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Friday Facts 4: How to Marlin Polargraph

Assuming you have two stepper motors, two limit switches, some timing belt, a 3D printer control board, and a hobby servo then you have everything you need to make a wall hanging plotter of your own that will work with Makelangelo Software. Read on for firmware configuration.

All the changes described herein have been applied to our fork of Marlin. You may find it easier to fork the fork and add your custom changes.

The first thing you’ll want is to get the latest Marlin. As of version 2.0.9.2 polargraph support that I wrote is included.

You’ll need to open the firmware in an Integrated Development Environment like Visual Studio Code and install the PlatformIO plugin.

The main files we’ll touch are Marlin\Configuration.h and Marlin\Configuration_adv.h. First I will show the line to find and then explain what is changed and why.

Marlin\Configuration.h

#define MOTHERBOARD BOARD_RAMPS_14_EFB

This sets the type of brain board you are using. The full list can be found in Marlin\src\pins\pins.h. In my case I change BOARD_RAMPS_14_EFB to BOARD_RUMBA.

#define CUSTOM_MACHINE_NAME "3D Printer"

Change 3D Printer to Polargraph. It’s aesthetic and non-essential.

#define EXTRUDERS 1

Polargraphs have no extruders. Change 1 to 0.

//#define POLARGRAPH

I remove the // part in front of # so that it becomes defined.

#define POLARGRAPH_MAX_BELT_LEN 1035.0

Makleangelo uses 1m belts. The pen holder adds a small amount to that and so my length for both belts is 1035. Correct belt length is essential to getting square drawings. While this is the default number in Marlin, you may have to change it – especially if you are making a huge machine.

#define X_MAX_PIN       35
#define Y_MAX_PIN       34

These are the digital pins that are connected to your limit switches, uses for homing. You’ll have to look up your board and know your circuit to set the right numbers here. When homing the machine will move the pen down and the counterweights up until the weights touch the switches. That is the maximum reach of each belt, and thus the max limit switch.

#define USE_XMIN_PLUG
#define USE_YMIN_PLUG
#define USE_ZMIN_PLUG

I disable using minimum limit switch by adding // at the start of these lines.

//#define USE_XMAX_PLUG
//#define USE_YMAX_PLUG
//#define USE_ZMAX_PLUG

I enable using maximum limit switch by removing the // at the start of these lines.

#define X_MAX_ENDSTOP_INVERTING true // Set to true to invert the logic of the endstop.
#define Y_MAX_ENDSTOP_INVERTING true // Set to true to invert the logic of the endstop.
#define Z_MAX_ENDSTOP_INVERTING true // Set to true to invert the logic of the endstop.

I have switches wired to go LOW when they are clicked. If you have it the opposite then you’ll want to leave these set to false.

#define E0_DRIVER_TYPE A4988

There is no E0 Driver and the sanity checks in Marlin will get mad if this is defined. Put another // at the start of the line.

#define X_DRIVER_TYPE  A4988
#define Y_DRIVER_TYPE  A4988

If you are using something other than an A4988 stepper driver for your motor… this is where you’d list it.

#define DEFAULT_AXIS_STEPS_PER_UNIT   { 80, 80, 400, 500 }

There are only three axies of motion on this system, so we have to change it from { 80, 80, 400, 500 } to { 80, 80, 80 }. That assumes 200 step-per-turn motors and a 20 tooth GT2 pulley at 1/16 microstepping. (200*16) / (20*2)=80. Adjust your numbers accordingly. a 400-step motor would be 160 for the first two. The third is not really important because we don’t use a third stepper motor. Marlin won’t let me set two axies so it dangles on the end there like a vestigial tail.

#define DEFAULT_MAX_FEEDRATE          { 300, 300, 5, 25 }

I have changed these to { 90*60, 90*60, 90*60 }. Experiment with this number and see what kind of speeds you can get!

#define DEFAULT_MAX_ACCELERATION      { 3000, 3000, 100, 10000 }

I set mine to { 40*60, 40*60, 40*60 }. Another area I encourage you to experiment.

//#define CLASSIC_JERK

I don’t remember why I had to remove the // part but I did to appease the sanity checks.

#define INVERT_X_DIR false

By default Makelangelos are built with the left motor physically wired backwards so that “pull in” and “push out” was the same for both. So I have to change false to true. Discord user CaptFuture pointed out if you are building a DIY machine be aware mixing the wiring and the inversion might make some motors behave backwards.

