Monday, January 10, 2022

The fun (and never ending) 3D printer upgrades and mods

First of all, Happy 2022 everyone!

It has been a long time since my last post, to compensate this will be a long and detailed post about the 3D printer upgrades I installed in the last 18 months. 

Before acquiring my 3D printer back in mid-2020, I researched through several articles and reviews for a while. I was looking for a competent, relatively reliable entry-level FDM/FFM printer with future upgrade potential that would not break the bank (after all, my printer would not be used often, just as a hobby really). 

Although there are options of 3D printers the come completely assembled, I was not afraid to opt for a DIY model, where some initial assembly is needed. I ended up narrowing my search down to the Chinese brand Creality and ultimately to their Ender 3 v2 model. 

My heavily modded Ender 3v2

The stock Ender 3 v2 as displayed on Creality's website

The Ender 3 v2 is, as the name indicates, it is the 2nd and improved version of the VERY popular model Ender 3 that came out in early 2018. The Ender 3 gained significant popularity due to its reliability and good quality prints (for the money). The Ender 3 launched with a USD$ 150 MSRP. Due to the success of the Ender 3, Creality released in early 2020 their improved v2 version, that incorporated several improvements over their Ender 3 original model. These improvements were mostly created/added by the Ender 3 users over time, but if you didn't want to add them yourself, you could buy the v2 directly from Creality. 

The improvements of the v2 over the original Ender 3 were:
- Improved board with silent drivers
- Larger and Color LCD
- Belt tensioners
- Better print bed (tempered glass as opposed to Ender 3's aluminium bed). 

With a MSRP of USD$ 250, the v2 quickly became popular as the included improvements were actually worth the extra cash asked. Creality kept (and still keeps) the Ender 3 on their portfolios of printers and their cheapest model - at the time of this writing the Ender 3 is being sold for USD$189 versus USD$262 for their Ender 3 v2.

With both printers (still) on the market, they share a large support community that has worked on the continuous improvement of their printers. The community has created/designed several add-ons and modifications (mods) to add features, increase reliability, printer quality, speed, reduce noise, etc on their printers. And the beauty of owning a 3D printer is that many of these mods you can print yourself!

These are most of the mods/upgrades I installed over time to further improve my Ender 3 v2 experience and functionality. By no means these are the "ultimate" or the "best" mods available for this printer, but I can recommend them (in no particular order) based on my own experience actually using them for a long time:

1) Spool Holder (RODAM - Fat Mod):

This holder offers a significant improvement over the stock holder, reducing the friction between the filament spool and the holder

2) Ender 3 Filament Guide:

This filament guide uses an office "bulldog clip" reduce the friction with the fliament and help guiding it throughout the extruder

3) MacEwen 3D Upgraded Replacement Flexible Filament MK8 Extruder Aluminum Drive Feed for CR-10, Ender 3:

This filament extruder guide is made out of aluminium (as opposed to OEM plastic) with a stainless steel drive gear (as opposed to the OEM brass). It has a Capricorn PTFE tube to guide the filament in making filament change a breeze compared to the original.

As this aluminium extrude doesn't come with a cable holder, you should print this cable support to keep your printer organised:

BV3D Ender 3 Aluminum Extruder Cable Support:

Cable support

4) Capricorn tubing:

This tubing is more precise/uniform than the OEM, reducing the friction between the filament and the tubing

5) Yellow spring beds:

These are probably the best upgrade for the money: these yellow springs are much stiffer than the OEM silver ones, saving you from re-levelling your bed often

6) OctoPrint:

Using a RaspberryPi mini computer, you can add a whole lot of features your 3D printer. No more need to use your printer's SD card or have your printer near a computer to transfer files to it. With OctoPrint, you can send your files to the printer remotely and monitor your print also remotely. 

