Oct. 7, 2016
The key to a successful 3D print is a good first layer, and the key to a successful first layer is choosing the right print bed surface for the material you are 3D printing. In this guide, we will go through the most popular 3D materials to print with and describe the best techniques for getting them to stick to the bed and achieving a stellar first layer.
Achieving perfect bed adhesion on the MarkForged
3D printers come in many shapes and sizes, but one thing is certain - they all have a print bed. Print beds can be made of different materials, such as glass, acrylic, or metal, usually with an added compound layered across where your filament will stick. We prefer a 3D printer with a glass print bed due to its hardness, rigidity, and smooth surface.
PLA (Polylactic Acid) is the most common 3D printing material because it is easy to use and is made from renewable resources and thus, biodegradable. PLA filament is useful in a broad range of 3D printing applications, has the virtue of being both odorless and low-warp, and does not require a heated bed.
Blue painter’s tape is our preferred fallback solution for many 3D materials, especially PLA filament. It is simple, cheap and effective. Just cover the bed with strips of the tape. We recommend traditional 3M brand blue tape. It can even be bought in very large rolls, making it easy to cover your whole bed. Do not use the newer type of tape with a glossy finish. You may also want to apply some Elmer's glue stick the first time for extra adhesion. Using this technique, no bed heating is required.
Blue Painter's Tape on the JumpStart
Many people like printing directly on glass because it is easy to remove your print when done and leaves a nice glossy finish on the bottom of the 3D part. 3D Printing on glass should be done with moderate heating (60 C). You should also make sure the glass is clean. Use some Windex on it if necessary. Prints with very thin sections may be pulled off easily. To prevent this, you might try adding a brim.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is another commonly used 3D printer material. It's best used for making durable parts that need to withstand higher temperatures. In comparison to PLA filament, ABS plastic is less ‘brittle.’ It can also be post-processed with acetone to provide a glossy finish.
Kapton tape is a high temperature adhesive tape with a translucent gold tint that works great for ABS filament. It is famously used on spacecraft, but also makes a good protective surface for 3D printing. Apply Kapton tape to the bed, then spray on hair spray as if you were spraying cooking oil onto a baking sheet. Generic hair spray is fine. We typically use non-scented Aqua Net, which comes in a purple can and can be bought in bulk.
For the most stubborn ABS filament prints, you might use ABS juice instead, which is a mixture of ABS and acetone. To make ABS Juice, start with 2-3oz of acetone and 6-7 inches of ABS 3D printing filament, then adjust as needed. More ABS plastic dissolved in the acetone equals greater bed adhesion. The ideal consistency is thicker than water but thinner than milk. If your mixture is too thick - like paste or yogurt - just add some more acetone to dilute.
There are some chemical solutions in the market that are very potent solution for sticking ABS to glass. These can hold firmly while the bed is hot, but as it cools off, it slowly releases. At room temperature the print is not attached to the bed at all. Apply the these directly to the glass in a thin even coating. Caution: Use sparingly. Otherwise, when you remove your print from the bed it may take chunks of the glass with it. Do not try to remove the print until the bed is cold.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is an industrial strength filament that is much stronger than PLA filament. It is FDA approved for food containers and tools used for food consumption, it barely warps, and produces no odors or fumes when printed.
For PET filament you generally want to use the same surface as you would for PLA, except with a little more bed heating. I recommend 75 C.
Nylon is an incredibly strong, durable, and versatile 3D printing material. Flexible when thin, but with very high inter-layer adhesion, nylon lends itself well to things like living hinges and other functional parts. Nylon filament prints as a bright natural to white with a translucent surface, and can absorb color added post process with most common, acid-based clothing dyes. Nylon filament is extremely sensitive to moisture, so taking drying measures during storage and immediately prior to printing (using desiccant, vacuum, or elevated temperature) is highly recommended for best results.
This is the type of bed surface used in the Markforged Nylon composite 3D printer. Garolite is a fiberglass/epoxy laminate similar to the material used for making circuit boards. There are many types of garolite and certain ones are especially well suited for printing Nylon filament. No bed heating is required with this surface. Usually no other compounds are necessary, although a little glue stick may help on occasion.
Garolite surface on the MarkedForge
TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is an elastic, oil/grease resistant, and abrasion-resistant material with a Shore Hardness of 95A. TPU Plastic has several applicable uses including automotive instrument panels, caster wheels, power tools, sporting goods, medical devices, drive belts, footwear, inflatable rafts, and a variety of extruded film, sheet and profile applications. It is also commonly used in mobile phone cases.
You would think that a flexible material like TPU filament would require some special 3D bed adhesion solution, but it's actually quite similar to PLA filament. We recommend following the Blue Painter's Tape steps in the PLA filament section above to get a great first layer with flexible TPU.
In addition to the specialized surfaces listed above, many 3D printers come out of the box with general purpose surfaces to get you started.
BuildTak is a popular all purpose 3D bed surface. It comes as a sheet with an adhesive back. Simply peel the protective film off and then stick it to your bed.
BuildTak on the Ultimaker 2+
PEI film comes stock on many printers, like the LulzBot TAZ 6. It works with both ABS, PLA, and many other 3D materials. It makes it easy for beginners to start printing as soon as they take their machine out of the box. However, for printing more difficult (i.e. large) objects we recommend using different bed surfaces suited specifically to the 3D plastic you are printing with.
PEI film on the LulzBot TAZ 6
Silicon, with it’s high thermal conductivity, makes an excellent heat spreader. Most heated beds will be warmer in the center than near the edges, and the difference can be extreme (20 C). Using a silicon wafer allows the heat to be distributed more evenly over the bed surface.
The silicon wafers can be used as either a heat spreader underneath your glass plate, or as a replacement for the glass altogether. Be careful when using silicon as a replacement for glass, since it is more fragile.
Silicon wafer on SeeMeCNC Orion
We hope that this guide for selecting the right 3D print bed surface was helpful. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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