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Snapmaker Artisan: 3D Print, Laser, and CNC—This 3

Jan 06, 2024Jan 06, 2024

A sound investment for demanding makers and small workshops with simple tool switching, but consider if separate machines would serve you better.

The Snapmaker Artisan is a versatile three-in-one machine that combines 3D printing, laser engraving, and CNC milling capabilities. While it is not cheap, its industrial build quality and CNC functions make it a good investment for demanding makers and small workshops. However, the Luban software can be frustrating to use, and it may not be the best choice for those who don't need CNC capability.

The Snapmaker Artisan is an all-metal large-scale 3-in-1 3D printer, laser cutter, and CNC router. Priced just under $3000, is it the right choice for your workshop, or would you be better off buying three separate machines instead?

Initial impressions of the Snapmaker are incredible, with everything well-packed and in clearly labeled boxes. But it is a massive delivery in two bundles—each weighing over 30kg. You might be blown away by the sheer number of boxes here. Once everything is constructed, there's a huge number of boxes to deal with, and it's astonishingly wasteful.

For instance, Snapmaker provides a small cardboard toolbox where a handful of tools are neatly laid out within their own foam cutouts. It's a lovely touch—but that box is then packaged in its own card box with another inch or two of foam around that.

Another box, measuring 4 x 3 x 6 inches, contains a single pair of plastic safety goggles.

It just feels excessive, and a little more thought into the packaging would have gone a long way to reduce the cardboard and plastic waste. Apart from anything, the resulting box of boxes after unpacking everything is about a meter cubed, making it difficult to dispose of (or store for safekeeping).

Putting the Artisan together took me a few days of on-and-off construction on the kitchen—the only space in our house with enough room to work on! You'll also need a second pair of hands to move it anywhere, and it's very tricky to move the machine once the enclosure is attached. You need to remove the back panel, and unplug everything, so for that reason I'd suggest building it in its final home if possible.

One thing that was clear to me throughout the build process is the incredible quality of all the components here. It is by far the most well-made 3D printer I've ever built, with every part feeling solid and premium. The main parts of the Artisan are fully metal, which is, of course, very heavy but also very sturdy.

Each axis is controlled by custom linear modules, which are also enclosed with no exposed beams or bearings. I've not come across this style of design before, but the internals have a light sheet of metal protecting them, and the moving parts slide underneath these. It's a really innovative design.

The Artisan comes with three different build plate and tool head combinations, and they both swap in and out easily, sitting on top of an extremely sturdy one-piece die-cast base plate.

The actual build area is enormous at 40cm (15.75 inches) cubed—enough to print a full human-sized helmet.

But as well as a large build area, a brown acrylic enclosure covers all the moving parts. It's this that makes the overall size of the machine so huge, at around 84cm (34 inches) wide, 1 meter (40 inches) deep, and 71cm (28 inches) tall, when you factor in the filament spool holders on either side, and the exhaust around the back. It's so big in fact that I had to completely rearrange my office workshop to accommodate it. The total weight of the machine and control box when built is around 52kg (115 lbs)!

Despite the marketing on the Snapmaker website, this isn't even remotely "desktop-sized".

Building it without the enclosure is an option, but will result in poor quality 3D prints due to draughts, potentially dangerous fumes from laser engraving, and completely rules out the use of the CNC milling function. So despite the marketing images showing it enclosure-less and desktop-size claims, I don't think that's viable.

The case is laser-blocking brown acrylic, and it even includes a set of white LEDs on the top, so you can clearly see what's going on when the door is open or otherwise. You can set it to pause when the door is open—useful if you have small hands running wild.

You'll find an extractor fan with a hose included around the back, which was just about long enough to trail out my office window. With the extractor on, the enclosure is well sealed, and it does a good job of removing fumes and other smells (which typically linger around my house for weeks after testing a laser engraver).

But it's not just the enclosure you'll need to accommodate. The Artisan also has a large control system attached to it (19 x 19 x 30cm, or 7.5 x 7.5 x 11.8 inches), with around ten cable bundles that go back to the machine, controlling each axis, the tool head, heated bed, extractor fan, and lighting, etc.

Now, this is far more advanced than your average 3D printer control module. It features a full metal enclosure and 7-inch color touchscreen, USB ports on the side and back, Wi-Fi connectivity, and is the most easy-to-use control system I've come across yet. It's very explicit with instructions because it can be—it has such a large screen area to tell you what to do that you can't get confused at any step.

