Flashforge Creator Pro - Beginners Guide

Author: Andrew   Date Posted:9 June 2015 

Updated: 9th June 2015

The Flashforge Creator Pro is an excellent mid-range printer that can do amazing things in the hands of a skilled user, however there is something to be said about the lack of documentation on how to do these things, so this it is my hope that this guide will help you get started with your printer. 

This guide is intended to cover: What's included with the printer, how to setup the basics and how to use the supplied slicing program as well as others that are available.

The Flashforge is a cousin to the original Makerbot Replicator Dual (or 2X). These 'replicator clones' have however undergone some substantial upgrades and revisions over the last few years that put them squarely in a league of their own.

The printer has a bed size of 225m x 145mm x 150mm (height) and dual direct-drive extruders. It has a sturdy metal frame with acrylic hood and door.

Getting it out of the box, and what to do from there.

After you've opened the box and pulled out the printer and cardboard boxes, make sure you open each and check for parts as there are a few spares and tools and bits and pieces that you'll need to get started. There is also an SD card with instructions and a copy of the basic "ReplicatorG" software you can use to run the printer.

So what’s on the card? Quite a lot, which is covered in detail below. The links are to the files provided on the SD card. Most are in zipped form.

Disclaimer: Flashforge’s documentation is a little out of date. There are differences on their referenced printer and the printer they currently ship (as of May 2015 this includes the PLA cooling fan).

Warning: Change the Power Settings

If you're going to just pull it out and power it up without reading the manual, beware! Flashforge printers have a power supply that works with 220v and 110v. From the factory the printer ships set to 220v which is suitable for Australia and New Zealand, but I would still recommend checking this before you power it up.

The power supply is located directly behind the power plug and switch and is best accessed by rolling the printer on it's side rather than front or back.

Documentation

The following is what Flashforge provides in their documentation, just as an overview.

  1. What’s in the box and unboxing.
  2. Assembly instructions for the printer.
    Note: The documentation provided for this part is slightly off from the printer received.
  3. Installation of ReplicatorG (see software section)
  4. Filament installation/removal/ReplicatorG interfacing.
    Note: This part is extremely out of date. Flashforge has moved to new firmware that has a utility for loading and unloading filament. Use this instead of the method in the documentation.
  5. Bed leveling
    Note: This process should be done once every few weeks or 10-15 builds, or if you run into any problems with first layer adhesion. It should be considered part of regular printer maintenance.
    • You can follow the instructions provided in the documentation and they should work okay but I prefer this version (below); if you've been printing prior to doing this make sure the tip of the nozzle is clean and has cooled down before beginning.

       

      1. With the printer off, raise the print bed gently with your hands until you can access the 3 wing nuts located under the print bed (one forward, one left, one right).To raise the bed, loosen the nuts. To lower the bed, tighten the nuts.
      2. Lower the print bed (tighten the nuts) a few turns. This is to ensure you won’t scrape the print head on the print bed and screw up your pre-installed Blue-build plate when you start the levelling program.
      3. Turn on the printer. Head into Utilities > Level Build Plate. This will move the print bed up to what should be against the print head, it'll move to the far right then settle in the centre, eventually this should be almost touching, but this is what we're going to sort now. 
      4. Grab the piece of levelling paper and place it on the print bed; regular paper will do also but this piece is a little bit thicker so should give 0.1mm of separation between the build plate and nozzle.
      5. Move the print head into the middle of the build platform. It’s safe to do by hand in this levelling mode, it should move freely.
      6. Tighten the wing nuts one by one half a turn sliding the paper around the print bed after each turn. The goal is to get the paper to have some resistance but still be able to move freely.
      7. After you experience some resistance as described above move the print head to one of the 2 back corners and adjust the screws until you feel the resistance described above, then move to the other corner and do the same. Finally, move the print head to the front and center of the blue build plate (just above the front wingnut) and repeat.
      8. Hit the middle button on the control panel when done. This should take care of your plate levelling.
  6. Explanation of GCode.
  7. Initial test print.
  8. Dual extruder test print.

Software

The SD card comes with ReplicatorG and Python 2.6.6, as well as a Python compiler called Psyco.

Honestly, having used other systems I wouldn’t recommend using anything that comes on the thumb drive.  My personal recommendation is to download and install the newest versions of each of the programs. Yes, it will most likely make the documentation for ReplicatorG obsolete on a couple things, but it’s worth it.

I’ve linked to the current versions (or at least their download page) below.

ReplicatorG – This is the printer interface program as well as for a slicer. It uses Skeinforge for a slicer and works ok.

