Ahh the Anet A8. The famously infamous sub-$200 Chinese 3D printer. Feared, hated, and loved.
How did such a machine become so controversial? And why, despite all of that, do I still think it is worth considering?
Read on, dear friend, read on!
Let’s start with the specifications, and work from there.
Anet A8 3D Printer Kit Specifications
On paper there is nothing at all shocking or even surprising about the Anet A8 3d printer kit.
- 220mm x 220mm x 240mm build area, with metal heated bed
- Acrylic frame
- 12v PSU
- Two steppers on vertical axis
- Part fan as well as extruder fan
- LCD display screen with clicky buttons rather than dial UI
- Mk8 Extruder
Looking over that list I am sure there are no surprises, but no huge disappointments either, right?
That is because the Anet A8 is simply yet another far east Prusa i3 “clone.” I hesitate to use the phrase “clone” because Josef Prusa made the Prusa design open source. Yet, at the same time, people DO get confused about what exactly they purchased when they buy one of these kits, or a competitor’s.
In practice, and by reputation, there are a few pros and cons here that I should go over.
Why did I mention controversy and infamy in my (slightly snarky) introduction, then?
Well there is a reputation that has been slowly building. This is not solely reserved for Anet and their A8 machine, all Shenzhen produced hardware is getting tainted with it. The reason, I believe, that Anet and Tevo feel the worst of it is because these companies target the budget-conscious newbies with printer kits.
Yes, there have been QC issues, and yes there is often some nuance lost in translation, and of course, documentation, instructions and customer service can always be better, I don’t care who you are, but it is not wholly fair or deserved.
You will see fear-mongering such as “3d printer burns down house” when in fact “some slight smoking was detected on the main board before the power was removed” is closer to the truth in 99.9% of cases.
The cause for a lot is bad assembly and/or lack of maintenance. For sure you can mitigate a lot by adding an external MOSFET for a couple of dollars. Checking wiring is done correctly, and stays correct, is just as important and maybe more so.
The Good News
I ordered myself an Anet A8 almost as a gamble or a challenge. My expectations were low, therefore I was blown away.
Seriously, there was a time I could not have purchased self-sourced parts for the price this kit sells at, and I certainly would not anticipate getting the results I did off of it once complete. I myself had warned people of the problems associated with acrylic frames (potentially for warping and cracking, mainly), but after carefully assembling I found it remarkably solid.
There are other printers in this price range but it is difficult to find one with this bed size, let alone a heated bed at that. The bed does work too, it gets up to temperature in a reasonable timeframe and stays there.
For support, yeah you are not going to get a lot of stellar support from Anet directly, but there is a huge, loyal, and active online community of enthusiasts. This vibrant community has supplied everything from excellent printer profiles, through to upgrades and community-built firmware.
One of the best upgrades, though an involved and time consuming one, is the “AM8” frame upgrade. This converts your plastic A8 into a metal framed monster. In the end it is built like a tank, capable of printing fast and accurately.
This is a tinkerers printer, and with tinkering it can be very capable. Remember, the extruder is the same as the much-lauded Creality CR-10. The software is marlin. There is nothing unique about this printer, and that is a good thing.
If you have never built a 3d printer then you might be feeling daunted by the prospect, especially with the far-east documentation reputation ringing in your ears.
Fear not. There are excellent online resources and videos to help you through every step, plus that community I mentioned above.
In my own Maker Hacks community there are a whole bunch of people who have successfully built their Anet A8 machines who would be happy to help, a couple of whom are teenagers. Talk about a STEM educational project!
Building a 3D printer kit is not for everybody, for sure, but it teaches you a lot about how 3d printers work, how to fix them, and what can go wrong.
Time to wrap up this review. What are the takeaways?
The build is long, prepare for that. Don’t think it is anywhere close to plug and play! Removing all the protective adhesive paper is a pain in the butt that takes hours, and that is before you get to the actual build itself. Then there are the tiny screws and fiddly t-joints that need to be carefully worked in order to fit the acrylic frame together without cracking. Take it slow and steady.
Keep little fingers away. The bare power supply, heated parts, wiring, mainboard, and general cable management means you need to keep curious fingers and furry family well away. It’s wide open and could cause harm, even if nothing shorts out or wears.
I am not a fan of companies who benefit from open source software and hardware without fully complying with the licensing terms. Own-brand mainboard and closed-source firmware leaves a bad taste, but that is slowly changing, and the community have a better firmware for those who are willing to put in the effort.
The menu system takes some getting used to and on the stock firmware is not super responsive, but then again it at least has a display and onboard control.
AMAZING value for money; on offer it can be found for crazy cheap.
Prints great, at least as well as any other Prusa clone.
220 x 200mm heated bed is a great size.
Mk8 extruder is cheap to replace and just works.
LCD screen and menu control might be temperamental but at least it has it. Many more expensive printers don’t!
If those caveats above don’t put you off then I would at least consider this printer as an option. Join the Facebook groups and ask around, get experiences from people who have been there!