MatterHackers Pulse Review

The MatterHackers Pulse is a Prusa i3 style printer with the base model including a BLTouch and heated bed with BuildTak starting at $799. The Pulse printer also comes pre-assembled and tested, and is customizable with typically one week lead time before shipping. Speaking of shipping, it ships in the USA for free which is a great deal considering the size of the box. The printer has a generous 45 day return window, and a 1 year repair-or-replace warranty.

Some nice upgrades are available including an Olsson Ruby Nozzle, garolite bed, LCD screen, and a Bondtech Extruder with E3D all metal V6 Hotend (this is a must have in my opinion). The printer has a 250x220x215 build area.

The printer I purchased came with the Garolite Bed, LCD screen, Filament Runout Sensor, Bondtech Extruder with E3D V6 Hotend, and Ruby Nozzle.

One thing to note is, while this is a Prusa i3 style printer, it uses a Bowden configuration instead of direct drive. A lot of printers use Bowden (Ultimaker, CR-10, etc) so this is not out of the ordinary. The biggest things to look out for is setting retraction correctly and handling materials traditionally harder to print with a Bowden printer like flexibles. The Pulse is configurable with a Bondtech extruder and this upgrade would help when printing flexible materials.

Hardware Design

The Pulse uses a nearly identical frame to the Prusa i3 MK2 complete with the dreaded screw and bolt Y-Axis, however it comes preassembled which, barring some shipping disaster, you likely will never have to mess with the pre-built Y-Axis which is great.

The Z-Frame consists of a curved outer and inner machined metal frame. The curve is important later. The rest of the printer is your typical dual Z-lead motors (no couplings – also good), and X belt driven system. One major improvement over the traditional Prusa design is the easy-to-access belt tensioning for both X-Axis (which is superbly designed), and the Y-Axis. Every motor has a sound dampener making the loudest elements on the printer the cooling fans.

Speaking of quiet, the power supply is external fan-less design similar to the old Xbox 360 power supply which is great if you want to enclose your printer for ABS printing but don’t want the power supply to be in that enclosure. The other advantage is that it is super easy to replace if there is a problem.

My biggest complaint here is with the curved inner metal Z-Frame. Because the Pulse homes to the top it means the extruder rises to the max Z before each print and often slides across the Z-Frame. After only a few print this was slowly cutting through the cabling from the extruder:

Back of Pulse Extruder

I initially fixed this by putting some Kapton tape over the wires. I fear that this could be a major issue for others if the wires ever get exposed and make contact with the frame. Later I fixed this in firmware (see the conclusion below).

A second, minor complaint, is the filament runout sensor. It is a simple switch with a bearing that is pressed down when filament is present. This switch, for me, is not as reliable as it should be. I was able to improve reliability by bending the switch arm a bit. The second issue is the hole that the filament passes through. Most of the time, when unloading filament, the blob at the end of the filament cannot pass back through the filament sensor. MatterHackers told me to remove the Bowden tube and pull the filament out that way, but I ended up just removing the filament sensor completely. This design might benefit from a PTFE tube for the filament hole rather than a printed bare hole.

Finally I simply do not understand why this printer has a Y-Max sensor. It has a BLTouch that checks bed level but could also be used to home down if they changed the firmware, like almost all printers do. MatterHackers could remove the Y-Max to save some costs and rely on the BLTouch to home to the bed.

Software

The Pulse printers use MatterControl and the software is preconfigured for the Pulse series of printers. You will be notified of software updates and all slicing, settings, control, and printing happens within the software.

I understand the strategy MatterHackers is going for here. It is a complete ecosystem that helps ensure success for the printer operator, especially new 3D printer owners. You load your model in and MatterControl does the work to check your printer is leveled and heated properly (if you use MatterSlice – MatterHacker’s slicer). Unless you choose advanced, you have limited settings to change, again great for new printer owners.

Unfortunately I do not think this ecosystem works as well as it should. MatterSlice has issues with somewhat complex models that can result in painfully long slice times or non-responding MatterControl software. MatterControl does allow you to use other slicers which I was able to do with mixed success, but the included 3rd party slicers were out of date and introduced other issues.

You can use an external slicer by slicing, in say, Cura, then bringing the G-Code into MatterControl to apply the leveling. I had mixed success with this as well. This is not an intuitive way to handle slicing because you are essentially forced to go through MatterControl to get leveling. I found manual modification of the G-Code is required as well to make sure Cura leveling information isn’t used.

You really are discouraged from using another slicer without MatterControl unless you want to do a lot of tweaking to the G-Code and hope your Pulse bed is naturally level and isn’t relying on the BLTouch data.

In addition I found MatterSlice’s generated code to be okay for some things, but not great for others. In particular the decision making that goes into handling print layers with text or small details that have surrounding filled layers often ends up with a print failure because MatterSlice is trying to keep the infill for the text or details intact while filling around it. This usually ends up in curled up plastic bits that can get caught and ruin the print.

Firmware

The firmware has been stripped down likely in an effort to push people towards MatterControl. Leveling, live Z adjust, loading and unloading filament, all can only be done with MatterControl.

If you buy the LCD display, it gives you incorrect Z-height for the entire print because MatterControl and the firmware are simply not on the same page with the actual nozzle height. This makes using another slicer without MatterControl difficult because you have to figure out the real height of the nozzle compared to the bed and the options in the LCD screen are not helpful. The Z-offset command in the LCD did not affect the nozzle hight on my Pulse printer.

The SD printing was a mixed bag. So much so that I usually printed with MatterControl rather than trying to get the SD prints to be successful. This largely had to do with the leveling which, despite the “include leveling information” checkbox being checked, would result in nozzle crashes. I never did figure this out to the point where it would reliably work.

