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One way you can massively upgrade the performance of your 3D printer is to find the best stepper motor, driver.
This important component plays a vital role in how your 3D printer will perform. Not many 3D printer owners know what this driver does. It isn’t a common piece of 3D printing terminology. However, it is essential in the smooth running of your 3D printer and helps to create accurate and high-quality models.
The best stepper motor drivers for your 3D printer that we are going to show you, can really improve how it operates. We’ll also give you everything you need to know about this component. This includes how it works, the best brands, and things you should consider when buying one.
Best Stepper Motor Driver for your 3D Printer – Overview
As a quick snapshot, these are the top 5 stepper motor drivers that you can get for your 3D printer:
- Hobbypower A4988 Stepper Motor Driver: Best Overall
- SparkFun EasyDriver Stepper Motor Driver: Best for Versatility
- BHL DRV8825 Stepper Motor Driver: Best for DIY 3D Printers
- BIQU A4988 Compatible StepStick Stepper Motor Driver: Best for Upgrading A4988 Drivers
- Trinamic TMC2130 Stepper Motor Driver: Best for Reducing 3D Printer Noise
What is a stepper motor driver for a 3D printer?
A stepper motor driver is a component that you will find in every 3D printer. This includes the more affordable models right through to the high-end machines. To understand how it works, we need to look at the actual printing process.
First of all, your 3D models are turned into three-dimensional coordinates that are known as G code. The code also contains information for things such as the speed of the fan and temperatures.
This is fed to the 3D printer microcontroller which is essentially a basic computer within your machine. It reads the code and determines which stepper motors need to be moved in order to create your 3D models.
Each stepper motor has a driver that allows it to move independently.
In order to do this, pulses of electrical current are sent between the microcontroller and stepper motor driver in order for the stepper motors to move correctly.
Types of stepper motor drivers for 3D printers
There are different types of stepper motor drivers that are designed for 3D printers.
Here are the three main versions that you will come across.
L/R Stepper Motor Driver
This type of stepper motor driver carried out rotations at a low to medium speed and this can result in fairly limited ranges of power output. They can still offer a full rotation but they don’t usually offer control in regards to variable current levels.
Many people would class the L/R stepper motor drivers as low performance or at least low to medium performance.
Chopper Stepper Motor Driver – Micro-step
A chopper stepper motor driver is also known as a PWM (pulse width modulation) or micro step driver. It works on a solitary supply of high voltage and has output transistors that have come on and off automatically.
These types of stepper motor drivers are able to use a micro step mode. This means that it runs smoother and more efficiently as the current rate is regulated at all speeds. This provides a boost in performance however it comes with a higher price tag and the design is generally more complex.
They are also known to produce RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) and can sometimes overheat too.
Bi-level Stepper Motor Driver
The third type of stepper motor driver is the bi-level and this can use both high and low-level voltages.
It works by powering up to a high rate of current and when it reaches the level that you need, the high voltage is turned off. The low voltage is then used to maintain this level of supply when it is in use.
These stepper motor drivers are usually more efficient than others and they generally come at a fairly low cost as well.
Benefits of upgrading your stepper motor driver
Upgrading this relatively simple component on your 3D printer can produce several benefits.
Let’s have a quick look at why upgrading your stepper motor driver can be advantageous.
They can cut down on the noise your 3D printer produces
3D printers – whether they are fairly affordable models or pricier multi-color machines – usually make some noise. Some will be a bit quieter than others however upgrading your stepper motor driver can help reduce the decibels your printer produces.
Some stepper motor drivers have a silent design and they use technology to cut down on noise. With the right model you may find that your 3D printer operates a lot quieter than it did before.
You can get more reliable prints
As the stepper motor driver is what controls the stepper motors, an upgrade version can help you to get more reliable prints.
Buying the best stepper motor driver can help the motors move more precisely with better positional accuracy.This in turn will ensure that all parts of the 3D printing process benefit. You’ll be able to print off higher quality and better objects simply by upgrading a fairly easy component.
Your 3D printer can save on power
Another benefit of upgrading your stepper motor driver is that it can have an impact on power consumption.
Some stepper motor drivers are smart in that they will reduce the current when not in use. This cuts down on the overall power consumption that your 3D printer uses. The various safety features on some stepper motor drivers can also help prevent damage if there is a surge in power or if it overheats.
Things to consider when buying a stepper motor driver
Buying the wrong model or a stepper motor driver that isn’t ideal for what you need can actually have a negative impact on the way your printer performs. These are some things to keep in mind before you purchase one.
The torque is related to the size of the stepper motor and it is related to how big the motor is. In a simple sense, the more torque the more power. You will need to take this into consideration with what printer you have.
Some 3D printers won’t be able to handle higher torque and some won’t perform correctly with lower torque.
Most stepper motor drivers that are an upgrade on your stock one will probably help create more accurate prints anyway. That being said, you need to consider how much accuracy you need.
This can and often does impact on the price as well. The accuracy is usually determined by either small steps or a convoluted gear train.
There are a ton of stepper motor drivers out there and many manufacturers have been producing them for years. They aren’t the priciest things you can buy for a 3D printer but even for a small component, you need to factor in the cost to your budget.
Remember that the more a stepper motor driver costs don’t necessarily equate to how well it will perform. Many manufacturers will offer discounts and less price per component the more you buy at once.
