Upgrading to SKR boards is a lot simpler than a lot of tutorials make them to be because they want to cover a lot of things. Let's boil it down to the essential;
Download and install PlatformIO (so this includes installing VSCode). Then git (if you're on WinOS).
Download the latest stable Marlin — v2.0.1 as of the writing of this post.
Move the sample configuration.h & configuration_adv.h file for your printer to the Marlin folder. Or just copy your current Marlin's config files over.
Open Marlin in PlatformIO, then open the platformio.ini file. Select the environment depending on which the SKR board you bought.
The rests just configuring Marlin. Start by setting the MOTHERBOARD. I personally prefer SKR v1.3 for the price vs flexibility, if I kill a driver I just need to replace the driver instead of the whole board.
Then set the drivers (do a search for TMC). TMC2209 is considered best driver for its price at the moment. Silent, hybrid mode with spread cycle, UART, and sensor-less homing capable. It is slightly trickier if you use E1 as Z2 instead of just using a motor splitter.
Next is the advanced configuration. Enable a bunch of TMC shits if you have UART or SPI drivers.
And the rest is just printer configuration. Or if you pull information from previous Marlin configs if you already have them prior to getting the SKR board, you're done.
I’d consider this as my final upgrade for my A8, I’d get very little return by doing the linear rails upgrade. I’d rather build a new printer for it. 400-500mm build plate. Maybe something like Ender 5 style if I fully DIY, or just build a Voron.
Also, I ordered my v1.3 like a couple weeks prior to v1.4 was released 🤷♂️ The differences are minor and has no effect if you put it in Anet A8 or Ender 3 setup. There are enough unused pins on v1.3 to do anything that v1.4 can. However, if I were to order one today, I’d get the v1.4 turbo.
I was thinking to myself, "you know what's lacking in Thingiverse? iPad stands..." lol.
Nah, I'm teaching myself Fusion 360. One of the best way to practice is to design things that I already owned and print it out. The IKEA BERGENES was a recent purchase that I quite like. The other one is a bamboo stand that I bought off Etsy years ago, for my very first iPad (third gen — the very first iPad with retina screen).
But seriously, there are infinite amounts of stands in Thingiverse, I’ve printed a few of them. Many are flimsy, very hard to print, and the worst of all, unstable. These are easy and relatively fast to print (about 40 min each), and friggin stable.
Also noticed that I'm moving away from the Titan (clone) bowden setup and using a direct drive BMG dual drive (also clone). As mentioned on the previous post, bowden gives me nothing but headache. Nozzle jam, extruder chewing through the filament, etc. And to solve all that I need to slow it back down, which defeat the purpose of going bowden anyway.
Also bowden doesn't really make sense on i3 style because you are speed limited by the Y axis that carry the bed. I'll need to update my upgrade list to not recommend bowden anymore.
This is still using the stock Anet A8 v1.5 board. I have ordered the SKR v1.3 + TMC2209s drivers, but BigTreeTech is taking their sweet sweet time shipping mine.
This problem baffles me about a few days after installing a bowden setup consisting of E3D Titan + V6 hotend (both clones). I think I’ve figured it out.
1. Check if the hotend is clogged
Usually happens to softer material like ABS. You can check this by applying pressure by hand at the back of the extruder, so you slightly push the filament into the extruder, see if it start extruding again. If so, you’ve got a faulty gear. It just chew the filament instead of pushing it down. E3D has fixed this since 2016, I guess shitty clones just doesn’t care. I highly recommend getting a BMG dual drive clone instead of Titan, even the cheapest BMG clone gets you a better hobb than a Titan clone.
2. Hotend is definitely clogged
Usually comes together with clicking / thunking noise from the extruder. This is where the standard internet recommendations comes in. Check your retractions etc. when all that also fails, here’s what I noticed, it only happens when I print PETG (I don’t print PLA, it has no use here in Indonesia). PETG is very sticky and gooey, I can only successfully print PETG after flushing the hotend with ABS. Even that won’t last long. Another trick is to go slower, like 40mm/s or less slow. I do not have that kind of patience.
