Printing with the recommended Cura settings is perfectly acceptable, but we can do better. While the default settings are good enough to create decent models, you will encounter unique situations that require some customization. This is why you need to explore the settings on your own and master them.
If you’ve already been printing for some time, you probably produced a few models that had a rough finish or additional material. Sometimes, there’s a filament leakage, other times the nozzle is incorrectly set, or perhaps the printing speed is too slow. You can encounter a lot of issues when working with the default Cura settings. Fortunately, you can solve most of them by using custom settings.
Cura comes with a convenient Custom Settings panel that enables you to fix most of those problems by making various adjustments. Among those settings, you’ll find Quality, Material, Speed, Cooling, and more. When you explore each category, you’ll find the customizable settings.
With that in mind, we’re going to explore the Custom Settings panel to discover the best Cura settings for your print. Let’s get started!
Important! Some settings are hidden
Not all Cura settings are visible by default. Many of them are hidden, so you need to reveal them to gain access to various customizations. To do that, find the gear icon at the top of the window and click on it. A panel containing all the settings will open.
Next, all you need to do is click on the checkbox next to a specific setting to enable it. Now you should find that setting in the Custom Settings panel and we can start making adjustments.
The exterior shell settings
You’ll find a series of settings under “Shell”, but the most important one is “Wall Thickness”.
This setting controls how thick the exterior shell of the model is (top and bottom not included here). The value of this setting should be equal to the size of your printer’s nozzle multiplied by an integer. Therefore, if you have a 0.4mm nozzle and set the thickness to 3, you’ll end up with three shells (3*0.4). Under normal circumstances, you don’t need to set the value above 3. Sometimes 2 will do just fine. The more you increase the wall thickness, the more durable the model will be, but there’s no need to overdo it.
Don’t forget that all thermoplastics shrink to a certain degree when they cool off. This is a problem when you require precision from your print because the model might end up smaller than what you require. Fortunately, we have the “Horizontal Expansion” setting that enables us to change the model’s size depending on the level of shrinkage.
Take note that this setting isn’t visible by default so you’ll have to activate it.
That being said, to compensate for shrinkage, you want a positive expansion value. This will increase the size of the model. Negative values will have the opposite effect and they can be used if you think the model will be larger than anticipated.
By default, Cura has the z-seam alignment hidden and it’s set to “shortest” by default. This can sometimes cause the model’s shell to have a surface line, which doesn’t look good.
To prevent that from happening, you should change the setting to “random” instead of “shortest”. That way each layer is printed starting from a random position and the Z-seam will never appear. Just keep in mind that this will increase the printing time.
Alternatively, you can use the “sharpest corner” setting when you’re printing models that have sharp corners. Otherwise, it won’t help.
Fill Gaps Between Walls
This setting is used to handle the gaps between the inner and outer walls that remain unfilled. If you print thin walls, sometimes we end up with empty sections. We need to fix that by adjusting the “Fill Gaps Between Walls” setting.
By default, this setting is hidden so you need to enable it first. Afterward, you have to select one of the two options: nowhere and everywhere. When you select the first setting, the gaps will be left alone. However, if you select “everywhere”, all gaps will be filled. This will result in a more resilient model since the walls will be thicker.
If the mode’s surface is rough or contains any defects, you should check the “Wall Speed” setting. You’ll find this setting under “Speed” instead of “Shell”, but since it’s connected to the wall of the print, you should check it with the rest of the shell settings.
As the name suggests, the purpose of the setting is to regulate the speed at which the printing head moves when printing the walls of the model. Under it, you’ll find two settings, one that controls the outer wall speed and one that controls the inner wall speed. We’re interested in the first one.
By default, the outer wall is set to a speed of 30mm/s. To improve the quality of the surface, you should try reducing this value. Just do it in small increments and perform a few tests to find out the optimal setting, because it depends on your printer, filament, and model design.
Alternate Extra Walls
This setting can increase the durability of your model’s walls. But wait, isn’t that controlled by the “wall thickness” setting? That’s true, but that’s not the only approach and the “alternate extra walls setting” offers a compromise between printing speed and resilience.
By enabling the Alternate Extra Walls option, Cura will print an additional interior wall with every layer. In other words, in between 2 regular layers, you would get an extra one. This will reinforce the structure of the model while maintaining a reasonable printing speed.
Print Speed Settings
This is one of the most important settings because it controls the speed at which something is printed, but it also affects print quality. For instance, if you’re having problems spending hours on simple objects, you should tweak this setting.
