Do you NEED to Upgrade or Modify Your Artillery (Or Any) 3D Printer? Most Of The Time, No.

Your 3D printer is very capable of awesome prints out of the box. It's true.
Mechanical, Art, High Detail, and just about anything else you can think of.
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New users, while waiting for their sparkly new printer to arrive usually pour over internet resources hoping to arm themselves with the right information and even more tend to try to soak up as much useful information about 3D printing in general before they decided to jump in. Thats how it's supposed to be. The thing that people dont consider is there will be good information, and well, bad information. How do you know the difference?
Well, consider what 3D printers are. They are tools. Precision TOOLS. Not toys, not casual hobby craft sports like glue guns or sticker albums. Another fact is, this is 2020 and the 3D printer technology has been around mainstream for a number of years now and, most manufacturers have things sorted out pretty well. Before we jump in I want to offer some insight into the reasons why I decided to approach this subject, and then dig up the dirt for you. Be prepared for a little reading and consider points that apply to you carefully, then think them over again. Do you want to learn something? Take the time to read this and print it up if you wish for later reference. The 10 minutes or so you spend now will save you hours or days of grief you didnt need to deal with. You are here for learning to print reliably all the time right?
A little background, and a disclaimer.
I'm probably going to use some coarse language during this presentation, but thats simply my style and comes from shooting from the hip. Either get used to my abruptness or not.
I'm not here to sell you anything. There are countless sites out there to slap a name on something and try to make you think you need it. The 3D printing world is no different when it comes to opportunistic lots that try every angle to get you to buy something. These days, you dont have to often. Spend your money on materials and fun stuff like models and maybe even, more printers. I am not a "beginner at 3D printing" nor am I a reviewer that gives virtual BJ's for free tech- you can get that elsewhere. I don't need to review units, all I need to do is look at how they are built and can give a fine dissertation on their probable worth. That can only come from experience.  I buy what I have decided is worth my time and share that experience. I'm active with the tech and how you can put it to use, not for printing toys, not the marketers. When companies do send me printers (I usually buy them) they know I will beat the hell out of them and cut no corners on the thoughts. You cant review a printer (or any product) without using it for some reasonable amount of time, period, so consider that when you read them- most reviewers just set themselves up with a cushy racket to get free product and the companies perpetuating this behavior arent much better than the Amazon companies that pay for reviews to bump their rankings. Its like trusting a surgeon to be his first patient and he tells you he's going to try out a new drill on your skull. Confident in that analogy? Your skull, your money.
I can bore you senseless with how many 3D printers and related tools I have worked with. I wont. I havent been around the block a number of times, I live on the block and have acreage. Theres more than enough people out there that will gladly throw creds around all day and all I ask is you as a new person for your own pleasure along the learning path disregard most of it and instead look for the end results and overall serenity in the people who seem to have their act together. Like any tool or process, there are rules, saftey and maintenance requirements. Its alot easier than you think IF you dont over think it or get caught up in trying to reinvent the wheel. (unless thats your thing)
Its not about money with me. I have woodworking tools like single chisels and machine tools that cost more than a printer. Its about necessity and time, and enjoying that time, and actually getting results. Just because I can spend the money, doesnt mean I will if I dont have to. There has to be a benefit. Being frugal is not one of my fine points, but I cant see logic in wasting that time or money either.
As usual, I'm sure there will be argumentative lots and probably a few natives calling for a war party- good. This article isnt for you because you are already experts, you have something to lose, or somehow think this is directed at you. Perish the thought. I dont think about you at all. Throw down your expertise with results, and explain why your methods require the additional time, money, and energy to achieve thus- but not without explaining why someone else was able to duplicate those results without using any of your advice. The term "being lucky" doesnt count and is invalid. 3D printers are bound to the same physical laws any other tool is and me having the favor of the gods or a fate altering charm doesnt jive. You gotta throw down naked. I do.
Something has to be said if a 10 year old can print out the door with simple instructions and hasnt listened to some of the idiots and vultures out there.
Finally, with the mind-numbing amount of brands, websites, and capitalistic desires us humans have, you must know that there will always be the next guy trying to think up a way to do something different- especially if money is involved. 3D Printing is a mecca for capitalism because well, it's new to most people and everybody wants a piece of that pie. Nothing wrong with that but you have to really provide something that solves a problem, or introduces something that doesnt exist to be of any real value. Look at your local store and ever notice they have whole aisles devoted to... laundry detergent?
