Do 3D Printers Require a Heated Bed?
Introduction: What is a heated print bed?
When shopping for a 3D printer, there are dozens of different features to compare with each one. It can get confusing, overwhelming, and just generally intimidating. One feature that comes up often and seems to be a big question for new 3D printing hobbyists is whether or not to get a printer with a heated bed. On the surface it seems like a luxury for a beginner to start with, but in reality it might be worth the extra little money.
In short, a heated 3D printer bed helps to maintain a warmer environment for the base of the print during printing. This keeps the plastic from cooling too quickly, and prevents "warping". Warping can cause the print to start peeling off of the bed too soon. This leads to low-quality prints, or the print failing entirely! While it's possible to print without a heated bed, it's a low-cost addition that, to me, is worth-while.
While not 100% necessary for everyone, heated beds definitely have their benefits and can be a worthwhile upgrade to include with your 3D printer purchase. Read on to learn more about why choosing a printer with a heated bed will end up saving you time, frustration, and can reduce waste when 3D printing at home.
Prints must stick!
For those who are completely new to 3D printing, the "bed" is the portion of the printer that acts as a base for the printer to print on. This is a very smooth, flat surface that the printer puts the plastic on.
It's important that the print sticks well enough so the printer is able to work on a solid base as it builds-up the model. Without a firm base, the print could be low quality or otherwise fail entirely.
It's a delicate balance, an item that doesn't stick well enough will come off the bed and won't work, but a print that is 'too' stuck might look great, but will be difficult to remove from the printer without some serious effort (or possibly breaking the print!).
Warping & how heated beds prevent it.
Having a heated bed helps reduce the amount of "warping" that can happen when using particular materials, so having one helps to ensure you have the easiest time possible when using your new 3D printer.
What exactly is "warping"? For those unfamiliar with 3D printing, or just researching getting your own machine for the first time, it will help to understand how a basic 3D printer works. there are a few different kinds of printers, but we will specifically be talking about the most common for home use, the FDM printer (Fused Deposition Modeling).
An FDM printer essentially works by taking a plastic wire, melting it, and extruding it out of a narrow nozzle. The melted plastic cools and hardens in the intended shape as the printer nozzle moves across the print bed surface. These layers are stacked on top of one another to build up the 3D physical object. In simpler terms, picture it like a hot glue gun. A glue stick goes in one end solid, and is melted & pushed out a narrow nozzle to the needed shape.
As the extruded plastic cools down, it contracts slightly (like many other materials when they get cold). If the plastic goes from hot to cool too quickly the contraction becomes very pronounced before the print is too far along, leading to the plastic curling or In other words, warping.
This rapid cooling & warping at the base can be prevented by having a heated bed. The heat from the bed allows the plastic to cool enough to set, but keeps it warm enough to prevent warping.
Below is an example of a print that I decided to stop early because it began to warp. As you can see, the base started to peel-up, and the quality is very poor.
Different materials have different tolerances and possible warping issues when being printed, so a heated bed makes sure your printer is compatible with a wider range of materials.
For example, certain materials like ABS plastic are extremely influenced by this warping issue. Using ABS plastics essentially requires the use of a heated bed.
PLA filament, however is what you will most likely be working with though as a beginner and doesn't necessarily require heating. While some say it's not needed for PLA, I seem to have better success and always use my heated bed to make sure that my print comes out nicely.
Concerns with heated beds.
After learning more about why having a heated bed helps your prints, how could you not want a printer with a heated bed? Well I've generally come across two concerns that people have when it comes to getting a printer with a heated bed.
Concern #1: "I'm new to 3D printing, I just want to keep things simple."
This is something I considered myself when I was working on finding an answer to the heated bed question. I was intimidated by the whole process and since this seemed like an 'option' for some printers, I didn't think it was necessary. The best thing I can say is, have some faith in yourself! Working with a heated bed doesn't add any complication to the process and the benefits are worth it.
There are many guides online, but I've found that when printing PLA filament, a bed temperature of 55 degrees works great and doesn't need to change from print to print. You set it once and you can forget about it (at least until you start using a different material like ABS). There are plenty of helpful tips out there for all kinds f different filaments, so just do a Google search for "[Material Name] print bed temperature" and you will find the exact answer you need.
Concern #2: "A heated bed sounds like it's only on premium machines. It's probably too expensive"
I can 100% understand this mindset. When I was shopping for my first 3D printer, keeping the price low was one of my top priorities. I didn't have a lot in my budget, but after doing the research, I knew that the extra bit of money would be worth it to get the maximum use out of my printer.
Many budget printers now have this as a standard feature anyway, so the price impact isn't as much as you might expect. For example, I get great results from my Wanhao Duplicator i3 printer that comes with a heated bed and the whole setup is under $300. When I was shopping around, I found a similar printer without the heated bed for around $60 less, but I'm extremely glad I spent the extra money.
While I didn't keep track of actual numbers, I'm sure I've saved myself at least $60 (probably more!) worth in materials because I didn't need to re-print something that failed part way through because the plastic cooled too quickly. If nothing else, I've definitely saved myself from some stress and frustration of having prints warp and come off the bed. That is invaluable to me.
Not to mention, if you ever want to add a heated bed later, it's going to likely cost you more time, money, and frustration than if you had one that was built-in from the beginning.
Overall, you will likely want a heated bed as a feature on your 3D printer. The benefit of having one generally outweighs the initial cost of getting a printer with the heated bed option built in, and it allows you to maximize the number of materials that your printer can handle.
Heated beds are relatively cheap and often come standard on most quality 3D printers, even the budget models.