I recommend watching this great videos on how to install OctoPrint:

OctoPi 2021: OctoPrint + Raspberry Pi! Super Simple Setup (Mac & Win)

How to setup Octoprint / Experimenting with Octolapse

And here is How I added 2 (two) cameras to OctoPrint, and these are my customised camera holder for the front camera (with FishEye lenses) and my extended camera holder for side PS3 camera (which moves with the Z-axis),

My 2 cameras with their custom holders in action

7) Runout filament sensor:

By adding a simple switch, you can avoid loosing hours of printing time and material in case you run out of filament in the middle of a print. I used this design from Thingeverse that combines a filament guide (with a bearing) and a filament sensor all in one printable piece:

Ender 3 Filament Guide + Runout Sensor 

All in one: Filament guide and runout sensor

You will need to buy a KW12-3 PCB Microswitch, appropriate cable/wire with the JST connector that matches your Ender 3 v2 board sensor (if using the firmware to detect the filament out signal) or your Raspberry PI GPIO (if using OctoPrint).

Here is a cool and detailed video with a tutorial.

8) Silent Pack:

Even thought the Ender 3 v2 has silent drivers, the power supply (PSU) fan and motherboard fans are very loud. Thus, this is a very popular mod that not only quiet the printer significantly, but also improve the ventilation to both PSU and motherboard. 

OBS: I highly recommend this mod to improve the ventilation of these components, especially if you use the printer inside an enclosure (like I do). There are premature failure of the PSU and layer shifting on prints that are related to the overheating of these components. 

After you print both new PSU lid and Motherboard Lid (PETG is recommended) that will allow you to accommodate the larger (and quieter) fans and buck converters; and of course, acquired all the parts needed, follow the installation instructions carefully.  

As you are going to be working on the bottom side of your printer, I recommend installing these feet risers (35mm) to increase the gap between your printer's fans and the surface to further improve the airflow. I choose these risers as they are easy to print, mount and they re-use the existing OEM rubber feet.

This mod is more complex to install, but the instructions on Thingeverse are detailed, follow them carefully. Here are some photos on how the installation went for me:  

Removing the printer board cover

Here you can spot the small but loud fan that cools down the motherboard. 

A nice shot of the motherboard without its cover

A view of the power supply with its metal shield cover

PSU opened with the fan disconnected

New PSU printed lid with the new quiet Noctua fan installed. The OEM PSU fan was already 12V, so need to install a buck converter here. Also, the new lid allows for much better air intake ventilation.

Adjusting the buck converters voltage to match the 12V required by the new fans

Note the new feet risers already installed as well as the new PSU lid (with its new fan)

For the motherboard fan, you need a buck converter to bring the 24VDC down to 12VDC to power the new PSU fan.

The new motherboard fan will stay on at all times as its power comes straight from the PSU (the OEM design had it starting only with the hotend fan - contributing to overheating). 

Job completed! (Make sure to do some proper cable management as you progress to avoid issues later).


This is a great and simple design will allow you much better bridge capabilities and it is much quieter than the OEM 

Please support the creator (Brissmoto) and buy its latest design from Cults3D. I opted for the version with 2 Leds pointing to the bed so you can better see the nozzle. 

10) Flexible coupler:

To help reduce the effect of binding of the Z-rod (which cause visible slightly shifted lines across your print walls), replacing the original OEM hard coupler by a flexible one with a 5mm (1/4") bearing ball inside is recommended. 

This video explains the issue in depth. And the bearing ball trick/hack has a dedicated video where Alex explained really well its functionality.

New flexible coupler installed with the ball bearing

A more modern solution for the flexible coupler that doesn't require the ball bearing, is this flexible coupler.

This is a really cool looking add-on. I printed in white and painted myself with permanent markers. The extruder knob movement mimics perfectly the beloved R2D2!

12) Adding an extra buck converter to the bottom rail:

I installed this extra buck converter to provide 12VDC to the LEDs I installed in the top bar and the hotend. This case is really cool as it snaps to the existing railing (I printed it in PETG).

I used this LED lighting tutorial from Brian (BV3D).

13) Install Ferrules:

This is probably the only safety related improvement on the list and thus is obviously a very important one. 

Watch this great video from Brian (BV3D) on the theory and how to install the ferrules in your Ender 3 v2.

A typical ferrule kit with crimping tool found on Amazon 

14) PEI Surface:

This last but definitely not the least important upgrade. This PEI surface is a VERY POWERFUL and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED upgrade in relation to the OEM tempered glass one. With time, the original tempered glass will inevitable get scratched and it will be harder to stick your prints to it. I started using glue stick to compensate, but it was a pain to clean, etc. It's much easier to go with the PEI surface solution, which not only will make your prints stick better but also make it easier to remove your prints off once they are completed.