They all do the same thing. All thats left is enticing packaging, maybe a different scent or creative marketing emphasis to somehow make you think the detergent is going to get your clothes any cleaner for "a few dollars more". Some variation is great if you like jasmine or blueberry scented bath towels. But they are in the end, all SOAP which existed all along and its formula has been pretty down pat for a long ass time. But theres always going to be just a schmuck or 12 trying to repackage the same thing and somehow make you think its any better. With me still? Let that shit sink in.
It's 2020 for those of us that have been at this awhile should be able to tell you no manufacturer wants to put out a bad or poorly designed 3D printer. Every brand introduces new models and refines the existing ones over time. Some repackage the same thing with crafty new marketing. This like any other thing for economic purposes needs to prey on that "mine is better than yours" or "that is so last year" schtick to keep paychecks flowing and create a new one for unoriginal(ish) entrepreneurs. For the purposes of this article I'm only going to cover our Artillery printers yet the general advice and observations can apply to just about any other. 
Lets look at some of the "hot" topics that come up all the time in the support forums, our support channels, and on other social media outlets. In no specific order:
Newer is always better, right? No. I'm putting myself out on this limb even because well, I wrote an advanced firmware for these machines to enable additional features people tend to want  to explore once they learn a bit more.
What IS Firmware?
Firmware is what connects software and hardware. The firmware runs on a micro-controller that is on the mainboard of the 3D printer, controlling everything from heaters, motors, LCD screen, SD card readers and abstract concepts such as exploration, speed limits, thermal regulation, and safety...
Lets ask this question (we will do that alot from here on out in every subject): "Will it give me better prints?"
Answer: Nope, not really. Manufacturers now typically have the firmware they installed tested and its already proven to work with their machine.
The images of prints I will display were done with no advanced features enabled and basically stock settings. If the advice you are being given tells you to update the firmware or mechanical add-ons to correct print quality, it is simply WRONG. I wrote the advanced firmware to mainly provide a different interface and enable "creature comfort" features. (with an exception of MBL, explained later) The printers already do the work. Case point, I've had stellar prints since day 2 and only updated the firmware after 9 months of operation. I can reflash back to stock and get the same results. Except for additional comforts you really have little to do except assemble the printer and print.
Addressing some of the things being claimed makes the firmware upgrade a requirement:
"Linear Advance" - Except for testing on miscalibrated machines, newsflash; I havent had it enabled on any of the machines here yet the corners are crisp, the holes are round and little puppys run up to me and lick my face when I roll around in my yard. My test cubes on all the machines maintain a very close tolerance an all axis. Who'd have thought that was possible? It is.
"PID Auto Tuning" - Yes, you can narrow the temperature fluctuation down during printing with it, but its really something you only need do once, and can be done just as easily from the console and entered into your start g-code. Creature comfort to do it from the LCD and forget about it. Truth be told I didnt bother PID tuning until 9 months later and probably could still be printing as usual if I didnt. For the tests I reset to factory defaults.
"Save To EEPROM" - self explanatory for the above, and for a couple others below. Needed? Refer to my previous 9 month statement.
"Live Z or Babystepping" - I still havent needed to use this except for testing. This comes down to you knowing how to level, and adjusting your first layer. Now keep in mind, severely warped beds have been a common thing with all brands from time to time, and this feature isnt for that. That will be addressed in the MBL section. If you need to adjust your bed with a few bits of '025 you could just as easily have noted your brim lines (shocker, thats why we write profiles to use them- those first couple of perimeter lines DO serve a purpose) and made the same adjustment while you were, ah, looking at the print and tapping babysteps to begin with. I can swing the wheels probably faster than you can go through the menu to get it and tap it like a high school date's shoulder, so anybody should. Needed? Nah. Nice? Kinda.
"Mesh Bed Leveling or MBL" - Ah, the big one. Nobody had it enabled so I took it upon myself to do it and release it as a part of the firmware to help those out plagued by truly warped beds in the short term. After over 100 printers from various manufacturers here, I can promise you this has been common but not life threatening or game changing. Its why MBL and its successor concepts were developed. The thing that is a failure regarding it is it was pretty much set aside once the ABL sensor market took off. Another way to create a niche (remember that reinventing the wheel for monetary gain thing I brought up earlier) for marginal convenience and definitely, without question, headaches for the average user, nightmares for newer people because they usually have to then dive into hardware modification, firmware adjustment, and yes, another mechanism that can, and will break or not function from time to time. One has to ask, "Does it do anything MBL doesnt" No. Weigh the time, effort and money put into a minute or two time savings and I think most would rather drop the cash on filament or you know, that dinner the wife would appreciate more? (and for you basement dwelling types, more, ah, of whatever you surround yourself with maybe?)
