One of the first problems I ran into when I started 3D printing was getting my prints to stick. I have never had success with glue, glue sticks or hair spray. What actually worked for me?
To get your print to stick to the print bed, make sure the bed is properly leveled and the temperature is set to 60 °C for PLA or 100 °C for ABS. Glue, glue sticks and hairspray can improve grip; printing on glass or textured glass will work better. Use an enclosure to better maintain print temperature.
The hardest of these techniques to do it to level the bed. The standard method it level the build plate takes too much effort and does not work.
Right Way To Level Your Build Plate
You have probably heard dozens of times that you level the build plate using a piece of paper. Perhaps they recommended folding the paper a few times to get the right thickness.
Given this advice, you might think that the printer will print the first layer at that piece of paper thickness from the build plate. Why else would you want a gap when you start printing?
However, if you look at your print settings, you will notice that there is a first layer height. Your printer will raise the print head by that first layer height.
The printer will extrude filament based on the layer height given. If your first layer height is 0.1 mm but the print head is 0.1 mm plus the thickness of a sheet of paper, there will not be enough filament coming out to force the filament to stick to the plate.
Improving The Old Method
My original solution to this problem was to print a test print and make adjustments on the fly to improve filament sticking. Every time, after leveling using the paper method, I needed to continue to raise the plate slightly at every corner.
I used the Ender 3 Bed Level test print available on Thingiverse. This test print can be used on any 3D printer. The gcode included is specific to the Ender 3 but can be used on similar printers.
Print the test print out and while it is printing, test if the lines drawn are sticking. If you can easily pull the filament off the build plate, raise the nearest corner. You may need to cancel the print and start over a few time to check.
If you are having trouble with center being too low or too high, I will discuss below how to deal with that as the solutions do not depend on which leveling technique you use.
New Leveling Method
A better way to level your print is to use a feeler gauge.
I purchased this set of gauges with digital caliper from Amazon. I needed a replacement caliper and if you don’t have one, now is a great time to get one. If you don’t need a caliper, grab these feeler gauges.
To use the feeler gauge to level your printer, first home the print head. This will set the print head to a 0 mm height.
Use the printer settings to raise the print head. This technique will work best if you raise the print head to he first layer head you will be printing with. You will have to set the height to the thickness of one of the feeler gauges you have available. If none of the feeler gauges in your set is the same thickness as your first layer height, just pick the closest you can get.
For example, if your first layer is 0.1 mm, home the print head, then increase z height from 0 to 0.1 mm.
Use the feeler gauge under the print. The print head should be exactly the feeler gauge thickness above the print bed. If the gauge it loose, raise the bed until you can just feel a slight tug while moving the gauge under the print head. If you cannot get the gauge under the print head, lower the bed until you can get the gauge under, then raise the bed until you feel a slight tug.
Rather than being a paper’s thickness above the build plate when the z height is set to 0, the build plate will at the thickness of the feeler gauge when the height is set to the thickness of the feeler gauge.
In a perfect world, you could just set all 4 four corners to the appropriate height using this technique and the just start printing.
However, nothing is perfect. Use the Ender 3 Bed Level test print to verify that the build plate is successfully leveled. Don’t be surprised if the test print is successful without having to make any adjustments.
The one issue this method cannot solve is if the build plate is slightly warped. In that case, even if the corners are successfully leveled the center may be slightly higher or lower.
The Center Of The Build Plate
If you are getting good first layers on the outer boxes when printing the test print but not in the center, there are a few adjustments to make depending on whether the center is too low or too high.
Unless the build plate is severely warped, if the center is too high, you can leave it as it is. If the center is so high that the print head is hitting it during printing, you will have to replace it or put a surface on top of it.
I would recommend adding a glass build plate with binder clips. Put aluminum foil under the corners and edges. The foil will prevent the glass from warping when it is clipped.
If the center is too low, add a glass plate. Put foil in the center to raise it to the level of the corners.
The build plate needs to be set to the appropriate temperature to ensure proper print adhesion. The print will stop sticking to the build plate if it cools off too fast and shrinks. As the plastic shrinks, it will pop off the plate.
