Deciding to buy a 3D printer kit instead of a fully assembled machine is a tricky proposition. They do bring the cost down to an attractive range for anyone who is looking to get into the hobby without fully committing their bank account to it. However, they come with a few catches. For instance, you don’t necessarily have to have mechanical experience in the real world but it does help. Either way, thorough and clear directions are crucial.
Another point to consider with kits is the quality of both the parts you receive and the finished products you end up with. If you’re comfortable around tools and making adjustments to pieces that won’t fit together, you might have a better time building your own printer so you can see how the whole thing works from the ground up. But not everybody’s idea of a good time is having to complete a project before they start working on what they wanted to original just to save money – we call this the “Ikea principle.” TEVO banks on you caring more about cost than convenience.
TEVO is a company based in the Guandong Province in South China and started the business in 2015. Their specialty is 3D printer kits that are designed to stay under a certain cost point so they’re more economically accessible for hobby users. A majority of their line comes in at under $200 per unit (not including taxes, or shipping and handling, which you should take into consideration, especially since kits come with helping tools that add to the weight of the package beyond the printer material itself). The Tarantula is one of the latest in this line, coming out in 2018, and below we are giving you all the details on how it handles.
Since this printer comes as a kit, we’ll be reviewing the building and printing experience as users who are moderately experienced in both. Your mileage may vary. Although with the Tarantula, you will not get very far without patience and time you may not have.
First, we need to talk about what the kit is supposed to be. The printer itself is designed as a basic Cartesian-style fused filament fabrication, which means it feeds a continuous filament of thermoplastic through a moving heated printer extruder head. It’s the way a lot of beginner printers are built and allows for an open surface area to print, although sometimes that’s at the expense of frame stability. This specific model has a single extruder, but the mainboard that houses the Bowden extruder leaves room for more, so if you feel like modding it out to double or triple extrusion, that’s theoretically possible.
These are all the features you find standard in beginner 3D printers, with a price significantly lower than its already-built peers; so far so good. But this falls apart, sometimes literally, when you get to the execution.
The print head moves on the X-axis with rail-mounted pulleys, as does its Y-axis. The Y-axis moves the printer bed, and the provided nuts allow for tightening if the bed gets loose. It also allows for the leveling you’ll have to do after pretty much every job – but more on that in the printing experience section. The Z-axis is fixed to the X-axis with a single lead screw for 3D movement. One thing to look out for is to that lead screw is positioned so the lead screw is in contact with essential wiring, which is a danger that may cause a major meltdown if you don’t keep a constant watch over it. The Z-axis extruder positioning also makes it top-heavy in an aluminum frame that’s already rickety even when you add modifications to strengthen it.
However, the aluminum frame does allow for easy additions of extra frame supports, modification accessories, and extra extruders. There’s a plethora of T-nuts left over from the original construction to attach these to your frame to boost it to something closer to your ideal. This does make the Tarantula a decent kit to learn how to modify; if you’re looking for that experience and already know the basics of how a 3D printer is supposed to go together, the price may make this worth it for you.
|Price||$179.00 Check the latest prices on Amazon.|
|Overall printer dimensions||430 mm x 440 mm x 400 mm|
|Print bed size||200 mm x 200 mm x 200 mm|
|Maximum print area||200 mm x 280 mm x 200 mm|
|Maximum print speed||150 mm/sec|
|Layer resolution||50 microns (0.050 mm)|
|Filament diameter||1.75 mm|
|Filament types||PLA, ABS, PETG, PVA, wood|
|Positioning accuracy||0.004 mm on Z axis, 0.012 mm on X/Y axes|
|Nozzle diameter||0.4 mm|
|Maximum extruder temperature||260 degrees Celsius|
|Heating plate temperature||60 – 120 degrees Celsius|
|Power requirements||220V, 250W, 50Hz, 0.89A|
|Connection||TF card or USB|
|File formats||STL, G-code|
|Main board||MKS Gen L|
|Compatibility||Windows, Linux, Mac|
When you open the box, you’re struck by the consistent branding across the packaging and pieces, which is impressive but is the only consistency you’ll experience in the process. Everything is packaged and labeled according to use. But, many users have complained that once you open the instruction booklet, what you read in there does not match exactly to what you’ll see on the labels of the parts.
A check of each bagged group of parts against the pictures in the assembly booklet is a necessary first step; this is a good idea anyway no matter what you’re building from a kit, but it’s especially needed for the Tarantula. It’s handy to create your own labels with what’s in the instructions, which seems like extra work now but will save you lots of time in the long run with this kit (trust us).
Within the kit, you get an aluminum frame that stays shaky and top-heavy because of the extruder placement, a heated printing bed that does not auto level (although that is an option with other TEVO kits, it’s not with this model), a single extruder, and multiple pins and screws to put everything together (be warned these may come loose mid-build as ours did). The tiny tools that come with it to help you complete the machine are not worth your time. Just like every cheap bookshelf you’ve brought home, the building process will transform these tools into something less than useless, so make sure you’ve got your own small screwdriver and other basics that you trust to get the job done.
