It can be a mistake to think a 3D printer is great for beginners just because it doesn’t cost a lot. Sure, it’s possible to buy a 3D printer for as little as $180, and it will work, after a fashion. Most likely, though, a beginner will buy it, spend too long trying to get one good print, then give up because they think it’s too tough or not worth their effort. The lesson: Even at those very low prices, if something is frustrating to use, it’s not a good investment.
The Anycubic Kobra Max is not $180; it’s closer to $650, but I still think it’s a great entry point to 3D printing. Yes, this is a $650 3D printer, but it feels like it should be a $1,000 printer. In that sense, it’s a good deal.
- Giant print area
- Auto leveling out of the box
- Filament run-out sensor
- Surprisingly stable
- Print quality is excellent
- Requires a lot of space
- Included software is not great
- The weak cooling fan can ruin prints if you’re not careful
- No removable bed
Setting up the Kobra Max was difficult because of its sheer size. At 400 by 400 by 450mm, it’s one of the biggest printers I’ve ever used, and the construction was a little unwieldy, especially once you realize it’s bigger than it looks. Because the bed moves backward and forward, there needs to be space behind the printer; it can’t be flush against the wall. It wouldn’t fit in my two-foot-deep shelves, so I had to build an extension that now sticks out. Not ideal.
Once past the initial setup, things become smooth sailing. If you’ve read Dan Ackerman’s review of the Anycubic Vyper, you’ll know how much difference having auto bed leveling, or ABL, really makes to a hobbyist or beginner. Anycubic calls its leveling system LeviQ and so far it’s working excellently to keep the bed level throughout the print. I cannot understate how nice the experience of turning the Kobra Max on and having an almost perfect first layer in a few easy steps truly is.
The printer itself refreshes the company’s older Chiron line of printers but wrapped up with the extruder and hot end from the popular Vyper. While there are a lot of plastic parts in the Kobra Max, it doesn’t feel cheap. Instead, the entire machine, including the support rods, feels solid as it prints. The special CNET test print below shows very little ringing — often caused by a wobbly machine — and only showed issues with cooling, something that can be fixed with some software tweaks.
Overall, the design works well, which isn’t always the case with larger printers. I was disappointed that the print bed is not removable — it’s a glass plate that’s clipped down — but I think we will likely see that fixed later down the road. The glass works well enough, but trying to get a full-size printed helmet off of it was a trial.
Print quality on the Kobra Max has been surprisingly good. With previous large-scale printers, getting a good print took days to get right. Endlessly trying to level four corners of a large bed is a nightmare. Almost every print I tried on the Max came out as expected, mainly thanks to the auto bed leveling. Let me say this again, having good ABL takes this machine from one where you’d need at least intermediate 3D-printing skills to one almost anyone can use on Day 1.
The only issue I had with the print quality was cooling. The cooling fan is a little smaller than I would like, and when I was printing larger models like the Mandalorian Knight from Wekster, there was some definite curling where the material couldn’t cool fast enough. The CNET test print also showed the tell-tale signs of too much heat. Some of that is down to bad software settings, but most of it comes from a lack of airflow.
The real joy of printing on the Kobra Max comes from the size. Having enough room to print a model like the Mando helmet in one piece is a gift I am grateful for. Cosplayers worldwide face the same struggles when it comes to helmets; printing them in pieces and gluing them together is time-consuming and often leaves scars. The Max eliminates that issue and lets you print one continuous file with no seams. It’s a joyful experience.
To give you an idea of how much fun it is, I printed this stunning articulated snake model by McGybeer as big as the printer would let me. Normally the model is about 18 inches long. I managed to get it to print 82 inches long! It may be one of the best things I’ve ever printed, and I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade.
It’s not just large-scale models the Max can print. My daughter’s preschool letter of the week was P, so I made all the kids a printed pink plastic pig — four P’s for the price of one — and the Max did a pretty good job of printing them.
Of the 30 that started printing, only five didn’t make it, which is good for this kind of mini mass production. They failed because of bad bed adhesion, which I think was caused by my oily fingers on the glass. Still, there was plenty to go around for the kids.
My biggest issue with the Max is not the cooling or that some pigs became plastic bacon; it’s the software. Like many companies, Anycubic doesn’t seem to spend the time it should on creating proper profiles for the most popular slicers out there. Although the Max came with both a copy of Cura (a common 3D file-slicing app for preparing files to print) and a profile for this specific machine, neither of them were all that great. I had to build myself a profile on PrusaSlicer — my favorite slicer program — to really get the most out of the machine.
Having to build your profiles can deter newcomers faster than even print failures. If you’ve never used a slicer before, how are you supposed to know how to make a good profile? Other companies get around this by making their versions of open-source slicers, but the best solution is for Anycubic to invest more in creating profiles for leading slicers. Being able to print the test print is fine, but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get your own models to print.
Joy is my biggest takeaway from the Kobra Max. I do a lot of 3D printing, and a lot of it is printing the same kind of models over and over again on very similar 3D printers. It can get repetitive, and any task done often can become dull. The Kobra Max has injected a lot of fun back into 3D printing and reminded me why I love the hobby in the first place.
The Max isn’t the cheapest option out there, and it may be daunting to spend $600 on your first 3D printer, but the Max will help future-proof your workshop. Starting small is fine, but so is starting really big and giggling at the amazing things that come off the print bed. I know I did more giggling than I have in a long time.