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Getting prints to stick: Basics and troubleshooting

Getting prints to stick: Basics and troubleshooting

This article will cover the essentials of getting 3D prints to stick to the print bed and outline troubleshooting techniques.
One of the most common problems beginner 3D printing hobbyists face is poor bed adhesion. Problems with adhesion can lead to malformed or completely destroyed final prints, so ensuring proper adhesion—and being able to fix problems as they arise—is crucial for ensuring clean and easy 3D printing.

What is bed adhesion?

Bed adhesion refers to the characteristic of a 3D-printed object to remain “connected” to the build plate or print bed during the printing process. If a print does not have good adhesion, the product can be warped and uneven, break easily, or set improperly, leading to a sticky and uneven mess. There are various print bed and built plate materials and additives that are widely accessible and helpful for improving adhesion and reducing the risk of print problems.
Most 3D printers use aluminum, stainless steel, glass, and PEI film beds. Certain tapes, including Kapton or masking tape, can be used to address minor lifting and adhesion issues. With this variety of choices, one would assume that at least one or two options are “best” for ensuring print adhesion, but there is no universal option that will produce perfectly sticking prints every time. In fact, certain options are preferred for certain print techniques and filament types, so familiarizing yourself with your filament type, printer model, and design considerations is essential. Some crucial factors affecting bed adhesion are detailed below. If all else fails, be sure to consult the communities associated with your specific printer model, as common issues that arise with specific hardware are often solved by community members.

Primary factors

Good bed adhesion will typically result from optimizing the following factors: wetting, thermal expansion, and print leveling.

Wetting/surface area

Liquid or softened materials conform and attempt to adhere to solid surfaces, a property typically referred to as “wetting.” During extrusion, the melted filament will take on the form of the build plate, which can be optimized to ensure sufficient adhesion. Larger surface areas promote this, allowing the print to adhere to the bed thus stabilizing it during printing.

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Thermal expansion

Under different temperatures, materials contract and expand. An excessive temperature gradient between the upper and lower parts of the print can cause deformation and reduce bed adhesion. Materials like ABS are specifically sensitive to this as they require heated beds. Thermal expansion is an inevitable consideration when working with heated materials, but careful planning and a close eye on your print settings can mitigate the risk of problems occurring.

Print leveling

Nozzle distance and bed level are two critical components in ensuring an even distribution of filament on the bed, which provides a stable surface for the rest of the print. Checking the leveling of both components can promote good adhesion by helping to control thermal expansion as well.

Troubleshooting

Even with the most attentive setup, your print may still peel up or not set properly. Fortunately, only basic troubleshooting is typically required.

Level the build plate

Leveling the build plate ensures that the filament is placed properly. Even a minor leveling issue can significantly impact the print quality.

Clean the build plate

Clean the build plate with rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth before each print. Check the manufacturer information for your specific bed material, as some materials require different cleaning solutions.

Check nozzle temperature

Check the requirements for your specific filament and ensure that the nozzle temperature is set properly.

Add a 3D-printed support

Brims and rafts are used to increase or support the print’s surface area. A brim can be integrated into the print design, while rafts are typically removed after the print is finished.

Check fan speed

Fan speed impacts the thermal gradient of the print, so ensuring that the fan speed cools the print properly is crucial.

Heat the print

For some filaments, higher heat for longer periods can improve adhesion. Adding a heated bed (or adjusting the settings) or draft shield can help maintain the proper print temperature.

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Check the bed surface

Changing the texture or adding another material to the print bed can improve overall adhesion. A salt solution, heavy hairspray, or purple glue stick are great options for promoting initial adhesion while the print is setting. There are commercial products that do this as well. For some bed materials, physically changing the surface using a very fine grit sandpaper can create a rougher surface, which allows the molten filament to “grip” the bed better.

Reconfigure the first-layer settings

Depending on the type of filament, print layout/design, and printer settings, there may be an issue with how the first layer is being extruded. Sometimes, the extrusion time or design width is off by just a little, which can impact how the remainder of the print is laid and lead to peeling.

High-adhesion tape

If only minor lifting occurs during your print, you may not have to make all the changes listed above. Instead, consider using duct tape or a similar heavy-duty tape to adhere the lifting edges to the bed and keep the print in place while the rest of the filament sets.
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