Not only is the Cetus the most adorable printer on the low-end of the consumer market it packs a punch in terms of print quality, design, and components. The assembly and modular facets mean it isn’t necessarily suited to a beginner, but will satisfy anyone with some printing experience.
To say we’ve been chomping at the bit to get our hands on a Cetus 3D printer for some time is an understatement. Ever since respected Chinese 3D printer manufacturer Tiertime – famed for the excellent UP line of printers – first kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for the Cetus over on Kickstarter in the latter half of 2016, we’ve kept a keen eye on development.
Now onto the third and most refined version of the Cetus, baptized the MKIII, Tiertime is offering not only the cutest 3D printer we’ve come across but also the most affordable. With so much anticipation on our part, does the Cetus live up to expectations or is it a vessel for a bundle of unkept promises to add to the annals of 3D printing history?
|Printing Area||180mm x 180mm x 180mm|
|Layer Resolution||50, 70, 100, 200, 250, 300, 350 microns|
|Supported Filament||PLA (PET, PETG, TPU, TPE, PVA, Wood-filled)|
|Extruder Diameter||0.2 mm, 0.4 mm, 0.6 mm (interchangeable)|
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Design and Features
The Cetus is a minimalist printer whose driving force springs forth from Tiertime’s desire to manufacture a 3D printer free of the complexity that unfortunately defines various models on the market with an emphasis on enjoyment and functionality.
A quick look at the Cetus reveals a simple, yet intelligent design based on six core modular components: three-axis modules, a main board electronic module, a print bed, and an extruder. Combined they create a small form factor printer without any redundant, frivolous additions nor bells and whistles.
It’s small and lightweight, but remarkably sturdy while the small footprint and portability mean it is easily transported from home to office or wherever else it might be needed with minimal hassle. The minimalist, open-ended functionality also extends to modding as the Cetus is ripe for tinkering and add-ons.
The chassis is constructed with high-quality aluminum extrusions that coupled with the linear rail axis modules, and the low-profile rubber footed mainboard, keep the model upright with a non-chambered, guts exposed, minimalist feel that belies an impressive rigidity.
The build volume is a modest 180mm x 180mm x 180mm that relative to the size and weight (12.1 lbs) of the printer is an amazing ratio. It uses Melted Extrusion Modeling (MEM) print tech with a cantilever design. The linear rails on each axis ensure quiet, precise functionality with the extruder rail controlling the X-axis, while the print bed runs on the Y-axis, and finally, the extruder rail moves along the Z-axis module. Belted stepper motors assure movement on the axis.
The compact single extruder is of the direct drive variety with interchangeable PEEK-made nozzles with diameters of 0.2 mm, 0.4 mm, and 0.6 mm with layer resolutions of 50, 70, 100, 200, 250, 300, and 350 microns. The combination of nozzle diameters and resolutions mean the Cetus is versatile enough to manage both detail-oriented final product printing and quickly-rendered prototypes or draft pieces.
The non-heated print bed consists of 3 mm of aluminum fixed directly onto the Y-axis linear rail with a unique nozzle height error tolerant coating designed to secure the first layer of the print model to the bed. The coating recipe is a well-kept secret on Tiertime’s part. The surface is a textured, adhesive layer that sticks to PLA and similar materials. It’s designed for easy removal of prints while holding them securely in place while the printer is working away and negates the need for painter’s tape, hairspray, glue or your adhesive of choice.
The Cetus supports PLA primarily but is also compatible with PET, PETG, TPU, TPE, PVA, and Wood-filled material. Tiertime also offers a heated bed option (up to 100 degrees centigrade) and soon a steel nozzle upgrade. Both should open up the Cetus to ABS, ASA, HIPS, PP, PC, nylon, and metal/fiber composite materials.
Filament diameter is 1.75 mm with open-source support meaning you can use cartridges from third-parties without any issues although Tiertime does offer its own Cetus-optimized PLA in 700 g spools in a range of colors with low-warp and low-odor properties.
Other features of the Cetus include Smart Support Technology that automatically generates easy to remove supports for prints with overhangs (supports can be customized and fine-tuned as well) and software-assisted bed leveling.
Connectivity is either through USB-to-PC or Wi-Fi for untethered use with both Windows and MacOS. Slicing and printer control duties fall to Tiertime’s proprietary UP Studio software and UP Studio iOS app.
