Review: ELEGOO Neptune 3 3D Printer

Hands-on with the new ELEGOO Neptune 3 FFF 3D printer.

Cameron Coward
4 months ago3D Printing

The entry-level 3D printer market is very competitive, which means new enthusiasts have many options. While ELEGOO is better known for their MSLA resin 3D printers, they do make FFF (Fused-Filament Fabrication) 3D printers as well. Their newest model is the ELEGOO Neptune 3 and in this review I hope to help you decide if it is worth your consideration.

Full disclosure: ELEGOO provided me with the Neptune 3 for this review. But, as always, this review is as honest as unbiased as possible.

The Neptune 3 is ELEGOO's newest FFF 3D printer. Like its predecessors, the Neptune 3 is an entry-level model. In practice, that means that it has a relatively small build volume and low-cost mechanical components. But it also incorporates a handful of handy features and has a quite reasonable price tag.

Specifications and features

· Build volume: 220 x 220 x 280 mm (8.66 x 8.66 x 11.02 inches)

· Extruder: Bowden-style

· Max hot end temp: 260­°C

· Max bed temp: 100°C

· Stepper drivers: TMC2225 silent drivers

· Build plate: PEI-coated magnetic spring steel sheet

· Automatic mesh bed leveling

· Filament runout detection

· Power loss recovery

· 4.3" color touchscreen interface

Assembly

The ELEGOO Neptune 3 arrives 90% assembled, but it does require final assembly by the user. It comes in the box as a few sub-assemblies and the user must put these together.

Fortunately, this process is easy. All of the necessary tools come in the box and the instructions are easy to follow. In total, it took me about 45 minutes to assemble the Neptune 3 without rushing. Everything went together how it should and I didn't run into any issues.

Those who are new to 3D printing might need a little more time, but anyone with even the most basic mechanical aptitude should be able to handle the job.

Initial thoughts

Before I even started printing, I had some opinions about the design of the ELEGOO Neptune 3.

First, I was disappointed to find that it had a Bowden-style extruder. While this design reduces moving weight when compared to a direct-drive extruder, Bowden extruders have inferior print quality. That is due to the distance between the extruder gears and the hot end, which makes it more difficult to control extruded filament flow with precision. I'll explain my actual experience later in this review.

And, though it wasn't a surprise, I tend to dislike V-guide roller motion systems. They don't offer the same level of constrained movement as linear rails or even hardened rods. That side, they have proven to provide good results on smaller printers like the Neptune 3.

In a similar vein, the Neptune 3 only has a single Z axis motor. That leaves one side of the X axis gantry supported only by the V-guide rollers. But once again, that isn't usually an issue with printers of this size.

Finally, it is worth talking more about the automatic mesh bed leveling system. Mesh bed leveling works by measuring many points of the bed, which lets the printer move in the Z axis to compensate for slight height variations in the bed.

Most printers with these systems use either an inductive probe or a probe with a physical switch. But the ELEGOO Neptune 3 uses a strain gauge pressure sensor. That is unusual, but it seemed to work as well as the more conventional sensors.

Software

For slicing models for printing, ELEGOO provides their own version of Cura. The copy I received is based on Cura 4.8.0, but mainline Cura is currently at version 5.0.0.

I didn't find that to be a problem and ELEGOO Cura worked well for me. For years, Cura has been one of my top slicer choices and it works very well.

New users can take advantage of the built-in profiles and get to printing immediately. More experienced users have access to every single print setting, so they can tune it to fit their exact tastes and needs.

Print quality

The important question is: how well does it print?

My answer is: well enough.

Nothing here blew me away, but the ELEGOO Neptune 3's print quality was good. 6 years ago, this would have been very good, but the industry has come a long way.

First layer adhesion was fantastic, thanks to that PEI sheet. The slight texture it leaves behind on the print is also nice. Printed surfaces are smooth, which is a testament to the V-guide roller system.

The only flaw in the Neptune 3 is that Bowden-style extruder. While it worked well enough to satisfy most, I can see the tell-tale signs of issues caused by the extruder. This is most evident when the print has many retractions, such as when printing this honeycomb pencil holder.

Any time the printer must perform a retraction, it leaves behind a tiny imperfection on the part and sometimes stringing, too. When the print requires a lot of retractions, those imperfections add up and become noticeable.

This is by no means a deal breaker, but it is something you should be aware of. If you're printing detailed models and want the best quality possible, printers like the Neptune 3 that have Bowden-style extruders probably aren't for you. But many users won't even notice the small imperfections they cause.

I performed my tests using the included Cura profiles, then bumped the speed up. The fasted I tested was 80mm/s perimeters and 100mm/s infill. Even at those speeds, the Neptune 3 performed well, with hardly any decrease in quality from the standard 50mm/s speeds.

While most of my test prints were in PLA, I did try ASA as well. ASA is a filament material similar to ABS, but with better UV resistance. The typical recommendation is to use an enclosure to avoid warping, but my small parts turned out well anyway. The bed was able to reach 100°, which is ideal for this material.

Conclusions

Overall, the Neptune 3 is what I expected it to be: a decent entry-level printer. Experienced enthusiasts won't even consider this model or its competition, but it should be on the list for those who are just starting their 3D printing journey.

It is affordably priced and performs pretty well. It even includes some nice features that have trickled down from more expensive printers. Its print quality won't win awards, but it provides consistent and acceptable results.

There are many other choices in this segment of the market, so I hesitate to proclaim the ELEGOO Neptune 3 as the best option. However, it is definitely on-par with the competition and most buyers will be happy with this printer.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Maker, retrocomputing and 3D printing enthusiast, author of books, dog dad, motorcyclist, and nature lover.
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