//#define NO_MOTION_BEFORE_HOMING // Inhibit movement until all axes have been homed.
//#define HOME_AFTER_DEACTIVATE   // Require rehoming after steppers are deactivated.

I removed // from both. Safety third, right after chainsaws and LSD.

#define X_HOME_DIR -1
#define Y_HOME_DIR -1
#define Z_HOME_DIR -1

I changed these to 1 so that it homes to the maximum limits.

#define X_BED_SIZE 200
#define Y_BED_SIZE 200

Here I set the X_BED_SIZE to the width of a Makelangelo. Measured motor center to center, that’s 650. For the Makelangelo height I used 1000, or 1m. More on this in a minute.

#define X_MIN_POS 0
#define Y_MIN_POS 0

The bottom-left corner of the drawing area would then be – X_BED_SIZE/2 and -Y_BED_SIZE/2, or -325 and -500, respectively.

#define X_MAX_POS X_BED_SIZE
#define Y_MAX_POS Y_BED_SIZE

The top-right corner of the drawing area would then be X_BED_SIZE/2 and Y_BED_SIZE/2, or 325 and 500, respectively.

//#define BED_CENTER_AT_0_0

I removed the //. You can tell from the math that it should be true.

//#define MANUAL_X_HOME_POS 0
//#define MANUAL_Y_HOME_POS 0

First I remove the //. Then the MANUAL_Y_HOME_POS is equal to -492.65. I get that number from

Y_MAX_POS - ( sqrt( sq(POLARGRAPH_MAX_BELT_LEN) - sq(X_BED_SIZE/2) ) )

Remember using the triangle adjacent and the opposite to get the hypoteneuse? well here we use the opposite (machine bed size) and the hypoteneuse (the belt length) to get the adjacent, and then adjust by the Y_MAX_POS.

Note that the final value has to be inside the allowable drawing area of the machine – you can’t home to a spot that’s outside the printable area. That means the -Y_BED_SIZE/2 has to be a larger negative number than the MANUAL_Y_HOME_POS. With my settings -Y_BED_SIZE/2 is -500 and everything is fine.

//#define SDSUPPORT

If you have an SD card slot, remove the //.

//#define NUM_SERVOS 3

I set this to 1. As Jack Black said, one’s all you need.

//#define DEACTIVATE_SERVOS_AFTER_MOVE

This keeps the servo from jittering when not being used, which makes for a more pleasant sounding machine. It is reactivated every time it is used, don’t worry.

Marlin\Configuration_adv.h

#define AXIS_RELATIVE_MODES { false, false, false, false }

Change to { false, false, false } because there are three axies and zero extruders. Keeps the sanity check happy.

#define MICROSTEP_MODES { 16, 16, 16, 16, 16, 16 } // [1,2,4,8,16]

Change to { 16, 16, 16 } to keep the sanity check happy. Same reason. This is where you’d set your microstepping values.

#define MANUAL_FEEDRATE { 50*60, 50*60, 4*60, 2*60 }

I changed to { 50*60, 50*60, 4*60 }. Three axis! THREE.

#define G0_FEEDRATE 3000 // (mm/min)

I changed the number to 12000. What can I say? I like to go fast.

Addendum

Discord member Headly pointed out that there’s no mention of LCD control panels. Search Configuration.h for “LCD / Controller Selection” and then start reading. There are many choices from which to choose. For Makelangelo I use

#define REPRAP_DISCOUNT_SMART_CONTROLLER

While the previous Makelangelo-firmware talked at 57600 Baud, Marlin defaults to 250000. If you connect the app to your firmware and nothing is “heard” from the robot then the app and the robot are on two different baud rates.

Final thoughts

After all these changes you should be able to upload the firmware and start running your polargraph drawing robot. Take it in small steps – try homing your machine with no belts on and then touch the switches to see if it behaves. Also check the pulleys turn the correct direction before putting the belts on.

By default Makelangelo software uses a servo position of 90 (middle of the range) for pen up and 40 for pen down. Keep that in mind when you install the servo horn (the finger thing that lifts).

If you have any trouble with this, please join me and other polagraph fans on the Discord channel. It may be you’re doing something exotic; maybe this document needs a refresh; or you just want to find people with similar tastes. Join us!