Is it even possible? On a budget? As all my printers reside in the same room I use for recording my videos, exploring options to turn my Ender 3 v2 into a silent 3D printer got my attention lately. Adding a water-cooled extruder H2O to my printer was just the beginning of the experiment. It’s time to tackle the noise and change my Ender 3 printers into silent 3D printing machines!
Solutions to noise problems
Turns out, there are 2 companies that also care a lot about noise levels in your 3D printing den. Noctua – famous for silent fans made for computer equipment and BIQU, manufacturer of 3D printers, silent controller boards and printing accessories. They both loved the idea and are footing the bill for this project. Noctua sent me their best fans to test, BIQU arranged for the best accessories to put a muzzle on the Ender3 series. So check both out!
Why silent 3D printing?
Some of you will move 3d printers to another room, others will make enclosures to tackle the constant noise from the fans and the whine of the stepper motors. Both are valid paths to achieving the inner nirvana, but not everyone has the dedicated space to organise their hobby.
It’s simply more economical to reduce noise than to acquire additional living space. If you think that making your own enclosures is the answer to your problem, extra space considerations aside, the cost of making one that is also sound insulated add up quicker than you think. While I do have several IKEA Lack tables to complete my take on budget enclosures, I can already tell, that the closing budget for one, won’t end with a £6 table purchase price.
To achieve silent 3D printing I will have to look at possible modifications to all the noise sources on my Ender 3 machines. This means fan upgrades, mods, new control boards and even a water-cooled extruder!
Silent 3D Printing for any budget
I can definitely throw money at the problem, but we buy budget printers for a reason. Often strapped for cash, the printers of our choice are often inexpensive, so I’m going to split my experiment into stages.
I will start with stock Ender 3 and Ender 3 v2 adding elements step by step and noting results. It should give me a good overview of what upgrades bring meaningful changes and what modifications are a waste of money and time. This way, you don’t have to empty your wallet to bring the noise level down, and you can achieve silent 3D printing which matches your budget.
I already know, that at the top tier, this will turn into an expensive endeavour and the top end configuration (with marginal gains) easily doubles the value of the printer in upgrades. Read on, and you will find out what works best. I have added a brief index below if you just want to jump to specific configurations, but I strongly recommend you read along, as I write this not knowing how the experiment will unfold.
To evaluate my success (other than sitting in front of the silent 3D printer and staring at it proudly), and provide you with some, hopefully meaningful, data, I will record the operation sounds at the same volume level with the microphone in the same position. I will also measure the noise level. While these won’t be extremely accurate, they should give you a perspective on how far you can take silent 3D printing.
I mentioned, that I will use two Creality 3D printers from the Ender 3 series: the original Ender 3 running a stock 1.2 board and Ender 3 v2 equipped with a 4.2.2 controller. These will also run firmware provided by Creality in my first run before I switch to Marlin 2.0 to compile firmware that accounts for all modifications.
Noctua fans to the rescue
One of the most common pieces of advice online is to swap fans for the quieter ones – preferably from Noctua. That’s what I did for both of my printers. As Noctua doesn’t have a 40mm fan in a blower configuration to replace the part cooling fan, I will keep the original ones installed for now.
I’m also keeping this as simple as possible, however, the 60mm Noctua fan is 25mm deep, which won’t fit inside the power supply. Fine, I can mount the fan on the outside, it won’t look as pretty. This approach works well, but if you have a bigger power supply, you can also consider two 90mm (NF-A9x14 PWM) fans crammed onto the top surface of your power supply. I could fix the rather industrial look of this configuration by 3D printing a custom cover to hide the fans, but for now, I will continue with the barebone look.
I need to replace the following fans: a 40mm extruder fan, a 40mm case fan (NF-A4x10-PWM), and a 60mm (NF-A6x25-PWM) PSU fan. As Noctua fans run on a 12v power supply, I will need one stepdown driver (LM2596S DC-DC) and I will take the advantage of the Noctua NA-FC1 module to see what fan speed I can get away with.
Ender 3 (stock)
To complete the changeover, you will need 2 M3x12mm screws to fit the case fan, the rest can be re-used. While the extruder and case fans are pretty easy to swap, the 60mm PSU fan is only 15mm wide and the Noctua NF-A6x25-PWM is 25mm wide, some slight modifications must be made.
As the PSU fan won’t fit inside, I will cut out the grill from the enclosure and attach my fan from the outside. It won’t be pretty, but I can use existing screw holes this way and the looks can be fixed later with a 3D printer cover.
As Noctua fans need a 12V supply, I have to add the LM2596S DC-DC stepdown regulator. You can feed the power from either PSU terminals or a 24V fan connector inside. The warning on the enclosure that the fan switches on when needed is made up. The power is supplied all the time – at least on my model. The easiest place to put the 24V-12V stepdown is to drill a couple of mounting holes into the top plate of the power supply and mount the PCB using 10mm stand-offs.
