Modified: 02th Jun 13 |

Leapfrog Creatr Review

Before ordering the 3d printer, I had been investigating just about everything about 3d printing. As well as what the ideal 3d printer would be for me. First of all the playing field was narrowed quite a lot, because one of my primary criteria was that it should be bought from an European country, simply because I did not want to deal with all kinds of extra taxes on imported stuff.

Secondly, the printer should consist of "honest materials". What I mean with that, is that the materials of the printers should be possible to use for something even if the printer break, or rather, it should be possible to find materials to fix the printer with, even after it has gone out of production. the reason for that, is primarily that I don't necessarily want the printer to always be a printer. I might want to modify it into something slightly different, say a CNC machine.

I had my eyes on a few printers after those criteria were filled, but my choice finally landed on Leapfrog Creatr, even though there were no reviews of it at the time of purchase, nor were there any community. The latter didn't mean much to me anyways, I'm rather capable of fixing whatever problems there might arise regarding the Leapfrog Creatr, (that was a requirement, honest materials).

I did find descriptions of some problems people have had with the Leapfrog Creatr, mainly there were three major problems, but according to announcements from Leapfrog, all those known problems had been fixed. The most recent was about some Z-axis wobble, that had been fixed by using proper spindles instead of threaded rods. Leapfrog had announced in November 2012 that all printers from there on out would have the new spindles. The lack of proper spindles was the only real deal-breaker I had with the images on their website at the time. So when I found that announcement I had no reason to hold back.

Problematic Ordering Process:

So I decided to order the Leapfrog Creatr 3d printer on January 20th 2013. When I order something rather expensive, I always make sure that there's a good chance I don't lose my money in the case I don't get what I ordered. So the first thing I took note on, was the fact that I could pay with credit-card (which ensures that I can request my money back, in case of problems).

Paying with Credit card failed:

It then later turns out that paying with credit card is really going on through PayPal so I had to create an account there. It was already getting kind of shady at this point, but since I spent so much time deciding that this was the printer I wanted, I went through the PayPal stuff, despite the fact that it removes all my rights to get my money back.

As it turned out after I created the account, and attempted to pay, it said that I could not pay an amount greater than 1100 EUR through Paypal, unless I had went through some special verification which could take weeks. Notice that the basis price of the cheapest printer you can get from Leapfrog is 1250 EUR, and then put shipping and 21% tax on top of that, you are well beyond 1100 EUR. So the phony credit-card option, which was really a Paypal option, was utterly useless.

Problematic bank transfer

Since the Credit Card payment turned out to be impossible, the only real option was to pay with bank transfer. I scheduled the transfer Sunday, January 20th. And already the day after, I received a receipt from my bank, that they had processed the transfer.

It is possible to track the progress of the order on Leapfrog's website. So I clicked in to see my order, where the "Status" said "On-hold". I was very excited to receive my new printer so I logged into the website several times a day, to see if the status changed.

When I ordered the printer on the website, it said "In stock" and "Delivery: 1 week". So when my status was still "On-hold" Wednesday January 23rd at lunchtime, I decided to write an email and asked if they received my payment yet (especially since my bank had already processed the transfer two days ago.

Extremely long response times

As it turned out, I had to wait all the way until Friday the 25th at around 10 in the morning, before I got any response from Leapfrog. Instead of telling me if they received payment according to the descriptions, they instead decided to ask me "Could you tell me by what name you made the transfer", while not providing me any information whatsoever.

I was on a skiing trip at this point, so I didn't get to respond until late that Friday. But obviously my answer to that stupid question was that I performed the transfer exactly according to their own descriptions, which among others include the order number in the message field of the transfer. Which was also included in the mail that I was responding to. So really they should have all the information to answer the simple question "did you receive the money?". I got to send them a clarifying email over the weekend, just in case they had no clue what my order number is.

Tuesday January 29th after lunch, I decided to write yet another email asking them if they are ever going to reply to my previous emails. I could still see the status "On-hold" on the website. As it then turns out, they responded within a couple of hours.

What they said is that they received payment January 22nd, from "Software Developer", and they asked me if that was my name, are you kidding me? I have absolutely no clue why they didn't just use the included order number to correlate me with the transfer. But then it makes no sense to me why my bank would put my professional title into the bank transfer as if it was my name either, certainly that wasn't how it looked in the receipt I received form my bank th 21st.

In the email, Leapfrog also mentioned that they'd ship the printer by the end of the week. Notice that it is now already a full week since they received payment. Yet they still want to wait another 4 days before actually shipping the printer!


I was constantly checking the website for status changes, yet the status was still "On-hold" despite they confirmed that they had received payment.

