The Common 3D Printing Mistakes You Will Do and How To Avoid Them
If you are making mistakes while learning 3D printing, don’t panic. And you will make them. It is all part of the process. There’s nothing you can learn in a book that you won’t learn exponentially faster by getting your hands dirty. The exception to this rule are perhaps the finer points of CAD design, which do require your hands clean for typing.
Jokes aside, the purpose of this article is not to prevent the common mistakes made in 3D printing. That would be impossible. Instead, the goal of this article is to raise some awareness of what they are, so when you do make them, you’ll be able to spot your error. Then, in the future, avoiding them will be easy. Because let’s face it: like a freshman essay writer setting the world to rights, you’re going to make lots of mistakes early on.
You’re Letting the Nozzle Get Too Hot
An intricate print may take days to complete. And while many of us won’t be attempting such mammoth prints during the early stages of additive manufacturing or at the start of our journey with 3D printing, it is essential to consider what happens when we set the printer to an arduous and lengthy task.
At the core of a 3D printer is movement. Stepper motors control the bed’s position, the nozzle position, and the filament feeding. Add these to the actual heat gun used to melt the filament, and that’s a lot of heat; too much heat results in warped prints. It will screw up your print, and unfortunately, it will often do so near to completion, leaving you disappointed with a poorly finished item.
If the nozzle gets too hot, you’ll find stringy bits of filament reaching between separate parts. Trimming and filing these filaments away is ok; however, you also face the potential of a severe and irreversible collapse of your structure.
For complex printing tasks, we recommend including a small detached cube, no more than a few centimeters, somewhere away from your main printing task. Ensure that the cube is completely isolated from your main build, so there are no overlaps at any point during printing.
This little cube gives the nozzle time to move away, do another, more straightforward task, and cool off. The short window of time granted here also allows your structure to cool slightly, and that’s far better for printing on to, as you should already know.
You don’t respect the first layer
The first layer of any print is the most critical layer of the whole print. Often, failing halfway through a print means that the initial layer had an unsatisfactory level of adhesion. It is a frequent mistake that can send people searching for esoteric solutions when in actuality, the first layers laid down did not stick well enough to the bed.
The solution to this issue is also simple and in line with good printing practice. First, make some test prints. You should watch and see how they evolve. What you’re looking for are those rapid and confusing changes in nozzle direction. Are they acting as a percussive force on the whole print?
These knocks can slowly dislodge the print from its base. Even if the movement is only by several millimeters, it is enough movement to lay waste to the rest of the structure if it is sufficiently complex.
While improving the adhesive quality of your print bed, which is also known as a build plate, you can take several steps. One is to upgrade - which we’ll discuss later - but a low-tech fix is also possible using readily available materials.
Try adding some simple glue from a glue stick to the plate. If gluing your plate seems drastic, don’t worry. Using everyday glue, such as Pritt Stick, is safe, and it will come off in the wash. For those still uncomfortable, adding a layer of masking or microporous tape to the plate has a similar effect. The undulating surface of the tape has excellent friction - and it makes for easy removal once the print is finished.
You bought a cheap 3D printer - with a poorly made frame
Buying something cheap isn’t a mistake. If it is in your budget, then that’s perfect. There are many ways high-quality prints are created, and not all come from the top-of-the-line printers. It’s fantastic that you’ve acquired a 3D printer, and making mistakes on a simple machine is an excellent way to learn. However, some, if not all printers, can benefit even from the modest upgrades.
One of the most common problems with a cheaper 3D printer is the lack of reliable and resilient calibration of the printing bed and the printing arms. When these axes lack calibration, some leaning and morphing occur. A simple cube will transform into a rhombus or a diamond shape. It may look imperceptible to the naked eye, or it may cause you to laugh out loud at the finished product, but the steady calibration is vital.
How can you upgrade these components then? At the top of the list is a frame brace. Some 3D printers had all their R&D budget blown on the motors and the extruder. If your machine is wobbling excessively and you can see defects as you’re printing, a frame brace may be what you need.
Adding a frame brace - yes, you can also print them yourself - means that the frame’s stability is greatly enhanced. It makes calibration last longer, and it can also reduce noise if you’re suffering from a printer that rattles.
You bought a cheap 3D printer again - this time with a poor-quality print bed
Another crucial upgrade is the printing bed. Once you have the means, choose something made from glass. Something like borosilicate glass is the best. Glass beds offer strong resistance to chemicals. 3D printing sometimes produces harsh by-products like styrene, cyclohexanone, butanol. On top of that, glass beds are also more resistant to heat.
Heat resistance is perhaps the most important thing. Beds that can dissipate heat will give your structures a crisper and more refined look. Or they’ll at least collapse and melt less frequently.
You underestimated your slicing abilities
A slicer is a tool that converts the 3D model into the code for your printer. They calculate, by cutting your model into horizontal segments, the filament requirement and the print time. Many slicers are free and open-source. If you’re using SelfCAD software to design your models, you don’t need to switch to any slicing software as everything can be done all under one program using its in-built slicer.
The slicer in SelfCAD is compatible with most of the common 3D printers, and it’s easier to customize it as well, based on your requirements. There is also an option to see how your model will be 3D printed in real-time using the preview option. Once you are through with slicing it, you can then easily save the G-code, which you will send to your 3D printer.
There are many settings in every common 3D slicer. Of the many settings for 3D printing, layer height is one of the most crucial ones. Layer height is effectively the resolution of your print, much like DPI in photographic or 2D printing. Thick layers are low resolution, which is great for prototypes and experiments, though they won’t look crisp.
If your problem is getting that finish, you may need to examine and understand your slicer better. Proper use of your slicer will dramatically improve the realization of your many 3D printing ideas.
As a final point, the best recipe for avoiding mistakes is asking for help when you need it. Better to take a hit to your pride than break the machine entirely. 3D printers are, unsurprisingly, a rather technologically minded crowd and can be found all over the internet.
For responsive debate and discussion on the finer technical points, you should check out Reddit, like the joyful /r/FixMyPrint that only deals with issues people have with their prints. Discord has also popped off recently, and you can find many servers related to printing through the subreddits mentioned above.
All told, digital printing, 3D printing, and additive manufacturing are still just getting going. The mistakes you make are not yet blasphemous errors of judgment on your part. They’re an essential part of the learning curve.