The biggest takeaway from the Snapmaker Artisan design that I'd like to convey is that you will need a lot of space, not only for the enclosure, and the control system attached to the side of it, but also the box of different build plates, tool heads, and the toolbox. It may be space-saving compared to three separate industrial-sized machines, but it is not, by any definition, compact or desktop-sized.

The 3D printing aspect of the Snapmaker Artisan is likely the most familiar, and the primary reason you're buying this. It's a dual-extrusion printer with two independently heated print heads, and it can print up to 300C, so there's no material it won't be able to handle. It also auto-detects the hot-end type allowing for quick changeovers and easy repairs, and while there are no alternatives at the moment, it's likely that larger extruders will be available in the future.

The supplied 3D print plate is double-sided, with one entirely glass for a very smooth surface, and the other a textured PEI surface. Swapping the tool head and build plate is effortless thanks to a single clamp system, and the only quirk to remember is that the build plate for 3D printing needs to plugged in.

In the past, I've had no end of issues with dual-color printers which used two feeds to the same hot-end, with frequent jams and complicated procedures to changeover filaments. With two entirely separate extruders, the Artisan eliminates that problem and makes dual-color printing effortless. Each is fed by a Bowden tube, which leads through the case to the filament holders on the outside.

However, there's nothing fancy about filament storage on the Artisan. It's just a metal tube on the outside of the case. Given the overall size of the enclosure, it's disappointing that they didn't do more to accommodate filament rolls on the inside—potentially enabling it to be humidity controlled to extend the life of exposed filament.

The filament load and unload process is much as you'd expect with a Bowden tube; you'll need to feed it in by hand for half a meter or so.

Our Artisan shipped with a black filament and some white breakaway filament for testing. Breakaway filament isn't something I've used before, but is supposedly able to provide a much better support structure for complex objects that can be removed easily. It also costs two to three times that of regular PLA. My initial tests using the breakaway filament to print a LEGO ornament showed it could provide good support, but I found it hard to remove from the studded surface on the base. Subsequent tests a few weeks later all proved unsuccessful, with various extrusion issues. After plenty of calibration reruns and changing the extruder, I believe this was caused by moisture absorption, and it may be that breakaway filament is particularly susceptible to this.

Upon swapping in the tool head and print bed, the Artisan has a few automatic calibrations, including bed leveling with up to 81 points. Since there are two hot ends, you also need to calibrate the Z offset (automated), and finally, the X/Y offset, which requires a quick test print, user input, then a final check print.

One small feature I appreciated was the option not to heat the entire print bed. For small objects, you only need the middle heated, so that saves on the power bill.

When I began reviewing the Artisan, the 3D printing features were not yet supported by the official Luban software, so I used their provided Cura profile instead. Once integrated with the native Luban software, you'll be able to print over Wi-Fi.

The most important thing for any 3D print is the first layer and adhesion, and my results on this front were incredible. The PEI-coated glass bed is going to give the best results and is easiest to work with. Leveling is superb, and I had gorgeous first layers with no warping. Of course, the enclosure is a great help there, in that it completely prevents draughts from spoiling the temperatures.

My first print was a LEGO-compatible Christmas ornament, using the breakaway filament for support. While the bulk of it came away easily, removing it from the base around the studs was a nightmare.

The dual extruder also supports PVA, HIPS, and other dissolvable filaments, which means 3D printing complex geometry should be possible.

Next up, I tried a useful little print for identifying bolts, and in this case, I tried to use the white breakaway filament to do the lettering on top. It didn't come out well at all, as expected. But this was really just to see if breakaway filament could be used as regular (cheap) white filament in a pinch.

There was also a bit of pillowing on the top layer, so I opted to increase the number of layers for the next prints. Like any printer, there is some degree of tweaking, and you won't get perfect prints out of the box.

I also wanted to use the dual-color print head for sign-making, so I swapped over to a pink PLA and printed this. This time the result was much cleaner, and this is something I'd like to explore for even bigger signs.

Finally, I tried PETG, and the results were much more frustrating. This might be a case of the profile not being fully fleshed out yet. I haven't had any out-of-the-box issues with PETG before, but with the Artisan, I couldn't get it to stick. After a few hours, it would come unstuck and be knocked off.

