If there’s one thing that’s a real pain when it comes to 3D printing it’s bed leveling. Often users find it difficult to get their printer bed perfectly level and sometimes their best efforts unwittingly make the problem even worse than it already was. This leads to failed prints and consumer frustration. It’s not enough that some printers come equipped with their own auto leveling sensors. Many times these probes don’t work as well as advertised.
It was refreshing to see a new company jump into the ring with an auto leveling probe that seemed to make sense. As previously reported, a crowdfunding campaign for the BLTouch was launched on Indiegogo in August. At first glance it appears to work much like an endstop. When the pin hits the bed, it triggers a sensor that tells the controller board that it has made contact. Its a bit more sophisticated than that, but that seemed to be the gist of it. When not in use the pin retracts and is held in place by a small magnet, thus keeping it clear of the hotend nozzle. I was intrigued by the prospect this little device offered and at the $25 backer reward level (plus $5 international shipping from South Korea) on its Indiegogo campaign, it seemed like a safe bet. So, I ordered one and prepared to wait.
The BLTouch didn’t reach its funding goals, but thanks to its flexible funding campaign on Indiegogo all backers were going to receive their rewards. If you’ve ever backed a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo or Kickstarter before you are well aware that most projects ship late, if they ship at all. I’m still waiting on delivery of a video game that’s three years late (they just released an Alpha build). BLTouch backer rewards were slated to ship in November. So, I quietly waited, thinking that winter would come and go before I got my little auto leveling probe and I wondered how long my beard would have grown by then. The wait for my BLTouch was much shorter than anticipated. It arrived in October, just a few weeks after the campaign ended. Unheard of. Preposterous! But there it was.
While I haven’t had a chance to try out my BLTouch yet, I saw the results when Gordon LaPlante of gCreate tried it out on one of his machines. After some trial and error, he got it to work. Most of the time. Every once in awhile the probe wouldn’t be able to find to bed when the extruder was raised too high on the z-axis, maybe because the gMax 1.5XT+ is such a big printer. Canceling the print and running it again seemed to resolve this issue, though this was a bit of a work around. The other issue that cropped up is that during very long prints the BLTouch would engage again, looking to probe the bed, and damage the print in the process.
Apparently, other backers were having similar problems with their BLTouch. The makers of the BLTouch hold very exacting standards and they did something very surprising: they promised to send a new, updated version of the BLTouch to all their backers. For free. Really. And they did. The new BLTouch is white, while the original was a translucent yellow. The white BLTouch shipped to backers in late November. And what to do with the original?
According to BLTouch inventor Charles Lee, “Since new BLTouch alternate with the former one, PLEASE DISCARD THE YELLOW ONE to avoid confusion.”
After initial testing, the new auto level sensor works as advertised. It has multiple modes for bed sensing. It can do a single point test in the center of the bed, which is convenient for quick, small prints or it can do a more comprehensive 9-point probe, testing the corners, edges and center of the bed. I have to say I’m impressed by both the quality of the device and the responsiveness of the creators of the probe. According to Charles Lee, the BLTouch is now being offered on eBay for $33.00 plus shipping and requests can be made for bulk orders. All in all this seems like a really good deal, a little auto leveling probe that has just the right touch.