Python – As far as I know the two current versions of Python (2.7.9 and 3.4.3) are both stable and don’t cause many issues. Caution: Make sure you test the versions before getting into it too far. If you’re having issues try the previous stable version.

PyPy (formerly called Psyco) – This is a precompiled version of Python (supports 2.7.8 and 3.2.5) that theoretically runs faster and with less memory usage than Python.

Test Prints

There are a handful of test prints available on the SD card. A test for both extruders, a box for both extruders, and a cube. You can use these or you can run with the ones that are included in ReplicatorG

Plate Leveling

The plate leveling included on the SD card is what’s covered in the documentation mentioned above. As I said, I would definitely recommend leveling it yourself. It ends up being a quicker, better process.

Enclosure/Hood Assembly

There's a newer assembly video on YouTube that was put up by Flashforge-USA. You can find it here.

Initial Setup

This will be mostly copy paste from the Official Flashforge documentation, but I will be making changes to the inaccuracies.

I’m starting post unboxing and power switch.

  1. Lower the build platform. I’ve found pressing down on the build platform from the rear to be the best method, or pull on the arms themselves. Too much pushing on the plate and it can cause the screws etc to wiggle and un-level the bed a little bit each time.
  2. Position the extruder on the extruder seat, fans facing you and using the two shortest screws found in the accessory box attach the extruders.

  3. To install the spool holders find the two slits on the back of the printer. The spool holders get inserted large end up, get pushed all the way in, then let slide down.If you need to remove the spool holders simply push on the spool holders and pull out. The Flashforge brand spools lock in place on these however for any other filaments I'd recommend printing this spool holder from Thingiverse: Spool Holder

  4. Install the plastic guide tubes by clipping them in at the back of the printer and running them down into the drilled holes on the extruder mount; if they don't slide in try switching the ends around.
  5. Insert the power cord (the printer takes any standard PC power cord otherwise known as a kettle cord).
  6. Connect the USB A cable to the printer and your PC
  7. Install your filament by pushing it on the spool holder, then running the filament up through to the other end of the tube and on the printer select Utilities -> Filament Loading -> Load (Left or Right depending on which you're using) and wait for it to heat up and start extruding. There is normally a small amount of filament already in the head from the factory test, you can hit the middle button to stop the extrusion or hit left and cancel if you need to during the heating cycle.
    Flashforge provides two random colour 1kg spools of filament with each printer, normally 1 ABS and 1 PLA.
  8. Assemble and place on the acrylic cover/hood as mentioned earlier.

That’s it, everything should be assembled, next up; how do you actually print something?

Picking a printer software

There are a few areas you need to understand when picking a “3D Printing Software” and if you don’t have previous knowledge it can be a bit confusing and frustrating the first few times around.

3D Piece Design

I’m going to start with 3D design software since it’s probably the first piece of software used when starting a print from absolute scratch.

What is 3D design software? It’s software that you can use to create a 3D model of something. It’s (usually) what’s used to create all those kick-ass models you see on Thingiverse.

Alright, so what are my options here?

Quite honestly, too many for me to list. I’m just going to list the ones that I’ve either had experience with, or heard of. This isn’t to say these are the best, but if you’re just starting out they should at least give you somewhere to start.

Tinkercad

 

For someone who has little to no design experience, Tinkercad is the Lego of 3D design. You start with simple shapes, stick them together or cut them out of each other and you have a piece made; they do all the rendering, it works in your browser and you can download the finished piece directly as an STL file which is then used to create the 'sliced' tool path for your printer.


This is the option I'd recommend for anyone who's just starting to make things, as there is a great set of tutorials that explain the basics and get you started: Tinkercad Tutorials

Sketchup

As far as software goes though, Sketchup and Autodesk 123D Design are the next step up. For sketchup, more complex design requires the addition of plugins, however it's a good introduction to 3D design.

If you plan on generating a printable model using Sketchup (almost always in STL format) you’ll need an STL plugin, like this one. And probably a help page on how to install it.

Autodesk 123D

Autodesk 123D Design is made by the same people that made Tinkercad, so if you've been using that for a while it's a pretty logical setup up and it still has a free option, but offers a number or more complex features.

Blender

I haven't really done much with blender myself at all but I've heard a lot of good things from those who are into the more detailed part creation.

Meshmixer

Meshmixer is another offering from Autodesk but with some nice options for splitting an existing piece into parts; I haven't used it much yet but have heard good things from others.

Downloadable Model Repositories

Thingiverse

A repository created by the Makerbot group, this site has a HUGE collection of models as well as customisable items (need a bolt or nut that's a specific size? there's a customisable design for that). Best of all you don't need to ever know or do anything about the design, you just download it and load it up in your slicer to print.

