The Ender 3 is a super popular desktop FDM-type 3D printer from Chinese manufacturer Creality Inc. It is known for its low price and upgradeability.
There are many ways you can upgrade an Ender 3, and there are even options that will fit straight onto the printer, requiring no extra modification.
In this article, we will take a look at how you can upgrade the extruder / hot end on your Ender 3 V2 and Pro 3D printers.
The V2 and Pro are very similar, and they have the same Bowden extruder and the same hotend, so the extruder and hotend hardware are interchangeable between the two models.
Upgrading the extruder is a great way of printing new materials that you could not print with the stock printer. Additionally, there are other benefits, such as greater control and accuracy.
Read on to learn more about Ender 3 upgrades.
Benefits of Upgrading the Ender 3 Extruder
Just to reiterate, the V2 and Pro hotend and extruder hardware are interchangeable, so when you are looking online to buy your upgrades, don’t fret if you find something labeled “V2” only. It will fit on the Pro, and vice-versa.
Both use a Bowden tube and they both have the classic Creality mk8 type dual gear extruder. They also have the same stock hotend. Only the housing for the hotend looks different.
The v2 also has a filament feeding knob attached to the stepper motor.
So what are the benefits of swapping out these stock extruder and hotend parts?
Improved print quality and precision
In all honesty, the stock extruder and hotend on the Ender 3 is not bad for what you pay for it. It works, and because it is a Bowden, you can run it at higher speeds without worrying about vibration.
Vibration can affect the quality of your print.
On the other hand, Bowden tubes create friction on the filament and can affect the response of the filament, meaning retraction needs to be faster.
Switching to a direct drive is better for precision also because the filament is pushed directly by the motor in a direct drive setup, meaning there is less play in the system.
Additionally, direct drive extruders can also exert more force on the filament, which can improve accuracy and reduce the risk of clogging or jamming.
Enhanced reliability and durability
Some users report slipping in their extruder. This can be caused by worn gears, and by dirt in the mechanism of the stock extruder.
The stock extruder gears may also not have tight tolerances, which can cause poor filament feeding and under-extrusion.
The use of lower quality materials in stock extruders can lead to wear of components and poor performance.
Upgrading to a higher-quality extruder can fix this.
Increased print speed
Bowden-type extruders have a longer filament path, and that path is full of friction, so the responsiveness of the filament extrusion is affected, especially during retraction. Bowdens are a bit laggy, to put it mildly.
Using a direct drive extruder can reduce the lag and increase the responsiveness, and given that they can apply greater force to the filament, they can extrude faster without issues.
Ability to print with a wider range of materials
This is a big one as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I do not worry if a $200 printer isn’t printing to insane levels of accuracy or speed, because as mentioned previously, the level of precision from the stock extruder isn’t that bad, to begin with.
By far the biggest benefit of upgrading your hotend and extruder is the wider range of materials enabled by doing so.
Firstly, upgrading to a direct drive extruder will allow you to print with more flexible filaments such as TPU more easily. While it is possible to extrude these materials with the stock hardware, they can be prone to errors.
Flexible filaments are more prone to jamming and slipping because they have a lower viscosity, which makes it more difficult to push them through the hotend.
A direct drive extruder, with its increased force, is better able to handle these types of filaments and push them through the hotend without jamming or slipping. Additionally, flexible filaments can also cause wear and tear on the extruder gear, which can be mitigated by the increased force of a direct drive extruder.
So the direct drive fixes the flexible filament problem…but what about filaments with a higher melting point, such as ABS or polycarbonate?
For that, you need to swap your hotend to an all-metal design, with a temperature sensor rated for higher temperatures.
And if you want to switch up to higher temperature composites, such as PA-CF (nylon with chopped carbon fiber), you will want to upgrade your nozzle to something a little more wear resistant also.
Abrasive filaments can wear through a brass nozzle in no time.
Top Ender 3 Extruder Upgrade Options
So you have decided to bite the bullet and swap out that stock hardware.
Here is a selection of upgrades that we recommend for your extruder and hotend.
Bondtech BMG Extruder
No article on extruder upgrades would be complete without a nod toward the Bondtech BMG.
