It’s easy to get over-excited when getting started with 3D printing. After all, there are so many things to learn and so many settings to check before printing a high-quality piece. We need to research 3D printer manufacturers, decide which material is the easiest or best to handle, choose the filament, and so much more. As a result, it’s easy to ignore the nozzle.
The nozzle is often overlooked, especially by beginners, but it’s one of the most important parts because it affects the quality of the print and the amount of time it takes to produce it. The nozzle is the final piece that touches the filament, so we need to make sure to choose the right one to prevent unsuccessful prints as much as possible.
To quickly improve our 3D printing skills, we need to learn about all the kinds of nozzles that are out there. They come in different sizes, materials, and diameters, so let’s explore our options to determine which nozzle is the best for you.
How does the nozzle work?
The purpose of this mechanical component is to extrude the filament by melting it using heat from the heating cartridge. Just by understanding this basic function of the nozzle, we can already assume that its diameter, size, and material type will have an impact on the extruded filament.
For example, a larger nozzle will have a bigger surface area and therefore transfer heat to the filament at a higher rate than a smaller nozzle. This means we can extrude the filament much faster, thus reducing the time it takes to print our piece.
But the material out of which the mechanism is made also impacts the extrusion speed. As you can probably recall from your elementary school physics classes, different materials conduct thermal energy at different rates. Some materials are more conductive than others.
Finally, the nozzle’s diameter determines how much material can flow out of it. The larger the diameter, the more plastic is extruded. However, this doesn’t mean we should automatically choose the largest nozzle to achieve maximum speed. The diameter has a direct impact on extrusion accuracy. A nozzle with a smaller diameter can create thinner, more delicate layers, which are needed in certain projects.
All in all, these three characteristics play the largest role in the quality of the piece and the speed at which it’s printed. The key is to find the right balance between speed and accuracy.
3D Printer Nozzle Sizes
Generally, there are three sizes available: standard, volcano, and supervolcano.
The size of the nozzle depends on the type and size of the block, so we don’t have too many options available. A standard nozzle needs to match the MK8 extruders and the V6 hot ends. To achieve that, it needs to have a length between 12 to 13 mm.
The volcano nozzle, as the name suggests, works at a higher temperature and extrudes the material at a higher speed. Most nozzles of this size should be able to extrude triple the amount of plastic compared to the standard nozzles. This means that it’s going to be longer (21mm) due to the thermal conduction requirements.
Last but certainly not least, we have the supervolcano option. This nozzle type doesn’t usually come with a stock setup as it’s 50mm in length. As you can imagine, this nozzle will extrude a lot of material, and to do that it requires a sizable thermal cartridge to reach high temperatures.
Materials and their properties
All printer nozzles are made out of metal, but not all metals have the same thermal conductivity rate. The nozzle has to handle a lot of heat, especially when we’re talking about the supervolcano size, but it also needs to efficiently conduct it to melt and extrude the filament.
The most common material you’ll encounter is brass. This alloy is cheap and it's a good thermal conductor that can safely go up to 300℃. The downside is that it’s not a resilient material and it will wear out relatively quickly. Fortunately, brass nozzles are inexpensive so replacing them on occasion won’t break the bank. Just pay attention to the level of wear and tear as it accumulates over time. Since brass isn’t durable, its appearance is affected by any abuse it endures during the printing operation.
If you intend to use filaments that contain metal or carbon fiber, a brass nozzle won’t last long. These materials are abrasive and they will damage the bore, which in turn will reduce the quality of the print. So avoid using anything abrasive when working with a brass nozzle. Detecting internal damage is difficult and you’ll eventually end up with unsuccessful prints. Instead, you should use PLA, nylon, and ABS filaments.
2. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is more durable than brass and plastic is less likely to stick to it. It can also handle a maximum temperature of 500 °C and it won’t contaminate the final result. As you probably know, stainless steel is a food-safe material, so you can safely use it to create prints you intend to use in the kitchen.
The downside of using steel is that it’s not as conductive as brass. So it’s a question of exchanging conductivity for durability. But if you plan to use moderate abrasive filaments, like carbon fiber and metal-filled filaments, stainless steel is adequate material.
A nozzle made out of pure hardened steel is one of the best upgrades you can make to your printer, under the right circumstances. This type of steel is extremely durable and can handle any abrasive material. It will take a few years of heavy use to damage the nozzle to the point of having to replace it. However, there’s a major downside.
To take advantage of this level of durability, we end up sacrificing thermal conductivity. Hardened steel is the least conductive material out of the three options. This means it needs more time to reach the needed temperature to melt the filament, thus slowing down the printing process.
