The Ender 3 has a Bowden extruder setup which uses a PTFE tube as a pathway for the filament to travel through the extruder to the nozzle.
You can upgrade it using a Direct Drive Extruder Kit which takes away the PTFE tube and allows you to insert filament straight from the extruder to the hot end. This article will show you how to make that upgrade, as well as answer whether it’s worth it or not.
Keep reading to find out.
Is the Ender 3 Direct Drive Worth It?
Yes, the Ender 3 direct drive is worth it because it allows you to conveniently print very soft and flexible filaments like TPU. The Ender 3 direct drive also offers shorter filament retraction which can reduce stringing, leading to a better print finish. You can still 3D print standard filament successfully.
- Better retraction and less stringing
- Prints flexible filaments better
Better Retraction and Less Stringing
Better retraction is one benefit of using a direct drive extruder. The distance between the extruder and the hotend is much shorter, so retractions are easier to do.
You can use lower retraction settings, usually ranging from 0.5-2mm in many cases. This low range of retraction settings helps to avoid stringing on models during print.
The original Bowden system on the Ender 3 is known for its stringing which is caused by poor retraction of the filament within the long PTFE tube. This is one of the reasons why users have decided to switch to the direct drive kit.
One user mentioned that he got better filament flow after he installed the Ender 3 direct drive since the distance between the extruder and the nozzle is much shorter, so he could reduce retractions.
Prints Flexible Filaments Better
Another reason why people prefer the Ender 3 direct drive upgrade is that it can print flexible filaments at regular print speeds.
Bowden extruder systems often struggle to print flexible filaments. This is because the flexible filament can get tangled as it is pushed along the PTFE tube between the extruder and the hot end. Also, flexible filaments are not easily retracted with the Bowden system and can lead to clogging.
Although Bowden extruder systems can print slightly flexible filaments at very low speeds. One user stated that he has printed an 85A flexible filament on his Bowden setup but at a very slow speed and with retraction switched off.
He also stated that soft TPU can easily clog your extruder especially if you feed it very fast.
Heavier Print Head
Unlike in the Bowden system where the stepper motor is located on the gantry of the printer, the direct drive system has it on top of the hot end. This additional weight on the printer’s hot end causes vibrations during prints and can lead to loss of print accuracy along the X and Y axis.
Also, due to the weight of the print head, it can lead to ringing as the printer changes speed during printing. This ringing also affects the overall print quality of the model.
Better designs have been created though, which optimize weight distribution and balance to reduce negative effects of a direct drive extruder.
Here is a video that talks about the pros and cons of the direct drive system.
User Experiences of Direct Drive Extruders
One user shared his experience with direct drive extruders. He stated that he had 3 printers to print flexible filament PPE-related parts. He converted the printers to direct drive and as a result, their production output doubled.
He also stated that they were also able to print PETG and PLA filaments without any loss in quality and would recommend it to other users.
A few people have mentioned that the direct drive kit was the single biggest improvement in print quality of anything he had done with the printer.
Another user also stated that with his experience with a direct drive and the Bowden system, the benefit of the direct drive is that there is no Bowden tube to cause a failure point in the system.
He further stated that the downside of the direct drive system is potentially more stress on the Y-axis belt which can cause belt wear, but not a very common occurrence.
How to Make the Ender 3 Direct Drive
There are two major ways to change your Ender 3’s extruder from Bowden to Direct Drive. They are as follows:
- Buy a professional direct drive extruder kit upgrade
- 3D print a direct drive extruder kit
Buy a Professional Direct Drive Extruder Kit Upgrade
- Purchase your direct drive kit
- Remove the old extruder from your Ender 3
- Disconnect the Bowden extruder cables from the mainboard.
- Connect the wires for the direct drive kit
- Mount the direct drive extruder on your Ender 3
- Level the print bed and run a test print
Let’s go through the steps in more detail.
Purchase your Direct Drive Kit
There are a few direct drive extruder kits that you can get. I’d recommend going with something like the Official Creality Ender 3 Direct Drive Extruder Kit from Amazon.
