Printing with thermoplastics on FDM systems without an enclosure is pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to reliable printing.
Uneven heat distribution around the print and sudden drafts can cause all manner of printing problems, ranging from poor bed adhesion to warping.
And that’s just with basic plastics.
When you want to print with higher-temperature engineering plastics (such as PEI), not only do you need an enclosed chamber, but you need a darned hot one too.
For protection against drafts, there are low-cost solutions, such as a cardboard box, or a zip-up enclosure. But for proper thermal management, you’re going to need a sturdy enclosure.
In this article, we will look at a range of 3D printers with their own enclosures, that ensure quality printing, safe from the influence of the surrounding environment.
Benefits of an Enclosed 3D Printer
An enclosed 3D printer provides several benefits over an open-frame printer. These benefits include:
An enclosed 3D printer is better for temperature control, as it maintains a consistent temperature within the build chamber (like an oven). This is important for materials that require a specific temperature to print properly, such as ABS, nylon, PEEK and PEI.
An enclosed printer can help to maintain a consistent temperature by trapping heat inside the build chamber and preventing drafts or other temperature fluctuations.
This can be achieved through the use of insulation, heating elements, and temperature control systems.
Some enclosed 3D printers also have a built-in heating bed that can be set to a specific temperature, which further helps to ensure that the material is at the correct temperature for printing.
Increased Print Quality
A closed chamber can help improve print quality by providing a stable and controlled environment for the print to cure in.
The enclosure helps to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level within the build chamber, which is important for materials that require specific conditions to print properly (most materials, to a certain extent).
The enclosure also helps to reduce warping and cracking.
Warping occurs when the edges of the print cool and contract at a different rate than the center, causing the print to bend or warp.
Cracking can occur when the print cools too quickly, which can cause the material to shrink and crack.
When the enclosure is airtight, it can also prevent drafts that can move the model and cause misalignment of layers, leading to poor print quality.
An enclosure helps to muffle the sound made by the printer’s motors, fans, and other moving parts.
The enclosure acts as a barrier that absorbs and dissipates the noise, making it less noticeable outside of the printer.
The enclosure also helps to contain the noise inside the printer, which can make it more pleasant to use in a shared space.
Additionally, some manufacturers of enclosed 3D printers include noise-reduction features, such as sound-deadening materials or acoustic insulation, to further reduce the noise.
With an enclosed printer, the build area is protected from dust, debris, and other contaminants, which can cause damage to the printer or affect print quality.
Additionally, some thermoplastics (such as ABS) give off vapors when heated, and so an enclosed chamber with filters can protect humans from breathing in these fumes.
Increased Material Options
Some materials, such as carbon fiber-reinforced composites, require a controlled environment in order to print successfully.
An enclosed 3D printer provides the necessary environment.
Advanced filaments can run into hundreds of dollars per kilogram. When you are printing with such costly feedstock, you want a level of assurance that they will print properly.
An enclosed chamber does a lot towards providing that assurance, and therefore provides a wider range of materials that you can successfully print with.
5 Popular Enclosed 3D Printers
You can get enclosures to fit any budget, ranging from just a couple of hundred dollars, up to several hundred thousand bucks.
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
At the low end of the scale, enclosures are little more than a draft-proof case, to protect the print from failing due to a stray gust of wind from someone opening a door in the house.
At the higher end of the scale, enclosures offer hermetically sealed, vacuum-assisted, temperature-controlled chambers fit for printing aerospace components in large quantities.
Let’s take a look at 5 printers, that cover all of those bases.
Creality Sermoon V1
Our first printer on the list, and the most pocket friendly, is the cheap and cheerful Creality Sermoon V1.
It is not really a temperature-controlled chamber, more a protection against drafts, and dust.
But, it is certainly better than printing on an open-frame printer, and it does look kinda cute.
It’s designed as an easy-to-use printer for beginners and has features that make it suitable for kids to use.
- Safety switch pauses print when the door opens
- Dual-gear Sprite extruder
- Compatible with Creality Cloud App
- 175 x 175 x 165 mm print volume
Pros and Cons
- Easy to use
- Child friendly
- Quiet operation (45dB)
- Decent quality printing
- Small print volume
- Limited materials
Bambu Lab X1 Carbon
The Bambu Lab X1 Carbon really is a wonder and has gained a large following online due to its rich list of features for its relatively low price.
While it is almost 5x as expensive as the Sermoon, it offers significant value in terms of reliability, and print quality, and it has an actually heated chamber rather than simply being a wind-proof box.
What’s more, it is chock-full of sensors and is guided by AI. It’s a lot of bang, per unit buck.
- 60℃ Chamber Temperature
- 256 x 256 x 256 mm print volume
- 16 Multi Color
- Dual Auto Bed Leveling
- Hardened Steel Nozzle
- 500 mm/s speed
- Over 40 sensors
- AI-controlled fault detection
Pros and Cons
- Very fast printing
- AI fault detection
- Very smart printer
- 60°C build chamber
- Can print filled filaments
- Multicolor printing
- There are no real cons to owning this printer. Not at this price.