Another possible issue is that the hardened steel nozzle might not be as smooth internally as the other two types. Because hardened steel is obviously a hard material, the boring process during production can leave some marks on the interior of the nozzle. This can lead to rougher prints. Just keep in mind that this isn’t always the case and it depends on the quality control of the manufacturer.
4. Plated Nozzles
Some companies offer nozzles made out of the aforementioned materials that are coated in various metals for additional benefits. For instance, hardened steel can be coated with nickel or tungsten for added protection and to further prevent scrape marks from appearing on the print.
5. Assembled Nozzles
Finally, we have the option of using assembled nozzles that allow us to combine the perks of 2 different materials. These nozzles are made out of two parts, an inner one and an outer one. This means that we could use a more durable material for the component that comes into contact with the abrasive filament, and more conductive material for the exterior part. This way we can have a highly conductive nozzle that will last for years until it needs to be replaced.
These specialized nozzles are more expensive however, and are therefore recommended when working with highly abrasive materials, like PEEK, and at high temperatures. Just keep in mind that the temperature will differ with each model, depending on the material of each component.
3D Printer Nozzle Diameter
Finally, we need to consider the internal diameter of the nozzle. This is where we have a wide range of options because the diameter normally ranges between 0.1 mm and 1.0 mm. So, how do we decide which is the most appropriate diameter? Well, it all depends on how much plastic we want the nozzle to extrude and how fast. The wider the diameter, the more material can pass through it.
Most stock 3D printers come with a 0.4mm nozzle, which is almost right in the middle of the two extremes.
With that in mind, here’s when you should opt for nozzles with a greater than 0.4mm diameter:
- A larger diameter will prevent a series of print errors that are connected to the nozzle and its characteristics.
- As we increase the diameter we decrease the print time.
- Large nozzles are best used with abrasive materials. Remember that hard materials can clog the nozzle if it’s too tight.
And here’s when you should get a nozzle with a diameter under 0.4mm:
- As we reduce the diameter of the nozzle, we obtain greater precision and accuracy.
- Finer supports can be printed and they’re a lot easier to remove than those produced with a large nozzle.
All in all, you should generally opt for the smaller nozzles ( < 0.4 mm) when you want to print objects with a lot of detail. A small nozzle will yield almost invisible layer marks. Just remember that this comes with the risk of ending up with a clogged nozzle and a slower printing speed.
Now that you understand how nozzles work and how to factor in the advantages and disadvantage of using different sizes and materials, let’s explore some of the most popular models:
- MatterHackers: This company is one of the largest in the business and they’re known for producing the CleanTip series nozzles. They come in a variety of sizes, up to 1,20 mm and they’re made out of brass or stainless steel. In addition, MattHackers coat their nozzles with tungsten disulfide to produce cleaner prints.
- Micro Swiss: This company is known for initially making brass nozzles, but nowadays they use hardened steel, brass, as well as a special steel-plated nozzle designed for speed and durability. Sizes range between 0.2 and 1.2mm, so they offer plenty of flexibility as well.
- E3D: This is an open-source British company that manufactures various printer components, as well as nozzles. Being open-source, you’ll encounter some of their designs replicated by other companies.
E3D offers a wide range of nozzles made out of brass, stainless steel, and hardened steel. In addition, they offer hardened steel plated with nickel for added finesse and protection. You’ll find nozzles for all three sizes, namely standard, volcano, and supervolcano. However, their bore diameter range is less versatile with nozzles varying from 0.25 to 0.8mm.
- Slice Engineering: This company makes a series of complex designs made out of vanadium alloys combined with steel. Their nozzles are highly resilient at high temperatures and they’re ideal when working with abrasive filaments. Furthermore, their designs go up to an extreme 1.8 mm bore diameter.
- The Olsson Ruby: This is a specialty nozzle made out of pure brass, but its tip is made of ruby. It’s truly a piece of jewelry. The ruby tip ensures a much higher resistance to wear and tear. The Olsson Ruby is also produced from a copper alloy that could withstand higher temperatures than brass. If you’re a 3D printing enthusiast with some cash to spare, you can add this nozzle to your collection simply for its unique design.
As you can see, nozzles can be exciting as well! There are many choices out there and several important factors to consider before making a purchase. So, make sure you fully understand the pros and cons of each design so that you can improve the quality of your prints. There is no such thing as “the best nozzle” because each one serves its own purpose. You need to decide based on the equipment you’re using and your experience. It’s all a balancing act.