Introduction: $2000 Quality Prints From a $200 Printer : an Upgrade Guide for the Anet A8 3D Printer
I recently purchased an Anet A8 3D Printer kit from Aliexpress for about $200 and went on a journey with it from the bare bones assembled printer to a highly capable, wireless enable, fine quality 3D printer. Although there are plenty of upgrade guides for the Anet A8, I still felt that all the upgrades, tips and tricks needed to be organized into one comprehensive guide. So today I will share with you all the upgrades I did to my printed as well as some handy tips and tricks I learned along the way.
Most of the upgrades are 3D printed parts developed by members of the community all over the world. I tried out almost every upgraded part out there and selected the one with the best performance. I also installed a Raspberry Pi to control and monitor the printer remotely.
I hope you find my journey helpful and informative. If you like my effort please vote for me. I would really appreciate it. If you have any questions, please comment or message me directly and I would love to answer to the best of my abilities.
Step 1: Materials Needed
For 3D Printed Upgrades
- 3D Printing Filament (PLA or ABS)
- M4 Nuts and Bolts
- M3 Nuts and Bolts
- 608ZZ Bearing
- 1 Inch Wood Screws
For Print Bed
- Binder Clips
For Power Upgrades
- 12V Battery
- Rocker Switches
- Power Cable Jack
- Spade Connectors
- 3/4 inch Plywood
For LED Lighting
- White LED Strip Light
For Octoprint Server
- Raspberry Pi
- Raspberry Pi Camera
- 5V Regulator
- Micro USB Cable
- Standard USB Cable
Step 2: Upgrade # 1 : Fan Duct
One of the first and most basic upgrade is the fan duct. The fan duct directs air flow from the cooling fan to the part while its printing. It helps to harden the plastic as it is flowing out of the extruder so that it doesn't droop on overhangs. A good airflow can result in a higher quality part.
The stock duct is very inefficient at directing air flow. After testing three of the most famous upgrades, I decided upon the semi circular duct. Its because the full circular duct droops over time and the other one is just very complicated to print. The semi circular one works great and is very robust.
Its very easy to install. Just unscrew the cooling fan, snap on the duct and screw the fan back on.
Step 3: Upgrade # 2 : T Corner Brace
This is another very famous upgrade. The frame of the Anet A8 is not that rigid so a variety of upgrades are just to make it more rigid. A rigid frame means higher quality prints with smoother details. This is a simple part that just fits in place and helps to reduce the side ways wobble of the frame. Its also a good test print to understand and gain experience with 3D printing.
Step 4: Upgrade # 3 : Hold Down Brace
After installing the T corner brace, I noticed that the frame of the printer was wobbling back and fourth from the top end which was affecting the square of the Y axis with the Z axis. It was because the middle section and the front and back section were not perfectly flat so the printer was rocking on the bigger middle section. To remedy that, I decided to mount the printer on a piece of plywood. I figured that if I clamped it from the back and the front, it wont wobble anymore.
First I designed my own brackets but then I found better ones online so I went with those. Just use a solid base of plywood or plastic an screw the mounts into it to hold down the Y axis threaded rods which will keep the printer in place. I used a total of 6 brackets. They gave the printer a lot more rigidity and the wobble was completely eliminated.
Step 5: Upgrade # 4 : Filament Spool Holder
This one is more of a personnel choice. I just wanted my entire printer to remain inside the plywood sheet I mounted on and I wanted to avoid tangling the filament on anything. The stock rack to hold the filament was just not doing it for me. So I printed this upgrade which allowed me to mount the filament directly above the printer and gave no problem what so ever. There are many other great designs on thingiverse too and you can go with whatever you like the most.
Step 6: Upgrade # 5 : X Belt Holder
The next step was to make sure that the tension on the belts was just perfect because loose belts can cause imperfections on the print surface.
I first tried to print a X belt tensioner that attached to the right part of the X carriage but the belt was not long enough to accommodate it. I then printed a holder for the extruder gantry where the X belt can be fixed. The stock option was ziptie around a nut which wasn't very convenient. This part allowed me to adjust the tension based on which groove I fixed the belt in thus eliminating the need for any other tensioning device.