QIDI Technology X-CF Pro
There are many QIDI printers with enclosures, but the X-CF Pro caught our eye as it is designed with the aims of printing filled plastics such as PACF, as well as other engineering plastics such as standard nylon and ABS.
The addition of a carbon filter is neat, and means you can print plastics that give off potentially hazardous fumes while printing.
- 300 x 250 x 300 mm build volume
- Air circulation fan with filtering activated carbon filter
- 5.0-inch Touch Screen
- Includes two extruders
Pros and Cons
- Large bed
- Prints composites
- Good quality printing
- Designed to print filled plastics
- Non-heated chamber
- Looks weird
- A little expensive
- The Bambu offers a lot more for a lot less
FlashForge Creator 4S
The Flashforge Creator 4S is a professional-grade 3D printer designed for industrial use.
It is packed with advanced features that make it ideal for commercial production and high-volume printing.
One of the key features of the Creator 4 is its ability to print with a wide range of materials, largely enabled by its heated chamber.
It is equipped with three extruder options, which allow you to use flexible filaments, engineering filaments, and carbon fiber composite filaments.
- Choice of extruders
- 400 × 350 × 500 mm build volume
- 65°C build chamber
Pros and Cons
- 65°C Heated chamber
- Good selection of engineering plastics available
- IDEX allows faster production
- Developed in partnership with LEHVOSS
- Superior quality printing
- Annealing function
- Wide range of LEHVOSS filaments available
- CNC machined structure for improved stability
- A little bit expensive
And finally, we come to the coup-de-gras…the undisputed Ferrari F430 of FDM 3D printers, the Stratasys 450mc.
In fact, at this price, you could buy a used Ferrari F430 and still have change leftover in your pocket to buy all of the other printers on this list.
There is a bigger Fortus available (the Fortus 900mc), but this one is the right balance of size, thermal capabilities and price.
There is a reason why this printer is certified for use in the production of civil aviation components, and that reason is repeatable quality.
- Trusted by Aerospace, Automotive, Manufacturing, Railway, Oil & Gas, and Defense Industries
- 25 Standard, Engineering, and High-performance material options
- Access key print parameters with OpenAM
- Best-in-class reliability and repeatability
- Prints ULTEM and Antero without the need for annealing
- 406 x 355 x 406 mm build volume
- Heated build chamber of a maximum of 350°C!!!!
- Dual extruders
Pros and Cons
- Consistent quality prints
- No need for annealing
- Large build volume
- Can print with soluble materials
- DRM system for filaments means you are locked in to Stratasys materials
- Expensive maintenance
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Enclosed 3D Printer
Do you want an enclosure to simply protect your print from drafts in the living room, or do you need the added benefit of active thermal control?
This first factor will affect how much you are going to spend. If you simply need something to protect from drafts in the house and keep the dust out, you can make your own enclosure, or you can buy any number of printers with passive enclosures for very little money.
The Seramoon is a nice choice for beginners, and FlashForge’s older printers all have passive enclosures.
If, on the other hand, you need a properly heated chamber, you need to pay for it – and the hotter you want to go, the more you will have to pay.
Heated chambers that go up to 60 °C can be bought for quite cheap, but when you go hotter than that, the price begins to increase quite a lot.
A printer with a build chamber of 80 °C will set you back several thousand dollars, and anything over 100 °C, and you may need to remortgage your house.
Basic filaments such as PLA and ABS will benefit from a standard, non-heated enclosure, but if you wish to print more advanced materials such as PACF reliably, then you may wish to invest in a printer with a heated chamber.
If you wish to print advanced engineering plastics such as Antero (PEKK) or ULTEM (PEI), then you will need a heated chamber (and a very hot nozzle).
Sure, you can print PEKK and PEI in a chamber of 80 °C, but you will need to anneal them afterward.
For best results when printing with these advanced polymers, you really need a chamber temperature that is as close to the glass transition temperature as possible, and that’s around 180 °C.
What material you want to print with will ultimately determine what temperature you need your chamber heated to.
Small printers are cheaper than big ones, and cold ones are cheaper than hot ones.
And by that extension, printers with hot chambers and large build volumes are orders of magnitude more expensive than small ones with unheated chambers.
Making a printer heatproof is expensive, and heating a large volume is expensive.
Ultimately, it all boils down to price, and the aforementioned other factors will all contribute to how much you will end up paying.
If you simply want to protect your prints from drafts and dust, then you don’t need to spend too much money, and a simple enclosure is a great investment, whether you build one yourself or buy a printer with its own enclosure.
You will never worry about gusts of air ruining your prints ever again. It pays for itself with the time saved from not worrying about ruined prints.
And if you wish to open up the palette of filaments that you can print with reliably, you will need to invest a few bucks in a heated chamber.
Thankfully, these are getting cheaper, and the Bambu X1 really offers exceptional value where this is concerned.
Sure, it doesn’t reach the same temperatures as the Fortus does, but then you probably won’t be designing parts for Airbus with your Bambu.
We hope this guide serves you well when making a decision on what type of enclosed printer you may purchase, should you decide that you want one.
Enclosing your printer should be the first thing you do to ensure repeatable quality.