However, I decided to send yet another email Friday February 1st at around 3 o'clock, asking them if they had shipped the printer, since they promised to have it shipped by the end of that week.

After two hours with no response, I decided to call Leapfrog, because I was getting rather disappointed and impatient with them. And they explained to me that they just shipped the printer that day, and they said that they already sent me an email telling me that (no they did not!). I asked for a tracking number, but they explained that they did not ship the printer with UPS (Which their website clearly stated when I paid for shipment).

Anyways, the person I talked to, said that the printer would ship Thursday the following week. We agreed that he would call the shipping company and ask at what time of the say, the printer would arrive at my address., and then send me an email with the time.

Package arrived! - Not quite what I ordered

On Thursday February 7th the printer arrived indeed! However I had decided to take that entire day off, simply because I didn't trust that Leapfrog would actually send me a mail with the shipping time (and they didn't).

But at least I finally knew that I had not just lost 2200 EUR to some scammer.

So I unpacked this huge wooden box, that indeed contained a printer. It did however not take me long to notice that this was not the printer I ordered!

The problem was mainly with the fact that this printer did not have the spindles that would solve problems with the Z-axis wobble. At this point, it was more than 2 months ago, that it was announced that all printers would come with these spindles!

I immediately wrote an email to Leapfrog, complaining that my printer did not have the spindles. And for the first time in all correspondence with Leapfrog, they actually answered that same day.

Clearly I was too excited to finally have received my printer, that I told them that I would be able to put the spindles in, as long as they sent me the materials needed. Just the following day (Friday February 8th) I received an email that they had shipped the spindles with UPS. they also provided me with an email address I could use if i needed support.

I did check and verify that all of the electronics was working as expected, and it did. I did however also notice that the panels on the side of the printer were offset unevenly from the frame, which puzzled me a bit. I would have expected that a piece of precision machinery would have been built with precision and attention to details (more on this later).

New spindles

Wednesday 13th I had the new spindles. To my surprise, they did not send me a new aluminum sheet for the print-bed. I would have expected that, since we agreed that should send me the materials to make this work.

The new spindles does not fit though the original print bed in any possible way, without first drilling new holes for everything!

At this point it was 3½ week ago I ordered the printer, and Leapfrog had been almost impossible to communicate with the entire time, so I decided to go buy some new drills for drilling the 20mm holes needed to fit the new spindles.

Friday February 15th I managed to find a shop that had the drills I needed. But after inspecting the spindles over the weekend, it was clear to me, that they would not work out of the box. The pitch of the new spindles is much greater than the pitch on the threaded rods. This effectively means that the spindles needed firmware support.

New firmware required

I searched Leapfrog's website for links to their firmware, but found nothing. Google did not seem to be able to help either, so I wrote an email to Leapfrog Monday 18th of February before lunch, asking them to send me some new firmware that would support the spindles they sent me.

Unsurprisingly they didn't answer that email until Friday February 22nd. It just always takes one full work week for these guys to answer even the simplest of questions.

In their answer they included a zip-file with firmware source code (seemed to be a modification of rep-rap source code) and a short two page pdf-file describing how to use the Arduino IDE to upload the firmware to the printer.

I tested this out immediately, because I would effectively have wasted my time, if the firmware wouldn't work, after i installed the spindles. Fortunately the firmware uploaded correctly, and indeed seemed to have the effect that the pitch for the Z-axis is corrected. So I could now safely begin to install the new spindles.

In the email from Leapfrog, they also mentioned: "You should open the printer from the top by removing the top. Would come in handy to remove the left and right housing cover for better access. Now you should be able to remove the top bearing-houses attached to the aluminium profiles to the front. After removing those you should be able to mount the spindles. You can always loosen the other bearing houses to lower them, which should give you more space."

Helpful advice indeed.

Poor quality assembly

There is one major issue with the machine, other than with the spindles. And that is, that the cables that goes up above the print-platform (to the X-axis and extruder) are getting jammed in the inner left corner of the aluminum print-bed, in the space where the Z-axis homing sensor is located.

This means, that when you print something where there is some long travelling on the Y-axis, then the cable will get caught in that corner, and the printer will freak out. And on top of that, the two Y-axis bearings will be jerked away from each other, which is a rather big stress on the machine.

To prevent this, I will split up the bundle of cables going up above the print-bed into two bundles, one bundle goes to the extruder, and another bundle goes to the switches and the X-axis motor. The cable going to the X-axis motor is now supposed to fall over the left edge of the build platform instead of falling over the back edge of the build platform. The cable for the extruders will still fall over the back edge of the build platform, but it is also too stiff to really get caught in the left inner corner.


