In our ongoing quest to find the best 3D printer for entry-level users, we had a chance to try out the Voxelab Aquila S2 FDM 3D printer from Flashforge. The Aquila is a DIY kit that will cost around US $289.00 – US $375.00. It can be purchased on Amazon or directly from the manufacturer’s website.
In this 3D printer review, we’ll let you know what you get when you buy an Aquila S2, what it’s like to build it, and our first impressions about its quality and usability.
Features of the Voxelab Aquila S2 by Flashforge
The Voxelab Aquila S2 is an FDM filament printer that will print with PLA filament as well as PETG, PETG-CF, TPU, and ABS filaments and more. FDM is an additive process, making these some of the most versatile and easy-to-use 3D printers, especially compared to resin printers, which are amazing, but are more difficult to use and can be quite messy.
The build volume is a generous 8.7 x 8.7 x 9.4 inches (220mm x 220mm x 240mm), quite similar to the print volume of the Creality Ender 3 V2. Earlier models came with glass beds coated in Carborundum, which is also similar to the Ender. Ours came with a magnetic print bed, which we loved.
We’ll discuss the magnetic bed more below, but suffice it to say, it’s one of the best features of this printer or any printer.
The Aquila is very quiet. The fan is the loudest part. Additionally, it has a hot end with an unusually high temperature for an entry-level printer—up to 300 degrees Celsius, allowing you to use all common filament types.
It has a fantastic LED display, quite like the display on the AnyCubic Vyper. It’s big. It’s clear and colorful. Despite the fact that it’s not a touch-screen, it’s intuitive to use. It has a rotary knob control that you push to make a selection.
A few other observations about the Aquila’s features:
- If you have frequent power outages in your area, you’ll be happy to know that the Aquila can resume printing after a power interruption.
- The Aquila runs a fork of Marlin, probably the most popular open-source 3D printing firmware available.
- You can load files to print via the MicroSD card reader or you can use a serial interface like Pronterface.
- Since most models of the Aquila include the N32 chip, that means you could run OctoPrint and all of the great OctoPrint plug-ins on this printer.
The user manual includes a full schematic of the motherboard, which will come in handy when you inevitably mod your printer.
Assembling the Voxelab Aquila S2 3D Printer
If you have any experience with 3D printing, you know to expect a certain amount of frustration when assembling your new printer.
There are a lot of typos and confusing language in the manual. We muddled through, and everything turned out fine.
Beginners will find this printer is easier to build with two people. Also, 3D printers need maintenance. Putting it together yourself will give you the confidence you need to do that maintenance. The included tools are all good quality. You’ll want to keep the particularly good Allen wrenches.
The bolts weren’t labeled, so you might want to use a pair of calipers to figure out which ones are which. It’s not difficult to figure that out, but it would have been nice if they had been labeled.
A beginner might get stuck trying to put this printer together using only the included user manual. It took about an hour to build the printer. They do have a YouTube video that will straighten out any confusion.
Build Quality of the Voxelab Aquila S2
This is a very well put together entry-level printer. It has a direct-drive extruder. It has aluminum extrusions for the x, y, and z axes. The only thing that makes this an entry-level printer vs. a high-end printer is the lack of auto-bed-leveling and the fact that it only has one z-axis screw.
The removable, magnetic PEI bed is something we’d never go without. It’ll save you a lot of grief, time, and scratches.
The belt-tensioners are a great feature that are often lacking in other printers—even some much more expensive printers. Belts need occasional tightening, and it’s nice to be able to do that without disassembling your printer.
The Aquila comes with a spool holder, but that’s the first thing you’ll want to replace and move. You’ll want to take the weight off the top of the printer. It’s a right of passage to print your own spool holder, and one is even included in the sample files that come on the SD card.
All printers with manual bed-leveling have a learning curve because the threads are upside-down, so it’s easy to get confused. You could add your own auto-bed-leveling kit to it. That would be a nice project once you get the basics of 3D printing down. To be fair, leveling the bed manually only took about five minutes. If this is your first 3D printer, it might take you a little longer.
Once your bed is level, and you’ve successfully printed the test print, you’ll want to print your own models. Voxelab has a profile you can import into Cura, a free, open-source slicer that can convert STL 3D model files and other formats into instructions your printer understands (gcode). You can use any slicer you want; however, VoxelMaker slicing software is included on the SD card that comes with the printer.
We recommend starting with the included test model because it’s already calibrated for the printer. It’s on the MicroSD card, and you can access it via the LCD panel. There were no adhesion problems while it was printing, and the print popped off the build plate on its own as it cooled—exactly what you want.
The print speed of the sample file is clearly slower than the printer is capable of, which makes sense for a test print. We did not experience any stringing, and we found the print quality to be impressive given the cost of the printer.
We started printing at a .2mm layer height. The minimum layer thickness is .1mm. If you want higher resolution than that, you may want to consider a resin printer.
Cut to the Chase
This printer is very similar to the Ender 3, and:
- It’s cheaper.
- It has a removable magnetic bed.
- The LCD screen is better.
We recommend the Voxelab Aquila S2 for users who want to save some money and still get some of the features of pricier, high-end printers. We wish it had auto-bed-leveling, but at this price point, we have to say the Aquila S2 exceeded our expectations.
*Special thanks to FormerLurker for help in reviewing the Voxelab Aquila S2 3D printer from Flashforge.