Lowering the print head for more squish and raising the temperatures further I was finally able to print smaller items with PETG. However, this was more frustrating than I have experienced with other printers out of the box.

Overall, for 3D printing, I was very impressed, but with mixed results in some cases. The true dual extruder system is very useful, and the print beds provided are fantastic. First-layer adhesion was mostly excellent, except for PETG.

While I won't say the prints were perfect, I did generally find it to be very reliable. The Snapmaker Artisan provides a solid foundation to work from and definitely has the potential for outstanding results once things are dialed in.

Moving on to laser tool, you'll find a 10W laser with integrated camera module, along with a metal build plate with rungs for fixing clamps. Again, swapping the tools and the bed is a straightforward process that requires minimal effort—at least in terms of hardware. If you're swapping from the 3D printer tool, don't forget to replace the rubber cap to the end of the heated print bed cable and tuck it out the way, as well clip the Bowden tubes to the side.

However, every time you switch to the laser module, you need to enter a safety password, calibrate the bed's height, and calibrate the camera distortion. This process isn't optional and is quite involved. First, you need to place the calibration target under the laser head and move it down until you feel slight friction. Then, you need a fix a sheet of blank paper to the build plate. The Artisan will burn a square pattern into this, which you then need to capture from the Luban software suite, and manually mark where the corners are in order to calibrate the camera.

The laser engraving process is straightforward, but it highlights one of the challenges of using a 3D printer as a laser engraver. Since the Y-axis moves the workpiece back and forth, you have to secure it to the bed each time. In contrast, with a traditional laser engraver, only the laser head moves, and the workpiece remains untouched.

For your first burn, it's recommended to go through the quick start beginners guide as it walks you through the Luban software and its quirks. You will use the laser tool to set out your paths, speeds, and strengths, export the gcode, then load that code into the Luban workspace. The Luban software handles the burn process over Wi-Fi with a live preview, but you can use a USB stick as an alternative (without the preview).

The laser results are promising, and the Artisan has built-in libraries of settings for engraving various materials. The focusing is automatic, but you can also opt for manual focusing.

My first burn with the demo file into 2mm balsa wood was successful, producing neat cuts and lines on this ruler and protractor set.

I also tried some more intricate cuts in 1.5mm MDF for Chinese new year, which came out mostly fine.

I was eventually able to cut 3mm pink acrylic, though the default settings for black acrylic were far too optimistic. I needed to slow it down to 80mm/min, and use three passes, to finally get a clean cut all the way through. It shouldn't be difficult for a 10W laser to cut this sort of acrylic, mind.

Finally, I etched a larger design into a piece of slate (80% power, 2000mm/min).

At this point, I'll mention that the Snapmaker Luban software is not as user-friendly as I'd like, and there's a lot of manual button clicking required for steps that should be automated. For instance, having fixed calibration points on the build plate would allow an algorithm to straighten out the camera view itself, without user intervention and needlessly burning a sheet of paper each time.

Luban also suffers from a somewhat split personality, given that it needs to handle so many different functions.

Once loaded, you'll need to navigate into a particular design screen depending on the tool being used (again, if this was plugged in over USB, that could easily be automated). The design interface is basic, offering far fewer tools than Lightburn, yet still manages to overcomplicate the process. First, you need to generate the tool paths (strength, engrave type, speed etc), then you'll need to create the gcode, then load that into a separate workspace, then select how to send the file to the machine. It's a tedious process that really needs some streamlining.

The third tool head you can fit to the Snapmaker Artisan is a CNC router (Computer Numerical Control), and the machine ships with three different router bits. It's a 200W module that spins at up to 18,000 RPM, allowing you to speed through up to 3000mm/min and 2mm step down (depending on the material you're cutting).

Again, switching to the CNC tool is very simple; you swap over the build tray to the wooden one with a series of bolt holes to attach clamps to, and slot in the tool head. The wooden plate is a consumable because you might sometimes cut through the workpiece and into it, though you can mitigate this with another piece of scrap wood underneath as long as you're careful. However, it's $25 to replace, so it's not a huge expense if you do entirely mess it up.

