3D Lab Tech

Frequently Asked Questions

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3D printing is the construction of three dimensional objects in a layer by layer approach. Otherwise known as additive manufacturing (AM) technique. A printer adds material layer by layer and fusing them together.

PLA – Polylactic Acid or Polylactide

PLA is one of the most popular materials used in 3D printing today. It is the default filament of choice because it can be printed at low temperatures and does not require a heated bed which means many lower end 3D printers are able to print this material without many problems.

PLA + is PLA with some additional additives but what additives are different between brands. Many manufacturers are tight lipped about what is in their formula. But PLA + is generally the same as PLA but stronger, improved resistance to moisture and be not as brittle.

Wood PLA
Wood PLA is a blend of PLA and fine wood particles. The final product is very much like real wood. It can be sanded and stained just like wood. Cura (slicer software) can also add slight variations to the print by adjusting temperature as the printer prints to create variations in the layers similar to grains found on real wood.

Metal PLA
Metal particals are added to PLA and the final product can even be polished like metal can be. For this a different nozzle is required because original nozzles are usually made of brass and it will get damaged from the metal particals. Other nozzles made of stainless steel, titanium, copper are better suited for printing metal PLA.

Special colors
Some have additives that are glow in the dark, thermochromic for color changing, or multi-color so it prints in a rainbow pattern.

PETG – Polyethylene Terephthalate or poly(ethylene terephthalate)

The material is same as PET and is more flexible than PLA or ABS and a bit softer but very strong. The “G” stands for glycol-modified making the resin more clear and is a transparent type of Copolyester. PETG is the perfect combination of strength and ductility which is why it is used in so many parts of robotics and mechanical parts. Since it has very low shrinkage it is also very good for printing large objects while maintaining dimensional accuracy. It is also great chemical resistance to water, acidic and alkali substances.

TPU – Thermoplastic Polyurethane

TPU is a flexible filament that is also very tough. It’s similar to the feel of silicone in terms of flex and stiffness. This does require a printer that has a direct drive extruder though. Bowden type printers are able to print this material but will need to be very fine tuned and may still have problems printing because of the long travel the filament has to be pushed through the tube to the extruder.

Carbon Fiber – Carbon Fiber filaments contain short fibers that are infused into a PLA, ABS, Nylon and PETG base material to help increase strength and stiffness. The fibers are extremely strong and very light which also helps increase the dimensional stability of the object as the fibers help prevent shrinking of the part as it cools.

ABS – Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

This is a very popular 3D printing material because it is very strong and is easy to print. ABS is a durable plastic with high temperature resistance that is used for functional / end use printed parts or prototyping. ABS can be easily finished post process with acetone making the surface smooth. Some problems with printing ABS is that is can shrink if it is cooled too quickly so a heated bed is a must and also an enclosed printer is recommended too for temperature control. Another problem with printing ABS is fumes while printing this filament can be strong and ventilation is also recommended.

A format originally developed for stereolithography – hence the abbreviation. It is the most commonly accepted file format and only stores geometry data, giving rise to compact files.

First created by Wavefront is a simple format storing vertex information to represent a 3D mesh. Besides vertex positions, it also stores surface normals plus a UV-coordinate that can be mapped to an image-based texture saved separately from the mesh.

PLY (Polygon)
A more extensive format developed at Stanford to aid the storage of 3D scanning data. One of its benefits is the possibility to assign properties such as texture data separately for both sides of a face.

AMF (Additive Manufacturing Format)
An alternative to STL for 3D printing. Being XML-based, it will store additional data such as orientation, scale, patterning multiple objects, non-planar edges, and graded materials.

3MF (3D Manufacturing Format)
Similar to AMF but less standardized as it is created by a consortium of companies. Microsoft being one of them, it’s Windows’ native 3D file format.

This is a file that you slicer software produces to tell your printer what to do. It is a programing language made up of a series of commands to control a 3D printer. Most of the commands start with the letter ”G” hence the name GCODE. These are very precise commands like how fast to print, which direction to move the extruder and the print bed, how much filament to extrude, what the fan speeds should be, and so on to produce 3D prints layer by layer.