Youmagine

A similar repository by the guys who make the Ultimaker printers.

3DShare

One of the first paid model sites to come about; 3DShare features both paid and free models for download but has a smaller collection when compared to Youmagine or Thingiverse at present.

Slicing Programs 

(The things that make the file you can print)

Once you've got your piece, you need to use a program that’s called a slicer. It takes and generates a printing toolpath for your printer which tells it where to move, what to extrude, when and how hot the heads should bet etc. You also have a couple different options for administering it once it’s been generated. You can put it on the included SD card and stick it in your printer or you can run a USB cable and send the job via your computer/laptop instead. So what are the program options here? Well, there’s a few of those, too.

Note: There are a couple options here. A couple of the control programs I’ve used have proprietary slicers baked in.

Standalone (can slice files for printing)

KISSlicer

While I haven't actually used it myself I’ve seen both negative and positive reviews for KISSlicer however I've been informed it's no longer under active development so I'd avoid paying for it at this point even if you do like it.

Skeinforge

Skeinforge is available as a standalone software, but also baked into ReplicatorG, which is included with the Flashforge printers I can say that Skeinforge works fine, but is not as good as Slic3r.

Slic3r

I didn’t use Slic3r constantly when I started out. The difference in quality between Slic3r and Skeinforge was noticeable, but not worth the extra steps of getting it to work with the ReplicatorG software. If you’re looking for a standalone slicer, then I would recommend Slic3r as a viable option.

Bundled (can slice and print directly)

Makerbot Desktop

Makerbot Desktop itself is a great software which is originally made to work with the Makerbot Replicator that the Flashforge is based on.. It's a great user interface and is easy to navigate but for the slicer. I spent a number of hours trying to work out where the software was going wrong as I couldn't get it to produce any good quality prints. I switched to Simplify3D (proprietary slicer) and it was like apples and oranges. As a slicer, it’s worth checking out, just to see it in action and I've seen plenty of people on the Flashforge group on Facebook using it, but I personally haven't had much luck.

Simplify3D

First things first; Simplify3D costs around $149USD. But it is honestly the best thing I've done to a) reduce the time spent on printing and b) increasing the quality of prints I produce. 

The print quality is great, the settings allow for some really impressive designs as well as multiple parts to be printed with different settings at the same time and the slicing speed is insanely fast; like 100x faster than anything else I've used.

There's time, filament and cost calculations embedded in the software and it can function both directly connected to the printer, or producing files that go on the SD card for printing.

Note: Simplify3D is $150, but I think it’s worth it and so do many others. There is also an excellent set of 3rd party documentation available here.

ReplicatorG

ReplicatorG simply uses Skeinforge as a slicer, no additional options here.

Printing Control Software

The final piece of software is what’s called control software. It’s what can connect to your printer and tell it to do stuff as well as generating the files you can use to do the same. You already have one of these in the form of ReplicatorG that comes with the printer, but we're going over them again briefly just so you understand the difference between the slicing and the printing part itself.

Makerbot Desktop

With the Flashforge Creator Pro being almost identical to a replicator dual; Makerbot Desktop is on option for print control software. It has a few features that none of the other software does, such as the patented hexagonal infill pattern that gives good strength and support.Compared to the rest of the software Makerbot Desktop is extremely good looking and easy to navigate. Another really sweet feature is the library it comes with is their (Thingiverse) library from which you can load items directly. It also adds all the files you import into the program and lets you view them all rendered

Some people swear by it, and I will admit it does make the basics pretty straight forward; point and click, set to high medium or low resolution then save and upload print file; however in spite of the nice UI and standard options, getting it running well requires a bit more knowledge and a fair amount more tinkering. If you're set on going down the free route, then ReplicatorG or Makerbot Desktop are your best bets, but expect to spend just as much time working on your print file as you do at the actual printer itself. 

ReplicatorG

ReplicatorG is an open source print control and slicing program. As mentioned above, ReplicatorG uses Skeinforge as its slicer and comes with the Flashforge.

While not as pretty as Makeware, it gets the job done. It’s got all the base features you would expect, rotate, move, scale, etc. It’s also got a pretty great machine management system.

As far as the free software goes, there aren’t many downsides to ReplicatorG other than it's unintuitive and daunting control interface.

There’s not much more to say about ReplicatorG. It’s open source, supports a good chunk of printers, a decent amount of control over your printer via custom settings, and all the basic features you’d want, for free.

