Goodbye RepRap Host Software, Hello RepG

After spending the weekend getting sub-optimal prints using the RepRap host software and trying without success to understand the various settings for calibration, I have given up on it for reasons I will expand upon. Skeinforge seems to be very popular with the 3D Printing community, but it is quite intimidating with hordes of different settings! So I have plucked for ReplicatorG, which as I understand it has a nice friendly interface, with all the power of Skeinforge behind the scenes. Let’s see how I get on.

The good parts of the RepRap Host

The user interface (preferences section excepted) looks and is friendly. Generating GCode from STL files is simple, and the ability to preview your prints on a virtual bed is incredibly useful, allowing you to quickly spot whether your part will fall off the edge of the bed or is upside down before printing has commenced.

Another useful feature is the ability to load several STL files in one go to generate a “tray” of parts to print, and save this tray for future reuse.

The control panels to jog the axes and manipulate the extruder is indispensable both when building the machine and using it. However, there are some idiosyncrasies particularly with the extruder control panel that often saw me turning to the User Manual. Unfortunately I have never been able to get the Plot Using Extruder option to work, which would have been fantastically useful.

The provision for virtual extruders akin to profiles is an interesting but initially complicated one (the documentation refers to these as logical extruders). It allows you to have different settings for infill and/or support to outline when printing from the same physical extruder e.g. Extruder0 is the outline profile, Extruder1 for infill and Extruder2 for support. Each logical extruder is assigned a name in the Extruder0_MaterialType(name) preference field, and it is these names appear in the Material Selector window when loading an STL file to print. To activate the different profiles for infill and support they must be referenced by name in the preferences section for the outline extruder profile (in the above example this is Extruder0) (NB they are activated by default!). When using this feature there is the important caveat that the ExtrusionSize and ExtrusionHeight settings be the same for all profiles to be used on the same physical extruder for the print.

Confused? Yeah me too to begin with! I spent ages changing my Extruder0 settings, generating a test print and wondering why nothing had changed. As it turned out, because the infill and support profiles are on by default it was those settings I should have been changing!

The problems with RepRap Host

As I have experienced it, the problems with the RepRap Host are the preferences – they are incredibly confusing! The names of many settings are confusing, some settings seem to conflict with each other and some seem to be the same as settings in the firmware, begging the question which setting takes preference?

For example, Extruder0_ExtrusionBroadWidth(mm) is defined as a setting for when coarse infill is being used, but there is also the Extruder0_ExtrusionInfillWidth(mm) setting for fine infill. Where is the setting to choose coarse or fine infill?

I don’t believe that ordering the settings alphabetically does anything to aid the understanding of what the various settings do and how they are related.

The extruder control panel has a few confusing settings and behaviours: hitting the Extrude button toggles the extruder on and off as is done with dc-motor driven extruders, but with a stepper-driven extruder this tells it to extrude a certain distance, which is apparently related in some way to the Extrude Speed setting.

There is also the irritation that when loading files to print on the RepRap, it does not remember the directory you loaded from previously. This is particularly annoying if you are trying to keep all your files organised in directory trees, having to navigate to the same directory every time.

Finally, the host software seems to crash a lot on my computer, although I have a suspicion my computer is at least as much to blame as the host.

So I am defecting to ReplicatorG, and will report on my progress soon :-)

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