A comprehensive collection of 3D printing tricks – Part 1

I was really busy working on several other projects and many of them involved manufacturing a custom case. The method, I often choose for quick prototyping, is 3D printing and I have found that a lot of people seem to struggle with this technique and so I thought I would collect a few methods that worked well for me and others that didn’t.

And while there are a lot of guides and pages available for that purpose, most of the tips are either scattered all around the internet or you often don’t know whether they are any good or not. I tried (almost) all of the methods in this series and I will add new things that I try and how they worked out for me.

Basic maintenance, cleaning and preparations

Let me start with the absolute basics of 3D printing. This section can especially be useful, when you are new to the topic. However, I happily ignored a lot of the basics and wondered why my prints would constantly fail, even after years of 3D printing.

Printer calibration / setup

This is something that I didn’t take serious for too long and this is probably the reason, why most of my prints used to fail up until recently. I can not stress this enough: The most important factor for successful prints, at least from my experience, is proper printer and, especially, print-bed calibration.

You should absolutely make sure, that the print-bed is as level as you can get it. You probably won’t get it 100% perfectly level but there shouldn’t be too much difference between the edges: The nozzle should always have the same distance to the bed, regardless of its x/y position.

Figure 1: Most 3D printers have adjustment wheels which allow you to level out the print bed.

After calibrating the print-bed, you should check it from time to time because it will move around quite a bit when the printer is working

Maintenance

This might seem like a no-brainer but I feel like a few people could forget about it: You should regularly check the state of your printer. Add a bit of grease to the moving parts (except the rollers that push the filament through the nozzle) and remove dust, dirt, and debris.

Cleaning

The most important component, that needs to be cleaned regularly, is the print-bed. So far, I’ve only used a heated glass bed and therefore all the tips, that I can give you, are for that type.

I usually clean the print-bed whenever I have trouble getting the first layer stuck down or when parts get loose after some time. For that purpose, I let the bed cool down to around 40°C (100° F) and then clean it with window cleaner. Acetone works very well too but because it’s more expensive, I only use it to remove stubborn grime and only when the bed has completely cooled off to room temperature.

Depending on various other factors, like the method you use to make sure that parts adhere to the print bed (like glue stick), you might need to clean that off first with some water and kitchen towels.

Another part, that needs regular care, is the nozzle. Old material and dirt build up can cause this part to clog and fail. If you are completely out of luck, it might damage the entire hot end and then you need to replace it.

Therefore, I usually unload the filament when I’m done printing and I try to clean the nozzle from time to time.

I also use a nozzle with a pretty large diameter. My printer came with a 0.4mm nozzle but I replaced it with a 0.6mm one. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going any larger than that because you’ll get less accurate prints and your heater needs to be pretty strong to keep up with the amount of filament that gets pressed through the nozzle.

If your nozzle gets clogged, you can try to put it into acetone and let it soak for a while (10-15 minutes). This should soften the plastic (especially ABS) and it should become easier to clean it.

Nozzle / Hot end setup

This seems to be a common mistake, which I made myself several times: The nozzle shouldn’t be screwed all the way into the hot end of the printer. It shouldn’t be flush and there should be a small gap between the nozzle and the hot end:

Figure 2: Note the gap between the nozzle and the hot end.

If there’s filament oozing out between the nozzle and the hot end or above that, make sure that the nozzle is tight against the part that feeds the filament into it.

Z-Offset

Besides leveling the print bed, you should also make sure that the distance between the nozzle and the print bed is right. The nozzle should neither be too close to the bed, nor should it be too far away.

If it is too close, it might scrape on the bed and damage it. However, a much more common problem is that no material will come out, especially during the first few layers of the print. Furthermore, the nozzle will most certainly clog and it’s going to be very hard (and frustrating) to clean it, so save yourself the trouble.

If the nozzle is too far away from the print bed, your printed parts will not adhere to the build plate properly or you’ll experience very imprecisely printed parts and probably stringing, where material will not properly adhere to the previous layer and form small strings.

You can set the Z-Offset in your printing software after making sure, that your print bed is level.

Summary

These tricks and methods might not seem that impressive or powerful, but trust me: You have the get basics right before you can actually try to use the more advanced methods. If your printer is not set up, cleaned, and maintained properly, your prints are almost guaranteed to fail all the time.

You should, therefore, make sure to invest enough time in these topics. Clean your print bed and level it out properly. Make sure, that the Z-Offset is correct and all the moving parts are greased appropriately

Table of contents

Part 1 – Basics, Maintenance and Cleaning (You are here)
Part 2 – 3D modelling, slicing, and printing software
Part 3 – Choice of material, layer adhesion, and warping
Part 4 – Removing the printed parts (Not published yet)
Part 5 – After-print cleanup and storage conditions (Not published yet)
Part 6 – Short summary and cheat sheet (Not published yet)

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