tronxsy x5sa pro review: better than we thought - tbh [reviews]
So between last night and today, I went ahead and assembled the Tronxy XS5A Pro 3D Printer and let's talk about this printer and its goods and its bads - because there are both. I'm making this post an informal build and initial use review of the printer - as a bunch of reminders to myself and also it may be useful to you.
I'm going to be honest, I don't normally write review, this is one of my first lengthy ones, and that's usually because I either don't think the purchase of a product merits a review or I just don't think that I'm qualified enough in a field to give a review. If this was a CNC machine or a Lathe, I'd say I have much less manufacturing experience to warrant a review. Fortunately, my manufacturing experience is significant in 3D printing which means I'm able to at least figure out if this thing is good or bad - so let's get on with it.
First, some background information. The Tronxy X5SA Pro 3D printer is a large-format, multi-material 3D printer that is sold as a DIY 3D printer kit. It's a core-XY printer which means the XY axis are at the top of the printer and the build plate moves up and down (z-axis). It has a build volume of 300mmx300mmx400mm which puts a lot of the name-brand printers to shame. It's absolutely massive. If you're looking for a TLDR, after using this thing for a bit, it's a good printer. But you should be careful.
First, let's talk about the build. The printer comes in a pretty large box from amazon, the parts (with the exception of the hardware) are very neatly sorted and surprisingly well-packaged. I never had any trouble finding anything, with the exception of two spacers that were hiding in a bag that didn't make much sense for them to be in. But overall, if we're talking start to finish, finding the parts wasn't the issue, and neither were the instructions as my kit came with a clearly labeled color manual which was actually very nice and simple to follow. Let's go through how it was to assemble part by part.
First, let's talk about the frame. The frame itself is made of x-rail and it comes pre-drilled with all the required holes and if you follow the instructions carefully and orient them all properly, they go together very easily. The outer frame itself is way to put together but I've seen other review that describe how difficult it is to square. See, I wouldn't call it very difficult to square, but make sure you do square the corners of the frame because there's enough slop in the holes to make the whole thing go out of wack. My recommendation is eyeball the assembly at first, then go corner-by-corner, loosing the bolt, squaring the frame, and then re-tightening so you aren't fumbling around with a bunch of pieces at once.
The next part, after the initial frame assembly, was the upper carriage which was easy to put together, there's a nut you need to twist to tighten the wheels onto the x-axis cross-frame that can be missed in the instructions, but otherwise it went together easily. The part after that was the part I struggled the most with and that was the z-axis assemblies.
The hard part about the z-axis assemblies is that there are a lot of parts you don't see the first time, and there's a very specific orientation of the components that can be missed, and then there's making sure all those rails and the screw are perfectly vertical, and then there's just the fact that the hardware kit (which isn't very organized) which was OK for the frame assembly since it was obvious what screw to use, becomes a little annoying in this step when the screws aren't labeled and everything is in the wrong bag - so on the hardware side the labeling could have been much better. It took a little while to get that z-axis together. After that the build plate went together no problem. Some advice is, make sure both the z-axis are all the way down before assembling the build plate otherwise you don't really know if they're at the same level and assembling them square becomes hard.
The next step for me was the belt system on the top, and other reviews had warned me that these belts are difficult, low-quality, tensioning them so that the rail is square with the frame is hard. But for me I didn't have these problems. The belts that were included in my kit weren't terrible rubber belts, they had a sturdy core which meant they weren't very stretchy. tensioning the belt was easy when I kept in mind that I need to keep the gantry square with the frame. I took a large drywall square and left it on-top of the frame while tensioning the belts to make sure the whole thing was square. The diagrams in the book are not super useful when you haven't tensioned a belt system before, and I'm not the biggest fan of the way the belts are tensioned with zip-ties, but I do think it could be worse. It isn't the strongest selling point for the product, the belt system. But I didn't mind it and it was honestly OK.
Then we get to the electronics, this was the biggest nightmare for me. And it wasn't mounting the individual electronics, or finding the wires, or even connecting the wires. All of that was OK. The problem for me was those wire carriers. There are two wire carriers and four total mounts (one for each end of the carrier), and all four were a struggle. The holes in the carriers simply don't mach the holes in the mounting plates. So screws were at an angle and what not. I had to improvise because I even broke a mount because of how dumb those carriers are. If you're careful you won't break anything - I broke it by tightening it too much, but part of me suggest re-drilling the holes or coming up with a better way to mount those carriers on your own, I'm telling you, they're awful.