Severely warped beds themselves need addressing, and not with a set of wires, a probe or even the firmware solution I introduced. If you suck at first layer laydown, you need to address that my friend because someone cant do the learning for you- including a non sentient probe or piece of software.
"Marlin 1.1.9 vs. Marlin 2.x.x" -
Its simply irresponsible to suggest Marlin 2.x.x would greatly benefit 8 bit systems beyond marginally. Marlin is evolving to keep up with (and visa-versa) new hardware technology. Without going into a long diatribe addressing the plethora of grey areas people tend to come up with to justify an opposing opinion on this I'm just going to drop the bomb right in their laps with the things that matter. Ive got solid, rock and roll bookends in mine and you can bring your blow torch all day here. Just remember, I'm naked here, so you're gonna be too. If I made little balloon squeaky toy noises come from below your waistline, I'm not going to be apologetic or sympathetic.
"Will it give you better prints?" Nope. Theres nothing in it feature wise that will improve on what has already been possible with the refined version that exists. If you disagree, explain the thousands and thousands of beautiful, great prints those of us who have been at this, and even the smart newcomers have managed to produce all this time? Years of it. If you are chasing perfect prints and haven't managed it yet, maybe look to the people who have and follow their advice? Consider the noob who just went balls to the wall and started printing and is managing the same results because they DIDNT read all of your (the) tweak this tweak that endlessly "help" articles and upgrade advertisement for website hits and to sell them something "they gotta have" and "nobody else has" shit. We will wait. (Caring whether you do or not and just waiting are two different things, so dont get ahead of yourself)
"Can it do the same thing, only better?" - Refer to the above. Then follow up with a question to yourself "Why did you bother then instead of you know, ah, printing?"
Fact is, its not going to be a magic charm thats going to help you get better prints all of a sudden. Will it benefit you with a learning experience and prepare you for future technology advancements in the 32 bit board arena? OF COURSE- but if you are going to do it half-assed and leave a 8 bit board in your machine and garage sale it on your way to wisdom, rethink your commitment to learning. You cant show up with a shovel and expect to get anywhere digging in the sand.
On to brighter things...
Print Bed Modifications or Upgrades
The default factory print surface is a glass composite. It works great under most conditions but my experience with them is those conditions are a bit more varied than what they are usually tested under. This is true for just about any manufacturers bed that uses this type of surface or its variants.
Any surface will require dutiful cleaning between each print to work properly under better conditions. The biggest enemy is your own hands. The oils on your hands do affect adhesion. So does ambient (room) conditions like temperature and yes, drafts. We often have AC on during the summer in our offices and labs and that can create swings that can and do affect adhesion and even print edges lifting during printing. Glass and some of the metal sheet composite (flex plates) are even more susceptible to those swings.
After years of steady use and multiple printers, I still havent been able to find a one stop solution for every filament BUT I have been using the same bed surface for over 5 years now on all of our machines and it has not disappointed. My criteria for determining this has been a short list, and youll see why most of the newer solutions dont compare.
I hate replacing them. They dont have to be consumable.
I wont tolerate adhesion issues across multiple filament types. Ever. Neither should you.
They should be easy to maintain.
Thats it.
In a fast explanation Ill just drop in why I dont like some of the newer materials and systems:
Most are consumable. In other words, buy more later. Good for sellers, bad for you. They get damaged, lose adhesion, and some have materials they just dont work well with.
PP (Polypropylene) sheets are fairly common builplates. They can warp, and if you print ABS they will fuse to it. They get damaged over time because they can be soft while hot. If its a removable flex type, it will go wavy like a 70's disco dancer.
Buildtak (and its various knock offs) is another one that is easily damaged and can randomly fuse (even PLA) with the filament. Throw away. When I have used them, its because I knew I was using the bed surface for that one nasty print with a pain in the ass filament and didnt want it touching my good stuff. Otherwise I use them for mouse pads and under furniture.
Glass (mirrors or even better, borosilicates) We have this already. run AC, a fan, or fart at the wrong time and prints will lift. Hairspray? Messy and unnecessary. Glue stick does work but I've still seen prints lift which is a variable I dont want to wake up to if I dont have to. The composite that has a texture can often (you know who you are, thats most of you) lift, stick too much or not at all when you dont properly clean it. One hint- think of a cast iron frying pan and how we prefer to season them so things DONT stick. Your finger and hand oils do the same thing over time. One final note about hairspray. It get everywhere. If you have random stuff stuck in your beard or crotch, your date wont enjoy dealing with it and neither will your printer, especially fans and moving parts. I have rarely seen 3D printer guys meticulous about dust and things like that. They dont mix.