The CNC head is supplied with three drill bits: a thick one for general-purpose woodworking, a thinner one for plastic, and a chiseled one for detail work. Once you’ve fitted the CNC tool head, you’ll need to use a couple of spanners to attach the desired bit securely. It's all straightforward to set up, and unlike other tools there's no calibration; just plug it in.

Before starting yout project, you need to manually move the CNC head to the work origin zero point (just above your material, as measured using a thin sheet of paper or the 3D printing calibration card supplied).

One other thing to bear in mind is that you will need your workpiece to be very secure using the supplied clamps. Unlike the other tools, there's a much higher potential for serious injury when using the CNC, with pieces and splinters flying off. You can observe with the door open, but you should wear the supplied goggles at all times.

The CNC bit cuts into the material layer by layer, working much the same way as 3D printing, only in reverse. The process is subtractive, removing material each time.

Even simple CNC projects are incredibly messy, and things like MDF/HDF dust can be toxic, so you’ll want a mask, too. You shouldn't use the extraction fan because you'll make more of a mess and gum things up. After each project, you'll need to remove that dust—but you can't use a household vacuum, as it'll wreck the filter. So you'll also need to invest in shop vac which is rated for dust extraction.

Of course, I only realized this after completing my first test cut, so I left the toxic MDF dust sitting there for a week while I hurried to Amazon.

In terms of quality, the demo project (a puzzle cube) came out nicely. It's a simple vector cut, which means the CNC follows the lines, and took maybe five to ten minutes to finish.

I also wanted to try something more intricate, and for this, I turned to an STL I bought off Etsy: a dragon carving. Unlike the test file, which is just vector lines, an image relief map or STL must be cut line by line, similar to layer engraving a bitmap image. Since it's a 3D relief map file, the CNC bit then lowers down a little, and engraves the next layer. The amount of time taken can be immense.

This one took about 25 hours, and it's only 10cm wide; I had even sped up the default settings, but perhaps could have gone faster still. On top of that, I used the wrong bit; you can see it's lost all detail. Lesson learned: use the v-bit for relief cutting.

’m planning to redo this much larger on a plank of wood, but I dread to think how long that will take, especially with a smaller bit. For the purposes of this review and keeping my electric bill to a three-figure sum, I just dont have another week to let it continuously run.

Overall, the CNC module is a fantastic addition to the Artisan's capabilities, but it does require a bit more knowledge and attention to detail compared to 3D printing or laser engraving. The quality of the cuts can be excellent, but you need to make sure you're using the right bit and clamping your workpiece securely. The process can also be messy, so be prepared with the proper equipment and workspace.

The Snapmaker Artisan is not cheap, but it is an incredibly versatile machine. It's ideal for demanding makers or small workshops that could use various machine types without having to invest and learn separate systems.

However, the Snapmaker Artisan is not perfect. My experience with the Artisan has been somewhat marred by occasional frustrations, such as having to type in a safety password every single time I turn the machine on with the laser module attached, or tedious calibration steps when swapping tools. The Luban software needs some improvement in the workflow.

That said, the hardware is solid, and I'm confident that they can refine the software in time. User interfaces are always easier to iterate and fix than a fundamentally broken piece of hardware, and it is a compelling bit of kit in the right hands—a versatile system that will do any number of jobs in the workshop.

The biggest consideration then is whether you need all of those functions. There are compromises to making multifunction hardware, and an overhead when switching tools and having to re-run calibration steps. For instance, although a 40cm square seems like a large work surface to laser engrave on, it's restricted to that only. If you didn't need an enclosure, you could work with significantly larger pieces of wood by having a frame-style XY axis-only laser engraver that can be placed on top of a larger workpiece. Or, if you do want the enclosure, you can get a slightly smaller working area in something like the XTool M1, but with a far superior software experience with automated focusing and alignment, and a machine that's a fraction of the size of the Artisan.

Given the time it takes for larger projects, you might find your workflow is more efficient with multiple (perhaps smaller) machines. For the same price as the Artisan, you could buy a large format 3D printer and a large format laser engraver—plus enclosures for both of them. You wouldn't be getting nearly the same industrial build quality you have here, nor the CNC function.

James has a BSc in Artificial Intelligence and is CompTIA A+ and Network+ certified. When he's not busy as Hardware Reviews Editor, he enjoys LEGO, VR, and board games. Before joining MakeUseOf, he was a lighting technician, English teacher, and data center engineer.

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