The “Print Speed” setting is right under “Speed” in the custom settings panel. By default, it should be set to 60mm/s. If you want to print faster, you need to increase this value. Just keep in mind that high speed lowers quality.
Take note that by changing this value you will probably have to tweak other settings as well. For example, when the print speed is too high, the filament might not melt all the way. You can solve this issue by increasing the extruder temperature.
You’ll have to experiment a bit to find the most appropriate speed for your setup and project. To do that, you should increase the speed in small increments of 5mm/s. With each modification, you should run a test to see what happens. When you reach the point where you aren’t happy with the quality of the print, you should return to the previous setting. Alternatively, you can change the “Infill Speed” if you lose too much quality. This setting doesn’t affect the overall print speed. Instead, it controls only the interior of the model that we can’t see anyway. So, we don’t care about the visual quality of it.
On the other hand, if you’re working on a highly detailed model, you want lower speeds not higher. This way you won’t lose any of the precious details. Furthermore, there are some types of filament that work better at lower speeds, so make sure to read the label for any print speed recommendations.
The Infill Pattern
The infill pattern setting is by default set to grid. This kind of pattern is fast to print and it’s fairly resilient. You can leave this setting as it is for most applications. However, in some cases, the grid pattern is worse than other options. These options include Lines, Triangles, Cubic, Tetrahedral, Concentric, and Zig Zag.
To choose the best infill pattern, you need to consider whether the model is going to serve a functional purpose and if it will have a sizable capping surface.
If your print is purely decorative and it doesn’t have to withstand any physical forces, you might not even need an infill. However, if its capping surface is going to be large, it will need support. We can provide that support with an appropriate infill pattern, in this case being Concentric. This pattern doesn’t use much material, it’s fast to print, and it offers enough support at the top. On the other hand, if your model needs to be strong and durable (outside of mechanical use), you should opt for the “Triangles” pattern. It will consume more material and it’s slow to print, but it will provide the model with plenty of structural strength.
Finally, if the model has to withstand physical forces, the best patterns are Cubic and Tetrahedral. They offer the most mechanical support.
Most 3D printers come with cooling fans that help the filament harden as it’s extruded. They’re particularly important because the final layer has to be sufficiently cooled before the next hot layer is poured.
Cooling is enabled by default in Cura, but it ignores the first layer to increase adhesion between it and the plate. However, this setting can be problematic if it cools the plastic too much as it’s coming out of the nozzle. In fact, the nozzle might fail altogether because it never reaches the melting temperature needed by the filament. To solve this issue, Cura provides us with the Fan Speed setting.
The Fan Speed setting isn’t visible by default. You’ll have to navigate to the “Cooling” section and enable it. Afterward, you’ll see that the fan speed value is set to a percentage of the maximum speed. By default, it might be set to 100%, so start lowering it in 20% increments until everything works as it should.
On a side note, not all filaments require active cooling, such as Polycarbonate and Nylon. So make sure to turn off the cooling system to prevent warping and structural damage. To do that, navigate to the “Cooling” section and disable the “Enable Print Cooling” option.
Build Plate Adhesion Type
As already mentioned, when the material cools off, it shrinks. If it shrinks too much, the model has a high chance of detaching itself from the print bed. This causes warping, especially around the edges. Some materials have a high chance of warping due to the nature of the plastic, so we have to actively try to prevent warping through any means. Fortunately, Cura offers us a few options, one of them being the “Build Plate Adhesion Type” setting.
This setting is found in the Build Plate Adhesion section and it offers us three options: Skirt, Brim, and Raft. By default, Cura is set to Skirt, which creates a line around the model’s first layer to help it adhere to the print bed. However, sometimes that’s not enough and we should use a brim or raft instead.
Your choice depends on your project. If you select the “Brim” option, the model will have a solid, flat area around its base layer. The brim holds the model down as it cools and it’s quite easy to remove. But in more extreme cases, the brim isn’t enough either. If you try it and you still end up with a deformed model, you should change the setting to “Raft”.
The raft is essentially a grid in between the print bed and the model. Its purpose is to evenly distribute the heat and thus improve the model's adhesion. However, this setting works best when you’re printing a model that doesn’t have an entirely flat base.
Unfortunately, adhesion types won’t always save you from warping, so here are a few other settings you can experiment with to improve the quality of the print:
- Initial Layer Height: Tweak this setting to improve the first layer adhesion. A thicker layer will resist warping better than a thin layer. Take note that this setting is hidden in the “Quality” settings.
