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Review of the ANET A2 from GearBest.com

I love 3D printing. So much in fact, that I somehow ended up as admin of an Anet A-series help group. Go figure!

It all started when I purchased an Anet A8 after breaking a part on my motorcycle. Instead of paying 40 dollars for a stupid plastic piece that broke, I pulled the trigger and purchased my first printer on sale from Amazon for $295.00. But that’s a story for another day. A year and a half later full of tinkering, experimenting, and burning through multiple rolls of filament, I make a decent amount of side cash printing various things; from spare one-off parts for people in the area, to cosplay masks:

Painting done by Etsy user Archnui

I’ve recently outgrown my need for just one printer from the amount of demand, evident by the amount of new models i’ve been buying recently. First it was the custom build I did, dubbed the RSP-01, then the iMakr STARTT, but these both came with their own set of growing pains.

In search of a replacement workhorse

My A8 has seen some action. With well over 3,000 hours total runtime and countless rolls of filament passing through it’s grasps, I can honestly say it’s been a reliable workhorse. Unfortunately, during all of this, it developed a crack in the frame and is now in parts waiting for a new chassis to be built.

While I’m waiting on new supplies to arrive to upgrade my faithful little A8 to the AM8 build on Thingiverse, I needed something comparable as a replacement, because orders pile up and business doesn’t stop.

The STARTT is too tiny for most jobs, and the RSP is too unstable to print at higher speeds and is relegated to slow jobs.

I needed something I knew could work for my purposes out of the box, and a platform that I am familiar with.

Enter the Anet A2:

Quick history: Anet has been around for a quick minute, and dominates a large portion of the chinese 3D printer Prusa i3-style RepRap printers with various models.

This particular one has a frame made of both 2020 and 2040 Aluminum extrusions in lieu of the popular acrylic, and uses roller bearings instead of guide rods. I’ve always been curious about them, having experience with it’s older brothers, the A8 and A6- but i’ve never even seen an A2 in the flesh. They’ve always interested me with their weird but cool setup and no guide rods but wheel bearings.

Curiosity got the better of me, and so I chose this unit from GearBest after I saw that it was on sale for $175.00. It’s now $195.00 at the time of writing as sadly, the sale ended (UPDATE JUNE 04 – SEE NOTE AT END FOR A COUPON FOR $165.00). With shipping on top, it’s around $215.00 dollars total- far short of the $295.00 I paid for my Anet A8 on Amazon a year and a half ago. Ordering on GearBest isn’t too hard, and thankfully they accept PayPal if you want some kind of buyer guarantee or money arbitration.

Concerning shipping, if you absolutely need it now, you can spring for the expedited shipping that arrives in 3-7 days, but that’s close to $50.00, so I recommend just being patient and reading up on what you’re getting into while waiting for your printer to arrive. Come say hi to us in the group!

Let’s get building!

Section Preface: I will NOT be going into detail with building with beautiful timelapse videos and step-by-step plays, but simply commenting on the process and things that stand out. I’ve supplied the build videos to help you with that.

I was too busy catching up on orders to count the days, and before I knew it- a DHL truck showed up at my door and asked me to sign for the package.

The first thing I noticed after I gleefully accepted the parcel is that it was packaged nicely. When compared to my first 3D printer, which suffered some battle damage during transit, this was practically art.

I promised myself I wouldn’t spend the day putting it together and that I had things to do, but oops- it’s raining out. Let’s just see what’s in the package aaaand….

Yeah, I’m building it. How could I not? and wow! They actually separated the hardware into smaller baggies!

Call me dumb for getting excited over this, but you won’t believe how much this saves on overall headache. One thing i shirked a little at were the acrylic pieces. I don’t MIND them, I just really prefer to steer away from how brittle and flexy they can get on bigger pieces. But on this printer, they’re not frame pieces under considerable, only one-off parts, so I can forgive it.

Supplied with it as per usual was a USB stick. This isn’t my first rodeo, so i knew that the instructions were stowed away somewhere within along with installations for Cura and the USB drivers.

