3D Printing Support: When and How to Use Them

 |  Ankur Gohit

3D printing has a lot of advantages, but like every other thing on the earth, it is limited by gravity. Gravity affects all the models and objects created by 3D printing. The models created using 3D printers can’t stay in the air, or we can say that 3D printers don’t print in thin air.

To solve this problem, we need 3D printing support. You can add the supports in any 3D design using slicer software, which adds all sorts of 3D printed supports to your model. Support element plays an important role in successfully producing 3D printed parts. 3D printing has the amazing ability to create freeform geometries like turning spools of plastic into toy soldiers, gaming creatures, and other 3D fun models.

But, much of the design freedoms offered by 3D printing wouldn’t be possible without the use of support structures. In many designs, 3D printers need a support structure. Supports are used to prevent deformation and collapse within the part. But, not all 3D prints require support. Only in some cases do the 3D prints require support.

In this article, you will learn about when you will need support and how you can use them in 3D printing.

What is Support Structure in 3D Printing?

3D printer supports

3D Model With Support. Image Source: All3DP

The support structure is the added part in the 3D model that supports overhanging or bridge structure when slicing the model. You can remove this support structure after printing. When 3D printing, you need to melt and overlay the filament layer by layer to print a model. When creating an overhang or bridge structure, the amount of overhang that can provide support depends on the stiffness of the material it is made of. The stiffer the material, the more an overhang can stick out.

But, the stiffness can support the material only at a certain point. After that, the weight of the overhang will overcome the stiffness of the material, and the overhang will collapse.

When Will You Need a Support Structure?

3D printer supports

Image of 3D Model with Support. Image Source: Sculpteo

Not every 3D model requires support. Many 3D prints can be made without using support. You should know when you require support and when you don’t.

Here’s how you will know whether your model requires support:

  • When you are creating a model whose structure is irregular or complex. 
  • When the model structure is relatively simple, but there is an angle of overhangs or bridges in a certain part then support should be added to make the model stable. Overhangs are the places where the printer prints the model partially or completely over the air, such as the arms of the letter T or Y printed vertically.
  • According to the 45 degrees principle, if the angle of the overhang structure is less than 45 degrees, then you can print without adding any support. But, if the overhang is larger than 45 degrees from the vertical, then a support structure is required, otherwise, the printed model will collapse.
  • All 3D printers are created in different ways, so the structure will also be different. You can try printing an overhang test to see how well your printer does. You can try 45 degrees and 60 degrees overhang. If the 60 degrees overhang is not looking so good, then you can add a support structure.
  • Print speed plays an important role in 3D printing. Generally, slower speed leads to higher quality prints. But, it is not the same in the case of 3D printing. The faster the speed, the better the overhangs turn out. So, if you’re using a slow 3D printer, make sure to turn on supports.

If you would like to easily design models that are printable, then use SelfCAD software. It is an affordable 3D modeling software that ensures that all the designs created are printable. It also has an in-built slicer useful for slicing your designs and helping you generate the G-code that you can send to your 3D printer for printing.

It's beginner-friendly software, so if you're a beginner in the field of 3D modeling, it can make things easy for you. You can add support to all your designs with the help of SelfCAD software. 

It has interactive tutorials that help you to self-learn 3D modeling easily.

Now you know whether the models require support or not. But, adding support will cost you more. So, it’s better to find ways to reduce the use of support structures because prevention is better than cure.

Here are some general guidelines to avoid having to print with supports:

  1. Orient the Print Correctly: By performing an orientation, you can prevent the use of supports in 3D models. Suppose you want to print the letter T, if you try to print it standing upright then you will be forced to 3D print the support as well. But, you can prevent the use of support by just rotating the model. If you simply rotate the model so that the T is lying flat, then you don't need support at all. You can save both material and time. This not only applied to the T shape, you can also do the orientation with every shape. Simply choose the best orientation to minimize 3D printed supports. 
  2. Reduce Overhang Angle: As we have discussed earlier, you don't need support structures at lower angles. By reducing the overhang angle, you can prevent the use of supports to a great extent. If you are creating the model by yourself, then consider editing it, so that overhang angles are reduced. 
  3. Split the model into two parts: Some models are difficult to create in a single format, for example, cylinder and sphere. Spheres are some of the trickiest shapes to 3D print, as the huge overhangs near the bottom tend to come out pretty ugly, even with supports. In such a case, you can split the material into two parts. Instead of printing the whole sphere, you can print two halves of the sphere separately and glue them together later. 

Conclusion

3D printing supports are an important part of the 3D printing process. Without 3D printing support, some designs are impossible to create. In this article, we have mentioned when you should use the 3D printing support and how you should use them. 

We hope you got a better understanding of 3D printing supports through this article. If you have any questions or issues then feel free to present them, we will respond as quickly as we can. 


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