4 Simple Ways to Improve Your 3D Print Quality
Introduction: Quality Prints Takes Some Patience
3D printing can sometimes get frustrating. When first getting in to the hobby it's easy to imagine a perfect machine that can print anything at the push of a button. After a weekend with your first 3D printer though, you may realize there is a little more work than you initially thought!
I'm going to cover three easy ways to make sure you get the best possible print quality out of your machine. By maintaining your print bed, adding z-braces, and getting proper cooling in place; you'll be able to get the most out of even budget 3D printers. These steps, along with regular maintenance, are what has continued to give me positive results over the past few years.
I would like to lead off on the topic of printing bed maintenance. It's simple, but it's one of those things that if left unattended could completely ruin your day. With a simple few steps though, you can make sure each print comes out great.
I'm going to go over a couple key aspects to pay attention to. Individually, these may not prevent you from printing. However over time these small inconsistencies can add up, leading to what feels like hours of resetting everything on your printer just to get it to work.
First of all, I'm going to cover the cleanliness of the build plate.
The build plate is the part of your printer that the extruder prints on to. They can be made out of different materials but for the most part all are easy to take care of.
I'm going to focus on standard metal build plates with a removable print surface on it. This is what I'm most familiar with and I feel I can provide the best advice on. Another option that many people use is a glass bed. Glass provides amazingly smooth surface and works great with many different materials. I have not personally used one though so I don't feel comfortable giving advice on it.
With that out of the way; let's cover a metal bed with a replaceable print surface. Print surfaces are usually made of some type of plastic and they have an adhesive on the back. Picture it like a big plastic sticker. This sheet sticks to existing surface of your 3D printer bed to not only protect it but also to give a smooth, clean, and grippy surface for the printer to extrude plastic onto.
I generally use the brand Buildtak, however there are several other options out there including GeckoTek and DOBSTFY. They are all similar in function and are not too expensive, so give a few a try until you find one you like.
Once applied, I recommend cleaning the surface after every print. What does this entail? First of all, make sure that you've gotten all of the leftover filament material up off of the bed. Sometimes if you are printing too close to the bed, small pieces of plastic can get stuck onto the build plate. This can be easily scraped off with a 3D print removal spatula. Be careful when doing this and don't use a sharp object. This can damage the bed surface and even possibly injure yourself if you're using something such as a razor.
Once all the bits of plastic are off I generally wipe the surface clean with a cloth or paper towel and some rubbing alcohol. A quick wipe down like this after every print will make sure that the life of the printing surface is extended as long as it can be.
Over time however you are guaranteed to pick up so little scratches and divots when removing stubborn prints among other regular wear and tear. That's the beauty of the removable surfaces though! Every few months it's relatively easy to put a new surface on. Once you do, get back to your clean up after every print regimen to extend the life of that next surface as much as possible.
The next regular maintenance aspect of your 3D printing surface is bed leveling. If you have spent any significant time with your printer, the idea of bed leveling may make you want to go and hide in the corner. It can be frustrating to do sometimes but if kept up with, can be managed easily.
If you don't level the bed regularly, your prints can develop issues. First and most importantly, your print may not work at all! A bed that isn't level can easily cause the first layer to not stick properly. If the first layer of printing doesn't stick properly, then the whole print will fail.
Another problem that may be caused by a not level bed is some warping within the print. Even if the print seems to start OK, it's possible for portions of the base layer to not be stuck on as much as other parts. These can come undone during printing and lead to warping, which may cause the print to fail further along in the process.
Some advanced printers have a auto leveling feature. I think someday if I can ever afford a fancy printer, I'm going to look into one with this feature. For now, I will continue to do my best to regularly check bed and make sure I saved myself major headaches if possible. A few minutes spent leveling after every 3-5 prints is worth it to save you possible hours of adjusting farther down the road!
3D Printable Upgrades
One of the coolest things I think 3D printers can do is to print upgrades for themselves. This next section focuses on a couple of common upgrades that can make a big difference. In a world of gadgets with built-in obsolescence, it's refreshing to have a piece of technology that can get better as you use it!
You may notice that some of your 3D prints turn out with what look like waves in the plastic. It's not completely smooth and while the print goes fine, there's light but consistent "wiggles" that happen. These small variances are caused by vibrations from your printer moving around as it prints.
All of this movement causes the entire printer frame or even entire shelf or desk that your printer is on too shake a bit. These shakes lead to be variation you see in the printed model, sometimes referred to as "ringing" or "ghosting".
There are several ways to combat this, the first being to ensure that your printer is on a solid base. Simply make sure that wherever your printer sits, it's not a wobbly desktop.
The next improvement you can make is by adding what are called Z-braces and is where 3D printed upgrades can come in handy. Z braces are useful for the types of printer where the print bed lies inside the frame between the z-axis. supports. Since it's not a complete box like some enclosed printer models, the frame isn't as rigid as those box model. My printer is a Wanhao Duplicator i3 is a perfect example of the type if printer that can benefit from a Z-braces. It's on my list of upgrades to do next.
To make the frame more rigid, many people find ways to add some framework to connect the parts of the frame and make them a bit more rigid.
The coolest part about this? You can 3D print most of the parts! Generally, z-braces are designed as simple brackets that can be attached to your printer. If you search for your 3D printer model on model websites, you can usually find at least one z brace mod if not more if you're printer is one that has the right frame.
All you have to do is print out the bracket, and then get a solid piece of dowel or metal tubing that's cut to fill the gap. Unfortunately you can't 3D print the entire part however it's not very difficult to go to a local store and purchase the remaining hardware needed for a very low cost.
The final upgrade I'm going to talk about is one that probably had the biggest impact for me personally. Improving the cooling at the nozzle of your 3D printer can do wonders for the quality of your prints.
Adding a new fan duct was the first upgrade I printed for my 3D printer. I was able to mount a more powerful fan without having to do any rewiring.
Good cooling helps in a couple of areas:
It helps reduce warping. By cooling the plastic quickly as it prints, there is less time for it to bend in to an unwanted shape. These variations can add-up layer by layer and can cause the print to come out with poor quality or even fail entirely!
The printer can manage steeper angles. In the image above you'll notice that the print made without a fan starts to lose quality more quickly as the angle increases. Cooling has helped me achieve much steeper angles while maintaining good quality.
Just like the Z-braces, to find these upgrades simply search for your printer model on sites like thingiverse and you are likely to find several options. Once the duct is printed, it's just a matter of finding a compatible fan and screwing it all together. The parts are cheap and the benefits of good cooling will help you for a long time to come!
These few simple tasks can individually help some areas of your 3D printing. That said, if you combine them you can really make strong improvements to your overall print quality going forward. They don't take too much time, are very low cost, plus you get to tell people that your 3D printer is printing its own upgrades. How great is that for something to brag about? Pretty great in my opinion.