This article describes how to use the FlashForge Creator Pro with the open-source Slic3r program. There are other guides about this, but I have noticed that many of them are outdated, or keep copying the same old configuration bits full of cargo cult while lacking certain necessary improvements. Even if you're not going to use Slic3r, I also give some general advice, regardless of what software you use, about how to improve print quality and reliability.
If you want to see what kinds of results I get with my FFCP + Slic3r, check out my makes on Thingiverse.
Some five years ago, 3D printing broke through to the mainstream, partially thanks to certain patents expiring. As usual, a bit of a hype emerged and less-than-well-informed journalists started claiming that traditional stores would disappear and everyone would be downloading products and printing them at home. Of course, reality slowly returned and it became clear that 3D printers are not the ultimate solution to everything, yet they are useful for specific applications. I waited for the dust to settle and decided to buy a commercial 3D printer that was built with know-how accumulated over those five years. After evaluating different models, I picked the FlashForge Creator Pro due to its good reviews and its competitive price point.
To convert a 3D model into a set of instructions that your printer understands, you need a ‘slicer’. It is a program that, as the name implies, slices the model into layers and then derives an optimal path for the extruders to follow to deposit each layer of material. The FFCP ships with an installer for ReplicatorG on the SD card. However, development of that program has been stagnating, it is slow, and limited in functionality. It still is useful for changing firmware parameters through the USB interface, but for printing I recommend using a different slicer program.
There are many options. A popular one is Simplify3D, but it is paid software and rather pricy. Many are enthusiastic about it because it “just works”. This means that if you want to actually learn about the intricacies of 3D printing, it is a bad choice because the software will shield you from all the things that can go wrong, which are usually also the things you learn the most from. If you just want to print things in the same way as you drive a car without knowing what makes it move, then you should just buy S3D, and you can skip the rest of this chapter and move on to the hints. If instead you want to go the slightly more adventurous way of using a free and open-source program, I recommend Slic3r. It has many powerful features and is being actively developed, so if you find a bug or have a feature request, you can report it on GitHub and hope the developers will look at it. Or if you have the skills, you can just fix it yourself.
Mind that the current 1.2.9 build of Slic3r is quite unstable, at least on Mac OS X. Moreover, development seems slow. I recommend using the Prusa3D fork, which is identical for the most part, but contains fixes that make it much more stable, some new features, and it is much more actively developed. You may also try out a developer build of the upcoming 1.3 release of Slic3r, it should also be much more stable but may lack some of the Prusa3D features.
Slic3r can only produce GCode files, but the FFCP only understands the binary X3G file format, therefore you need GPX, a program that converts GCode into X3G. Do not use the old version that exists on Thingiverse. You need a recent build that has support for the FFCP (machine type ‘fcp’). For Mac OS X, you can install it through Homebrew. Or, you can use GpxUi, which is available for Windows and Linux as well.
Slic3r lacks the ability to send commands directly to the printer over the USB serial connection. This means you either need to copy the X3G files to an SD card to print from, or use another way to send instructions to your printer. If you are in my situation where there is no need for a hyper-efficient pipeline to print in large volumes, I consider printing from SD card the preferred method. It does not suffer from typical problems of a serial connection like limited command throughput, and it does not require to keep a computer running near the printer and ensuring it does not crash or reboot. If you do have a dedicated computer connected to your printer, then it should be possible to use ReplicatorG to feed it GCode or X3G files. However, in that case a better option is probably to use OctoPrint. I have tried neither, but OctoPrint looks very interesting, and can be run from a cheap and power-efficient computer like a Raspberry Pi.
There are two important parts when it comes to configuring Slic3r. First: general printer, filament, and slicing settings; second: the bits of GCode that will be executed at the start and end of every print. The G-code is included in the general Slic3r config, but I also provide it as a separate download so you can update the G-code separately from the rest of the config. I will try to make sure that the config file always has the most recent G-code, but if you want to be really sure, download and install both.
Follow the instructions in the following two sections to install the config and G-code. I provide the downloads as Things on Thingiverse. If you have a Thingiverse account, you can hit the ‘Watch’ button on the pages of both these things, and you should get notifications when I upload new versions.
I provide my Slic3r settings as a config bundle that you can import, but beware: these are tweaked for specific filaments, a glass printing bed, and my personal preferences. Although it may be sufficient for your needs, this config bundle should be considered a starting point only. You will need to adjust the settings according to your setup, and possibly your specific prints. I rarely use the profiles as-is, I usually tweak things per print. For a guide on tweaking Slic3r's settings, I refer to the Slic3r manual.
