Best Cartridge Filaments
Cartridge filaments and the printers that use them are decidedly on their way out of fashion. Last year, 3D Systems announced that it would be discontinuing the sale of its entry level printer, Cube, which relied exclusively on 3D Systems’ filament in proprietary cartridges sold only by 3D Systems.
And while they continue to sell the CubePro, which also uses their cartridge filaments, the message is clear: the attempt to model the distribution of 3D printer filament on the sale of ink cartridges for 2D printers is not working.
Currently, the best cartridge filaments come from Sindoh. The Sindoh system has some benefits for non-technical people who might not have time to learn how to use other types of 3D printers:
- Only basic knowledge of 3D printing needed
- Simple, plug and play system
- Decent color range
- Good quality filament
There are also still Cube owners out there, as well as XYZprinting Da Vinci printers that also take cartridges. So the cartridge printer has not vanished yet. And if manufacturers can solve the problems that cartridge printers have, there is a chance we that they would come back into fashion.
Best Cartridge Filaments
CubePro – 3D Systems
Cube Smart Cartridges come in a few different designs. The latest version carries ABS filament and has the interesting feature of a built-in bowdin-style tube and nozzle through which the filament is fed into the extruder. The motivation for this design is to allow for better humidity control along the entire length of the spool, including the filament that is exiting the cartridge.
To install the cartridge, simply snap it into place on the side of your Cube 3D printer and attach the feed tube to the printer head. The easy, plug-and-play nature of swapping out cartridges makes the Cube 3D ideal for people who don’t want to get into the nitty gritty details of 3D printing.
Unfortunately, these Smart Cartridges have many of the same design flaws as previous versions. They jam frequently, often after only one or two prints, and the clogs are very difficult to clear. The process of clearing the clogs by purging the extruder can take as long as 20 minutes, and since the cartridges tend to jam every 1 or 2 prints, these 20 minute purging sessions add up quickly.
Also the cartridges are very expensive, so get ready to pay premium prices for 1 kg spools of regular ABS filament. For that price, one would expect to receive some of the best filament in the world. But 3D Systems’ ABS is not very impressive.
It has no added benefits over other leading brands of ABS. Even support material is overpriced. Combined with the frequent clogging and other issues, such as limited color and material range, this cartridge system is more hassle than it is worth.
Interestingly, the previous generation of cartridges contain regular PLA and can be bought at discounted prices on Amazon. Of course, these cartridges are only compatible with the discontinued Cube 2 printer.
XYZprinting’s da Vinci series printers only accept XYZprinting cartridge filaments. These cartridges are made of a hard black plastic with a handle on the top that resembles a small gas canister.
Right off the bat, they seem like cheap throwbacks to the bygone days of early cell phones and portable computers. In short, they look like an obsolete technology from the 1980’s, not the revolutionary future of additive manufacturing. The da Vinci printers even refer to them as “cassettes.”
But looks aside, these cartridges are also very difficult to work with. As with other filament cartridges, the XYZprinting cartridges clog and jam very frequently, often after just one print. Some customers even report that entire cartridges are unusable. That means you risk spending more time troubleshooting these cartridges than actually printing with them.
Each cartridge has a small computer chip in the bottom that monitors the filament inside. That is a necessary feature considering the fact that XZYprinting designed these cartridges to be completely opaque. That means you can’t see into the spool yourself. These chips are the only way to find out anything about the filament inside the cartridge. The da Vinci printer relies on them for information about printer settings, type of filament and how much filament is left on the spool.
However, this leads to a new problem. These chips often malfunction and signal that the spool is empty when in fact there is filament left on the spool. That renders the cartridge unusable and means that you lose the filament you already paid for.
On top of all of this, these cartridges are overpriced compared to other filaments. They only have 600 grams in them, which is about half of what a most spool contain, and for that you will pay around the same price as a regular 1kg spool.
And let’s be clear: there is nothing special about the filament in these cartridges. They are generally OK quality, but they are not in the same league as ColorFabb, Ultimaker, and other similarly priced filaments.
The 3DWOX printer by Sindoh is a brand of 3D printer that also relies on a cartridge system. These cartridges might be the best cartridge filaments. Despite its smaller market share, it comes closest to the plug-and-play dream of the cartridge filament printers.
This system seems to just work. Many non-technical consumers have successfully used these printers in office setting for rapid prototyping, so the performance of this printer with minimal maintenance is high on the priority list. From the sound of things, most consumers are happy with the hands off nature of these printers.
The cartridges also seem to be more reliable than other cartridge designs. They don’t jam or clog too often and swapping empty cartridges with new cartridges is extremely easy. They autoload into the cartridge slot and require minimal management. The printer handles most of the settings and the spools are wound very well. If you are going to buy a cartridge loading printer, try this cartridge system first.
The range of colors to choose from is medium size, at around 30 colors. None of these are specialty filaments, such as metallic or wood filaments. So if you are looking for exotic colors and textures, you are out of luck.
Also, like the other cartridge filaments out there, these filaments are overpriced. But in comparison to many other cartridges, the Sindoh cartridge filament system is the most reliable. That’s why we think Sindoh filaments are the best cartridge filaments on this list.
CoLiDo 3D printers are a brand of 3D printer from Print-Rite, a global printer consumables company. HobbyKing carries the Colido DIY printer kit. It is a fairly advanced kit with a good quality finished product compared with other kits.
Of course, the pre-build Colido printers use a cartridge system that requires you to purchase proprietary cartridges from Colido or HobbyKing. Unfortunately, these filament cartridges are not airtight and excess filament can’t be rewound once it has pulled out of the cartridge housing.
However, compared to other cartridges, these filaments are well priced. They are still relatively expensive compared to regular filament brands, but for a cartridge filament, the price is not bad. The filaments themselves are good quality, but not fantastic, and score slightly better than average on strength and heat resistance tests.
Based in North Carolina, MakeShaper has launched a line of replacement cartridges for Cube series printers from 3D Systems. These cartridges are modeled after the now obsolete 2nd generation Cube cartridge. But considering that 3D Systems has phased out their older cartridge designs in favor of their new CubePro cartridges, Cube 2 owners will be happy to have an alternative source of filament cartridges for their printers.
MakeShaper also sells cartridge refills for da Vinci printers from XYZprinting. Even better, the filament in these cartridges is a bit higher quality than the filament cartridges from 3D Systems and XYZprinting. Also, the cartridges for the Cube 2 and da Vinci are well priced. The cartridges they sell for CubeX and CubePro printers are still fairly expensive though.
Final Thoughts: Before its time?
Someday, 3D printers may become a common household appliance instead of the novelty for hobbyists that they are today. For that to happen, consumers with very few technical skills must be able to set up and use a 3D printer. But filaments and spools are much too complicated for these consumers to use. Most consumers want a “plug and play” option, where they can simply tell their printer to print a new phone case, and it does it automatically.
For this situation, cartridge filaments may actually be the right way to go. The best cartridges regulate the amount of filament going into the printer, communicate with the printer firmware to optimize print settings, and preserve the filament from humidity and dust. In theory, cartridges remove much of the hassle associated with 3D printer filaments. That is probably what 3D Systems and others were thinking when they first invented cartridge filaments in the first place. And as 3D printing technology advances and machines come closer to the plug-and-play dream, cartridges may make a comeback.