So, to make this modification, I took off the shield to the electronics. It all looked rather good under there, except the huge mess of cables that was just stripped randomly together, with no sense of were they went. also. When I attempted to sort out the wires, it was clear to me that the wires weren't attached in a modular manner. For instance, It was as if one wire going from the extruder head was first attached to the electronics board, then another wire from the print-bed, and another wire from the X-axis positioning. I spent an hour before I realized that I had to unplug cables before I could group them together cleanly.

Anyways, I managed to get the wire jungle sorted out and split the cable I wanted to split.

I will note that printer is using a RAMPS v1.4 (Reprap Arduino Mega Pololu Shield) controller board for controlling everything. However, the female print headers had been removed, and the wires for the stepper drivers had been soldered directly onto the board. I have no idea why anyone would do that. I looked up that this particular board should have come with those female headers, so they had indeed been removed. This just adds to the shady assembly. However, I was delighted that the control electronics is all open source (GPL) "off the shelf" electronics. So if any of it burns it is both easy to get new, and easy to figure out exactly how it works, so it can be repaired. Again, this was one of my requirements in the first place.

The stepper motor drivers FIXME!

Power supply is a WeiHao S-400-24, 400w 24volt. And if you haven't guessed from the brand name, this is a Chinese brand. According to specification, it has a full load efficiency of 81%. This means that the power supply could draw a maximum 493.8 watts of power from your wall socket, assuming that the rest of the electronics actually draws 400 watts.

Power consumption: FIXME!


After fiddling with the wires, I took the left and right side panel off, as well as the top, and begun detaching the glass print-bed from the aluminum print-bed. After numerous steps of loosening and sliding and detaching various things, I had finally detached the aluminum print-bed, and gotten all of the threaded rods removed. I managed to do all of this without loosening any part of the X/Y-axis stuff.

If stuff wasn't already going downhill, it certainly started to from now on.

It was time for me to start drilling new holes in the aluminum print-bed, to accommodate the new spindles. Because Leapfrog did not send me a new aluminum sheet, which I had considered to be a matter of course. Anyways, here I was, and I begun planning in my head how I was going to do this, while ensuring that the machinery would operate with precision after I was done. It was clear that I needed to drill 20mm holes to provide sufficient clearing, for the 16mm spindles (the old threaded rods were only 8mm, so the sheet already had 12mm holes that I just needed to drill out. The two front holes would not seem to pose any problem, but the third hole would not even be able to fit on the aluminum sheet, because the existing hole is too close to the edge. The major problem with this, is that if I attempted to drill a 20mm hole, then the drill would get caught up in the open edge, and would likely break something. However, if I drill a 18mm hole, then I would have exactly 1mm of clearing form the edge, and then I might be able to use a saw to cut the 1mm away, and then use a drill to drill out the rest of the way, with no fear of the drill getting caught.

Before doing any kind of drilling, I also wanted to make sure that the new spindles would fit in. At this point, it didn't really surprise me that the helix part of the spindles, were too long to fit in between the two aluminum blocks just behind the front of the printer. The two top aluminum blocks both allowed to be moved an additional millimeter upwards, before getting stopped by the Y-axis control rod mount. So I took of the two top aluminum blocks, and tried to see if the ball spindles would fit, when given the additional space. But even that was not enough space.

Bend top metal sheet

Since the spindles could not fit, I had to move the XY control frame up, which meant that I had to remove the very top metal sheet and the two motors controlling the Y axis, before I could even begin to loosen the XY control frame. The first thing that puzzled me was, that the top sheet turned out to be bent, as if something very heavy had been put on top of the printer, before the sides were attached. This obviously causes the distance from the far back screw holes and the far front screw holes, to be shorter than designed for. Which in turn, means that the entire front assembly will be pulled closer to the back. which would cause the tooth belts to be sloppy (and they are).

However, I could not easily fix this, because this top sheet is made from pretty thick metal, and is very strong. Which is the primary reason I was puzzled about this. I'm guessing that there have been 200 kg on this, to make it bent. the bend is not easily noticed, when the printer is assembled, but when the metal sheet is on its own, it is a rather significant bend.

XY control rod frame

Once the top sheet was removed, I first noticed how each corner of the XY control frame, was offset by different distance, from the very top plane of the outer frame of the printer. In particular, the corners of one diagonal was lower than the corner of the other diagonal, which means that the XY control rods does not even span a straight plane. It spans a curved plane, which also explains why I have had so much difficulty calibrating the built platform.