Even though the majority of stepper motor drivers are compatible with most 3D printers, you will come across some that are designed for certain models. Make sure you read into the types and makes of 3D printers that the stepper motor driver you want to buy is compatible with before you make a purchase.
Best Stepper Motor Driver Brands
Stepper motor drivers for 3D printers are made by different companies and manufacturers. These are some of the top brands you will come across.
Trinamic is a well-known manufacturer of stepper motor drivers for 3D printers. They have their HQ in Germany but they also have research labs in Estonia and operate across the world.
Trinamic tends to focus on larger orders from big companies but there are many of their stepper driver motors available for everyone to buy.
Pololu is an American company that is based in Nevada. They have been around since 2000. They often focus their attention more on individual 3D printer owners, hobbyists, and enthusiasts although they do offer a large amount of stepper motor driver models.
BIQU is a relative newcomer to the market and they were established in 2015. They are based in Shenzhen City, China and manufacture and sell stepper driver motors to a global market.
Sparkfun is based in Colorado, United States. They produce a wide range of different electronic components and they were founded in 2003. Stepper motor drivers is just one area they produce hundreds of different open source kits and boards.
5 Best Stepper Motor Drivers for 3D printers
There are many stepper motor drivers on the market. They can be relatively simple components but they perform a powerful function when 3D printing. Let’s have a more detailed look at the top 5 stepper motor drivers that you can buy for your 3D printer.
The Hobbypower A4988 Stepper Motor Driver is a cost-effective stepper motor driver which is ideal for DIY built 3D printers or even many other affordable models.
These drivers are capable of 1/16th micro-stepping and come with various features. They are also capable of five-step modes: full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16.
Other features include automatic current decay mode detection, synchronous rectification for low power dissipation, and thermal shutdown.
If you want a stepper motor driver for your 3D printer without paying much money, then the A4988 is really the one to go for. Cheap, cheerful and essentially does what you need it to without a lot of fuss.
- Cheap and affordable stepper motor driver
- Will help the performance of your 3D printer
- Five-step modes and capable of 1/16th microstepping
- Is prone to accidentally burnouts
Adjustable current control lets you set the maximum current output with a potentiometer, which lets you use voltages above your stepper motor s rated voltage toachieve higher step rates.
The next stepper motor driver on our list is the SparkFun EasyDriver Stepper Motor Driver which is another fairly low-cost model.
This is a great component if you need some versatility in your driver as it works between 7V and 30V.
You can use this stepper motor driver with 4, 6, and 8 wire stepper motors as well which is great.
The fact that it can handle higher voltages means that you can get more torque and power with your 3D printer. This stepper motor driver is also easy to use and install and is ideal for beginners and experienced users alike.
- Very versatile and works with a wide voltage range
- Is compatible with 4, 6, and 8 wire stepper motors
- Easy to install and use
- May need some additional parts to install
The EasyDriver is a simple to use stepper motor driver, compatible with anything that can pulse digital output from a 0 to 5 V (or 0 to 3.3 V pulse if Solder SJ2 closed on the EasyDriver ). EasyDriver requires a 7V up to 30V supply to power the motor and can power any voltage from the stepper motor.
The BHL DRV8825 Stepper Motor Driver is ideal for replacing a stock A4988 which can help to upgrade your 3D printer.
It is the go-to choice for DIY enthusiasts who build their own 3D printers.
It comes with a variety of step options which include full-step, 1/2 step, 1/4 step, 1/8 step, 1/16 step as well as 1/32 step.
This is one of the easiest stepper motor drivers to use and that is why it is very popular with people who build their own 3D printers. It is also aimed at people who are upgrading a component for the first time.
It has an over-temperature thermal shutdown as well as over-current shutdown, and under-voltage lockout.
The adjustable current control lets you manually set the output while this is an affordable and cost effective component too.
- Range of great features including adjustable current control
- Easy to install and use for DIY 3D printers
- Affordable and won’t cost much to buy
- Some reports of being quite noisy
The BIQU A4988 Compatible StepStick Stepper Motor Driver offers five step modes – full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16.
This component also comes with a variety of different features including an intelligent chopping control for the selection of the correct current decay mode.
There is also a thermal shutdown circuitry and they are an affordable piece of kit for your 3D printer too.
While they aren’t silent and will produce a bit of noise, this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. There are some issues with the potentiometers in that they are difficult to adjust and also aren’t the most durable.
That being said, these are good stepper motor drivers for 3D printers and would suit anyone who wants to upgrade a4988 drivers.
- Very good choice for upgrading a4988 drivers
- Have an intelligent chopping control
- Five-step modes and thermal shutdown circuitry
- Potentiometers difficult to adjust and not very sturdy
Intelligent cut-off control that automatically selects the correct current decay mode (fast decay or slow decay).
The Trinamic TMC2130 Stepper Motor Driver is the best choice if you want a silent component to reduce the noise that your 3D printer makes.
It is an upgrade to the previous 2100 model. This stepper motor driver comes with a ton of features which isn’t always a necessarily good thing.
It can get a bit distracting especially if you are new. However, this is a very good stepper motor driver for the price.
It has a sensorless stall detection, noiseless current control mode as well as stall prevention and lower temperature operation.
A high functional and high performing stepper motor driver for your 3D printer but one that isn’t suited towards beginners.
- Has a wide variety of great features
- Noiseless and quiet operation
- Upgrade to the 2100 model
- Amount of features can be overwhelming