Printing

The Pulse can print models that need minimal retraction with good results. As soon as retractions are introduced I had major issues both with stringing and quality:

Pulse stringing
Stringing hell
Non-Stringing
Stringing eliminated as retraction increased
Stringy Benchy
Benchy with default retraction – bad stringing
Benchy Less Stringing
Benchy with 5mm retraction – less stringing
Benchy less stringing
Benchy with 6.5mm retraction – close

Over 40 prints trying to reign in stringing resulted in somewhat acceptable settings well outside of what the pre-configured Pulse printer comes with in MatterControl. I was told to not push the retraction past 4mm, but with the Bowden tube I found stringing only really subsided at about 6.5-7.5mm. If this was a direct drive printer I could see the 4mm suggestion, but it simply is not enough in my opinion.

Some prints show signs of slight layer shifting or uneven layers and while slowing things down and tweaking did help, it was never fully resolved for me. With the MatterControl and MatterSlice I had all but resigned myself to only printing easy to print models.

Bone
Uneven Layers

For a vast majority of the prints I did on the Pulse I was using a variety of  MatterHackers filament. This same filament works great on other printers and in addition I checked to make sure feed rates were correct on the Pulse.

Update 7/9/2018: I made a bracket that helps improve the above print significantly.

Support

You simply are not going to get this level support at this price point from any other company making 3D Printers.

MatterHackers is responsive and well informed. I have no doubt that if there was a major issue with your printer they would promptly fix it. Most other companies rely on forums or painfully slow email systems with a lot of back-and-forth before your issue is fully understood. In my experience someone responded from MatterHackers within a few days, often in just one, and understood my question without either sending pre-scripted response or asking additional questions you’ve already answered in your original support request.

Conclusion

The Pulse has been a frustrating adventure for me. I know it can print well, I’ve seen 3D Maker Noob get some outstanding results from his printer. I’ve seen some decent prints come off my Pulse, but the overall experience has not been smooth or consistent. Honestly my issues could be a result of something I am doing wrong or something specific to my printer, but I haven’t figured out what that could be at this point. MatterHackers makes and sells great products. I am a fan of their filaments, efforts to provide help to the community, supporting events, and of course free shipping. The Pulse printer as shipped, however, is not up to their normal standards.

I think part of the issue here is the reliance on MatterControl and the slicer limitations. As a result I decided to update the firmware on the Pulse to the latest Marlin (and likely void any warranty I had) to try and resolve issues I saw with the original firmware. Here is a quick list of what I changed:

  • Enabled Unified Bed Leveling – This allows simple to advanced leveling and mesh leveling all within the LCD using the BLTouch and does not rely on software leveling from MatterControl
  • The Pulse homes down and uses BLTouch to test height from the bed every home cycle rather than homing to max Z height
  • The printer now moves the nozzle to middle of bed at end of homing X and Y so Z homing happens in center
  • With firmware bed leveling enabled and homing to the bed instead of Z max, you can easily use gcode from other slicers without going through MatterControl
  • SD printing works every time and I’ve included quick bed level done with a single G-Code command – the leveling information is then incorporated into the print
  • The Z max height is never hit unless you have a massive print which means the extruder wires are not rubbing on the top bar 99.99% of the time
  • Added filament load and unload to the LCD menu for a variety of filaments which automatically pre-heats and waits for temperature before moving the filament through the extruder
  • Fixed Z-offset setting so it actually works when changing it in the LCD menu
  • Added live visual live Z-height adjust to the LCD
  • LCD screen now shows correct Z height during print
  • Lots of little things

All of the above allows me to use slicers natively without piping the G-Code through MatterControl. The biggest missing feature is advanced pause with filament runout detection. I did get the pause working, but the firmware was often confused if it was loading or unloading. Since I already had issues with the filament sensor I have removed this feature for now (as well as the hardware sensor).

The above took care of a lot of issues and improved print quality. It also made using the printer less frustrating. I do still think the Pulse is not printing as high a quality as it should, but I hope it will get there eventually with more tweaking.

Owl
Better Print after Firmware Change

Luckily MatterHackers puts their Pulse firmware up on GitHub so it saved me a lot of guess work when setting up the new firmware. Thanks to MatterHackers for abiding by the Marlin license – not everyone does.

If you do decide to buy the Pulse I strongly suggest getting the Bondtech and E3D V6 all metal hotend upgrade and the LCD screen.

Positives

  • Price – while it isn’t cheaper than many other clones I can say it is built a lot better and a lot safer (with the exception of the rubbing wires noted above)
  • Comes pre-assembled
  • Minimal wait times to ship your printer
  • Free shipping in the USA
  • Built with quality parts including genuine E3D hotend, BLTouch, and (optional) Bondtech extruder
  • Good support with a fast response
  • Improved belt tensioning design compared to other Prusa style printers including the real Prusa printer
  • Great warranty and return window

Negatives

  • You might be frustrated with MatterControl and MatterSlice if you are a semi-advanced user or want to print complex models
  • The filament runout sensor is not worth $95 and does not work well
  • The Pulse should come with an LCD screen standard
  • Questionable curved frame design especially when considering the printer homes to the top
  • Many options missing in the LCD menu system that other Marlin printers have
  • Lower quality prints than expected – bad stringing and some minor layer shifting or inconsistent layers on some prints

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3 Replies to “MatterHackers Pulse Review”

  1. Can you post your version of the firmware for the Pulse? I have a PulseXE and I’m looking to do the same thing and your firmware would be a good starting point.

    Thank You,
    Allen

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