In essence, suppose we label the corners of a sheet of paper as A, B, C and D, in a clockwise manner. Then suppose we calibrate the build platform near corner A. Then afterwards near corner B, and lastly C. Then all is good. # points in space spans a plane. But! we also have a corner D, which would automatically be perfectly calibrated, if the managed to calibrate all other three corners. At least if both the build platform is completely straight, as well as the plane spanned by the XY control rods. But this was not the case, corner D of the control rod assembly, was raised above the plane spanned by corner A, B and C.

Something like this is just utterly sloppy construction. And it's certain that these things haven't moved since shipment, because the bolts holding this were tightened so hard that the outer frame was deformed, making it extremely hard to adjust the heights of these corners into the same plane. Because the deformed frame would make the screws jump into the same positions at they had before. However, after much work, I managed to adjust it all into the same plane, and tighten the screws sufficiently.

Tight bearings

since I had removed the motors controlling the Y axis, I noticed that the left hand bearing on the Y axis was rather tight, and even so the aluminum assembly surrounding it, was not even tightened properly. the on on the left was alright. I first believed that the bearing was moving poorly because the screws on the surrounding aluminum assembly were not tightened equally, causing some kind of stresses in the bearing. But as I begun tightening the screws, the movement along the Y axis quickly became much much worse. After tinkering a lot with this, loosening and tightening the screws in various ways, I decided to take it completely apart, so I loosened all the screws around the bearing. Just as I was loosening the last screw, I noticed that the bearing was moving along the rod, in the same direction as I was turning the screw, and it was obvious that this screw was touching the control rod. Then I tightened it all up a bit again, and confirmed that pretty much all of the vertical screws touched the control rod. I then checked the same thing for the left side, and if I just turned one screw, it too would touch the control rod on the left side.

After much speculation, I figured that the solution would be to remove the threading on the screws, at the area where they touch the control rod. so I sanded off of all eight vertical screws, until none of them touched the control rods. Tightened the assemblies around the bearings, and all worked just as you would have expected from proper design. At this point, this wasn't not just poor construction, this was directly poor design, and my appointment reached new heights. I was however happy that I found this problem, before these screws would have completely destroyed the control rods. /they already had made some noticeable marks on the right hand Y axis control rod.

Assembling the printer

Now that the XY control frame was raised, and adjusted into a proper straight plane, I could finally start putting stuff together again, but yes, you guessed it, there were plenty of problems to be discovered still.

Fitting the ball spindles

Before inserting the entire build platform + spindles, I had to attach the aluminum gears for the tooth band, on each of the three spindles. This turned out to reveal that the ball spindles I had received were not new. they had clearly been detached from something in a rather abusive manner. How did I figure?

the two shorter ball spindles were reasonably easily fitted with the aluminum gears. However, the longer spindle at the back, instantly gave huge problems, because there were a deformation (dent) at the very bottom of the spindle. This made it almost impossible to slide the two gears onto the spindle. But there was only one way, the gear had to go onto the spindle, and once it did, it had carved a groove through the two aluminum gears. There were more dents along the length of the long spindles as well, which confirmed to me that this was a used and abused spindle. Seating the spindle into the bottom ball bearing, was no walk in the park either, because of this serious dent.

In hardened steel like these ball spindles, you'd have to take a pretty good swing to make dents like these. These dents doesn't come just by accident. Unless a forklift accidentally drops another forklift on the spindles.

Shearing frame

After finally getting the build platform, along with the ball-bearings installed, I noticed that the the tooth bands were rather sloppy, as I was installing the two Y axis motors again. Even after having tightened the bands as much as I could with the motor mounts. they were still sloppy. This could be because I actually adjusted each of the corners of the XY control frame to the same height, causing the distance between each corner to be minimal, and therefore causing the bands to be more sloppy. At the same time, I noticed that the front rollers for the Y axis tooth bands, were misaligned by several millimeters, in relation to the center of the Y axis rods, causing stress on the rubber band, as the X axis assembly is moving towards the front. This seem to simply be caused by the bolts being too short, and I could not easily fix this, so I left it as is.

At some point I also decided to measure various lengths and relations, and found that the four outer vertical aluminum profiles were actually not even parallel. The two diagonals (measured from the side of the printer, lower front, to top back, and top front to lower back) was differing by more than five millimeters. This effectively causes anything you print, to also lean or twist along the same paths that the vertical profiles lean. There is really nothing I can do about this, other than trying to force it into place, with the side panels.