I tend to be the type to dive in both feet first and go for it, but again- since I’ve done this a few times and know the problems, i went ahead and printed out the parts list to run through and check. Believe me when I say how much it sucks getting hours into a build only to realize you don’t have a piece. I’ve done this so much that the guys at my local hardware store know me by name.

Another nice touch with this particular A2 is that they’ve made a guide with actual picture instructions. People complain about the videos being hard to follow, but if you’re used to YouTube hotkeys (hint hint.. use your LEFT/RIGHT arrow keys on laptop and desktop to jump back and forth), they’re not that bad. You can also slow them down and watch what he’s doing in slow-mo.

But before I even think about assembly, I knew I had to peel all the paper off of the acrylic pieces. Trust me, DO THIS FIRST! You won’t be able to effectively once the printer starts going together.

Ugh… so after 30 minutes total to complete this, I was finished peeling paper. If you lack any length to your fingernails like I do, this can be a real chore.

Also, a fun little thing to point out– check this out:

Hidden Two-in-one screwdriver! Shih-shah!

With that out of the way, I sorted them into different pieces and set to work. I started by separating the hardware into a tray to be more organized and for easy access. I got the tray from my local dollar store, so check yours or any hardware store really.

Another recommendation is to go ahead and assemble the corner pieces for the A2 by putting the washer and bolt through and barely threading on the square pieces. Be sure you’re not mixing up the M5x16mm with M5x12mm – it DOES make a difference as one will bottom out, and the other will fit perfectly:

 

Here are the two videos that I used for assembly:

I noticed that the aluminum frame is surprisingly simple to assemble, especially if I compare it alongside the acrylic counterparts of the Anet A8 / A6 (which I will keep doing). Another bonus is that you don’t have to worry about cracking anything from overtightening! (but I still don’t recommend hulking out and overtightening for obvious reasons).

One super-awesome point that I absolutely love is how compact and thought out everything on this model is. The belts run through the frame and are out of the way when moving it around, and some of the electronics utilize the channels. It’s just really cool to me and looks clean. I’m terrible at cable management and even I was able to make it presentable!

Call me a stickler, but I also like how it doesn’t use any 3D printed parts. Sure, if you do any amount of modding, you’ll end up with printed parts, but MASS PRODUCED printed parts often look rushed and aren’t quite perfect. No worries though, if you don’t like it- make your own!

A minor negative I notice at this point though is how the endstops mount. I absolutely HATE the tiny screws and having to drive them into the end stop acrylic pieces– which most likely won’t ever come back out due to how easily the heads strip. I know this from experience from, you guessed it, my A8.

A possible suggestion is to handle it like how the STARTT/TronXY 100 did, with M2 nuts/bolts instead of SCREWS that need to tap into a hole.

I suppose if you’re feeling bushy tailed, you could drill the pieces out and do this, but unless you have M2 screws and nuts laying around and a steady drilling hand, you’re stuck.

Or if you have another printer, you could always just print your own. Whatever fits your fancy!

A Few Curious Quirks Apart From It’s Brothers, But the Same Family Issues.

As I continue to build, it dawns on me: I really like how these extrusion pieces allow for expansion. I’ve honestly never played with these extrusions, and this build has me excited for upgrading my overly-mentioned A8 into a powerful and sturdy AM8.

Granted, if you can get more of these small square nuts with teeth and M5x12 / M5x14 bolts, you can easily build onto the frame. Thankfully some were left over from the build process. When I change to another board to allow for multiple extruders at some point and perhaps fix a filament holder to the top, this set-up makes it easy-peasy.

The extruder design is another curious point for me. It’s a bowden-style (remote tube fed) extruder that’s rather compact. Not quite an E3D-style with the iconic circular cooling fins, and I am not sure what throat it’s using, but I thought it was pretty neat. I’ll have to take it apart fully sometime and study it some more.

I’m not sure if I LIKE or HATE how the belts go on and all of these idler bearings everywhere. It’s easy, sure, and I did hate messing with the teethed designs. Using zip-ties is a lot simpler, but like all stock setups, it’s nearly impossible to get good tension unless you have 3 hands. Just enough should be fine until I am able to print a tensioner.