TOTAL: £45 (approx)
I did not see that coming
After installing all fans I discovered something rather obvious and disappointing. The noise didn’t go down that much. While the fans on the bench were next to silent, the overall noise didn’t go down that much. Why? I removed all fans to find out.
Turns out that, apart from the infamous coil whine of the stepper motors associated with the original Creality board on Ender 3, you have to factor in a loud current chopping when steppers use holding torque.
That’s a bust! It’s not a mod I would advise Ender 3 owners unless you are willing to get a silent board as well. A cost that will add an extra $20-$40. As I already have one – that’s my next step. I will install the BigTreeTech SKR Mini E3 v1.2 – I’m saving BigTreeTech SKR Mini E3 v3.0 for my Ender 3v2.
Before I do that, I will run a 2h print with the extruder fan set at 50% to see if I can notice any heat creep. It’s my biggest concern at this point, as I have not used the Noctua fans, and with the reduced flow (compared to stock fans) I was worried that it could affect the print. I’m not doing this for sound benefits, as at this point the default board is so loud, that running the fans at 100% hardly makes any difference.
Ender 3 + BigTreeTech SKR Mini E3 v2
It’s time to step the mod a notch. I already have the fans in place, so I will add a silent board from BigTreeTech: SKR Mini E3 v1.2. It’s not the latest one, but it’s the one I had been running for ages and I have it at hand. If you are looking at getting the latest version (also the quietest one) go for SKR Mini E3 v3.0 instead.
With the board swapped and pretty much the same configuration I’m ready for testing. With all Noctua fans set to 50%, the printer is very quiet. I sit about 1 m away at my desk with the printer turned on and steppers enabled and I can’t tell if the printer is turned on or not. It paid off! I’m going to queue up the print next, record my findings and see how much noise the 3D printer makes in action.
Everything is almost silent. With fans set to 50%, a silent motherboard and cooling part fan are disabled (until the 3rd layer). It’s a wonderful change! I’m digging this already, and I still have things that I can improve. The cooling part fan will be next, with extra mods for the PSU fan.
TOTAL: £80 (approx)
Ender 3 v2 going all Noctua
Ender 3 v2 already comes with a quiet board (Creality 4.2.2), so I’m expecting the Noctua fans to help a lot. However, there is a problem. The back-mounted power supply is hard to get to, and there is no easy way of adding a fan to it.
Option 1 is to hack the heck out of the metal sheet work enclosing the PSU unit and try to fit either a single 60mm fan or dual 90mm fans with a slimmer profile. Or drop £38 extra on this project and go super silent with a fanless PSU. You can grab 400W for about £60 (sourced locally) or less if you are willing to wait for AliExpress delivery. You could recoup some of that money by selling the PSU fitted by default to your Ender 3 v2.
Everything else is relatively straightforward, so let’s add the fans.
Cutting PSU to bits
Instead of repeating the same scenario twice, I decided to replace Ender 3 v2’s PSU with a MeanWell ERPF-400-24. It’s a fanless power supply. I’m getting a completely silent power supply, which should improve the noise level by a considerable margin. I just need to find a way to fit it.
Thanks to the power of various rotary tools (a hacksaw will work just as well) I opened my fanless supply and removed the folded flanges to reduce the footprint of the supply. Turns out that without them, the PSU fits snuggly inside the original bracket. All I had to do is to drill a couple of holes to fix the power supply in place. I used the existing 2 holes for the internal heatsink and drilled 2 new holes in the side to keep the PSU mounted. There is enough alloy in the sidewall to thread M4 holes and drive M4x6mm screws to secure it in place, just don’t overdo your bolts. Once you are happy with the shape, clean everything up with metal files.
I also cut out some vents with an angle grinder and trimmed the bottom bracket to fit around the PSU. It will cover the wires going from the AC socket to the power supply. As I was already messing with the PSU, I decided to dig out Shelly 1 PM Plus and mount it inside the PSU to enable the Printer Manager. Now I can turn it on remotely and measure the power consumption of my 3D printer.
Lastly, I still need a 12V supply, which I will surface mount to the PSU cover. Word of warning, measure everything 3 times before you drill, I was getting tired at this point (it was around 1 am) and my cover looks like swiss cheese. There is very little space on the side I picked, but I didn’t want to cover up the vents. Mark your holes when the printer is assembled, so the 12V module won’t get in the way of the stepper motor or other elements at the back of the printer.
It’s time to add fans. Just like before, I will replace the extruder fan and the case fan. Then give it a go. After that, we are going all nuts!
