Eight Tips for Improving 3D Print Quality

March 31, 2020
There are several simple ways those using 3D printing or additive manufacturing can get better prototypes or production parts faster.

Many companies use 3D printing, a form of additive manufacturing, for prototyping or turning out production parts. It is a computer-based process that lays down layer after layer of a product until it is complete. The process uses metal or plastics and starts with a 3D digital model of the final object.

Here are eight tips that will help users improve print quality, along with a few extras for increasing 3D printing speed.

1. Adjust the bed and set the nozzle height.

The easiest way to improve 3D print quality is to ensure the bed is leveled and nozzle distance is properly set. Most printers come with a recommended distance between bed and nozzle. A feeler gauge or a simple piece of paper can help in setting this distance. Once the nozzle is properly positioned, the gauge or paper should slide under the nozzle. No force is needed to get it to go underneath the nozzle. This process should be repeated at least three times to ensure that it’s working well.

2. Check the nozzle’s temperature.

The nozzle temperature, and there could be several nozzles, affects print quality. If it is too hot, there will be filament strings between spaced parts. On tall pieces, high temperatures usually melt the top layers and deform the final object. If you are printing a taller object, add a one-centimeter cube on the opposite side of the printer’s build plate that is opposite side to remove the hot nozzle from the part. This will let the nozzle cool. If strings of filament appear between structures, consider using a shield structure or wall. These are usually found in slicer programs.

3. Use different building plates to create different effects.

Different build plates create different textures on the object. Bed materials such as PEI, glass or Kapton tape usually leave a smooth surface. Painter’s tape or polycarbonate sheets leave a matte finish.

If you’ll be using glue or spray on the surface, use just enough to cover the plate. Using too much glue or paint deforms the object and creates dents. These make it difficult to remove the object from the plate, and forcing it off can damage the object and break the plate.

Play around and experiment to determine the best way to create a surface finish that compliments the object.

4. Pay close attention to your printer’s adjustment and maintenance.

Every 3D printer has features and techniques that improve print quality. And printers should be maintained to get the best print. For example, the printer’s rails should be cleaned and lubricated. And the gantry should be at the same height on both sides if your printer uses stepper motors. Also, check to see if there are any weak spots in the frame. Tighten all bolts and ensure the firmware updated as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

5. Handle the filament carefully.

Most filament are hydrophilic and absorb water from the air, which causes printing problems. Damp filaments expand during extrusion because water becomes steam and escapes from the plastic. The filament often crackles or pops as the steam escapes. There could also be smoke.

You can dry the filament on the spool in the oven for a few hours at low temperatures. Some people build a heated bin that holds the filament prior to it being fed into the printer.

6. Use a slicer.

Slicers convert 3D models into instruction sets that operate the printer. Most are free.

If a print isn’t as good as it should be, adjust the slicer’s hyper or fine quality setting. While it might slow the printing process, print quality will improve. That being said, do not adjust the slicer after a few poor-quality prints. Analyze the problem and change slicer settings gradually. As change the settings, keep printing to see if there are changes. Slicers have many settings. Spend some time to learn them; you will get better service from the slicer.

7. Lower the printing speed.

Echoes or ringing around the edges of feature on the final object reduce the visual quality of your final product. These distracting lines are usually caused by vibrations from the extruder’s operation. To fix this problem, lower the printing speed. Ensure the extruder has the room to move so the printed area does not overheat or create other quality problems.

8. Don’t forget to post-process.

After the object is printed, takes some time to eliminate any defects. For example, get rid of small imperfections with sandpaper or a small sharp knife, especially if painting or polish is planned. Some plastics, such as ABS, are compatible with acetone vapor treatments that leave a glossy finish. However, these treatments weaken the model. And composite or copper-infused plastics can be improved with some sanding and special treatment.

Waiting for an object to print is like watching grass grow. Here are some techniques for increasing the print speed.

3D print at warp speed. One common way to increase print speed is by adjusting the slicer’s speed. This makes it possible to speed or slow the print head, which improves the look of the final object. And on well-designed objects, print speed can be increased.

Use a larger nozzle and thicker layers. Thicker layers greatly reduce print times. If accuracy is not a top priority, consider printing with the maximum layer thickness and a large nozzle. The maximum layer should be 75% of the nozzle diameter. Therefore, a 0.8-mm nozzle can build 0.6-mm layers.

You’ll notice the layers of your product becoming thinner. This improves the final object’s firmness. But thicker layers mean losing the product’s fine details. It is also important to find the right nozzle for the task at hand.

Adjust infill density and wall thickness. Solid prints are made using stronger and thicker outliners that are filled with honeycomb structure. If you fail to use this structure, the 3D print will take a long time. If you use an infill, there are a variety of options to increase printing speed. For instance, you can reduce infill even more. However, keep in mind that the ratio between the infill and wall thickness will be maintained. This prevents models from cracking or even collapsing in the long run.

Acceleration and jerk settings. Jerk settings affect how fast the print head moves from a still position. To get the best quality print, ensure the print ahead moves smoothly rather than quickly. This is the speed the printer will automatically jump to before accelerating.

Acceleration settings affect how quickly the print head reaches its top speed. Therefore, having a low acceleration means the printer won’t reach its top speed with smaller objects. Increasing the jerk value reduces printing times, but it might lead to mechanical stress and a possible decrease in the quality of print because of vibrations. To get the best quality, avoid affecting the quality of the product, users need to strike a balance and find the best jerk setting, which will likely be a mid-level setting.

Limit the number of supports. The more support material required by a product, the longer it will take to print. Therefore, it’s best to print objects that don’t require any support. There are several techniques that can help in designing objects that don’t need support. Today, most designs don’t require supports. Eliminating them is one of the most efficient ways of 3D printing without sacrificing strength or quality.

Finally, don’t expect to create perfect products the first few times. Take care of your filament. And when with quality problems, review your settings and make the necessary adjustments slowly. Remember, every print is a learning opportunity!

Isabell Gaylord is a manager at a writing services firm and a professional journalist.

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