voltage for your part of the world! But still, the printer doesn’t require a mechanic to put it together. Anyone with a modicum of patience should be able to assemble it in under an hour. And an added advantage to putting your machine together, is that you’ll have a much better understanding of how your 3D printer works.
As a first 3D printer, the Neptune 2 is an excellent choice. It’s affordable, has a good set of features, and most importantly, does a great job at printing. It also ships with all the tools that you’ll need for both assembly and future repairs, as well as some additional nozzles. And if you already have one or more 3D printers, the Neptune 2 is still a good choice as a supplemental printer. At the time of this writing, the printers are currently sold out, but ELEGOO is working hard to get more units in stock. Keep an eye on the ELEGOO listing on Amazon for when these printers are available again. You get a lot of printer for not a lot of money with the ELEGOO Neptune 2.