Concerning the extruder heater, be VERY mindful and inspect where the thermistor and heater cartridge go in.

Notice they’re held in by a tiny grubscrew that can wiggle free under heat and vibration, and then the entire assembly can fall out and drag across your bed and other parts.

This is a potential fire hazard! The old ANET firmwares did not have any thermal runaway protection, and worst- if the thermistor remains close to the heater, it can continue on as though nothing is wrong, dragging around a hot heating element all over the table and potentially burning your house down.

I highly recommend you buy some Kapton tape and wrap it around the block and wires to keep them from pulling free, just for some insurance.

Another warning before you wire everything is to CHECK YOUR MAINS VOLTAGE SWITCH ON THE POWER SUPPLY. Not doing so can fry components. I’ve seen a few posts on the group from people who overlooked this step and paid for it.

Last, when wiring the power to the mainboard, double-check your polarity on the main power as reversing these will release the smoke and kill the mainboard. The Bed / Extruder heater are not polarized so they’re fine either way– just be sure to tighten them down and not pinch any material, as this will create an air gap and cause the connector to heat up and melt, sometimes rather dramatically!

When Finishing Is Only The Beginning

My total build time was around 6 hours with minor distractions and taking a break for food. If you’re new at this, be ready to put aside at least 6-8 hours total and find a nice quiet workspace that you can leave the unassembled printer in without fear if you need to get up.

Now you’re probably thinking: Did anything go WRONG during assembly?

Well.. yes.

One of the M5x30mm screws that held the wheel bearing on the extruder was missing a head. This required a trip to the hardware store to replace. However, when compared to my Anet A8 that I ordered from Amazon with having 2 guide rods that were bent and unusable, this is utterly trivial.

Like with any DIY kit, just be ready to possibly supply a few small parts yourself or find a work-around.

After a quick check to make sure everything was tight and in place, I adjusted my bed. People often wonder how close to the bed you need to place the nozzle and the only answer I have is very close. My method involves manually moving the bed and extruder around in a cross formation from the center of the bed and noting any dragging spots. Some tips:

  • If the tip clicks or hangs against the side of the bed when moving over an edge, it’s too close and may be compressing your bed. Adjust it upwards.
  • Measure from all 4 corners, and also measure in both directions from the middle. You can use a piece of A4 printer paper to judge dragging as well.
  • Remember that turning the butterfly screws right will “raise” the nozzle by tensioning the bed and pulling it away, and left will “lower” it by releasing tension, which causes the springs to push it up.
  • When setting up, fully tension your bed springs until reasonably tight and then move your Z-axis endstop down. Manually turn the Z axis screwrod to park the tip as close to the bed as possible and then find the moment the X-axis presses the switch before tightening the Z-endstop. This will give you a wide range of adjustment upwards.
  • It’s possible to add autoleveling to these units (which I love), but more on that in the future!

Once I had the bed leveled out, it was time to print. Rather, it was time to find a model to print.

I used the same profile I had for the Anet A8 in Simplify3D, as everything SHOULD be around the same. Just to note, they include some files on the USB stick if you don’t know where to look (I recommend Thingiverse for most things).

Sidebar: Which Slicer is the Sharpest?

For newbies who don’t know what a slicer is: it’s what generates the commands for your 3D printer to work and which paths to take.

There’s huge debate over which slicer you should use and which produces the best results in terms of quality and speed, has the most features, is easiest to use, etc.

I’m a Simplify3D guy myself, but with it’s $150.00 price tag, it tends to turn a lot of beginners away. But once you grow and find yourself needing higher quality and more control, I definitely recommend it.

Here are the other popular choices of slicers:

Let the Printing Begin!

Once the slicing completed, I saved the .gcode file then uploaded it to my Repetier-Server install on my Raspberry Pi 3.

All I needed to do was click print, and the A2 sprung to life and whirred away, happily depositing molten plastic in precision patterns layer-by-layer. I had an order going out so I skipped the normal test print of a 3D Benchy and went right into a horn and well…

Notice the pattern? This is a severe case of “ringing”, or patterns caused by some kind of vibration or jerk when the printer changes direction, any jerkiness will be translated into the print head. It looks cool, but this is not ideal as it means there’s slop.