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  • Try raising the top and bottom thickness in your slicing software.

  • Raise fill density above 25% to reduce any gaps

  • May need to level the print bed because it could be too close and not allowing the plastic to extrude

  • If you are printing too fast you may experience stringing in the print. If you are experiencing oozing then you maybe printing too slow.

  • Your temperature maybe set too high for this filament causing it to not solidify fast enough. Temperatures can be different for each 3D printer, type of filament and even between brands. Check with manufacturers recommended settings.

  • Retraction speed/distance may not be set correctly.

  • Fan is not working correctly

  • Printer has been running too long and is overheating

You may have a blocked nozzle. Sometimes when changing the filament a piece of the old filament could have been left behind and blocking the filament from being extruded out or you may have some buildup at the bottom of the nozzle.

First you need to heat the extruder and then start by using a soft wire brush to remove the plastic stuck on the outside in a linear motion. This should be able to remove any burnt and hardened plastic around the nozzle area. Just be sure to check with your user manual if a metal brush can be used.

The most common issue is filament is stuck on the inside of the nozzle. This can be fixed by heating the nozzle and pushing a needle into the nozzle to loosen any filament that has hardened inside.

Lastly if you have been printing with ABS you can heat up the nozzle and remove it. Then soak it in acetone for a few hours to melt the ABS inside. If everything fails then you may need to replace the nozzle.

This is an obvious issue and you will be able to tell there is something that is wrong. What some of the common issues could be worn or broken end stops on the 3D printer. If this is a new machine then it’s possible that it was incorrectly setup and the wrong 3D printer was selected during initial configuration. Another issue can be that when the model was being sliced that the wrong printer was selected during this step as well. For example if you selected Creality CR-10 that has a print bed of 450x450mm instead of Creality Ender 3 that has a print bed of 220x220mm.

  • There seems to be lots of filament on the spool but nothing is coming out of the extruder. Sometimes the filament can break inside the Bowden tube. This can be caused by old or poor quality filament. Keep your filament out of direct sunlight as this can make your filament brittle.

  • Try a fresh spool of filament and if the problem goes away then the previous roll has maybe expired.

  • This can be very frustrating especially if it happens mid print. The most common problem is that the first layer did not bond enough to the print bed. There are a few things that can help in this situation.

  • To increase the chances for good adhesion it helps if the print bed has a textured surface to stick to. You can try adding another material such as applying a thin layer of glue stick, masking tape or hair spray.

  • Having a level print bed is very important. If the nozzle is too high then the filament will be printing into thin air and will harden before it touches the print bed and will not be able to stick properly. If the nozzle is too low then the filament will not have enough space to extrude and you may not have any filament coming out of the nozzle. The nozzle needs to be just high enough so the filament is pressed into the bed at the right height and sticks to the bed. First layer should be around 0.2 – 0.25mm high.

  • The print bed is dirty or has oils on it from touching it too much. This can be remediated by cleaning the print bed each time with isopropyl alcohol.

  • Some models at the base just doesn’t have enough surface touching so it makes the print easy to break away from the bed. In the slicer software you can add what is called a brim or a raft to the base to help give the object a larger base to stick to.

  • You can also add an auto leveler such as a BL Touch if your printer doesn’t have one already. It will probe your print bed and adjust for any inconsistencies in the bed even if it is warped.

This is known as “elephants foot”. This is when the base of the print is bulging out slightly from the rest of the print. This defect is caused when the rest of the print is pressing down too much before the print has had enough time to solidify. To stop this from happening you need to cool the first few layers enough to be able to support the next layers. Be careful because if you cool off the filament too quickly you can also cause it to warp. Try lowering the temperature of the platform by 5 degrees each time but within +/- 20 degrees of the recommendations.