The rest went together fine, it was all details. Most of the complex parts a pre-assembled and just require attaching. The T-nuts they included for the x-rail system are a little weird. I haven't seen those kind of T-nuts before. But once you figure our how to slide them in (after playing for a minute) you understand how they work and get used to them. Some of the wires are way too long - a bit annoying but not a big deal. I ended up breaking out a pack of zip-ties to deal with any long wires.
There were a few annoying parts, but it was a fun and not-too-challenging build. I might not recommend it if you've never built anything before. But If you have some experience with hand tools I think you'll be OK especially with the videos on the internet.
So after more hours than I thought it'd take me, I stepped back and actually looked at the printer. And I must say, it's really quite majestic. I has a very nice black metal minimalist design to it, there's more open space than anything, and a lot of the wires can be hidden in the frame itself. The main meson wiring and main computing is hidden in that nice big box that encloses the power supply.
As far as the quality and sturdiness of the printer, I think it's pretty good for what we paid for it. There's not many parts that aren't metal, and the few that aren't metal are extremely thick acrylic. I'm not a fan of acrylic but the thickness of them makes me feel OK with them not randomly shattering. The structure is very sturdy and doesn't wobble when we set it down (which is very nice). The LCD color-touch is actually very pretty and very pleasant. The much more expensive Prusa has a smaller build volume and a less-nice interface so big big big plus to Tronxy for that beautiful color-touch display and very easy to understand UI.
So now let's talk about setting up the printer and partially using it. Right now I'm just talking about the basics of setting up the printer after first startup like leveling the build plate and getting use to the ideas of how to run the new printer. And I must say, this is where there are a few shortcomings. It's been mostly positive so-far, but when I started setting up the printer. I started to see why the thing isn't so expensive.
Let's start with leveling the build plate - and before I say anything let me say I'm not usually the person that levels the build plate for the other 3D printers I've used. So a lot of this could have to do with my general in-experience leveling plates, but this wasn't an easy task. One was I didn't have the right technique initially, the second was an annoying mechanical problem with this device.
But even before that, before you try leveling anything, READ THE MANUAL, RTFM. Because the buttons don't necessarily do what you think they do. The order is, auto-leveling, z-offset calibration, and then you need to MANUALLY level AGAIN. The Manual leveling is not an alternative to the automatic leveling.
First, technique. I realized the ideal technique to level the plate was to go around with a rule and at each screw measure the height of the spring and make them all equal before you press the auto-leveling feature. And make them around 15mm because I noticed if you go much lower than 15mm spring height, the printer's z-axis does this weird thing at the top where it jams, or only one size moves. I think what it's trying to do is it sees more than the expected difference and it tries to counter that by adjusting one side to level the whole platform but it doesn't work and it just jams. That the first really annoying thing about this printer. For auto-leveling to work, the bed can't be off by more than 1.5mm in any direction and the height of the bed needs to be around 15mm (something they don't say in the manual).
Then we can talk about the fact the "auto-leveling" is just false advertising for "we'll tell you if it's out of level but you can go adjust it yourself." The auto-level features takes a bunch of readings and then it's up to you to go turn the knobs to level the plate. The feature should be called level-detection or something not auto-leveling. Also, the auto-level isn't the most intuitive thing. If it shows (-) on the screen that means that part of the plate is lower than other parts not that it's closer to the sensor like some of us arduino experienced ppl might think. So it takes some getting used to.
But all of these pail compared to, what I really think, is the worst feature of this printer. And that's those screws that are supposed to adjust the build plate height themselves.
If we look at the assembly of the screw system. There's a regular, phillips-head counter-sunk screw screw that goes trough the plate, the spring, and the plate-holder, and gets capped with a finger-knob on the other side. To me, what this means is I should be able to turn that knob and it'll adjust the height of the plate in that area right?
NO it just won't happen. The problem here is the screw is counter sunk, not a hex head or anything. So there's nothing stopping it from just merrily spinning around while you turn the knob which means you can turn that knob all you want and all it'll do is spin so very annoyingly. It gets even better because the print surface and the build-plate (like in most printers) are separate, so you can wash the print surface without getting your plate all out-of-level. So the print surface sits on-top of the build plate and covers the screws that you need to hold to adjust the plate level. So anytime you want to adjust plate level, you need to take the print surface off, hold the screw, adjust the level, and then put the surface on again because of its non-negligible thickness which. If you leave the surface off, the height of the plate is too low and the z-axis jams when it gets too high to try to level the plate. It's excruciatingly annoying.
