The most wanted 3d printer upgrade for Ender-3 is implementing a direct-drive toolhead. The latest Ender-3 S1/S1 Pro machines are equipped with a direct dual-drive extruder, however, there are thousands of previous generations running Bowden extruders. This article is reviewing the 3 best upgrade options for the original Ender-3, Ender-3 Pro, Ender-3 V2/Neo, and Ender3 Max.
Why upgrade to a direct-drive toolhead?
Bowden or direct? Both setups have advantages and drawbacks. Bowden extruders allow using lighter toolheads and achieve a higher speed/print quality ratio. Direct extruders give you more control (small retractions, fast reaction), and better handling of TPU and flexible filaments. Their speed/print quality ratio depends directly on their weight. Less weight equals higher print quality at the same speed.
This means our criteria to define the top 3 direct drive toolheads for Ender-3 are primarily based on the weight, but also on the extruder and cooling performance.
1. Sprite direct toolhead
Sprite is the stock toolhead used on Ender-3 S1 and S1 Pro 3d printers. This is a Creality product and is also sold as an upgrade for older machines. Upgrading to the Official Sprite Extruder is the easiest modification and Creality made it as simple as possible to implement.
At only 288g, the Sprite direct-drive toolhead is an easy upgrade for users that value stock and supported products. Relatively light, it delivers modern extruder/hotend/part cooling performance, superior print quality, and the ability to print flexible filaments.
2. Apogee ToolHead
The Apogee direct-drive toolhead is a DIY device for more advanced users. The Apogee project is sponsored by the stepper motor manufacturer LDO. It seems influenced by VoronDesign concepts and it targets the whole Ender-3 printer. Its first stage is to deliver powerful direct toolhead design. In the pipeline are also upgrades to linear rails and belt-driven Z axis (similar to Voron Switchwire). So, if you have a more holistic approach to Ender3 enhancements, check out Apogee.
The Apogee toolhead is relying on the new Orbiter V2.0 dual-drive extruder. It supports the stock Creality MK8, but also more advanced hotends like Dragonfly BMS, Rapido HF, E3D Revo Voron edition, Slice Mosquito, and Microswiss MK8.
3. Trianglelab DDE V2.0 TBG
The DDE from Trianglelab is a 3d printed modular toolhead. It supports E3D V6 or Rapido HF hotends. For ABL could be mounted a touch probe or inductive sensor. The direct extruder could be TBG Lite, Orbiter V2.0, or a BMG dual-gear extruder. In our top 3 chart, we considered the version with TBG Lite extruder. It is a dual-drive extruder with large gears, which provides excellent grip and torque.
Trianglelab is selling all components including 3d printed parts and provides installation manual. Check the current price here.
Sprite, Apogee and DDE are the 3 top recommendations for upgrading your Ender3 to direct-drive extruder. All of them are supported, documented and relatively easy to install. Ender3 community is huge, and you’ll find many other user-contributed toolhead designs on Thingivers.
Considerations when upgrading to direct-drive Ender3 toolhead
Direct toolheads are heavier than bowden because they integrate the extruder stepper motor. For Ender-3 models supplied with single Z motor is advisable to implement a second Z-axis lead screw. Creality is selling an official Dual-Z upgrade kit for Ender-3, Ender3 Pro and Ender V2, which is the easiest way to reinforce your gantry.
During the direct-drive upgrade you will have to install a new cable (Sprite) or to extend wires for the other toolheads. It is good time to consider upgrading your stock motherboard to a modern one. Such upgrade will give you more control options over your machine, UART, silent stepper drivers and other goodies. Check the 2 control boards we recommend for older Ender-3 printers..
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