Unzip the file you downloaded above, and use ‘Load Config Bundle’ in Slic3r's File menu to load the .ini file.
Remember, your FFCP only eats .x3g files but Slic3r outputs .gcode only. You could run each file through the GPX program manually, but that is a hassle. Luckily, you can have Slic3r execute GPX for you as a post-processing step. Ensure you have a version of GPX that has ‘fcp’ listed as one of the MACHINE types if you invoke ‘gpx’ in a console.
To automate conversion to X3G, you need a wrapper script that invokes the gpx command with the right parameters, because Slic3r only passes the gcode file as argument. The config bundle zip includes a Bash script ‘make_fcp_x3g’ that does exactly this, and more. It is also able to invoke the dualstrusion post-processing script, and work around a bug in Slic3r that can cause the wrong nozzle to heat up.
Edit the make_fcp_x3g file to set the correct paths to the dualstrusion script and gpx. Ensure all these script files are executable. Next, update the path to make_fcp_x3g in the ‘Output options’ of all your Print Settings profiles to point to where you placed the script on your system. To test it, load any model and use the ‘Export G-Code’ button. If everything is set up correctly, you should find an .x3g file next to the exported .gcode file.
If you're using Windows, you will either need to find a way to run Bash scripts (I have heard that this should be easy to do in Windows 10), or you will need to write your own equivalent using something else. I cannot help you with this because I only use Windows for the occasional game, for everything else I use Mac OS or Linux.
My make_fcp_x3g script invokes GPX with the ‘-p’ option, which causes it to replace the dumb print percentage indicator on the LCD display with something slightly less dumb. GPX calculates this improved percentage by estimating how long each print move takes, and making a wild guess at the pre-print warm-up time. Because of this guess and it being unaware of acceleration for print moves, it is usually overly optimistic, especially at the start of the print. It is however a whole lot better than just mapping the Z axis to a percentage, as Slic3r does.
This code is responsible for preparing the whole printer up to the point where it can start extruding the very first layer of your model, as well as for finishing the print, and tool changes for dual extrusion. If you just imported the config .ini file, you should already have the latest G-code, but if you only want to update the G-code without risking to overwrite any of the other settings, proceed as follows.
Unzip the G-code archive you downloaded above, and go to Printer Settings. Copy each ‘Start’ code snippet to the ‘Custom G-code’ section of each corresponding printer profile. Remember to click the save button and overwrite the config after each change. Copy the ‘End’ code to all profiles. Copy ‘ToolChange’ to both of the the ‘Dual Material LR’ settings. There is also a file ‘Start-dual-extruders-postproc’, use this instead of the regular ‘Start-dual-extruders’ if you want to use my experimental dualstrusion post-processing script.
Beware: this code will move the extruders along a line at the front edge of the platform. If you use a glass plate, ensure that the nozzles will not knock any mounting clips off the front corners during the start procedure. Mount the clips at the sides, about 10 mm from the front edge. Or better, use side-mounted clamps (like these) that do not stick out above the plate. If the glass plate is wider than the platform, you may have to tweak the code to ensure the ‘chop’ works.
If you look around on the internet, you will find copies of the same old GCode being circulated endlessly, with minor changes that sometimes do not make sense. If you find GCode snippets with the codes G130 or M108 in them, do not use them with your FFCP. Those snippets have been pasted together in a Cargo Cult manner by people who barely had a clue what they were doing.
The code I provide here has been tweaked over several months to greatly reduce the risk of prints that fail already before the actual printing has begun. This code is released under the Creative Commons Attribution license. (In a nutshell, this means you can distribute it freely as long as you mention the origin.) Changes compared to the typical code snippets, are:
Long story short, the person who wrote this code, for the most part did know what he was doing. I explicitly waited to publish this code until I knew what each line did, and why. There is no Cargo Cult in here, at best one or two lines that are redundant.
The dual nozzle setup of the FFCP is not the best design for good dual extrusion prints, there are other printers with a much better configuration (e.g. two independent carriages on the X axis that have a dedicated wiping mechanism like the BCN3D Sigma). I find the FFCP's dual nozzle setup mostly useful to always have my two most used filaments ready for use. Only very rarely I do a dualstrusion print.
