Should I Upgrade My Ender 3 Printer With Auto Bed Leveling?


Manual bed leveling for the Ender 3 isn’t hard, but it is tricky. Getting it just right can take some time, and I’ve found that the printer does not stay leveled for more than a few prints.

It is a good idea to upgrade your Ender 3 printer with an auto bed leveling device. Consider EZABL and BLTouch Auto Bed Leveling for your printer. Both require you to do some attachments of wires, screwing in parts and modifying configuration files on the computer (and printer in some cases). This is not a simple clip-on addition to your printer, so it is not for everyone.

For me, I’ve been frustrated with my Ender 3. I can level it and print with it, but I find that the next time (or possibly the time after), I’m having difficulty with the first layer staying stuck down. I’m following the general advice for better adhesion with an Ender 3:

  • Level the bed again
  • Print using a brim (helps stick down the outer edges of the print)
  • Set the first layer height to .3mm instead of .2mm (which is what my normal layer height is)
  • Set the first layer width to 1.5 times what it’s set at for the other layers.
  • Heat the hot end for the first layer higher (I set to 205°C for the first layer, then 200°C for future layers)
  • Heat the build plate (I set to 65°C)

I can print smaller items in the center of the build plate just fine, like the excellent stringing test print from S3Sebastian (https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2219103). It’s larger items that I need to stick down better (I’m printing scale model buildings regularly, for my miniature tabletop games).

The key to getting that all-important first layer to stick down is to level the bed of your printer. I don’t know how it gets out of whack so quickly, but it does, and my print does not stick down like it should. I think the issue is the bed leveling itself. But it’s so time consuming and fiddly, that I dread the process of manually leveling the bed every time I print. But if I don’t, I run the 50% or greater risk of not getting a good first layer.

The printer is only $209.00USD on Amazon, and when it’s on sale, $179.99USD directly from the maker Creality. Simply do a search for Ender 3 and Google should give you the best price out there at the time you’re looking. Adding an automatic bed leveling system can cost between $50.00USD and $100.00USD. Is it worth it? Well, for me, yes. It’s either that or abandon the Ender 3 and go with a much more expensive printer. The Prusa i3 Mk 3S is $999.00USD assembled, plus shipping, but it’s solid as a rock and automated bed leveling is standard with the printer. It would be my next choice after the Ender 3 with an automated bed leveling device. So it’s worth trying.

Automatic Bed Leveling – How Does It Work?

The idea of bed leveling is that the printer knows exactly how far it is from the current position of the print head to the printer. As the print head travels over the surface of the print bed, either the print bed is already perfectly level with the printer gantry, or the printer adjusts itself up or down to maintain the correct separation between the print head and the print bed (so that the extruded plastic sticks down to the print bed, or the previous layer if you’re past the first layer).

To accomplish this, the automatic bed leveler kits come with sensors. The sensors attach to the print head of the printer, and before any printing, the print head goes down to the print bed (ideally, several times around the surface of the print bed), and record the height where the sensor detects the print bed. That will inform the printer’s own code what the Z-axis height was when the bed was detected, so that the printer can adjust accordingly. If it does this in all four corners, it should have enough information to adjust the print to get you a constant distance from the print bed when printing. Essentially, we’re not moving the print bed itself, we’re moving the “software” location of the print bed so that we print a certain distance from it.

All this requires that the printer’s firmware is modified to take advantage of the new sensor and, once it has the bed information, adjust the printing to it. This will require you to flash the firmware in the printer. The Ender 3 doesn’t come with a bootloader, so you have to get one to accomplish this. When you purchase your kit, it should either come with instructions on how to do this, or offer a second kit to be able to flash the firmware, including a bootloader. Some printers are directly connected to the printer, so you can send commands directly to the printer. In the case of the Ender 3, you generally load gcode programs to the printer via an SD card. Because of this, you have to use a separate method.

What Options Are There?

There are three main options for automatic bed leveling for the Ender 3. They are:

EZABLhttps://www.th3dstudio.com/product/ezabl-pro-plug-print-auto-bed-leveling-kit/
UPtaniumhttps://www.amazon.com/Creality-Complete-Leveling-Compatible-Bootloader/dp/B07K82KZZM/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Creality+Ender+3+Complete+Auto+Bed+Leveling+Kit+Glass+Compatible.+with+Bootloader+Burning+Tool+-+Firmware+Included&qid=1573767515&s=industrial&sr=1-1
BLTouchhttps://www.amazon.com/King-Finger-Creality-Compatible-Bootloader/dp/B07PN5RCGR/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=Creality+Ender+3+Complete+Auto+Bed+Leveling+Kit+Glass+Compatible.+with+Bootloader+Burning+Tool+-+Firmware+Included&qid=1573767602&s=industrial&sr=1-5

The first, EZABL, is the one I chose to use. It’s not available on Amazon.Com, but only directly from the TH3D Studio website. It seems a little more complex, but in my mind, it seems a lot like the Pinda sensor on the Prusa line of printers (like the Prusa i3 Mk3S). Instead of relying on physical touch, it uses proximity that’s electronically detected. Less moving parts, in my mind, is a good thing.

From the reviews, though, all three options above get good marks for functionality. I haven’t tested them all, so do your homework on them.

Are They Hard To Install?

For an electrical engineer, the installation of any one of these kits is a breeze. For the rest of us mere mortals, it can be a little daunting. You have to disassemble some parts of your printer and change some bits around. This includes removing screws, adding wiring clips to existing pins, and adding a new mount for the sensor to the hot end of your printer.

None of it is hard. It’s just involved, and detail oriented. Some people freeze up at the thought of these sort of tasks. If you can stomach it, just follow the steps, one by one, until the end. You’ll succeed. Even installing new boot software to the printer isn’t that complicated, if you follow the instructions. All three options are known to have good instructions, and the TH3D Studio’s EZABL has good support (which is one of the reasons I chose it). I didn’t need that support (everything worked when I got to the other end of the install) but I was glad it was there. They boast US-based support, and I’m in the US, so that seemed like a good option.

The complexity of installing the kit is outweighed, in my opinion, by the advantages of having an automated bed leveling system. As always, your mileage may vary, but I bet you grow to rely on it once you’ve got one!

Related Questions

Can Ender 3 print ABS?

Yes, ABS and PLA are the two most common types of filament that are used with the Ender 3 printer. ABS, even more than PLA, requires a well leveled print bed and controlled space around the printer. It’s very susceptible to warm or cool breezes and bed adhesion can be tricky for that all-so-important first layer. Consider an enclosure for your Ender 3 if you’re going to print ABS a lot.

How do you level a printed bed in Ender 3?

  1. Auto Home the Print Head (by selecting Home in the Prepare Menu)
  2. Move the nozzle so that it’s positioned over the left front corner of the bed.
  3. Slide a 3M Sticky Note (it happens to be just the right thickness) between the nozzle and the bed. You may need to move the bed down to allow enough room (using the adjustment wheels under the print bed).
  4. Once the paper is able to slide under the nozzle freely, raise the corner with the adjustment wheel until you can still move the paper, but you can feel a small amount of resistance. If, when you push the 3M Sticky Note (not the sticky part), it should not bend. If it does, it’s due to too much resistance. Lower the bed slightly.
  5. Repeat this process for the back right corner, then the back left corner, then the front right corner.
  6. You’re done. Your bed is leveled.

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