It took a long time for me to level that plate, but the good news is once it's level it shouldn't come out of level significantly. So this whole ordeal should only be a one-day, maybe few times a year thing. Not every time so I can live with it.
(but really tronxy? come on, just give that screw a hex head and a hex hole to sit in)
Then there's the attachment of the build surface to the heat-bed. And I only want to talk about it for a second because it isn't bad, it's just hilarious. The comes with some incredibly stupid binder clips that hold the print bed onto the heated surface which I think is ridiculous. (Magnets people, magnets). But again, details that don't actually affect the print-job it's just funny.
Then we get to the first Z-offset calibration. And you cannot do this without a level build-plate. Because if you try to, then the printer will slam into one end of the build plate causing a nice gash (a classing among tronxy users). But you follow the instructions to do the z-offset calibration which is OK, and then you select manual build plate leveling just to verify. I set my z-offset to larger than recommended. I know from experience the distance to the tip doesn't need to be the thickness of a piece of paper, I made it like the thickness of three pieces of paper because one is cutting it a little close for me. I don't want more gashes in my build plate!!!
So that's all the setup you need to do before you just get to use the printer in day-to-day mode. And in day-to-day mode (after all that is done) is actually very fine.
You turn the printer on and you only need to do two things. (I'd check the plate leveling but it should be OK). Then you do you Z-offset calibration. Yes, you have to do this stupid thing with shoving paper in-between your printer nozzle and its build plate each time but it only takes a couple seconds. You can run the manual plate level calibration after this (which really just checks if the nozzle is at the same height on parts of the plate) if you want. But it's likely OK if you don't assuming you haven't changed the build plate screws at all - no reason you'd need to.
Then you just go ahead and hit print and then there's a whole host of awesome features that take over and give you a really nice print. You can add breakpoints, and resume prints from them if you need to take a break/etc. Build plate adhesion with PLA was perfect the first time which is new for me. The build plate is actually very good and now that they've added insulation under the heat-bed the combination of the soft, grippy plate, and well-managed temperature means the adhesion is perfect and doesn't even need any glue to hold the print down - I was really impressed. It is actually a pretty fast printer too.
There's only one annoying thing for me about actually using it. And that's feeding in the filament/replacing the filament. Because the printer has a filament breakage sensor and a remote-feeder that pushes filament into the nozzle using a stepper motor on the side of the frame rather than on the print-head itself (which is good it make the head lighter and the printer faster), it's kinda difficult to get the filament through that breakage sensor and into the feeder. The holes just aren't aligned so well. Which I think is to keep tension on the filament, but it makes loading filament very slightly annoying.
There are a some very small things to mention at the end of this - none that will really affect performance of the printer but things to mention. It isn't the most quiet printer, there are some noises it takes out from the fan to the fact that since some of the pullies for the upper gantry are slick and not geared the belts slide a little up and down on them and the teeth make weird noises. If the belts are tensioned properly this won't be an issue for the print at all, but it could be an annoying noise. So I have noticed that point of slippy pullies like some other reviews mention.
The final thing I'm mentioning because I just don't get it. This printer zeros itself at the oddest of times. Like every time you do something it zeros itself. Most printers I've used only zero once when they turn on and that's their zero for the duration of them being on. But this printer, anytime you ask it to level the plate, it re-zeros x and y. And those are all good things because if the belts ever slip during a print, when you start the next one it's OK because it re-zeros. But then it does this thing where it re-zeros x and y at some odd times like at the end of a print. Why, now that I've finished a print, and am about to turn off the machine are we zeroing the x and y axis, and even if I do want to do another print, the moment I start said print, it's going to zero again. It's good that it verifies its zero, just odd sometimes. Also it never does this with the Z-axis, only the x and y.
Now here's my overall:
The tronxy x5sa 3d printer definitely has some annoying parts, pieces that could be improved. But none of them really affect, to a significant degree, the print quality or day-to-day operations. And the positives of this printer far outweighs the negatives. The printer is fast and precise, it can print with many types of filament. It is easy to interact with having a pretty UI, has good build plate adhesion, and a massive, absolutely massive build volume. For the price of $400 dollars this printer is, very simply, worth it.