UP Studio features the standard fare of slicer features from 3D modeling of the build, rotation, scaling, STL, UP3, OBJ, 3MF, PLY, OFF, 3DS, Gcode, JPG, BMP, PMG file type support, 2D to 3D lithophane creation tool, supports, error detection, print initialization, infill, draft, quality, layer thickness, etc.
UP Studio’s functionality and the embedded array of tinkering options mimic the printers surface level simplicity with a world of detail and tuning available to those wishing to dig a little deeper into the intricacies of 3D printing.
The app version includes the same functionality as the desktop version with status and monitoring information, a simple interface, and the ability to alter settings, trigger prints, load print models from the cloud and more within a simple app-friendly interface.
The Cetus ships disassembled in kit form although the mainboard/Y-axis and X/Z axis rails arrive assembled. The components come well packaged in an unsurprisingly small box and inner styrofoam trays.
The package includes the mainboard, XYZ axes, extruder unit, build plate, spare screws, three 50g PLA filament samples, USB cable, power cord, power adapter, pliers, scraper, hex key, nozzle wrench, filament guide tube, nozzles, spool holder kit, calibration stickers, and quickstart guide.
The Cetus assembly involves fitting parts together and is altogether fairly straightforward as Tiertime provides excellent instructions as well as an instructional video on their YouTube channel. Without delving too deep into specifics, the process involves fitting the four connectors to the different components, connecting the X/Z axis rails to the chassis on which sits the mainboard and Y axis mount via a set of screws, fitting the extruder, and finally fitting the bed plate to the Y-axis.
The process is miles away from pre-assembled equivalents, but equally far from temperamental kit printers that are a nightmare to assemble. The assembly of the Cetus achieves a comfortable equilibrium between a hands-on kit and accessibility.
Small touches like cable mounts attached to the vertical Z axis were a pleasant discovery and prove Tiertime hasn’t skimped on the details.
The software-assisted calibration through UP Studio is well designed, and although it involves the classic use of a piece of paper, the nine-point matrix does an excellent job of ensuring the bed levels well.
Feeding the filament is the usual choreographed heating of the hot end, feeding the filament into the tubing, and guiding it into the top of the extruder. It worked as expected without any snapping or clogging issues. The Cetus ships with a spool holder that works well too and ultimately made us forget the printer doesn’t have an inbuilt spool holding solution.
The Cetus provides clean prints with stunning layering for the most part. It is prone to the occasional blemish and some adhesion problems for larger prints, but generally, performs wonderfully given its compact form and low price tag.
Stringing was not something we had to contend with throughout our tests, and contours were smooth even with more challenging models with lots of detail. Our appreciation of the prints is that they are better than expected although, of course, the quality doesn’t match that of models priced up to ten times more.
The coated bed works incredibly well for PLA, although we do recommend using rafts as the texture isn’t completely smooth and can leave small indentations and inconsistencies in the base of prints. If perfection is imperative a draft is a no brainer. The extra stability provided doesn’t hurt either.
In keeping with the linear rail design, the Cetus is one quiet machine, and we have to say a break from the mechanical churning associated with most models was a breath of fresh air.
The Cetus has a standard limited one-year warranty. Check with your point of sale for added coverage.
Tiertime provides troubleshooting and guides on its website, and although the resources are helpful, they lack in terms of quantity. The support team is only available by email, but once reached are really competent and helpful.
What we probably like the most about the Cetus is Tiertime’s commitment to improving the model. Future enhancements currently include a V2 hot end for abrasive metal-based materials, a Tinyfab CPU to make the Cetus fully open source and compatible with RepRap-based software like Slic3er and Cura, an auto-calibration probe, and finally a 4.3-inch full-color touchscreen for onboard control. All these can also be installed to existing models of the MKIII either by replacing the part directly or fitting a modular extension board to accommodate the add-ons.
The Cetus is very much the ‘’The Little Engine That Could’’ of the 3D printing world, and benefits fully from Tiertime’s expertise and savoir-faire. We have here a nifty, versatile machine capable of quality prints that are at odds with its very affordable price tag and small size.
The assembly and modding design might not suit a novice but should charm the pants off any veteran printer who wants a compact, portable printer to add to their arsenal. Tiertime’s promise to keep improving the Cetus is also a great sign of future upgrade possibilities and the prospect of making it even better is an enticing one for anyone on the fence about whether the Cetus is worth a purchase.