A printer with a great rap sheet of features that fall short of living up their purported user-friendly offerings but will suit the versed tinkerer who is equipped to mod and tune the Creatr into a quality model.
|Printing Area||230 mm x 270 mm x 200 mm|
|Layer Resolution||50 microns|
|Supported Filament||ABS, PLA, PVA, Lay Brick, Nylon|
|Extruders||1 or 2|
|Extruder Diameter||0.35 mm|
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Design and Features
As an entry-level 3D printer, the Leapfrog Creatr starts off proceedings with what seem to be quality components housed within a laser cut T-Slot extrusion aluminum chassis complemented by three-sided powder-coated aluminum panels.
The look is minimalist, striking a happy medium between the sleek look of enclosed 3D printers and the exposed internal components and mechanics found on open-source kit form printers. There’s a sense that maintenance tasks or tinkering won’t involve having to strip down the printer’s outer shell to access the hardware inside. Conversely, the paneling ensures a degree of sound muffling and protection from inadvertent burn injuries.
The rounded edges, gray/white color scheme, low-blue UV-like LED lighting, and rubberized feet exude on overall professional and sturdy allure that is reminiscent of printers that cost quite a bit more. The 32 KG weight also adds to the robust construction. To top it all off Leapfrog has stamped the shortened front panel with its classic green frog logo.
The Leapfrog Creatr flaunts its attributes firstly with a spacious 230mm x 270mm x 200mm build area that dwarfs similarly priced pre-assembled entry-level 3D printers on the market. Consequently, the Creatr’s footprint means you’ll need to make arrangements for its final resting place as it comfortably takes up most of any standard fare home office desk.
Moving on, the Creatr uses FDM technology through a classic linear motion Cartesian XYZ configuration. A set of 12 mm rods run the X-axis, while the Y axis moves on 8mm bearing rails, both driving the extruder. The Z axis is mounted on three spinning threaded rods shifting the build plate vertically.
NEMA 17 stepper motors linked up to a 10mm belt pulley system power all three axes. The electronics are juiced by a standard Arduino controller, from which bleeds out a mess of cables housed in a series of see-through partitioned casings.
Leapfrog offers the Creatr with either a single or dual resistor-heated extruder configuration. The small price difference between the two choices makes the dual setup a no-brainer. The dual setup offers versatility. For example, the first extruder could house PLA, while the second could provide support material for complex prints.
The extruders can print layer resolutions as low as 50 microns, which is hands down unbelievable for this caliber of a printer. The nozzles have a smaller than average diameter of 0.35 mm to cater for the extra precision, which is no bad thing and a feature often reserved for industrial-grade 3D printers.
The 6mm tempered borosilicate glass bed is heated with a maximum temperature of 80 degrees centigrade, a must have when using ABS filament without a temperature-controlled enclosed chamber.
The Leapfrog Creatr is compatible with a bountiful selection of third-party ABS, PLA, PVA, lay brick, and nylon with a filament diameter of 1.75 mm. A dual configuration of filament-holding turntables (or spindles) sit at the bottom of the printer just below the heated bed and offer a clean solution free of bulky spool holders sitting atop printers.
The Leapfrog Creatr has no onboard display or controls to speak of, and software manages and monitors the whole printing process. You can, however, purchase the Creatr HS that includes an onboard color LCD.
Connectivity is limited to USB-to-PC with no untethered option, which is more symptomatic of the age of the printer than an oversight on Leapfrog’s part. Similar to the onboard display, the HS version offers a built-in USB slot that houses a USB key for untethered functionality.
The Creatr is compatible with open-source software although Leapfrog recommends using PC and Mac-supported Repetier-Host software like Slic3r and Simplify3D.
Leapfrog distributes the printer in a large cardboard box on a reinforced cardboard crate-like set of support feet. Inside, the printer is protected by what we judged to be a limited amount of styrofoam that appeared to do the job of protecting the device but felt somewhat barebones. The printer is covered in bubble plastic packaging.
The package includes the Leapfrog Creatr, power cord, USB cable, a set of print stickers, and an envelope with instructions.