Shrinkage is generally considered to be less of a problem with PLA. That is why some PLA only printers don’t have a heated build plate.
My experience suggests that shrinkage and therefore temperature still plays a factor even when printing with PLA.
The purpose of a heated build plate is to keep the bottom of the print warm and reduce how fast the print cools to minimize shrinkage.
The recommended bed temperature is 60 °C for PLA or PET-G and 100 °C for ABS or TPU. These temperature may be too low. The best temperature will depend on the ambient room temperature. A cooler room will require a warmer bed to offset the cooling from the air.
I have found that when I print PLA, I need to set the bed temperature to 75 °C in order to have good print adhesion.
If your bed is properly leveled, try increasing the bed temperature in 5 °C increments.
Note: Increasing your print bed temperature will help your prints stick if the problem is the print is cooling off too fast. If your issue is that the print surface itself is not conducing to prints sticking, the next tip will help.
Improve Your Print Surface
If you are trying to print straight on your print bed and are not using tape, glue, glue stick or a glass bed, one of these alternatives may help.
When I fist started printing, I printed on blue painter’s tape like this pack of Scotch brand tape from Amazon. In a pinch, using painter’s tape for adhesion works very well.
One of the issues I had with using tape was that it effects the surface of the print. Rather than a nice smooth print, you get a surface that is rough and possible has parts of the tape embedded in it.
Other options include using glue, glue stick, or hairspray. Some users swear by these adhesion methods. I have had no success using them. If you decide to use glue, check out my article for cleaning your print bed.
If you are printing with ABS, an ABS slurry, made from ABS mixed with acetone, can be used to improve adhesion. Melt the ABS in a contain with the acetone and spread the slurry on your print bed. Since filament sticks well to itself, this may help.
Again, I have not had any luck using the ABD slurry method.
The best surface I have found for printing is a glass sheet. Prints off glass are incredible smooth. This Borosilicate Glass Plate from Amazon is the one I used with my Anet A8. It is 220 mm x 220 mm in size.
When I got my Ender 3, it came with a textured glass plate. It works just as well as the glass plate I had previously been printing on. The texturing does not significantly impact the final printed texture, it still comes out beautifully smooth. If you didn’t get a glass bed with your printer or you need to replace it, you can grab this replacement from Amazon.
If you are using a glass bed, have it correctly leveled, and tried increasing the bed temperature but still cannot get your prints to stick, you can try using glue or hairspray.
Use An Enclosure
Most consumer based printers do not come with an enclosure. There are a few models, mostly high end ones, that include and enclosure.
The purpose of an enclosure is to maintain the temperature while printing. Since the filament shrinks while it cools, an enclosure can help keep the print from cooling too fast.
One option is to custom build your own enclosure. You have to decide what type of material you want to make it out of and get the parts cut to your specifications.
This instructable shows how to build an enclosure with a wood frame and plexiglass. You can take the design and tweak it for your printer if yours is not the same size as the Velleman K8200.
Luck Resistor has a slightly different design you can also use to base your enclosure on.
Another option is to purchase an enclosure. If you have an Ender 3 or similar sized printer, you can grab this one that I purchased from Amazon. There is a larger size enclosure for larger machines as well.
One advantage of the enclosure is that you won’t need to increase the temperature of your heat bed to ensure print adhesion. By keeping warm air from escaping, the enclosure reduces cooling of the part while printing, preventing shrinkage and helping the print stick.
Bonus Tip: Clean The Print Bed
Part of your regular printer maintenance should include cleaning your print bed. Check out my article on cleaning your print bed for more details.
If your bed has fingerprints or other residue on it’s surface, it may be difficult for prints to stick. You should clean your build plate periodically to ensure good print adhesion.
Use a razor to remove any glue or filament stuck on the plate. After that, use a lint free cloth and wipe the plate down with glass cleaner or IPA. Remove any dust, finger prints, or other residue left on the plate.
If you have a removable plate, you can wash it in the sink with warm soapy water. Be careful when replacing the bed to avoid finger prints. Hold the plate on the sides or wear gloves when reinstalling the plate.
Try to keep the bed clean. Avoid touching the build plate with your fingers. Minimize dust on the plate by covering it when not in use or dust it periodically.