Tools of the Trade for Every 3D Print Master
We know that 3D printing isn't always easy. Here are a few tools and tips that will assist you in producing great, consistent prints from your machine.
Print Bed Adhesion
Print Bed Adhesion is key. Pairing the material you are printing with the appropriate bed adhesion is often the key to a successful print. Without good bed adhesion, a print (a long print in particular) is doomed. Here are some of the most common materials used for print bed adhesion.
Blue Painters tape, or blue painters masking tape, is probably the most commonly used method for achieving great bed adhesion when printing with PLA filament. The reason printed parts like to stick to the tape is because of the tape’s outer coating - melted PLA sticks to that thin coating very well. You might notice the adhesion of PLA decreases after a few uses - apply some new tape when you see that occur. There are a variety of widths available - the wider you go, the fewer strips you will need to cover your bed.
Kapton Tape (Polyimide)
Due to its temperature tolerance, Kapton Tape is used in 3D printing as a printing surface (applied to a heated build platform), as well as insulating hot-ends. When heated, Polyimide film adheres particularly well to ABS plastic and can be used to prevent or reduce warping.
Hairspray works well when printing ABS directly on glass, and it can also be used when printing on Kapton Tape if there are any issues with warping. Spray a fine layer of mist, let the liquid evaporate, and then you're good to go. If sprayed directly onto glass, an ABS printed part can have an excellent surface finish layer.
PVA Glue Stick
PVA Glue Stick is another useful tool for getting the first layer of a print to stick to the bed. The glue can be applied more precisely than the hairspray, and it is easier to clean off (just rinse with water). The glue can be applied on top of Kapton Tape or directly to the glass. If you are having trouble with bed adhesion, the glue stick method is a great solution. As you become more interested in advanced materials, you will need the PVA Glue Stick for filament like Nylon. Look for anything that advertises “Permanent” and “Washable.”
Bed Removal Tools
Sometimes removing a finsihed printed part from the bed can be tough. If the two tools attached to your body (hands) are not enough to remove stubborn prints, here are some tools to successfully remove the part from the bed. * Always be careful with this part - keep your hands and body parts out of the way of any potentially harmful tools. BE SAFE.*
Stamped putty knife
Use the blunt end to reach under the part and remove from the bed.
Bed scraping knife
This should not be used for part removal, but it is good for cleaning the glass bed after a print. Use this with caution - they are sharp.
For a smooth 3D printing process, you'll want to cut filament for a fresh start, get rid of tangles, and remove melted filament from the nozzle. Here are some tools that can help manage your filament.
Also known as finger savers (let's be real - they call it a hotend for a reason) will help remove clogged filament from the nozzle. It is best to get in the habit of using forceps - your fingers will thank you.
Do not underestimate the ability for a spool of filament to ‘go bad’ over time. The plastics that are used for 3D Printing absorb moisture from the air. It is best to keep them dry when storing them for long periods of time. Keeping filament in a box or airtight bag with desiccant ensures that the filament will not absorb moisture. Filaments like Nylon and PVA are especially prone to water absorption because they are very hygroscopic.
Tools for 3D Printed Part Finishing
Some printed parts require support removal that must be removed after printing. Here are some tools that will let you achieve professional quality prints - they'll also help with those prints that just need a little sprucing up.
A Deburr tool works very well for removing the support material from the edges of prints. We have found it to be one of the most useful tools to use for part cleanup. Much easier and safer than a knife.
The MatterHackers Heavy-Duty Art Knife is perfect for precision cutting and trimming of 3D printed projects made of PLA, ABS, and most specialty materials. Keep it sharp but always use with caution.
Digital calipers can be used to measure printed parts to check for accuracy. More commonly calipers are used for part design, especially if there is a bit of reverse engineering going on. Price of calipers go from dirt cheap to crazy expensive. The cheap ones work great but are not as precise. When you pick up an expensive pair you know it because they function smoothly, but can be tough to justify the cost.
Really, the possibilities of Super Glue are endless. Super Glue can be used to repair parts, fill gaps, or combine assemblies or fixtures. Remember: viscosity matters - use the correct tool for the job. For gap filling use a thicker glue than when assembling delicate parts. Super glue works extremely well with PLA and ABS.
Sanding can create a smoother surface to your finished prints. Sanding is especially good if you are planning to paint the object. Some 120 or 200 grit sand paper should do the trick for nearly every print. If you are fan of ABS, try sanding a print - it works really well with this material.
Tools for 3D Printer Maintenance
Hex Key Wrench Set
3D printers are work horses - if you are constantly running your machine, bolts can sometimes come loose. Having a Hex Key Wrench Set on hand will provide quick fixes for your printer. Upgrades are a huge part of 3D printing as well, and a wrench set can make any installation or addon process much easier. Most machines are Metric, but we recommend having a set of both metric and standard on hand.
This list of tools is what we here at MatterHackers find ourselves using on a regular basis in the print lab, and we hope that you gained some insightful information.
If you use a tool that we missed on this list, feel free to add it to the comments to share with the community. Anything that will make the process faster and easier is something we want to hear about.