Converting your Ender 3 to direct drive is one of the cheapest and coolest upgrades you can make to an Ender 3.
The simpest way to convert an Ender 3 to direct drive is by 3D printing a direct drive motor mount and installing it to your 3D printer with the existing tools and componants. The process of converting your printer is fairly simple and only takes about 30 minutes.
What You Will Need To Convert Your Ender 3 To Direct Drive.
- Direct Drive Motor Mount.
- Tools. (From Ender 3 Kit)
- Bowden Tube. (Cut To Length)
- Small Knob. (Optional)
- Pancake Stepper Motor. (Optional)
The conversion for an Ender 3 from bowden style extrusion to direct drive only requires one 3D printed part and a few tools that came with the 3D printer.
Considering you only need a few cents worth of filament for this conversion it is one of the cheapest upgrades you can do to your 3D printer.
Step 1 – Print Direct Drive Motor Mount.
While your printer is still assembled you will want to print the direct drive motor mount. There are other direct drive kits that you can buy on the internet, like the Micro-Swiss Direct Drive Kit and the Creality Direct Drive Upgrade Kit, but I don’t see a real advantage to buying a kit over just printing one at home.
It is an advantage that the Micro-Swiss kit comes with an all-metal hot end (which is another upgrade that I definitely recommend) but it would be cheaper overall to just buy the Micro-Swiss all-metal hot end and then 3D print the direct drive motor mount for the conversion (which is exactly what I did).
If you want some help installing the Micro-Swiss all-metal hot end check out my tutorial.
I printed the small knob because the stock knob doesnt leave a lot of space for you to turn it with your fingers in the direct drive orientation.
Step 2 – Remove Fan Shroud.
Remove the fan shroud by removing the screws that hold it in place. For my printer, I am using the Satsana Fan Shroud (not because I am trying to be fancy, my fan shroud broke from excessive use) so I have 2 screws holding my shroud on, but a normal Ender 3V2 will only have 1 screw holding the shroud on.
Step 3 – Remove Bowden Tube.
Remove the bowden tube from the hot end and the extruder. Remove the clips that hold the bowden tube in place then press down on the coupler to release the bowden tube.
You will need to cut a small piece from the bowden tube later for the direct drive extruder, but for now, you can just place this to the side.
Step 4 – Disconnect Motor.
Disconnect the motor by removing the ribbon cable from the side of the motor. You do not necessarily need to do this step but it definitely makes the process a lot easier when you need to reattach the motor to the direct drive mount.
I am also replacing my printer’s motor with a pancake stepper motor because it reduces the weight of the motor by over 50%, from 292 grams to 132 grams. This huge reduction in weight will reduce Z banding as well as allow higher printing speeds, which are a common side effect of heavy printer heads.
Step 5 – Remove Extruder and Extruder Motor.
Remove the extruder and the extruder motor by removing the 4 bolts holding the parts together. There is nothing else supporting the extruder motor to the frame so make sure that you support the motor as you remove the last bolt.
Step 6 – Disassemble X-Axis.
There are two bolts that run through the head, a spacer, a guide wheel, and into a nut. You will need to remove the bolts that hold the head to the X-axis so that we can install the direct drive motor mount to the head.
Step 7 – Install Spacers Into Direct Drive Motor Mount.
Press the spacers into the motor mount. You might need a pair of pliers to press the spacers into the 3D printed motor mount but for my print, the spacers went in fairly easily.
Step 8 – Reassemble X-Axis.
Reassemble the X-Axis exactly the same way it was disassembled except this time the motor mount will be attached to the head.
Step 9 – Install Bowden Tube To Heatsink.
Install your bowden tube to the heatsink. If you are using the stock hot end on the Ender 3 it is really important that the bowden tube is seated properly against the nozzle. Press the bowden tube firmly into the hot end and lock it in place with the coupler collar.
It is okay if your tube is still full size you will be cutting it in the next step.
Step 10 – Cut Bowden Tube To Length.
Measure the bowden tube to the right length by placing the extruder against the mount and making a mark on the bowden tube at approximately the right length. You can always cut this again if you mess up, you should have plenty of tube for mistakes.
For my printer with a Micro-Swiss all-metal hot end, the bowden tube was almost exactly 1.5” long. For the stock hot end, the bowden tube will likely need to be longer.
Step 11 – Connect The Bowden Tube To the Extruder.
Connect the bowden tube to the extruder. The connection from the bowden tube to the extruder does not need to be as accurate as the connection from the bowden tube to the hot end.
If the bowden tube is not perfectly seated against the extruder it is not that big of a deal, and will not affect the way the 3D printer functions.
Lock the bowden tube in to place with the collar on the coupler.
Step 12 – Connect The Extruder Motor To the Extruder.
Connect the extruder motor to the extruder with the four bolts that you previously removed. The connection for the ribbon cable should be facing toward the ceiling.
Step 13 – Replace Fan Shroud.
Replace the fan shroud with the four bolts that you previously removed.
Step 14 – Reconnect Motor.
Reconnect the motor by inserting the ribbon cable that you disconnected previously. There is only one orientation that the ribbon cable will go into the motor so this should be fairly straightforward.
Step 15 – Calibrate E Steps.
It is important that any time you make a change to your hot end you calibrate your E Steps. The extruder steps per mm might be slightly for each motor so calibrating your E-Steps is really the key to correct filament extrusion through your hot end.
If you need help calibrating your E Steps follow my guide and calculator for calibrating your e steps. How To Calibrate Your E-Steps. Simple guide and calculator.
I was getting some skipping on my extruder when I was calibrating my E Steps so to fix the issue I snipped off one coil from the spring with a pair of wire cutters to reduce the amount of force that was being applied from the filament guide to the extruder gear. This solution did resolve my extruder skipping issue.
Is Converting Your Ender 3 To Direct Drive Actually An Upgrade?
If you convert your Ender 3 to direct drive with the stock extruder motor there are real negative side effects due to the weight of the motor.
To get the best results you need to spend the extra $10 to upgrade the stepper motor to the much lighter pancake stepper motor. The pancake stepper motor will reduce weight to the head which will reduce z banding and other print issues in the future.
What Is The Benefit Of Direct Drive On An Ender 3?
Direct drive on an Ender 3 is great for retraction accuracy as well as printing flexible filaments such as TPU. The only drawback of direct drive on an Ender 3 is the added weight to the head of the 3D printer that can lead to Z banding and slower print speeds.
For all the pros and cons of direct drive check out, What Are The Benefits Of A Direct Drive 3D Printer?
The direct-drive Ender 3 conversion is a great cheap upgrade for the Ender 3 that can improve print quality as well as print stringing. The only con to direct drive is the additional weight added to the head which can lead to Z banding and can be fixed by using a lighter stepper motor.