For most people, ASA filament is relatively unheard of within the 3D printing community. While is may not be too common, it’s an excellent material when you need to 3D print something that’s intended for outdoor use, like a planter, garden gnome, or for any random outdoor fixture. ASA is very similar to ABS filament, and prints about the same too, but what it holds over ABS is that white ASA takes a lot longer to start yellowing in the sun or to start deteriorating and losing its strength. If you’ve never printed with ABS or ASA before, there’s a couple tips and tricks you want to know before you get started, and with this guide, you’ll be printing with ASA 3d printing filament in no time.

Step 1:  Make sure your first layer is right

Making your first layer right is a two-part process: you need to make sure your bed is level, and you need to make sure the nozzle is the right distance from the bed.

Leveling the Bed

To level the bed, you need to follow the instructions provided with your printer. Every printer has it’s own method, with some having guided wizards, auto bed leveling, or you’re completely on your own. In most cases, 3D printer bed surfaces are leveled using three or four screws attaching the bed to a carriage. Tightening or loosening these screws changes the plane the bed is on, if your bed itself isn’t bent. In general, though, the procedure to level a bed is:

  1. Move your print head out of the way of the bed to prevent it from crashing if it’s too close.
  2. Home the Z axis. This will move the nozzle to as close to the bed it can get. If there’s room between the nozzle and the bed, perfect. If there isn’t room, tighten the screws under the bed until there’s about 1mm of space.
  3. Move the print head above one of the three or four screws and insert a piece of paper between the bed and the nozzle.
  4. Gently loosen the screw until there is a very slight amount of resistance between the bed and the nozzle. Just enough to notice, but not enough to require force to move the paper out.
  5. Repeat this with the rest of the screws. The key is to get the same resistance at all points; this means your bed is level.

Adjusting Nozzle Distance

Now that the bed is level, you need to make sure the nozzle is at the right distance from the bed.

  1. Make sure your bed material of choice is applied at this point.
  2. Start a print with a skirt that covers the entire area of the bed.
  3. Watch how the filament is laid down. Is it really smearing out the sides of each pass and looks like it’s bubbling up against each other? You’re much too low, and should bump it up a little bit at a time. Is there a clear distinction between each pass of the skirt? You’re too far away and need to lower the nozzle.
  4. You can either turn each screw the same amount and continually test until the skirt comes out okay or you can change the Z Offset in MatterControl and typing in your desired change. Keep it to 0.02mm at a time until you find the right distance.

Step 2: Print bed and adhesion.

If you don’t have a heated bed, ASA isn’t going to work for you. Just like its predecessor ABS, ASA is really temperature sensitive and warps and splits if your temperatures aren’t quite right.

If you do have a heated bed, here’s what you can do:

  1. Print with a brim. I use a brim of about 15 loops. I very rarely need more loops than that, but with the right temperatures, an enclosure, and adhesive, sometimes I can get away with not using a brim at all.
  2. A light spray of Aqua Net Hairspray on the bed and printing with a bed temperature of 110C works really well. 110C works if your printer can make it there, but for some 3D printers, they just can’t make it. In that case, print at whatever it’s max temperature is and hope for the best. I’ve been successful as low as 90C before, but that was a very well calibrated machine. In addition, make sure you’re using specifically Aqua Net, though; other brands may work but Aqua Net is tried and true.
  3. If you want something more controlled than hairspray, you can also make ABS juice as described in our video and article (here) to brush on a bed adhesive instead of a fine mist on the inside of your printer.
  4. You can also use Kapton tape on top of your heated bed in addition to hairspray. It helps uniformly spread the heat on your bed so you don’t have warpy corners, and it produces some really nice, glossy bottomed prints.

Step 3: Calibrating your print temperature.

  1. For ASA, I generally print at 250 degrees Celsius and a bed temperature of 110 degrees Celsius.
  2. You may need to fine tune your printer to get results you are happy with, and you can do that by adjusting temperatures up or down 5 degrees at a time.
  3. Printing too hot for ASA isn’t as big of a problem as printing too cold:
    1. A cold ASA print will warp or split, or have terrible layer adhesion,
    2. A hot print will have better layer adhesion, with some stringing and some rougher overhangs.

Step 4: Tips to Solve Warping and Splitting

Even if you’ve done all that right, you might still have some issues with your prints and that’s the same difficulty that ABS faces: it warps. A slight draft and you have a ruined print from either the corners warping up or a split forming on that layer - where the previous layer cooled quicker than the next layer could adhere to it. Here’s two key things to take care of it:

  1. Build an enclosure for your printer, either as basic as a trash bag, some plastic sheeting and PVC like in our other (video), or build one out of LACK tables from IKEA, whatever works. The basic idea is keep heat in and drafty cool air out.
  2. Turn off layer cooling fans. These can cool your prints too quickly, which works well for PLA or even PETG, but for ASA, it’ll cause splits and issues in your print. You may be able to turn them up to a gentle 10% with some success, but do a couple small test prints before committing to a 24 hour ASA print with the fans on.

Step 5: How To Change Filament

  1. One of the earliest mistakes I made when I got into 3D printing was not understanding how to change filament.
  2. The best procedure is to follow the instructions provided with your printer as some have automatic filament changing routines.
  3. For any others, heat up your nozzle to your printing temperature.
  4. At about 120, gently pull on the filament while releasing tension from the extruder (by either pushing on the lever of the idler or releasing the idler altogether).
  5. Once the filament reaches a hot enough temperature (near its glass transition), you should be able to pull out all of the ASA, even what was already in the nozzle, reducing color mixing when you add the next filament.
  6. Once you have removed the filament, push the new filament in until you see filament of the same pure color coming out of the nozzle.

Step 6: Regular Maintenance and Care

Some other quick tips that should prove helpful:

  1. Regularly clean the extruder gear and check the tension. As the drive gear presses down on the filament, it chews it just a little bit in order to move it. Gradually the teeth of the gear fills and it won’t be able to extrude or it’ll underextrude. A toothbrush or a small wire brush can make quick work of this filament dust. Some extruders have adjustable tensioners, and you can tune that too to get extrusion to work and not bite into the filament too hard.
    1. If you aren’t able to extrude ASA at all and your hotend is at temperature, your nozzle might be clogged. Check out our video on how to unclog a nozzle to help walk you through the steps of clearing it.

    And that’s it! It’s a lot of information to process, but altogether you should have enough to work from to get started printing ASA and printing it successfully.