Magnetic/Metal Flex Plate Systems are the newer kids on the block. Alot of them come with a thin membrane of PEI or a BT type coating that in theory, is close to the good stuff but not quite. The advantage is you are supposed to be able to remove the plate and pop off the print. Guess what? You can. The downside, is just like any other flexible material, they can warp, deform, and get damaged because of that thin membrane, making them ultimately, consumable. They can also be susceptible to the same ambient issues the other can because you typically have your original bed, a magnetic sheet made from ferrite powder and rubber polymer resin to be general. They can dent, deform, and after repeated cycles lose magnetism. Its a insulating material by nature and doesnt transfer heat well. (more work for your heatbed) and then finally, the sheet itself which is usually a spring steel. If you have any experience with metallurgy, armorsmithing and machining, youll know you can deform them when hot. The deformation can be subtle, but remember we are working with machines that also play with close tolerances, especially at the first layer laydown. A few rocket scientists on mushrooms have tried dropping much thicker membranes on them and didnt bother to learn basic coefficients of thermal expansion before pondering the thought. Its why the membranes are so thin. They have to be otherwise the plate, even with the weaker magnet underneath can and will distort. Science, yo. So the trade off is a weaker surface material that can and usually will crack, get brittle, or peel if you make a mistake and fuse the filament to it. We dont want that do we? Buy another one? Nope. Not this guy.
bad pei flex sheets2
Which brings me to what I prefer. PEI - the good stuff. Not thin crap. .5 or 1mm (1mm is my go to) is for the lack of a better way of saying it, practically indestructible, has minimal cleaning requirements, works well with all material types and doesnt need to be replaced. If theres ONE ideal modification or upgrade I will always suggest it will be this one. Why?
Throw down with me anytime and show me a single buildplate that doesnt have the problems listed above, and has managed to work consistently for years, especially in the solutions above. Maintenance is simple, you clean it with IPA and periodically refresh it with Acetone. 5+years on the oldest sheets here and they work, look and act pretty much the same as when they were first installed. So far, its only caveat has been with PETG, which it works beautifully but needs a release agent on large prints. Thats just a water washable glue stick (or for large areas, Barney Blood™ which is that same glue stick watered down to a brush on consistency). Prints dont lift under most ambient changes during the print, and best of all, its not expensive. I link a few brands in the article I wrote "Artillery 3D Printers, Parts, Upgrades And Mods".
Part Cooling. This one is simple.
You can get away with the stock duct and fan but it will produce limitations at times. You dont need a degree or spend hours researching volumetric air flow or weeks re-inventing the wheel in SCAD or Fusion 360 to come up with a solution. The hard work was done a long time ago, and all you need to consider:
You want to put cooling on the part, not the tip of the nozzle or on the heater block. With me still? Good.
You want to be able to adjust the cooling amount for different filaments.
Here, we simply got ahold of an adequate shroud (had to modify it a bit, it was a community release and it had issues) but prior to that, we were using one my 10 year old designed after giving him the ground rules for design. It worked great, did the job, and the only reason we changed was I decided to use a different (stronger) fan over the stock one. (The shroud in use now as seen on our live shows and on our line printers can be found in the files section here) If you want a quick shoot to the fans we use, they are also listed in our mods article "Artillery 3D Printers, Parts, Upgrades And Mods".
Considering Printing With High Temperature or Exotic Filaments?
Your printer as shipped can gleefully print PLA and Periodic PETG filaments all day without any modification. However, if you decide you want to go for it and work with higher temperature filaments like ABS, Nylon, etc, you'll have to consider some upgrades. This applies to regular printing with PETG as well if you happen to use a brand that has a higher print temperature than the 230c upper range on the Artillery printers.
All you need there really is a "All Metal Heatbrake" and that can easily be found by searching for a E3D Volcano compatible brake (Up to the recent models) and the newest use E3D Kraken (smooth) brake because the newer ones have a smooth bore and are secured in the block with 2 grub screws.
I'll add them to the "Artillery 3D Printers, Parts, Upgrades And Mods" list here shortly.
