DJI didn’t dominate the drone industry by selling drones to people who already knew how to fly. It relentlessly developed tech that made its drones easy to control by first-timers. In 2018, five DJI engineers founded Bambu Lab to do the same for 3D printers, and the just-announced Bambu A1 Mini may get them closer than ever before.
I believe the $299 Bambu A1 Mini could be the friendliest 3D printer ever made. Over the past week and a half, I’ve been churning out part after part in PLA — the most commonly used plastic — printing in up to four different colors at a time, with the highest quality-to-effort ratio I’ve experienced yet.
I just wish I could say the same for more robust PETG plastic I use for objects I want to last — and that it had a larger bed.
For a combo price of $459, the small 180 x 180 x 180mm A1 Mini ships almost fully assembled, tuned, and bundled with its own motorized automatic material system (AMS) that supports four-color printing and eliminates many of the most common pain points when loading printable plastic. The AMS automatically pulls in the strands of filament after you begin pushing them into the machine — no need to cut them first — then rewinds the remainder like a tape player when the job is done.
Imagine this: it took me just over an hour to go from the sealed shipping box to a fully printed three-color Benchy (the industry’s cute little boat test print), and a quarter of that time was simply letting the printer calibrate itself automatically.
Part of that calibration made my jaw drop, too: Bambu’s new printer tuned its motors right in front of my eyes, adding active noise cancellation like a pair of headphones to reduce their sound — a technique Bambu confirms it’ll eventually add to its X1 and P1 series printers as well.
If not for the printer’s louder-than-motors cooling fan and the fact that tiny particles of airborne molten plastics are reportedly hazardous to health, it’s the rare printer I wouldn’t mind inviting into my home office.
And though you can buy it for $300 without the four-color AMS, I can’t imagine doing that, not now that I can conveniently line up four small parts at a time in different colors (or one part in multiple colors) and just let it do its thing.
While the open-air “AMS Lite” doesn’t protect filament from moisture like the original AMS — something that might still trip up beginners, you can’t just leave filament sitting out — it does now support more environmentally friendly cardboard spools that could get jammed in the original.
The A1 also does its own bed leveling and its own Z offset and X-Y resonance calibration every single print… since these prints are literally lines of molten plastic stacked atop one another, it’s important for prints to get off on the right foot, and those features I just named help make that happen automatically.
It’s fast, too, able to print quickly enough to tempt me to sit and watch simpler parts come together. It knocked out a decent Benchy in a little over 20 minutes. And though the print quality with PLA plastic isn’t quite on par with my Bambu P1P or the best-tuned parts I ever got out of a modded Ender 3, they’re remarkably close for a zippy bedslinger — did I mention the Bambu A1 Mini is the company’s first printer to throw around its print bed traditionally instead of moving the print head across three axes?
With PLA, I’m mostly noticing slightly worse seams and a bit of vibration showing up in the final product compared to the Bambu P1P, as you can see if you look closely.
But PETG plastic has been a different story. I’ve tried three different rolls of filament at three different speeds and have yet to get a single part I’m happy with. With default settings, some simply wouldn’t stay stuck to Bambu’s not hot enough but nicely tacky textured flexible metal PEI bed and wound up with piles of plastic spaghetti. I also got weirdly opaque results from transparent PETG — far more opaque than with my Bambu P1P.
Even turning up the heat and slowing down speed all the way to the glacial 20mm / sec Bambu recommends for glacier-like transparent PETG, I still didn’t get a quality part, though it did print clearer. I’ll be troubleshooting with Bambu and seeing how other journalists get on with PETG before I feel comfortable upgrading this story into a full review.
PETG performance isn’t the only detractor. The only way to print some larger parts is to lay them down diagonally — like the main body of this awesome LeedleDynamics Corsair nerf blaster, whose every part I printed on the A1 Mini itself.
I also couldn’t print the three-color version of 3Dprintingworld’s telescoping Zelda Master Sword that I really wanted to try; even though the model fit on the print bed, it was simply too tall.