But, since it was necessary to move the aluminum blocks holding the top of the two front spindles, the screw holes for the side panels were now offset by a few millimeters. And I don't have the equipment to thread two new holes. I decided to attempt to drill new holes anyways, and just drill them small enough that the thread of the screws would still cut into the aluminum. But this was impossible, because the new holes had to be too close to the old holes. So, for now, the side panels have not been properly attached.

All of this also causes stresses on the ball spindles. because the build platform will try to push back, as the top sheet is trying (and succeeding) to pull the vertical front profiles, closer to the vertical back profiles. If the side panels could be tightened in, they would take much of this stress, as well as force the frame parallel.

So all in all, the printer is still not quite fit for precision printing.


Further problems

curved glass platform

A few weeks after having assembled the printer, I was getting ready to try make something serious. So I started calibrating the build platform. This seemed to not be quite as easy as it should have been, especially since the XY frame was now perfectly adjusted. What I found was, that the glass sheet was actually curving! That is, the glass sheet is not planar. In particular it is curving downward at about 7cm near each of the four edges of the glass sheet. But suppose we cut 7cm off of each edge of the glass sheet, the rest seem to be fairly level. it does curve a bit still, but this is within reasonable expectation.

The outer 7cm of the glass sheet are however useless, as the glass curves so much that the edge is nearly one millimeter below that of the center of the glass. I have absolutely no clue if this is by design, or if it is a problem with just my sheet of glass.

Print speed

Another problem, that might seem less obvious, is the fact that the printer operates at a significantly lower speed than you would have expected from reading the specifications. The specifications state a "production speed" of 2 cubic centimeters per minute. That is approximately 2 grams per minute. My prints, so far have yielded up to 10 grams per hour, production speed. That is only 0.16 cubic centimeters per minute. Which in hard numbers are only one twelfth the speed of what was specified.

Print size

In addition, the ball spindles cause the print height to be reduced to 20cm, compared to the specified 22cm. And as if that wasn't enough, the Y axis cannot actually move further back than 26cm, compared to the specified 27cm, simply because, the extruder motors will collide with the Y axis motors, and this will make an awful noise, as well as stressing the already wobbly X axis assembly.

Print precision

poorly calibrated extruder speed, and positioning. I had to spend additional hours upon hours getting the extruder speed just right. And at that, I've only currently calibrated the primary extruder. With regards to the positioning capability, the spec says that this printer is capable of 0.05mm positioning accuracy on the XY axes. Fortunately it turns out to not even be within 1.5mm of accuracy. I wanted to print a box, with inner dimension of exactly 190mm of length (along the X axis). After the print was done, the resulting length was just about 188mm. The same box should have an inner width (along the Y axis) of 53mm. This width turned out to be be nearly 52mm when print was done. These measurements were done near the first layer, so as to not be influenced by possible warping.


In short, I would strongly advise you to not do business with Leapfrog. One thing is the very poor communication, and the one month long feeling that you can't do anything, but hope that these guys didn't just rip you off.

But an entirely other thing is, that you do not at all get what you thought you paid for, not even in the end. The primary reason I got this printer was because of the supposedly quality components, and quality construction. Mostly because I knew that I could fix most of everything else myself.

The components are largely what I would call quality. It is  a big shame though, that I did not get the proper spindles in the first place, and once I did, they had been abused. I'm not too happy about the lack of a proper aluminum sheet for the build platform, to accommodate the correct spindles. And I'm still very puzzled about how they managed to bend the strong top sheet. Maybe I will someday managed to get it straightened out.

So far I have yet to find out of the curved glass sheet is curved on purpose, and to be frank, It would probably take a month before Leapfrog would return with an answer if I asked them. And even if I did get them to send me a planar glass sheet, it would probably arrive in pieces, after they dropped a forklift on it.

Considering the amount of time I have spent in my attempts to turn this into a somewhat respectable printer, I could probably have assembled two of them, from the ground up. The fact that this thing is already assembled and "calibrated" is actually worse than if they just didn't attempt at all. If I had known that I would get it like this, I would certainly rather have gotten a bunch of pieces and assembled it myself. They clearly did not put anywhere near the necessary amount of effort into assembling this thing, to be working smoothly. And considering how tightly they tightened the screws on this thing, there is absolutely no chance that the transportation could have caused half of the problems I found. Its just plain sloppy construction.

My advice would be to look elsewhere for a quality printer. And possibly, in any case, get it as a kit to assemble yourself.

If you're only really looking for some quality components, and are keen on rebuilding the printer after fixing all the bad construction and calibration and what not, then this printer might actually be for you, if you think the price is right.

Now five months after I ordered this printer, I have yet to see it make an accurate print. And to be quite honest, the abysmal production speed, combined with the loud noise, does not at all encourage me to want to use the printer.