TOTAL: £70 (approx)
The results are better, especially since I only have 2 fans to control now. With Noctua fans set to 50% the only sound comes from the motherboard (gets louder when 2 axes are moving fast) or when the part cooling fan kicks in. The part cooling fan is actually louder than on Ender 3. For a completely silent experience, I will need a custom duct, we will get to that.
Quieter but I have an SKR to spare
It’s definitely quieter than before, but the Creality 4.2.2 board is not as quiet as SKR Mini E3 v1.2 and not even close to being as silent as SKR Mini E3 v3.0. It’s time to swap the boards and check again.
Unfortunately, right now the swap isn’t as simple as with Ender 3, as the SKR Mini E3 v3 is not supporting the Creality display by default. You can either make a custom cable and compile the Marlin yourself or use BTT 3.5″ TFT screen with firmware compiled from Ender 3 machine. It will work just fine. I swapped the screen as I like the touch interface, and it was quicker than making my own ribbon.
It’s time to test the machine with new SKR boards and the same Noctua configuration, except the Ender 3 v2 is running now the latest BigTreeTech board. It’s quieter, but it’s an expensive upgrade to make if all you care about is sound. Thankfully, the custom features of the board, add value to your purchase, so I don’t feel bad for suggesting this.
Another bonus (if you spared the cash to get the fanless power supply) is that SKR Mini E3 v3 comes with 3 PWM controlled 24V outputs. This will come in handy in the last stage of the testing. For now, I will drive all my Noctua fans with Noctua NA-FC1 modules, as they are very handy for setting the desired fan speed for testing.
The board itself is nearly silent, but the part cooling fan picked up some noise. The noise was present on both boards, so, unfortunately, swapping this out will happen sooner rather than later.
TOTAL: £100 (approx)
While Noctua NA-FC1 PWM controllers are cool and easy to work with, they are pricy (£17.99) and I wouldn’t expect you to jump that gun. After all, the whole process can surpass the cost of the entire printer quickly. A similar silence to performance ratio can be achieved by either tweaking fan profiles in Marlin (if your board has enough PWM controlled fans) or by utilising the Low Noise cable extension included with each fan. These cables, limit the max RPM of the fan to 70%, striking a perfect balance between max airflow and silent performance. This was the reason why I was running my test prints at 50% of the fan’s speed to see if I encounter any issues.
You should monitor your longer prints at first, as you don’t want silent 3D printing modification to compromise your design. If you find the 70% to be not sufficient, you can always remove the extension cable and revert back to the original range.
The infamous heat creep
Cooling your extruder is important, as inadequate cooling can lead to clogs, inconsistent extrusion and ruined prints. This is going to be a balancing act between the fan speed, flow requirements, extruder type, print time, print temperature and ambient environment.
In my experiments, running Noctua NF-A4x10-PWM on Ender 3 printer to cool the extruder was perfectly acceptable, however, the longest prints I tried were shorter than 8h. It doesn’t mean that your experience will be the same. I know this isn’t perfect advice, but there is no calculated formula that works for every scenario, and if you want to achieve quiet printing, you will have to experiment with what works for you.
Bear in mind, that I’m also running an all-metal hotend, capable of printing at 300℃, with a better heat break to keep the filament cooler before it reaches the heating chamber. In other words, start with Noctua fans at 100% and work your way down to 70%, but be open and prepared to upgrade the A4 fan to a 20 mm version if needed.
Fan ducts are a nightmare!
Up until now, everything was working well. Encouraged by numerous fan duct designs on Thingiverse, I decided to swap pert cooling fans for Noctua too. I knew this was a bad idea, as blade fans can’t handle static pressure well. Despite that, I gave my best shot at designing 2 brackets for NF-A4x20-PWM and NF-A4x10-PWM.
Frankly speaking with my fairly generous opening and the 20mm thick version of the A4 fan I expected at least some performance. Turns out that these fans simply can’t deal with pressure build-up and the air is likely to escape back through the fan’s blades, rather than be forced down the duct. Even with the default 24V Creality fan spinning at max RPM, the cooling performance was next to nothing.
Radial fans to the rescue
There is a reason why 3D printers are equipped with radial (blower type) fans. These deal with static pressure better. In order to push the air through a duct, you have to create more pressure than the conventional fans are capable of. So don’t be fooled by the fancy designs online, these are just for show and you will be hindering your printer’s performance.
As Noctua doesn’t have any radial fans in their lineup (yet), I reached out to Amazon to get myself 2 beefy fans: 5020 (24V) and 4020 (24V) with the plan of driving these bigger blowers slower to make the part cooling fans quieter. Having 2 sizes to compare will give me options to pick from. This means more fan brackets to design in Fusion360. I’m getting really good (ok mildly average) at this, at that point. After careful thought and consideration, I also came up with a modular design, so I could swap the 4020 fan, with the 5020 on the fly. It will come in handy.