And I’m a bit underwhelmed with the A1 Mini’s camera for remote monitoring and timelapse videos of my creations. (The privacy lens cover also fell off during one of my very first prints.)
Weirdly, one of the company’s most exciting advertised features didn’t work for me at all. Yesterday, the company teased that the printer could automatically detect a tangled filament roll and stop a print — something that’s tripped up my Bambu P1P printer, too, because it’s beyond the capability of a simple filament sensor to detect. But when I intentionally tangled a roll attached to the A1 Mini, it kept on yanking it as its motors audibly strained. Even clamping down the filament to the point that the printer couldn’t deposit any more plastic, it didn’t stop the print.
It turns out that’s because Bambu doesn’t trust it to work quite yet — the company turned off the feature in a firmware update, and I would have had to manually turn it on again with a new menu option I didn’t know existed. “This function is still being optimized and we will keep it off until we release the final official version,” says Bambu spokesperson Taylor Liu. I’ll test it again then.
Still, it’s incredible how easy it is to load filament after my experiences with the supposedly easy AnkerMake M5 and Creality K1. The Bambu A1 Mini measures its filament using multiple sensors at the hotend itself. In my early tests, it’s so good at telling when it’s out of filament, and it’s so easy to add more, that I’ve been able to effortlessly print multiple objects with scraps of filament I’d have otherwise discarded.
The two-tone trigger on my Corsair is made from two of those scraps, for example:
Tangled filament detection isn’t the only thing about the A1 Mini that feels unfinished. While the integrated color touchscreen is miles better than the bare-bones controls on my P1P, the “easy button” A1 experience isn’t complete without the company’s new MakerWorld platform — which does let you press one button to print models uploaded to the company’s app but is currently in beta.
My printer came with a gift “build your own computer mouse” kit designed by Bambu, electronics and all, and the prints came out beautifully, but you can’t yet find much else in MakerWorld tuned for the A1 Mini since it’s pretty early days. Bambu is also largely depending on users to populate the platform and only tests some of the one-button prints itself. You can simply print internet files from the company’s Bambu Studio desktop app and wirelessly send them to the printer, but it’s got a slight learning curve, particularly where multicolor printing is concerned.
I don’t yet know how the A1 Mini will hold up to months of prints or how easy it will be to repair, but it does have one more potentially incredible trick up its sleeve: the entire hotend can be hot-swapped without any tools, just by pulling off a plastic cover, an easy-to-remove silicone heat sock, and a retention lever below the heatsink.
One thing to know about Bambu is that it uses proprietary hotend / nozzle combinations: instead of buying standard 3D printer nozzles and carefully wrenching them down, you simply pop on a whole new hotend should it permanently clog, wear out, or you want a different resolution print.
Bambu didn’t send me any replacement nozzles, but it’ll sell 0.4, 0.6, and 0.8mm hardened steel nozzles for $12 each, replacement 0.4mm stainless steel nozzles for $10, and a 0.2mm stainless steel nozzle for $12.
Another thing you should know is that Bambu’s printers tend to purge a good bit of filament, particularly when when you do color changes, with the printer creating a little tower of wasted filament as you go. You can modify the amount manually, though. Higher up this story, you’ll see a four-color Zelda sword would have wasted loads of filament by default; thankfully, simple prints like a three-color Benchy waste a comparatively tiny amount:
Below, find the company’s whole spec sheet for the printer, which goes on sale today. Bambu says the first batch will ship in mid-October.
And if the A1 Mini simply doesn’t have the print volume you’re looking for, Liu says you should know that Bambu A1 will be a series of printers: “You can expect more than A1 Mini in the future and we are working on it!” I won’t buy an A1 Mini because I’m happy with my P1P, but I now wish I could buy a filament-feeding AMS Lite to go with my older, larger printer.
Photos by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Update, 12:03PM ET: Added that Bambu’s filament tangle detection is currently off by default, and details about filament waste due to purging.