How to Succeed With PLA Using Your Pulse
When starting out, we usually advise that newcomers try getting experienced printing PLA before moving on to more interesting yet problematic materials. PLA doesn't warp, doesn't shrink, prints at low temperatures (relatively), comes in a huge variety of colors, and doesn't produce fumes. These properties all make PLA a great filament for printing prototypes that are intended for fit and feel and don't need to be a high-strength and high-use material.
In order to make your PLA 3D printing experience on your Pulse as smooth as possible, we've compiled some of the best practices for you to follow.
Step 1 - Getting the Temperature Right
It doesn't matter what material you're printing, the temperature you're printing at makes a huge difference in the quality of your part. Print too hot and some supports may fuse to your part or some overhangs will curl from the heat, producing an ugly finish. Print too cold and while your 3D print looks great, it has zero adhesion between layers and crumbles from the slightest force - even squeezing it gently will make it crackle.
The best thing to do is start your prints - test or otherwise - at 205°C and then raise or lower the temperature by five degrees at a time and see what produces the optimal results. Here are some tell tale signs that your printing is not correct.
The Temperature Is Too Hot
- You will notice some stringing between different sections of the part where oozing occurred
- Corners are curling from the layer cooling fan not being able to cool the print quick enough
- Bridges - completely horizontal surfaces that connect on two sides - are really droopy
- Supports are fused to the part.
If you see these things happening, trying dropping the temperature by five degrees and see if that helps. Repeat until you balance surface quality with inter-layer adhesion.
The Temperature Is Too Cold
- The extruder is "clicking" as it doesn't have the torque to push filament through the nozzle.
- Walls or infills lines aren't fully connected and instead look like beads or dashed lines.
- The print stops extruding filament part way through the print.
If you see these things happening, trying raising the temperature by five degrees and see if that helps. Repeat until you balance surface quality with inter-layer adhesion.
Step 2 - Preparing Your Bed Surface
- If your bed has BuildTak on it, there is no preparation necessary. PLA sticks very well to BuildTak. You can clean it with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) if you notice finger prints, oil from your fingers, dust, or other contaminants. Do not use acetone or other solvents as this will permanently damage the surface.
- PLA can stick TOO well to Buildtak in some cases - you’ll want to tune in your nozzle height (the gap between the build surface and the nozzle) using the Z-offset in MatterControl (babystepping).
- Here are some tips
- Printing with the nozzle too close to the build surface and/or “smooshing" the first layer of your print may result in builds adhering too well making it very difficult to remove and/or can damage the surface.
- To find the sweet spot, it is always better to start with the nozzle height higher than what you might be used to with other solutions.
We recommend starting at a safe nozzle height of about .25mm (or the thickness of a typical business card) and run a test print, paying close attention to the first layer.
- You will know the nozzle is too high if the extruded filament doesn’t adhere firmly
to the BuildTak sheet. In this case, simply reduce the nozzle height incrementally,
test printing each adjustment until you get the desired adhesion. Proper first layer
should adhere firmly, appearing flat, but not "smooshed".
- Note that changing your settings or parameters (nozzle temp, material used, print
speed, etc.) may require re-discovery of the optimal nozzle height.
- PLA doesn’t stick well to bare garolite. A thin layer of PVA glue (Elmer’s glue stick included with Pulse XE models), Magigoo, or hairspray (we like Aquanet extra super hold, unscented) will allow PLA to stick properly to the bed.
Step 3 - Changing Filament
Whether you are changing to a different color of PLA or changing materials all together, you can use the Unload and Load Macros specifically written and designed for the Pulse to guide you through the steps. If you choose to change filament manually, you can do the following steps instead:
- Heat up your extruder to the printing temperature of PLA (205°C)
- Pinch the extruder tensioner to relieve tension on the filament (pull the lever toward the knob).
- Pull the filament out of the extruder. If you can't get the filament to move, you can try relieving more tension by unscrewing the knob on the extruder (Bondtech upgrade only).
- Make sure that you tuck the end of the filament through a hole in the side of the spool, to prevent your filament from coming undone and tangling.
- If you do let the end slip, don't worry, you can follow our handy guide on preventing and fixing filament tangles.
- Heat up your extruder to the higher printing temperature of the two materials (either the material you just printed with and are unloading, or the 205°C for the PLA you are changing to).
- Guide the filament into the extruder gears and press against.
- Relieve tension on the extruder using the red lever and push the filament through (or pull on the black lever for the Bondtech upgrade).
- Push the filament through until it reaches the hotend and starts resisting.
- Be careful you don't kink the filament and break it, otherwise you'll need to pull the filament back out and redo these steps.
- Extrude the filament by clicking "Extrude" in the "Controls" menu of MatterControl (or navigate to extrude using your LCD).
- Once the filament comes out cleanly without any color blending with the previous material, you're good to go!
And that's all there is to it. Changing filament is easy, and thanks to the simple Load/Unload buttons, changing filament has never been easier. But of course, you are free to do it manually as well if that is more convenient for you.
The First Layer Isn't Sticking to the Bed
Make sure you're using the proper adhesive for your bed surface if one is required. Even still, make sure your first layer is in the goldilocks zone for the Z-offset, like mentioned previously; too close and you don't extrude or new layers lift up old ones, or too far and the part doesn't stick in the first place.
The Top Layers and Infill Doesn't Look Right
It's possible that while your Pulse is trying to extrude, something is preventing it from extruding as much as it wants to. Try increasing the temperature by 5 degrees and see if that improves things. It's also possible that the teeth in the drive gear of the extruder is filled with ground up filament. You can clean this out with a toothbrush, wire brush, or carefully with a knife or tweezers. You can also try increasing the tension on the extruder to get a better grip on the filament and prevent it from slipping (Bondtech upgrade only) .
The Outside Walls of My Parts Has Lots of Little "Pimples" On It
This can happen when your Pulse is connected to your computer and the computer can't keep up. When you notice this happening, take note of what programs you have running or how hard your computer is working. Depending on your computer's hardware specifications, 3D modeling and running a print can be too much for your computer to handle, causing your Pulse to run through the data sent to it and wait to receive more. As it pauses, it oozes some filament out until it resumes. Turn off some programs and try printing again, or cut the computer out of the equation and run prints directly off of a microSD card (VIKI upgrade) or SD card (LCD upgrade).
Material Isn't Coming Out of the Nozzle
If the hot end is hot, the extruder gear is turning, and no material is coming out, you might be jammed. Run the unload macro to remove the filament and read our "How To: Unclog a 3D Printer Nozzle" article to see how you can clear it. If the filament doesn't move when you run the unload macro, that would mean your extruder has a bite taken out of the filament at the extruder gear that is preventing it from gripping the filament at all. Simply disengage the tension on the extruder by pressing on the red lever (or pulling on the black lever for the Bondtech upgrade), and pull the material out manually.
For further printer help, visit our 3D Printer Troubleshooting Guide.
Now that you've got your bearings on printing with PLA, you're ready to succeed with all your PLA 3D prints. From here you have a whole multitude of different colors and sub-materials of PLA like wood or metal filled PLA that you can print with. There are some considerations that you will need with these sub materials that you can read about here for metal PLAs or here for wood PLAs. These are still very similar to printing with regular PLA, but add some extra flair to your prints.
Feel free to share with us how your prints are going using #MatterHackers on social media.
Happy printing with your Pulse!
As always, we've got your back.
We don't expect you to run into any problems, but if you do, please do not hesitate to contact a MatterHackers Technician at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (949) 613-5838. We're here to help!
More printing requires proper maintenance. Check out how to keep your Pulse 3D Printer in tip-top shape here.
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