It’s easy to install and use. This kit gives you a smoother filament feeding experience and requires less torque for the stepper motor.
This particular direct drive kit had a lot of good reviews from the users who got it for their Ender 3. It’s a complete unit and a straight swap for your existing setup.
One user did mention that the instruction manual on the printer could be much better since it came with an older connection setup for a 12V motherboard instead of a 24V setup.
He recommended users take pictures of their existing connections before disassembly since the new connections are a direct swap.
Another user stated that he will definitely install this upgrade when he purchases another Ender 3. He stated that he just had to set the retraction settings between 2 and 3mm and the retraction speed at 22mm/s after installation.
Remove the Old Extruder from your Ender 3
- Disassemble the old extruder by first unscrewing the Bowden tube from the extruder.
- Loosen the belts either with XY tensioner wheels or manually, then remove the belts from the brackets.
- Unscrew the extruder feeder from the motor and the bracket with an Allen key.
Disconnect the Bowden Extruder Cables from the Mainboard
- Unscrew the plate covering the main board from the base of the Ender 3 with an Allen key.
- Disconnect the thermistor and filament fan connectors next.
- Unscrew the wires for the hotend and the hotend’s cooling fans from the connectors and remove the wires.
Connect the Wires for the Direct Drive Kit
After you have successfully disconnected the Bowden system from the mainboard, you can now do the following:
- Reconnect the wires for the new extruder into the terminals where the wires of the old setup were previously connected respectively.
- Once the connections are complete, double-check the connections on the mainboard to see if it is correct.
- Use a zip-tie to hold the cables together and to ensure the overall connections are neat. You can now screw the mainboard’s assembly in place.
Mount the Direct Drive Extruder on Your Ender 3
- Mount the new extruder in place and screw it along the bar tightly until you observe the extruder can move smoothly.
- Connect the belt to both sides of the direct drive extruder and tension the belt with the knob along the X-axis gantry.
Level the Print Bed and Run a Test Print
After mounting the extruder you would need to do the following:
- Test if the extruder is pushing out the filament properly
- Level the print bed and calibrate the Z offset to ensure the extruder does not over or under-extrude.
- Run a test print to test to see how the layers would come out. If the print does not come out well, you can continue to tweak the printer’s settings until the model comes out accurately.
Here’s a detailed video from CHEP that shows how to install a direct drive kit on an Ender 3.
3D Print a Direct Drive Extruder Kit
Here are the steps:
- Select your preferred model of extruder mount
- Print your model
- Mount the model on your Ender 3
- Run a test print on your printer
Select your Preferred Model of Extruder Mount
You can find an Ender 3 direct drive model from Thingiverse or a similar website.
I’d recommend that you look for a model that doesn’t add too much weight to the 3D printer.
Here is a list of common direct drive extruder mounts for Ender 3:
- SpeedDrive v1 – Original Direct Drive Mount by Sashalex007
- CR-10 / Ender 3 Direct Drivinator by Madau3D
- Ender 3 Direct Extruder by TorontoJohn
Print Your Model
Upload the downloaded model to your slicer software and slice it. You may need to adjust its print settings and the model’s orientation. After all of this, you can now begin printing. You can print the mount with either a PLA, PETG, or ABS filament.
Mount the Model on Your Ender 3
Once the model is done printing, disassemble the extruder from the gantry and unscrew the Bowden tube from it.
Now attach the extruder to the printed mount and screw it to the X-axis. Depending on the model, you might need to cut a short Bowden tube to create a pathway between the extruder and the hot end.
Connect any wires that were previously disconnected from the extruder. Ensure that the wires are long enough to move along the X-axis smoothly, else you may need to add an extension.
Run a Test Print on Your Ender 3
Once all the connections are set, run a test print on your Ender 3 to ensure it is printing smoothly. After this, tweak the retraction settings and print speeds during the test for better print quality.
This is because the retraction settings and print speeds vary differently for both Bowden and direct drive setups to achieve optimal printing.
Here’s a detailed video on how to upgrade your Ender 3 with 3D printed parts.
Here’s also another video with a different kind of extruder mount to upgrade your Ender 3.