A caveat for any of these printers. One of the first things you should ever print if your model did not come with it is BELT TENSIONERS, which allows you to tighten up any slack in the belts, which are just held on by zip-ties:

So searching around on Thingiverse, i found the following tensioners. Note that both of them may require a run to the hardware store to get extra nuts and bolts, which should be outlined in the descriptions:

X-axis tensioner: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2201478

Y-axis tensioner: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2157807

Here’s how it looked after printing and assembling the Y axis. All of the parts came from the stock piece on the printer, and a few left over screws :

 

And mounted on the printer, which shows how it works:


Another issue the A2 has stock is that it does NOT come with a print cooler. This is necessary for cooling the plastic down on sections that are hanging off the side or bridging over gaps. Without one, the plastic stays warm and malleable, which affects your quality as it sags and doesn’t set properly:

I figured while I was at it, I should do a few necessary upgrades. I installed a custom firmware (Skynet), which is based on Marlin, and gives you autoleveling. The stock setup, like a lot of printers, requires you to manually level the bed using thumbscrews that adjust springs. This can be tedious if you print a lot as they change tension and throw your settings off.

Thankfully the autolevel mount supplied with the firmware came with a very nice solution to mount a cooling fan for prints:

I also printed the X-axis tensioner, which was kind of strange to figure out. There’s a collar that fits over the assembly to lock it in place. Really neat design, and shows that there’s multiple ways to approach this!

I ordered a print fan off of Amazon and waited a few days for it to show up. In the meantime, I tried a few prints to test autoleveling and get it dialed in.

It seems having adequate tension on the belts did the trick:

Not too bad- shows a noticeable improvement, though still has a texture. I chalk this up to the bearings needing to wear in and find their tracks. I could dry-run the printer at different speeds to help this along, but it’s usable for now.

Once the cooling fan came in, i quickly installed it and ran the first test that I wanted to do: a 3D Benchy. I did one without a cooling fan (above) and it turned out horrible, so let’s see how this one will turn out:

Definitely an improvement There’s still a strange ringing pattern, but it’s definitely a usable model. The cooling fan helped dramatically, and there’s no sagging on the bow like above. I do notice that there’s some odd layering on the Z (up/down) axis, and i’ve heard its from the wheels causing it. Some of this could be from my settings, as I need to learn the nuances of the machine and really tune the settings in. Overall, the quality is getting better.

The Verdict

Overview – ★★★½☆☆

The Anet A2 is a strange machine to me. I’ve never really been around many 3D printers that use wheels like this, and it’s a new experience. Sure, i’ve seen people with Tevo Tarantulas, which is what I think they were trying to imitate with the A2. It’s a strange design that I love a lot about, but hate a few design choices- I’ll break those down below.

Out of the box, it has issues- as with most chinese printers. It’s not without printing some mods to increase the quality that this printer really begins to shine. Luckily people have covered the basic needs I think are paramount: Tensioners, and Autoleveling-– everything else is easy enough to roll your own.

I feel like people are right- the wheels just aren’t the right size. They feel tight, and shaved material off for the first few hours of printing, which made me have to disassemble and clean the race. I was instructed to loosen the wheels, which helped some, but going too loose and you get lateral slop.

The print quality isn’t bad, but I haven’t cranked the speed up to above 60mm/s or played with acceleration settings. I feel like if this were my first printer and I didn’t know any better, i could excuse it, but I’ve seen what these cheap printers can do, and they can crank out some impressive prints. This one, however, is middle of the road, and I feel it’s going to take a bit to work out all the bugs.

Purchasing and Shipping – ★★★★★

When it comes to purchasing, I had no real issues with GearBest like i’ve heard from others in the past, and it arrived safe and intact in a reasonable amount of time. Considering it was cheaper than my first Anet A8, arrived sooner, and wasn’t missing too many pieces, I am quite impressed. I would knock a star off for the broken bolt, but if you’re so helpless that you can’t go to your local hardware store, 3D printing is NOT for you.