You will need some nuts to secure the part. The printer comes with plenty extra which you can use.
Step 7: Upgrade # 6 : Y Belt Tensioner
Next was the Y belt tensioner. The problem with it was that there was no way to easily access the place where Y belts were mounted to the bed to allow for easy adjustment. So I had to print a part for the front end which held the bearing around which the belt went. It used screws to increase or decrease the tension in the belt.
This part required a couple of M4 nuts and bolts but is fairly easy to install. It will replace the stock bearing holder.
Step 8: Upgrade # 7 : Front Frame Brace
When I installed the Y belt tensioner, I noticed that the front and rear end would bend under pressure of the belt. I found out that this is a fairly common issue and many people have created parts to fix it. I used the frame brace designed by Leo N.
The brace is installed by removing the front end and installing the brace behind it on the threaded rod. Its fairly simple and proved to provide plenty of support to the front end as even under great tension, it did not show any signs of bending.
Step 9: Upgrade # 8 : Rear Frame Brace
Just like the front, the rear end was also bending under the pressure and it was putting a lot of pressure on the Y stepper motor mount. Leo N to the rescue once again as he designed a great rear brace.
The rear brace is a bit tricky to install due to the wires. Loosen the nuts on the middle section and then slide the rear brace from underneath. But make sure you run the wires in the groove on the brace as you wiggle it into its place. It might take a little bit of convincing but it should fit in snugly.
It worked great as it supported the motor with the middle section which prevented even the slightest bit of bending.
Download the V2 which has a groove for the wiring to run through. If that is where you are running your wires from.
Step 10: Upgrade # 9 : PSU Cover
The PSU Unit in the Anet A8 has a metal housing with block terminal at one end. The power cable has to be screwed in and there is no switch to turn it on or off. This upgrade will fix those issues. It has an IEC Jack and a couple of switches. I took the basic design from thingiverse and modified it in solidworks to fit my application. You might find it easier just to buy the connector the design was intended for. My design has two switches, one for the mains and one for the battery backup. I will attach the solidworks file too if you guys want to modify it for your own application.
The installation is a bit difficult as compared to the other upgrades. If the design is right, then the switches and jacks should push in their respective places. Then you need to wire them. I will have a schematic of my wiring in the next step. Lastly just close the cover with the two screws from each side. You will have to remove the PSU from the body to screw in the left side screw. When reassembling make sure to route the wires properly inside the cover.
Step 11: Upgrade # 10 : Battery Backup
This upgrade was a must for me but might not apply to you. I face frequent power outages where I live and to keep the printers transition from Mains to UPS, i needed a battery backup. It also provides a safety in case the power cable gets temporarily disconnected. I kept it simple and just wires the battery in parallel with the output of the PSU with a switch. You guys can also try this upgrade as it will make your printed more stable and reliable. Just follow the simple wiring diagram given above. I added a separate switch for the battery so that I can quickly disconnect it in from the PSU in case of emergency.
Step 12: Upgrade # 11 : OctoPrint on Raspberry Pi
Up til now, most of the upgrades were simple and easy. But this upgrade is little more complicated. And it might not be for you. So go through it before shopping for a Pi on Amazon. OctoPrint is basically a software which converts the device its running on into a server. It allows for remote control, monitoring and printing. What drove me to this solution was the unease of taking my SD card back and fourth. And I needed a way to remotely see my prints. With this, I can be at ease that the prints will keep running properly and can be paused or stopped remotely.
So lets get into it. First you will need to install the OctoPrint software on your Raspberry Pi.
- Download the OctoPrint image from this link.
- Download the image burning software, Etcher, from this link.
- Install Etcher and burn the OctoPrint image on an SD Card.
- Configure your WiFi connection by editing octopi-network.txt on the root of the flashed card when using it like a thumb drive.
- Boot the Pi from the SD Card
- If all went right, you should be able to login to http://octopi.local with username 'pi' and password 'raspberry'
If you were unable to reach this point, check to see if you entered you Wifi settings correctly and then check your routers setting to see if it shows the Pi connected.