The Leapfrog Creatr is as pre-assembled as they come. Simply unbox, remove a series of plastic ties (one holding the power cord, one immobilizing the extruder, and the final one securing the extruder belt), insert the filament tubes into the brackets, hook up the power cord to the back of the printer, connect the USB, hit the power on button, and you are done.
The instructions are nothing more than a sheet of paper that refers the user to Leapfrog’s website from where you can download a PDF manual for either Repetier-Host/Slic3r or Simplify3D.
The guides are geared towards Windows users, and Mac owners will struggle a bit more to get the software working and will have to download additional utilities such as Virtual COM port drivers and software for the Arduino controller.
Fortunately, the software installation is propped up by a series of instructional videos that are concise and informative.
The printer is factory calibrated as confirmed by a sheet of paper stating the model has undergone quality control testing by Leapfrog. However, you still have to perform some axis homing within the software, but in the case of Slic3r, walking through a configuration wizard was suficient.
Feeding the filament into the extruders wasn’t as straightforward as we’d hoped. It involves routing the filament through the tubing, then feeding it into the extruder openings and easing it into the pinch on the gears after using ‘’extrude’’ and ‘’retract’’ commands in the software.
Our first attempt took a few tries, and we found that the best course of action was slow and steady due to the way filament naturally bends through the gears and the exact spot the filament needs to hit the hole below to feed correctly. We found ourselves mangling quite a few inches of the filament as the gears tried and failed to grasp the filament, but ground away at it all the same.
The filament turntables are another difficult step to overcome because the way they sit makes it extremely difficult to feed the spooled filament into the tubing efficiently. Additionally, the bearings are extremely sensitive, and the spools often spun further than required necessitating involvement from the user or risk the filament snapping due to being wound too tight.
When it works, the quality of the prints is good, but for all the marketing spiel about out of the box functionality, the Creatr is more of a tinkerer’s printer than an easy to use novice build. It is capable of quality prints, but it needs a lot of software tuning (extruder and bed temperature, printing speed rates, model slicing, etc.) to get right and anyone without advanced knowledge of a Repetier-Host slicer will pull their hair out in frustration. The dual extrusion works, but as above takes a lot of tuning to get right.
For a tuning enthusiast, the Creatr is, however, non other than – perfect. It is primed for modification and maintenance through the semi-open case, the modular design of the components that are ripe for disassembly, and Leapfrog provides detailed instructions on how to work on pretty much any part of the printer. It’s also reasonably quiet.
The print stickers work well and are a welcome change from the customary use of blue painter’s tape, and with equal if not even better overall results. The only issue is that one sticker doesn’t cover the whole build surface so you’ll need to fashion an extra strip from another sheet to cover the gap.
The extruder pre-heats pretty rapidly, but the Creatr struggles to heat the bed, and it can take a significant amount of time, not to mention energy, which translates into extra cost on your power bill at the end of the month.
The angle of the extruders and the way they are housed in the center of a chunky, concealing metal case (fans, motors, and all) masks the first layers of filament during the printing process significantly hindering monitoring.
When the printing went to plan this wasn’t a problem. During the headache-inducing first dozen runs that ultimately failed, this just led to wasted filament as we waited to get a glimpse of the mangled model and decide whether to cut the process short.
Earlier in our review, we praised the Leapfrog for the semi-open plan design, but as we got constant use out of the printer, we found that the extruder nozzles were near on impossible to reach for cleaning off excess filament without having to engage in unsightly hand contortions.
Leapfrog offers a lackluster three-month warranty but balances this out with excellent customer support and a trove of articles, videos, and forum discussions on their website that are a great source of help in line with the tinkering aspect of the Creatr.
Although the Leapfrog Creatr has a lot going for it in terms of design, versatility, large build area, and pre-assembly, it falls short of its ambitions as a plug-and-play printer. We see it as a perfect addition to a seasoned makers arsenal of printers who is in the market for a project that can be tuned, refined, and modded into a workhorse capable of quality prints. For the novice, the HS older brother is a far better investment.