At the base the model can bend and lift upwards off the bed. This can also cause horizontal cracks in upper parts and cause your print to become unstuck from the print bed. Filaments such as PLA and ABS can contract and shrink slightly when it is cooled too quickly. The best way to fix this is to use a heated bed. This can be set in the slicer software. The recommended temperature can be found from the filament manufacturer as this can vary from brand to brand.

  • The print came out fine but the inside support structures can be seen from outside. This is called “ghosting” and can happen when the walls are created too thin. This causes the support lines to overlap with the outside lines.

  • This can also happen if you set the incorrect nozzle size to the thickness of the walls. Nozzle size should be in direct relation to the wall thickness as well. For example a nozzle size of 0.4mm should have wall thicknesses of 0.4mm, 0.8mm, 0.12mm and so on.

  • The easiest solution to this is just increase wall thickness.

  • This happens because at higher layers the heated bed is not as effective and layers can start to separate if it cools too quickly. You can start by increasing the extruder temperature by 10 degrees and trying again but try and keep within the recommended temperatures from the filament manufacturer.

  • Check and make sure your fans are on and pointing at the model. If they are then try reducing their speeds if you can.

  • Fine and intricate details are lost during the print. Edges and corners are not very sharp but come out soft and curved. A few things can help with this issue.

  • The most common is adjusting the layer height. Select something that is smaller. Extruding at a layer height of 0.12mm compared to 0.2 is going to give you much better details in the print but will take almost twice as long to print because it has to make almost twice as many passes to get the same layer height.

  • Nozzle size is another issue. Many printer come with a nozzle size of 0.4mm. If you want finer details you can try lowering the nozzle size. You can get nozzle sizes as small as 0.25mm but you may experience more complications in your print and will also require a direct geared extruder on your 3D printer to make this work. Your printer will need to be fine-tuned as any issues will be magnified at this level.

  • Nozzle temperature is important to allow the filament to flow smoothly. Ensure that your nozzle is clean.

  • Lowering print speeds can also help increase better details. If you lower the print speed dramatically you may need to adjust some settings such as the fan to its lowest setting or off if possible.

  • Calibration prints can help fine-tune your printer and help you pinpoint things you can adjust to get that perfect print.

  • Some designs require that the dimensions of the model must be accurate or parts do not fit correctly after print. Parts do not align, holes printing too small are just some of the things that can go wrong.

  • Ensure that you are working in the same dimensions in your design software as well as your slicing software.

  • When designing the components make sure they are not the same size. For example if you are making a screw that should fit inside a hole then make sure the screw is slightly smaller in dimensions. They can not be made the exact same size.

  • If you have reduced the polygon count on the faces too much then that could create straight lines or deform the edges enough on the edges and if it was round to begin with then parts may not fit because of this.

  • You can do a test print of a dimensional cube. Here is a like a 20mm cube on Thingiverse. https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1278865.
    Once you have printed the cube check the dimensions on each side using a digital caliper. Each side should measure 20mm. If the sides of the cube measure accurately at 20mm but the top and bottom (z) measurements are incorrect then it’s most likely the first base layer was incorrect and causing an issue. You will need to re-calibrate the plate lower if the cube height was under 20mm.

    If your cube’s sides are under 20mm then this can be caused by your filament shrinking due to thermal contraction and is common with ABS. You may need to adjust the scale of the print to counter the shrinkage. Best way to avoid this is to buy good quality filament.

    If things like a hole in the object is oval in shape then this could be caused by belts being loose or a slight misalignment. Check screws and tighten if necessary. If there is filament oozing on the insides of the hole then the nozzle could be too hot and needs to be adjusted to a lower setting.

  • In some cases the filament may seemed to be glued to the printer bed and will not break free. You can wait for a short time for the bed to cool down and this will usually help free the object. Some printers have removable mats that are magnetically attached to the printer. You can remove the mat and flexing it slightly resulting in the object popping off the mat. You can also use a putty knife to try and pry under the object to free it from the surface without scratching the print bed.

  • You can also try to print with a lower bed temperature.