The BMG can be used in both Bowden and Direct Drive configurations, each containing the famous Bondtech drive gears.
The gears are precise and are fabricated from hardened and surface-protected steel.
This increases the precision and longevity of the extruder, and the extra gripping force makes it ideal for stiff composite and flexible filaments alike.
It’s easy to install, and there are versions made to fit directly onto Creality printers.
Sherpa Mini Extruder
Bowden-type extruders carry less mass on the gantry, allowing faster printing without vibration.
So what about a smaller direct drive extruder? That’s a great idea, and that is exactly how Sherpa was born.
If you want all the benefits of a direct drive system, but without the mass penalty, then you may wish to purchase one of these Sherpa extruders, with a tiny stepper motor and space-saving design.
It is an open-source design, originally designed by Annex Engineering and uploaded onto Github, along with a parts list and printing files, so you can make your own.
Alternatively, there are a bunch of pre-made versions you can find at various online sources.
V6 All-Metal Hotend
If you’re going to start printing high-temperature materials, you will need an all-metal hotend.
Typical stock hotends contain plastic components that will melt if you crank them up too high – not that you would anyway, because the stock temperature sensor wouldn’t even allow it in the first place.
There are many options available, but based on personal experience, the E3D V6 is not a bad option.
If you want to print carbon fiber-filled nylon, you may want to avoid buying the full kit version, and just buy the individual components such as the Semitec 104NT thermistor, a higher-rated heater cartridge, and a nozzle of your own choosing.
You could also opt for a thermocouple for better response, but remember that you will need to add an extra amplifier circuit to your printer in order to use it.
Mudder Hardened Steel Nozzle
Maybe you don’t want to upgrade your entire hotend, and you just want a decent nozzle to drop onto your stock Creality hotend.
The Mutter Hardened Steel nozzles are designed to replace a multitude of Mk8 fitting nozzles, which include the Ender 3v2/Pro.
How to Upgrade the Ender 3 Extruder
Let’s take a look at the process for a common Ender 3 upgrade, which you may wish to do for improved accuracy and reliability; a direct drive extruder.
In particular, let’s see how to install the Bondtech BMG on your Ender 3 v2/Pro.
Tools and materials required
Ensure you have a good selection of Allen keys for the installation. You may wish to keep optional wire cutters, a soldering iron, and wire heat wrap, depending on if you wish to modify any cable lengths.
Step-by-step guide on the installation process
- Unpack the Bondtech extruder and all of its components. Make sure you have everything you need.
- Remove any filament from the filament path on the Ender 3, and disconnect the printer from the main power.
- Remove the original extruder and stepper from Ender 3 by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place.
- Take the gear from the Bondtech box and fit it to the old stepper. You will be using the old stepper to drive the BMG.
- Install the stepper onto the mounting bracket for the BMG. This may have come with the BMG (depending on the kit you bought), or you may 3D print one.
- Fit the hotend into the BMG, and close the extruder housing.
- Connect the stepper motor and bracket to the Bondtech extruder and secure them with the long screws from the Bondech box.
- Mount the extruder, hotend, and bracket assembly to the X-axis carriage on the Ender 3 gantry, and connect the motor power to the stepper motor.
- Adjust the steps/mm in the firmware.
- Perform a test print to ensure that the installation was done correctly.
Tips and precautions to follow during the upgrade
- Make sure that all the hot components are completely cooled before you attempt the process.
- Ensure that the power is off before you start, to ensure maximum safety.
- Read the official Bondtech documentation thoroughly before beginning installation.
So there you have it. There are multiple options for upgrading your extruder and hotend and supercharging your Ender 3 v2/Pro.
Your first step should be replacing the stock extruder, followed by choosing a new hotend that will fit that extruder.
Be sure to consider that the hotend and extruder are compatible before making your purchase.
These simple upgrades, along with the correct nozzle choice, can vastly increase the capabilities of your standard Ender 3. Be sure to select an abrasion-resistant nozzle if you plan on printing composites such as PACF. In fact, a hardened steel nozzle is a good choice all round.
With the right combination of upgrades and a little elbow grease, your Ender 3 can be printing materials that stock printers costing 5x the price of your Ender 3 can achieve.
We hope our guide will help you achieve that.