3. It’s none of the above
Check if your stepper driver and/or motor is overheated. You can easily add a fan to the board or a heatsink to the motor. A better idea actually to replace with a better driver. If you just modified direct drive extruder into a bowden one, the motor may just doesn’t have enough torque to push the filament through.
Bowden is not worth it, especially for i3 style printers. The Y axis still need to carry the bed anyway, losing the extruder motor will have very insignificant impact on speed. And the bowden setup has some weird pressure requirements within the ptfe tube, it’s just not worth the hassle of fixing a problem that doesn’t exist to begin with.
Really, even with the jankiest stock Anet A8 extruder, I have never experienced a clog nozzle, ever. Never needed a nozzle needle before I did this so called “upgrade”.
After Mac’s Safari 13 completely dropped the extension feature, thus uBlock no longer works there, I want to move away from Safari. Which is a bit tricky because Keychain no longer works with other browser, so step 0 for moving away from Safari as default browser.
On iOS all other available browser also available with all the basic required features. Tab syncing, and what not. Password management isn’t an issue on iOS side because the way iOS handle password submission, and you can set the default password manager in the Settings.
Enters pass. Pass is a developer friendly password manager that uses GnuPG for encryption. So simple that the basic interface for it is just a plain command line, we’ll need to use other extension / plugins for it to work seamlessly. Pass also use git to handle the syncing, pro tip: GitHub now allows private repo 😉
After making and using tiny touch for awhile now, I’ve noticed that the M3 bolt that screws into the flag is a design flaw. At some turns you may screw it not straight in thus it may snag on the hole, and the printer vibration can loosen the screw and messed with the Z offset. So, for the MK2 I’ve redesign the body and the flag so the M3 bolt and cap are no longer needed.
And since I have spare parts enough to make a back-up probe, I decided to just make one. I use the leftover left servo, and mirrored the body. This time it is way easier, most time spent was to desolder the JST connector on the endstop sensor.
Here are the links to part 1 and part 2 in case you missed it. The final part of the Anet A8 upgrade series, the final form. This will be the only upgrade that I put a price range because all of these upgrades combined will cost more than the printer itself, although to be fair, you kinda just built yourself a new printer if you did all of these.
Update: I completely replaces #2 and #4 on this post after further research and testing with my own device.
1. Auto Bed Leveling ($5 - $50)
This one is a no brainer, removing the need to bed level is a huge convenience bump. It can cost you from $5 (DIY) all the way to $50 (an original BLTouch). Honestly, even though the BLTouch is the “be all and end all” of the Z-probe sensor, because it works on all surfaces including glass bed, but it costs 1/3 of an Anet A8. Meanwhile 3DTouch ($10 - $15), the clones, people have had mixed reviews.
After the stock proximity sensor made my nozzle crash into the bed on multiple occasion, I don’t think any of those proximity sensors work on glass bed anyway.
Which leaves us with DIY, there are many options. 3D printer community is filled with creative folks by definition. Starting from the jankiest where they just stuck a button onto a servo, all the way to making it as good as a commercial product. These ones all boiled down to use an optical endstop, a flag to trigger the endstop, a flag pole, and a servo to stow and deploy the pole.
Here’s a list of some DIY options:
Anet A8 Optical Z-probe: the very first probe I actually made, it’s not pretty but mounted very close to the stock nozzle.
BFPTouch: arguably the original commercial looking DIY z-probe
KeyTouch ABL: You’ll need to remix it from Ender 3 to Anet A8, this is still very new (I haven’t found any Anet remix yet). Simple and smart.
2. Extruder & Hot-end ($120)
Titan Extruder & E3D V6, easy. Next!
LOL, no. Original titan extruder cost like $55 without the motor, and original E3D V6 will cost about the same. That brings the total close to 60% of the whole Anet A8, just for the extruder + hot end kit.
But, we’re on the right track. I highly recommend the bowden option if you’re willing to scratch TPU and NinjaFlex out of your filament choice. There are a lot of of guides and mounting options for the titan and v6 for all kinds of printers out there. They’re very good, easy to assembly, and so many cheap clones on Aliexpress. Before you get on the high horse, Anet A8 itself is a cheap clone of a Prusa printer. And unlike the 3DTouch, people has better luck with these.