Watercooling, fanless PSU, Noctua and SKR board – the whole shebang!
With all the duct experiments done, it’s time to go all-in and apply every bit of hardware I prepped for my silent 3D printing. These are 2 final configurations, that aim to retain great performance while keeping the noise to a minimum. Armed with the knowledge about the static pressure, and the advantages of using radial fans, I went with the following configuration for each 3D printer.
Ender 3 – every little upgrade
Replacing the part cooling fan on my Ender 3 with Noctua NF-A4x20-PWM made it as quiet as breathing, it was a step in the wrong direction as I essentially killed off the part cooling flow. As the goal is to have a fully functional and capable silent 3D printer, I proceeded with a slightly noisier but performance option – a custom duct for a 4020 radial fan.
To keep things fun, I also swapped the hotends. I have a high-temperature one available, which can tackle temps up to 300℃ and print Nylon with carbon fibre scraps I get from work. Something tells me that better heartbreak on this hotend will compensate for the lower flow from the installed NF-A4x10-PWM fan.
I picked the 4020 radial fan (4020 GDSTIME 24V), even though the 5020 had better performance. My main reasons are simple. It works just as good as the original, and I only bought one 5020 fan to play with. That baby goes on my v2.
I designed a modular mount for these, so if you haven’t placed your order, you can pick either of them. To keep it quiet (these are noisy at 24V) I plugged the positive terminal of the fan into a 12V power supply from the LM2596S DC-DC module. It makes it spin slower while retaining a similar performance to the original Creality Ender 3 part cooling fan.
Later on, I found out that despite great results with regulating the speed of the fan using voltage, the PWM signal from the control board introduced a bit of whine when the fan isn’t running at 100%. It’s not a noise I would usually notice, but the printer is so quiet that it’s particularly noticeable. I think I will order another 5020 to mitigate this. But for now, with the part cooling fan set to 100% – Ender 3 is very quiet!
TOTAL: £85 (approx)
Ender 3 v2 – spare no means!
I understand that my last configuration is completely over the top. I have an opportunity to go all-in, so why not? Some might say, you could easily buy another printer for the cost of these upgrades alone, and they would be right, but I’m here to deliver silent printing at no cost spared.
To enable high-temperature printing (for more exotic filaments), I’m using a BIQU H2O extruder. This water-cooled beast comes with a direct drive and water-cooling block. I know what you are thinking, I’m not removing the extruder fan this way, but swapping a 40mm one for a 120mm one attached to the radiator in the cooling kit. That’s true, but I can run the 120mm fan slower, at much better cooling performance. You can read more about the BIQU H2O extruder in this article. Another advantage is the ability to move the cooling unit away to decrease the noise even further.
Another big advantage of the BIQU H2O extruder is the cooling performance. With water-cooling, the chances of heat creep are very small. If you have multi-day prints planned, going liquid could be the most reliable solution.
As much as I like the water-cooled extruder, it doesn’t solve the issue of part cooling. For that, I made a modular bracket for my 4020 and 5020 radial fans. I’m going with the beefier one, the BIQU H2O extruder can reach 500℃ temperature, so I’ll take all the performance at this point. To make it silent, I will be running it downvolted to 12V. It provides enough flow to feel it with my hands and remains remarkably silent.
After a couple of prints, I discovered that even with a 4h print at 275℃ doesn’t get tubing remotely warm. It encouraged me to drop the voltage from 12V to about 7V to achieve the near-silent performance of the water cooling block. Even with that modification, the tubing remains at room temperature. Awesome.
TOTAL: £280 (approx)
Was it worth it?
Both upgrades could easily offset the purchase of another printer, but I already own two at this point (three if I’m counting the Creality LD-002H resin printer) and I’m limited to when I can run these more often than not. Right now, I can run both of them at the same time and still record videos, enjoy quiet wind downtime and hear no complaints about the noise from my partner.
This is what will enable me to run my printers more often, for longer, as up until now, the noise was serious consideration when planning projects involving 3D printing. If care about peace and quiet while the printer goes through its 30h print process, you will definitely appreciate every aspect of this upgrade. I consider my silent 3D printing project a great success!
What a ride it was. I hope my journey gave you ideas about what’s worth getting for your printer and how to spend your money wisely. You should definitely check out the project sponsors Noctua and BIQU which care about 3D printing as much as I do. I have some more 3D printer related ideas to come, so make sure you know how to find me. Let me know if this article was helpful or if there is anything else I should have considered in my pursuit of silent 3D printing – use this Reddit thread to leave the comments.
🆓📈💵 – See the transparency note for details.