Example of a PEI bed from Creality

This is the official PEI bed from Creality, but I've been using a generic one that works great as well.

15) Replace the OEM printer and display firmware by a more capable one:

Much nicer visuals and more information available with a firmware upgrade

The firmware provided by Creality is very basic and lack important features such as filament change commands that are available on Marlin 2.0. I tried a few firmware versions and ended up with the excellent one created by Jyers (a well-known and respected developer of the Ender 3 v2 community). Jyers firmware will unlock many features of your printer and give some nicer and colourful icons to your display.

Follow Brian's great tutorial on how to update the printer and display firmware. 

2022 Upgrades:

16) Dual Z Axis Upgrade Kit with Screw Stepper Motor

Adding dual Z-axis will greatly improve stability and help reduce Z-binding

Most non-budget printers such as the Prusa mk3, have this feature and for a reason: it will ensure your z axis is always parallel to the plane of the bed. 

The installation of the mod was straight forward and the mod itself is very affordable. 

Link to the mod I bought:

Installation tutorial video:

17) CR Touch Auto Bed Leveling Sensor 

Creative CR Touch Upgrade Kit

I postponed the installation of this popular mod as I thought it wasn't really needed as I had nailed the manual bed levelling system using the E3v2 adjusting bed level knobs. However, I must say this upgrade was a game changer! It has been over 2 years now (in 2024) since I installed the CR Touch Upgrade Kit mod and I have rarely checked or touched the manual bed levelling knobs ever again! 

The kit comes with easy to follow instructions on how to install.

Before every print, my E3v2 probes the bed (G29 in Marlin) and compensates (in the Gcode) for any bed levelling imperfections.

Maintenance tips:

Now to some basic maintenance tips to keep your printer running well.

A) Lubricating the Z-rod:

It is key to keep your Z-rod clean from dust/debries and properly lubricated. Avoid oily lubricants that will allow the dust/debries to get stuck to the rod affecting your prints sooner. I opted for this dry Teflon lubricant

Cleaning and lubrication of the Z-rod with dry (non stick) Teflon 

Recommended lubricant for the Z-rod

B) Adjusting the voltages to the stepper motors (VREF):

Following this Creality tutorial, confirm that the voltages are within tolerance and adjust the if necessary. I found that the stepper motor drivers in the 4.2.2. board revision (the one I have) can operate from anywhere between 0.80 to 1.5V, but Creality recommends recommended to stay within 1 to 1.2V. 

I adjusted the voltage for each driver of my Ender 3 v2 in a way to keep all stepper  motors running "healthily hot" (aka hot to touch) during continuous operation (my Z motor was the hottest of all, so I kept its voltage the lowest). If you decrease the voltage too much, you may experience some skipping, so you may need to tweak/adjust according to your own printer: 

X: 1.15V
Y: 0.99V
Z: 1.09V (Z was my hottest motor) 
E: 1.20V

Adjusting the VREF voltages according to OEM

C) Clean your POM wheels from dust/debries:

Wear on the POM wheels

Clean the POM wheels from time to time to remove the wear debris. This is a good video that explains why this occur and how to prevent it. 

For in depth troubleshooting and important tips on how to use, improve and maintain your Ender 3, please refer to Luke's Guide to Creality Printers.  

In the end of 2021, Creality release a new model: Ender 3 (S1) that incorporate yet further improvements to the Ender 3 v2, such as: direct drive, auto bed levelling, filament runout sensor, etc. I'm still quite happy with my v2, especially after all the improvements I added above, but please check out the reviews of the S1, the improvements already installed by Creality may be worth to you.

A special thanks to the members of the Ender 3 v2 FB group, the Reddit group, to the Thingeverse creators of the mods above and the Youtubers that created the great tutorials I linked in this article. 

In the meantime.. Happy 3D Printing!


  1. I've started too now, I have my printer 5 weeks and already have done about 90% of what you have, with addition to dual Z new Hotend and now linear rails on my z and y with the X being done as soon as I've got my hands on a kit...

  2. I found this through Reddit. I will definitely come back and reference this post. Thank you for compiling this!

    1. Thank you for nice feedback and good luck with your printer!