Slow-and-steady Afinia’s new 3D printer continues to get easier to use

If MakerBot is the gregarious popular student, Afinia is the quiet kid who sits at the back of the class diligently putting out A-level work. The 3D printer maker revealed its newest H-series machine today, and while there aren’t any radical differences, it should offer the same steady reliability of older models.

The H480, which looks exactly the same as its predecessor, the H479, prints faster and comes with a heated print platform. It will ship at $1,599: the same price as the H479.

Afinia H380 3D printerThe two interesting improvements are what Afinia calls “auto leveling platform calibration” and “nozzle height detection.” Basically, the H480 will help users tackle some of the annoying, tricky calibration steps that desktop printers tend to require before every print job.

Disappointingly, auto leveling doesn’t actually mean auto leveling in this case. The user is still required to make sure their print platform is as level as possible, but they can then magnetically attach a calibration device to the print head. The device senses the height of the platform and then communicates to the printer how to best overcome any irregularities.

The nozzle height detector takes away the need to manually position the nozzle. Think about using a microscope, and how you have to twist a knob until the lens is at the right height to bring the contents of your petri dish into view. Positioning the nozzle manually can be a little bit like that; it’s imprecise and sometimes a pain. The H480 now does it automatically in about 20 seconds.

Afinia’s printers have been a common choice in schools and for hobbyists who just want a relatively easy printer to use. These new features bring the H480 more in line with ease-of-use trends in the 3D printing industry this year; MakerBot, for example, included bed-leveling assistance features in all three of its new printers.

But I have to wonder if it’s enough. At $1,599, Afinia’s printers are no longer on the inexpensive end of affordably priced 3D printers. And with the industry changing as fast as it is, there’s a lot of pressure to make more dramatic changes between each model.