E3D Hemera is currently the best upgrade option for the A8 hotend & extruder replacement. No clones available for it, but give it a bit time. I no longer consider a bowden setup as an upgrade. It introduces unnecessary problems, and at best is a side step. I can print better and faster with A8 stock extruder than using a Titan + V6 bowden.
3. Metal Frame ($25 - $50)
There are two major option here:
EMT8: Cheaper option, like in the name, it uses EMT — Electrical Metallic Tubing. $25 according to the Thingiverse.
AM8: This one uses Aluminium 2040 profile (which is the same materials used on the Ender printers). I’ve bought the non-printed parts for this, got more than everything for $35 (I bought a lot more screws and T-nuts for spares and to attach other things). Check your local hardwares supplier, online doesn’t always mean cheaper.
Between the two, I’m leaning towards the AM8. It is lighter and more versatile, just slide a T-nut in and you can attach anything on the frame.
If you count the printing time, electricity, and the plastic cost of all the frame braces, these metal frames aren’t that much more expensive.
4. Main Control Board ($50)
This is the section where we starts to see diminishing return on investment. I mean, sure if you break your board, it caught on fire, or something, might as well upgrade to the RAMPS 1.4 (plus Arduino Mega of course).
While cutting and re-crimping your cables aren’t fun, RAMPS opens up a whole lot of flexibility. Option to get higher-end / quieter stepper motor driver. You’ll get an extra slot for another extruder (not really worth the mod effort IMO). And you’ll get a lot more space from Arduino Mega. On my stock v1.5 board I’m at the point of removing SD card support (which I don’t use anymore after Octoprint) from Marlin so it’ll still fit. IIRC, the default Marlin configuration for RAMPS only uses 20%-ish of memory. I think you can enable everything in Marlin and it’ll still fit.
That’s about it. You may still need the external mosfet (at least the one for the bed), because some RAMPS can also uses a sketchy parts and the connector can be just limited to 10A.
Why use RAMPS that's very likely to use sketchy and under spec-ed parts while you can get a 32bit board like SKR v1.3 from BigTreeTech for about the same price. And get the TMC2209s driver for it. Plug and play with UART interface, so we can adjust the current with a terminal or from the printer itself. And has option for sensorless homing incase the button was broken for some reason.
5. Linear Rails Upgrade ($40 / meter)
a.k.a BLVmod. This mod replaces the linear bearing to use MGN12 linear guide. Honestly, this feels like unnecessary upgrade unless you did all of the above upgrade and want to use two direct drive extruder and retain the print speed. I put the price per meter because I haven’t look far into this.
If you for some reason borked the Anet’s linear bearing (loose balls, or something), just get a DryLin linear bearing. They’re very smooth, quiet, and don’t have balls. Even before DryLin, I’d give this thing a go.
Bonus: 110/220 VAC Silicone Bed Heater
This is one of the most recent upgrade I made. I bought a bed insulation foam expecting that it’ll be enough to retain the heat with the fan going at 100%, or at least enough power to do PID for the bed. I was wrong, bed insulation helps a little bit, but not enough for PID tune.
I put this as a bonus because it’s quite crazy mod, especially for those who never play with AC power before. However this is a very interesting mod. The heated bed is biggest power suck out of any 3D printers, that’s why we did the mosfet upgrade, so the bed draws power directly from the power supply unit. Now by adding the 220 VAC heater, we also relieve the PSU off 10-13 amps draws by the heated bed alone. It means that the mosfets are no longer necessary, and the original 20A PSU will be plenty cool to run.
There you have it, this is the end of the upgrade series. At this point for another ~$100-$300 you’ll get an almost entirely different Anet A8. Cost wise, you’d get a better printer out of the box if you get literally anything else, you’d definitely get an Ender 3 for under $250.
However, the lesson learned from upgrading the Anet A8 is priceless. From doing most of these upgrades myself, and from researching and thinking about what I would have done to the Anet, I’m quite confident that I’ll be able to build my own 3D printer from scratch with my own specs at cost.
As I said in my review, Anet A8 probably the worst 3D printer out there, but they’re the cheapest and the best 3D printer to learn a lot about 3D printing.