There is no cooling fan, which is unusual for 3D printers of any type and not a good idea for material that heats up to the temperatures necessary to get even a basic level of quality in your finished project. It takes a lot of effort to pull finished objects off the printing bed, and the lack of any cooling method makes that almost impossible, not to mention the havoc it wrecks on the layer precision.
You do get a spare temperature probe and an 8 Gb SD card, both of which prove useful in making up for various levels of incompetence in the rest of the Tarantula’s design and build process.
The assembly instructions don’t get any better as you go along. The instructions often end without telling you how a certain piece fits into the printer as a whole. They tend to have you build the printer in clumps of parts that are put aside until you discover later they’re supposed to be enclosed in a section that you’ve already built; now you have to disassemble, find the step that tells you how to fit the clump of parts into the enclosed section, and finally find the step that tells you how to build the encasement. If that sentence is laborious to read, it’s even worse to act out.
And sometimes the diagrams contradict each other, which is a whole other level of a headache. The best solution to this is an internet search, which we realize is not that difficult. Especially with the Tarantula’s marketing as an entry-level printer at such a low price point, more than one engineering-savvy user has figured out the proper assembly and posted it for everyone to use freely. But the lack of correct instructions from the company itself is a representation of the slipshod way it treats this entire kit.
One feature of the Tarantula that actually keeps its promise of accessibility is its software capabilities. You can use whatever 3D modeling software you’re comfortable with here. You can adjust the details of your designs to your heart’s content. The provided SD card has more than enough memory for a big library of projects, and there’s also a USB connection if you want to print directly from your computer or external hard drive.
The Printing Process
We would like to be able to tell you that all the extra time and effort to get your Tarantula up and running is worth it once you start printing. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
A lot of the printing problems come from the printing bed itself. Its carriage is unstable enough to warrant a new leveling process after every print you make. This is mainly because you have to wrestle each project off the bed’s insanely grippy surface and, as we mentioned above, without a cooling fan to help anything solidify. If you’re fine waiting so long you might forget what else you want to print, you may be able to extract your print without damage, but that’s still going to knock your bed out of true and require another leveling.
The extra-grippy bed theoretically helps, but if you’re using filaments that need an exacting surface to get the first layer right, you are out of luck getting that to work without a LOT of trial and error. At least the print calibration process is fairly simple – you just need to adjust the thumb nuts on the four corners of the printing bed until you can comfortably slide a piece of paper underneath the nozzle with little resistance.
Another failing to look out for is the hot end temperature probe farting out on you after about twelve hours of printing. This takes away your ability to control the temperature optimal for whatever filament you’re using, and with such temperature issues on both ends of the printing process, this is a vital component to stay accurate and working. You do get a spare temperature probe in the kit, but there’s no evidence that the spare is any better than the original, so anything that involves heat level manipulation – aka the whole point of 3D printing – is a game of chance after a full day’s worth of work.
Trial runs of the straight-out-of-box assembly of the Tarantula did not go well without multiple adjustments to pretty much every physical aspect of the process. Even with constant vigilance, the prints come out average at best. And this assumes that you’ve managed to assemble everything perfectly – no knock on your building skills, just an uphill battle in general on this machine. You may not realize something went wonky until you try to use it and something jams or falls apart. The layer lines to display an ability to get to the detail level of the promised 50-micron layer height.
And if you’re really determined to work with the Tarantula, there’s a large, active membership online that shows you how to modify the basic kit so you can make it do at least an approximation of what you want. You can find plans for a cooling fan and a spool holder (both super helpful to the point of necessity in our experience), and you can find out the best assembly process that lets you throw out the confusing instructions.
TEVO Tarantula Final Verdict
In conclusion, the Tarantula is not an especially impressive unit. As a kit, its assembly instructions and additional parts leave a lot to be desired; the directions can be confusing for anyone but definitely for 3D printer users who are not used to assembling their units before use, and 3D printers as products need such specific parts that if one in the kit doesn’t work, it’s not easy to improvise without compromising your ultimate product’s quality. At this price point, TEVO is selling these printers as great for beginners, but the intricacy of assembling the kit may be frustrating enough to discourage casual users in another direction. Yet the results are not nearly enough to entice those who may have the assembling knowledge to get it built but are looking to get into a higher standard of 3D printing, so the audience for the Tarantula is unclear.
If you can get past the frustration of assembly, the Tarantula is merely serviceable when it comes time to actually printing anything in 3D. Because you assemble it yourself, it’s hard to build to professional quality unless you have professional tools, at which point your skill level is probably beyond what this printer can give you, making it not worth your time. Bottom line: you can do better, even at this low price.