It is possible though to get good quality dualstrusions despite the limitations of the single-carriage-dual-extruder setup, by sacrificing print speed and material. The current editions of Slic3r however do not have the right provisions for this. If you simply let it do its thing, you will end up with a print full of ugly ooze and possibly holes as well. In the Prusa3D edition, improvements are being implemented, but they currently are specific to the Prusa printer models, so they might not give good results on the FFCP.
To work around this, I wrote a post-processing script that does all the necessary things to get the most quality out of the single-carriage-dual-nozzle setup for a dual extrusion print. You can find the script and instructions on another page.
I will not give a full manual for Slic3r here, there is an entire website for that. I will give some remarks about using Slic3r with the config I provide above.
My workflow is as follows. The above screenshot shows where in the UI each step occurs. If you're using a 1.3 developer build or the official 1.3 release (when ready), things will be in different places but the same principles do hold.
The right nozzle is ‘extruder 1’ and is the default; the left one is ‘2’. When you select filament in the Plater tab for a dual extrusion profile, the topmost one is extruder 1 (right), the second one is 2 (left). When dualstruding, the bed temperature is always set to the filament selected for extruder 1 (right), there is no way to change this. (I have submitted a feature request to remedy this. This might be fixed in the latest Prusa3D builds, but don't take my word for it.)
Beware: if you do not use the ‘make_fcp_x3g’ script included in the config bundle, and you want to do a print with the left extruder only, you must go into the object settings, and set the extruder for the STL file inside the object to 2. If you don't do this, Slic3r may start heating the wrong extruder after layer 1, messing up your print.
After importing the config bundle, you'll have a list of ready-to-use print settings to choose from. They are grouped per material, and per general print quality. The profiles for ABS, PLA and the ‘Bioflex’ from rigid.ink are the most well-tweaked, the PETG ones may still need some tweaking, and the polycarbonate (PC) and NinjaFlex ones were only used for a few small prints and can probably be improved. Here is a short explanation of how the various settings differ within the same material:
All settings are tweaked for 0.4 mm nozzles. If you swap out your stock nozzles for a different size, you will need to modify the configs. Of course, feel free to create your own sets of print settings. If you want to keep my pre-made print settings up-to-date, keep in mind that any changes you make to them will be overwritten the next time you load an updated config bundle. Make your own profiles with unique names if you don't want them to be overwritten.
As a general recommendation, make sure you have a good calliper or a micrometer. It is essential to know the exact diameter of filament you buy, so you can configure it in your slicer program. It is also extremely useful to accurately measure parts you are trying to make a 3D model of, and to check whether the first layer is printed at the expected thickness. I recommend a mechanical calliper with a clock-like dial. This is accurate, easy to read, and has no stupid batteries that die at the wrong moments.
Another good investment is a small infrared thermometer. This allows to check whether the temperature of the printing bed is correct, which is especially important when using glass (see the adhesion hints).
A common problem that is not always easily noticed, is that the two Y axis belts (the ones at the top left and right of your printer) can become misaligned. This may happen if something has caused the belts to slip over their pulleys, for instance if the carriage has bumped into the front of the printer. Also, if you have detached these belts for some reason, it is pretty much impossible to re-mount them in an aligned manner. Misaligned Y belts have two undesirable consequences:
Next to checking whether the X axis rods are skewed w.r.t. the bed or printer housing, or noticing the 2 mm ripple, you can also easily detect misalignment by plucking the Y belts like a string. If they have considerably different pitches, they are misaligned. Correcting this would have been easy if FlashForge would have incorporated a detachable coupler on the rod that connects the two pulleys to the Y stepper motor, but since they haven't, a more cumbersome solution is needed. (If you don't mind hacking your printer considerably, you could saw the connecting rod in two, and re-connect it with a coupler. This makes it trivial to get perfect alignment of the Y axis belts.)
Cut two strips from a piece of blister packaging, 6 mm wide and about 5 cm long. Bring the carriage forward. Stick the strips in between both Y belts and the underside of their rear pulleys. Then push the carriage backwards until the strips are rolled around the pulleys, see the above photo. Now the belts can slip over the pulleys, and you can wiggle the X axis bars until they are perfectly parallel to the frame, and the belts have the same pitch when plucked. Finally, simply pull the carriage forward again to roll out the blister strips. Check the result and repeat the procedure if necessary.
One of the most common problems with 3D printing despite many years of evolution, is the first layer sticking insufficiently (or sometimes too much) to the platform. Here are some tips in case you suffer from prints that won't stick or that you cannot remove from the platform without resorting to hammers or power tools.