Once you get to this point, follow the on screen instructions. You will prompted to set up a username and password. When you do that, you should be able to go into the connection portion and connect with your printer. The default baud rate for the Anet A8 115200.
I wont go into much detail about the setup and usage of Octo Print since its already explained in great detail on their website. Octo Print Website
Step 13: Upgrade # 12 : Raspberry Pi Camera Mount
Next I needed a way to mount the Raspberry Pi camera on my printer such that I can get a good look at whats printing. I chose to mount the Pi below the main control board. And since the ribbon cable for the camera was not long, I decided to mount the camera on the rear left side of the printer facing the bed.
Although there are plenty of different 3D printed mounts for the camera on thingiverse but none served my purpose. Mostly were just too complicated. So I designed and printed a simple mount on which the camera would just push in. I have attached the stl filed and you can see how I mounted it.
Step 14: Upgrade # 13 : Polar 3D Wireless Control
Although the Octo Print is great for monitoring and control of you printer when you are on your local network, it doesn't work remotely. And that was my main goal for the entire print server. After using Octo Print for some days, I received news that someone has made a plugin to link Octo Print with Polar 3D. Through Polar 3D you can not only remotely monitor and control your printer, but also manage stl files and makes timelapses etc.
I wont detail the entire process but I will give some links and a overview of what you have to do.
- First you have to install the plugin in Octo Print. This link shows you how to install a plugin and this link is the Polar 3D webpage for OctoPrint.
- Next you need to create an account on the Polar 3D website. Link
- Head over to Octo Print and go to Settings. Scroll down to Polar 3D and register your printer.
- Go back to Polar 3D and then add your printer using the name and serial number.
You should now be able to see your printers feed and control it. I just started using Polar 3D so I am still getting to know it but it has a lot of neat features.
Step 15: Upgrade # 14 : LED Lighting
When I mounted my the Pi Camera, I realized that I needed lighting for good view of the prints. So I used white LED strip light. I cut three pieces and installed them. Its as simple as soldering the connections and sticking it on there.
Step 16: Upgrade # 15 : Bed Upgrade
The standard heater bed that comes with the Anet A8 is great as long as the tape on it lasts. I was able to get good adhesion with PLA on the tape with no heat. Once the tape got ruined, I used some chinese blue painters tape but it didnt work. I dont have access to the good 3M stuff. Now I have a piece of 3mm glass held on the aluminum bed using binder clips. It provides good adhesion but has to be heated. I heat it to 70 degrees for PLA. The glass option because you dont have to replace anything. But I am comfortable with the bed being heated throughout long prints.
This is more up to you on how you ant to set up your bed and what works for you. But from my experience, if you dont have access to 3M blue painters tape, play it safe and go with glass. You will save a lot of grief and money.
Step 17: Bonus Tip : Flawless Filament Change
One of the biggest issues i faced with the Anet A8 was changing the filament. No matter how I did it, it got jammed and I had to open the extruder up to clear it. It was becoming very annoying and many hours of internet searched yielded no positive results. But I finally found the perfect way to change filaments through trial and error.
Follow the steps and you should never face a jam ever again.
- Heat the extruder to 210 degrees
- Cut the old filament from the extruder such that you dont leave any of it sticking out of the top of the extruder assembly.
- Extrude all the old filament out of the extruder until no more filament comes out.
- Straighten the end of the new filament with you fingers such that 3 inches of it are reasonably straight.
- Feed the new filament while extruding and keep the new filament vertical as it goes inside.
- The new filament should soon start to come out the other end.
And there you have it. It might take a couple of tried but it has a very high success rate.
Step 18: Conclusion
Well that is a wrap. I hope you found my upgrade guide helpful. The Anet A8 is a great beginner 3D printing platform and I would highly recommend it. If you have any questions or suggestions for further upgrades, do leave it in the comments.
Thank you all for viewing my instructable and I will see you next time.
Edit : Thanks to keebie81, I have attached some pictures of how prints turned out after all the upgrades.