- Initial Layer Speed: If this option is set to a high value, the filament can get stuck to the nozzle and it will be dragged everywhere. We don’t want that. So make sure you adjust the speed for the first layer, preferably to a lower value than the default one. Reduce it in small increments and run a few tests before printing your model.
- Number of Slower Layers: This setting can improve the base layer adhesion by reducing the printing speed for the foundation layers. You can choose how many layers will be affected by this setting and modify their printing speed. You should gradually increase the value to reduce the chance of warping. Just keep in mind that this will also increase the amount of time it takes to print the model.
- Regular Fan Speed at Height: This setting allows us to gradually increase the speed of the fans, starting with the first layer. As you may recall, by default the fans are turned off when printing the first layer to increase adhesion. However, instead of suddenly engaging the fans after the first layer, we can gradually turn them on to obtain a more controlled method of cooling.
Remember, most of these settings depend on your own setup, material, and project design. So, spend some time increasing or decreasing the values, and run a few tests.
Warping isn’t the only deformative problem. Sometimes, the surface of the model ends up bumpy, ruining the quality of the finish. This effect is often referred to as “pillowing”. It’s usually caused if some of the quality, cooling, or shell settings are wrongly configured. The solution involves correcting those settings, if they’re indeed the culprit, and modifying the hidden Top/Bottom Thickness setting.
This setting is found in the “Shell Settings” section and you’ll have to enable it first. To ensure a good model surface, you need to make sure the top is thick enough. You can determine whether it’s too thin if your model is printed with holes in the top layer. To fix that, adjust the Top Thickness option. The general rule is to change the value to that of the layer height multiplied by six. So if the height is 0.1mm, the thickness should be set to 0.6mm at least.
However, sometimes even the perfect “Top Thickness” setting isn’t enough. As mentioned, the cooling settings might be the source of the problem. When the filament doesn’t cool as it should, it can either curl or hang in the space that goes over the infill lines. As a result, we end up with an uneven surface over which the new layer is poured. So, to solve this kind of pillowing, try boosting the fan speed setting if the top thickness setting doesn’t help.
Setting the temperature correctly makes the difference between a successful print and a failed, leaky mess. You can find this setting in the “Material” settings.
If the temperature is set too high, the filament will be too liquid and it will drip all over the print bed. This is a common problem and the solution is to simply lower the temperature. Keep in mind that the temperature depends on the filament. Each material has a different melting point, so make sure to look for the optimal temperature range on the label. Afterward, decrease the temperature gradually, in small increments. Run a test after every change until you find the optimal temperature setting.
On the other hand, when you reduce the temperature, you might end up with an under-extruding problem. This happens if you don’t make adjustments to the print speed together with the temperature. Remember, speed and temperature are connected and you can’t modify one without correcting the other. So, when you reduce the temperature, make sure to also lower the speed.
Finally, among the most important settings, we have those related to generating support structures. Cura can generate them automatically or you can tweak them yourself. You just need to make sure that the support structure is strong enough to offer the right amount of stability for your project and that it doesn’t affect the surface of any sections. However, supports should also be fairly easy to remove without causing any damage.
Fortunately, Cura offers a series of support-related settings in the “Support” section. You’ll have to experiment on your own with them until you find the perfect balance between stability, print quality, and removability.
But how do you know if your model even needs support?
After you import the model into your slicer software, you may notice sections of it colored red. That means that Cura is alerting you certain sections of the model aren’t stable enough. Some of these smaller areas will be automatically taken care of by Cura. But if you see large highlighted sections, they will require support.
The easiest thing to do is to navigate to the “Support” settings panel and enable the “Generate Support” option. That setting will generate the structural support automatically and there’s no need for you to do anything else. In most cases, the auto-generate feature is enough to ensure a high-quality print.
These settings are only a handful of what Cura has to offer. There are over 100 settings to uncover, but realistically you’ll only need to worry about several for most applications.
The custom settings you find on this list are some of the most important ones and sometimes they’re disabled or wrongly configured for certain projects. To get the best print possible, you’ll have to adjust them based on the type of problem you’re having. That requires experimentation and testing, otherwise, it’s really hard to find the perfect setting. Each model you print is unique and you have to factor in many variables, such as the type of filament you’re using, the ambient temperature in your room, the type or quality of your printer, and so on. So feel free to explore your settings, change them in small increments, and run plenty of tests. You’ll find the best Cura settings for your print in no time.