Assembly – ★★★★☆

Very straightforward and easier to follow than their previous product lines that used.. ugh.. acrylic (I’m biased against it now, considering my A8 frame cracked!). I docked a star because they still make you watch a YouTube video with some guy assembling the printer. It’s not terrible, but sometimes things can get a little vague, and it would be nice to have some sort of guide. They DO include one on the flash stick, but it’s also vague and does not follow along with the video, which is really bizarre why they’d bother.

Usage / Beginner Friendliness – ★★★★☆

If you’ve never printed before, I can assure you this would be a mild trial by fire. If you’re not mechanically inclined, there may be a few expletives blurted out. But again, if you are not- why are you 3D printing?

I knocked the point down because of the issues at hand, and the total lack of the print cooling fan kills the quality and overall damages the package as a whole. You’ll definitely learn the in’s and out’s of 3D printing, but this style just isn’t popular enough to give you an idea of 3D printing. Where’s the linear rods? Where’s the bearings? I thought I’d be happy to throw those away; to laugh and say “Those are for plebs! Wheeled bearing systems are the only way!” but now, i’m not so sure.

Print Quality – ★★★☆☆

This is where the A2 suffered the most for me. Out of the 4 chinese printers I have in my workshop, it’s the one with the strangest defects. Perhaps it’s the hotend? Or maybe it’s the frame design? Who knows, but without some further experimentation to pin down the problem, I have to adjust my expectations to decent quality and delegate any higher quality jobs to another machine. It’s sad when a printer I slapped together using spare rodstock is being used more due to quality issues.

The Good

  • Love the extruded frame. Feels really solid, and because it’s 2020/2040 extruded, it allows for easy expansion as you can just use T-nuts to drop into the channels and tighten on. I’ve even picked it up and moved it around, and it still felt pretty solid with zero flex
  • The lack of linear rods means bed size can be easily expanded once I get the wheel issue sorted out. Just buy some more aluminum from MiSUMi and recut some belts. Really cool.
  • It feels like they thought a little more about design. Everything fits tightly and in tolerance. The way everything meshes shows that they had to give SOME thought in the design– a point I felt they overlooked on their prior models.
  • Other than that, it’s a ~$200.00 workhorse printer, what can you really expect?

The Bad

  • Still using the stock Anet 1.0 board and bad firmware. It’s not TERRIBLE by any means, but the lack of expansion means you’re stuck with the same setup. It does it’s job, sure, but it has a few design flaws (such as using those crappy power connectors) that seems to be breezed over. It would also be nice to be able to change out your drivers. The stock firmware SUCKS for one major reason: It does NOT have any sort of thermal runaway protection that will detect discrepancies in your heating systems and if it finds an error, will shut the system down. I find this to be downright dangerous.
  • The stock hotend leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve had it jam a few times, and they use a PTFE-lined throat instead of an all-metal one. My first one melted the first time I printed ABS and had to be replaced. Blah.
  • The lack of a print cooling fan. If I were new, I would be appalled trying to print with PLA and seeing the awful overhangs.
  • The wheels. Sure, I love the extruded design and the fact that the X/Y carriage ride on them, but these wheels SUCK. I’m in the camp that they are not the proper ones for the job and instead just some off-the-shelf shower door wheels that Anet decided would work. Sure you can live with your door skipping on the track, but not with a jittery print.
  • Lack of support from the manufacturer. If there’s an inherent issue, don’t expect a company like Anet to care. That’s why there’s Facebook support groups. It would be nice if they’d listen to some of the common issues and strive to correct them
  • The stock belts. I didn’t really touch on this too much in the article, but I wish these chinese manufacturers would just use GT2 belts for everything. They’re a standard for a reason, and they’re awesome. These stock plastic/metal belts stretch out and begin to screw up your prints. I’ve even had one snap before.

 

*Article Update: June 04, 2017* A rep from GearBest contacted me about this review and offered a coupon that puts the price at $164.89 for anyone who is wanting to purchase one. Use code “AnetA2” at this link http://www.gearbest.com/3d-printers-3d-printer-kits/pp_447850.html?lkid=10768741.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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