As for exotic filaments like Carbon Fiber, Glow in the Dark, etc, there are a few schools of thought, and for us here, the math proves its just simpler and more cost efficient over time to stick with stock level nozzles and simply throw them away when they degrade. This approach serves two purposes:
You get into the habit of doing regular maintenance and inspections on your printer. You should.
You save money and time over the longer term.
ABL (Auto Bed Leveling) Sensors
If your printer comes with one, you're already there. For those printers (all brands) that dont, do you need them? Absolutely NOT.
They wont "get you better prints". They wont make a uneven bed even. Do they work? Yes. For what they do but are they necessary? Nope.
Wait Earl, what did you say? You contradicted yourself.
Let me explain then. ABL and MBL...
They are just another way to compensate for uneven beds, require hardware upgrading (and for some of you, out of the scope of your ability- its not a novice upgrade operation) and really cant solve anything MBL doesn't already. Why can I say that? A 20 minute firmware update vs. printer hardware modification, bracket printing or purchase, wiring, soldering, etc.
These systems that compensate for your print bed being uneven dont solve the actual problem, only (using the word a second time for clarity) compensate for it. The underlying issue in extreme cases means a bed change, but most of the time its a solution to help out with the ever present variation almost all print beds do come with and they DO work for that. Your next question to ask yourself is what would be the easiest? The solution is already present in a simple firmware update.
If you prioritize the underlying reason you need a sensor you'll find alot less grief and even find yourself not even needing one. Simple as that. If you think a sensor will help you with a misdirected problem of bed adhesion, you are simply wrong. First layer adhesion and lay is a process you must learn, and once you do you wont give it a second thought.
Which leads us to, actual bed replacement.
You can pester (whatever brand) support for a replacement of a seriously warped bed. Problem there is people more often than not consider a bow or bump in the middle too much to deal with, but truth be told, its common among printers using glass beds. After the process is all said and done, you might end up with the same thing. Why?
Remember those ABL sensors and MBL (mesh bed leveling) solutions we just talked about? They came about long before glass beds did. Its because chasing a perfectly flat build plate is difficult and when you are trying to maintain a surface to 10 or 15 thousands of an inch tolerance on any mass produced build plate is unlikely. You can get close.
By far the best (slightly advanced) solution is simply put, a aluminum replacement. Before you get all crazy about the thought, its a simple change IF you are able to either:
Make a sandwich.
Drill a few holes.
AT Pro Dev Shot
Its not rocket science. I'm finishing a more "in depth" article on this. Ill update here soon, but the basic explanation is just this...
You can simply source a plate online, inexpensive at that. I've called all over the country in the USA here and the average is about 10-15 dollars. Some locations will even drop the holes in for you. Otherwise, it takes no special drill bit or even a drill press to do it yourself. There are a few commercial solutions, but if you dont mind forking out for something your kid can do, more power to you.
The Sidewinder X1's plate is simply 12" x  12" and the Genius is 9" x 9". The holes are spaced 200mm for the Sidewinder X1 and 140mm for the Genius, centered on the plate. I would never recommend the "glue on" screws because they can shift over time and even fail. I dont like remote possibilities. Match the print surface I mentioned above with a bed like this and you have a permanent solution for under $50- even less if you shop a bit.
Artillery SX1 CarriageArtillery Genius Carriage
The surface you follow up with is up to you, but my recommendation is the PEI I mentioned above. Doing so insures years of dependable use with no surface changes or replacements needed, ever, and more than likely as we can attest to, never any adhesion problems.
And Finally (for now)...
Main Board and/or LCD
Lets clear something up right away. This/these will NOT give you better prints. I'm not going to spend much time on this because it's not worth trying to argue with those out there that want to disagree. I will just say if you want to learn, great. Its your machine. But dont fall into the misconception that it will improve your prints or do anything for outside of a new interface, add more settings for you to concern yourself with and quite possibly, damage other parts of your machine if you do not do it right the FIRST TIME.
I'll just follow up here with a display of various prints done with stock machines sans the build plate surface I mention, and a fan upgrade (thats not even really needed). It's my hope to at least give you something to think about. You can spend countless hours (as some do) constantly upgrading and updating their machines if thats your thing, but make no mistake, you dont have to. Take your time and learn the things you SHOULD and you'll come to the same conclusions more than likely anyways. Visit our video libraries, participate in our live shows and dont be afraid to ask questions.
The Artillery machines (as with most) are designed and generally working printers when you receive them. If any solution or advice starts off with "Add this, or buy that" just objectively look at what problem it will actually solve, or if it really will at all. 
As Always, Enjoy.
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