Repetier Host

While I love Simplify3D, if I had to make another choice I think it would have to be Repetier Host. It doesn’t have the best of everything, but out of the free programs it seems to be the best all around solution.

While not as pretty as Makerware, Repetier Host is definitely a step up from ReplicatorG. It has all the same basic features you’d expect. The main draw, for me at least, is the ability to run multiple slicers within the program (a downside of all the rest). Natively you can slice with Slic3r, Skeinforge, and Cura (if you install it).

While those are a few of the main benefits, there are a few nifty extras that take Repetier Host the extra mile in my eyes. It has a built-in G-Code editor which is a pretty good feature for people into more advanced printing. Another bonus feature is the mobile app that allows you to receive push messages about your prints.

If you’re looking for free software, definitely check out Repetier Host!

Simplify3D

Disclaimer: Simplify3D is a paid software option that I sell on this site, and it currently costs around $149USD

As before I mentioned it does slicing etc; but it also supports almost every common 3D Printer around and has the combined features of nearly every other slicer available.

You might be wondering if the software  will work for your printer, it will. Whatever you're using, if Simplify3D doesn't have a profile for it I'd be surprised, but you can just setup your own anyway. With that said, the Flashforge is natively supported.

The super awesome features of Simplify3D are the support/raft system as well as the multiple processes available for each print, and the speed of the slicer. I’ll start with the latter.

The slicer of Simplify3D is unbelievably amazing. Talking about time, Simplify’s slicer is around 35~ times faster than Makerware’s slicer. If you plan on printing a lot, or for a business, the time savings is enough to justify the price.
Another benefit to the slicer is the quality of the prints, due to the flexible settings. Simplify3D does things like slowing down the outermost walls of a print to ensure they're done to exactly the size required, while speeding up the bulk sections, as well as doing a sensible toolpath that minimises the amount of time jumping back and forth between larger parts (something that I haven't seen any other Slicer do yet).

Now for the support system. Once you learn to properly use supports you can print almost anything. A huge part of that is the ability to manually add supports; you can add them just about anywhere you need to. Or if you’re lazy, like me, you can adjust the overhang angle (default is 45 degrees) and the support size (4mm down to 1mm) and Simplify3D will do your job for you. While this may not improve the quality enough to justify the money, it definitely saves a lot of time.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of printing, making a business about it, or don’t want to mess around installing hard to understand software, Simplify3D is the way to go.

Running the first print

Now you've got everything else sorted this should be pretty simple the first time around.

Pick your material

Your Flashforge Creator Pro should have come with two random filaments, most likely one PLA and one ABS.

ABS: The plastic is mildly flexible and usually requires higher temperatures, it also has some odour. 

PLA: PLA is a very rigid plant based material and smells like hot corn syrup when it is printing, it's the safest option if you're worried about breathing in any plastics etc.

There are plenty of other options but I'll go into them another time.

Import your design

There’s not much to this step. Open your chosen software and import your desired STL (design file). Before you let it slice, make sure to modify your print profile to select the layer height (0.2mm is always a good start) and print temperature. If in doubt normally start at the hotter end of the range (see below) and then move down from there, otherwise if you run too cold you risk the filament gear stripping the plastic and stopping the print (you'll hear it clicking in the extruder drive section).

Temperature

This is the first major setting to change.

ABS: ABS requires higher temperatures, but too high and you’ll get curling on the edges of your prints. I’ve had good luck extruding at 230° C and keeping the bed at 110° C.

PLA: PLA requires a bit of change from ABS. The first thing I do is remove the acrylic cover from the Creator Pro and open the door, this keeps the inside temperature down and helps make prints sharper (the material gets to cool as it prints each layer). The most important part, though, I extrude at 210° C and keep the bed at 60° C. The new printers have a cooling fan that you should turn on (a setting you'll find in the print profile) after the first or second layer, to help with the cooling process. These are not the fans that keep the extruders cool (which are automatically switched on and off) but the one to the left hand side of the extruder head.

After you figure out what temperature you want to use, I recommend preheating your printer, a function available on the main menu of the printer.

Slicing

You can always tweak your slicing settings, but the defaults should work for your first, and many future prints. I recommend starting out with something that doesn’t require supports, like a cube.

Printing

Note: If you’re going to print ABS or PLA, the blue build plate that comes preinstalled works well.

All that’s left is to send the job to your printer and watch it go. I typically watch it print the first couple layers to make sure everything is going ok.

Post-Print

I find parts are easiest to remove while they're still somewhat warm and if you've got a thin spatula or paint scraper this will work best to get the print off without any damage to the build plate or the printed piece itself.


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