This time I will discuss the various print surfaces I have used and my experiences with them. Your results may differ.
The important factors to me in a 3D print bed surface are:
- How well do prints adhere to it?
- How easy is it to remove the print from the bed?
- How easy is it to use?
- Is it compatible with my differential IR height sensor?
- What does it cost?
You won’t find anything about ABS printing here. The limited amount of ABS printing I have done has persuaded me that for health reasons, I should not print ABS until I have a heated and filtered enclosure for one of my printers. In any case, it’s impossible to print large ABS parts successfully without a heated enclosure because of warping.
Compatible with IR sensor: yes
Where to get it: Amazon, eBay
Verdict: not for me
My first 3D printer kit came with a 3mm glass bed and a roll of Kapton tape, with instructions to apply the tape in strips to the bed. So my first experience of 3D printing was PLA on Kapton.
I didn’t find it very satisfactory. I found the tape tricky to apply without having overlaps or significant gaps. The tape didn’t last for many prints before it got damaged and had to be patched up. Some PLA filaments did not adhere well enough to the tape.
I am told that the easiest way to apply Kapton tape is to use wide rolls and put diluted washing up liquid on the bed support before applying the tape. Then the tape will slide over the bed. Use a credit card as a squeegee to remove excess water, and allow to dry. I haven’t tried this method.
Diluted solvent cement or ABS juice on glass
Compatible with IR sensor: yes, with care
Where to get it: your local DIY store, or eBay
Verdict: this was my bed surface of choice for many months
I started with a pot of Marley KS10 solvent pipe adhesive, applied to the glass surface using the applicator built-in to the lid. This provided excellent adhesion for PLA. I soon discovered that I could get a thinner layer and make the tub last longer by diluting the cement with several parts acetone. Later I changed to using dissolved fragments of ABS filament in acetone, although I found this a backward step because it gave a less uniform solution.
The bed has to be painted with the goop before every print. This is quite quick, but you have to be careful not to spill it on anything that doesn’t like acetone, such as ABS parts of the printer. If using an IR probe, you need to coat the bed everywhere you will probe it, because it slightly affects the trigger height.
Cost: just a few £
Compatible with IR sensor: yes, as long as there isn’t a white or shiny surface under the glass
Where to get it: if you have an aluminium heat spreader under the glass, you can use ordinary 3mm or 4mm float glass from your local glass merchant (no need for borosilicate glass)
Verdict: great when it works, but depends on the glass and the filament
Printing PLA on plain heated glass can give good results. Adhesion can be excellent, yet the print virtually falls off the glass when cool. However, whether the PLA sticks at all depends on the glass and the filament. I have found that eSun PLA filament adheres well to glass, but some other brands don’t. If you want to try it, here are my tips:
- Wash the glass with hot soapy water (not an organic solvent)
- Dry it with a paper towel (not a dishcloth, which will contaminate the glass with fabric softener)
- Then avoid finger-marking it
- Heat the glass to about 65C indicated temperature
- Before each print, wipe the glass with a tissue soaked in vinegar (lemon juice and diluted sugar solution are also rumoured to work), either before, during, or after heating
- Use a slow first layer speed, especially where there are sharp corners. Slic3r’s option to reduce speed for “small perimeters” is very useful here.
Compatible with IR sensor: yes, using the original black version. I haven’t tried the white version.
Where to get it: BuildTak (some sizes also available on Amazon)
Verdict: I can’t say because I haven’t used it in anger
A thin, flexible material supplied in self-adhesive sheets with a speckled dark grey appearance (now also available in white). Does not need to be heated when printing PLA on it. Some users say it can be hard to remove the print from the BuildTak surface without damaging it.
Compatible with IR sensor: yes
Verdict: promising, but expensive (would cost around £50 total for my delta)
A composite material about 0.8mm thick. Fairly rigid, but needs to be glued down to the bed support. So far I have only printed PLA on a sample I was sent. At about 60C bed temperature, adhesion was good, and the print came off easily when allowed to cool down. It’s opaque to IR, so it works well with the height sensor.
Compatible with IR sensor: only if you prepare it specially, see text
Where to get it: see text
Verdict: working just great so far
PEI (trade name Ultem) is said to be the new wonder bed material for FDM printers. It’s quite expensive in the UK, for example a 305mm square sheet 0.8mm thick costs £39 here although that includes a sheet of 3M adhesive (unfortunately it doesn’t specify whether the adhesive is heat-resistant 8153LE or something else). I found it less expensive to import a similar sheet from amazon.com here for £16.83 and the adhesive sheet separately for £12 (see link above). Total cost £29, which makes it about the same price as BuildTak sheets purchased singly. Unlike PrintBite, the 0.8mm PEI sheet can be cut with a good pair of scissors, so you can buy a square and cut a disk from it.
One problem with PEI is that it is transparent to infrared light. This means that the surface below the PEI sheet affects the trigger height of the IR sensor. To avoid this, I sprayed the dull side of the PEI with the same matt black stove/barbecue paint that I used on the aluminium bed plate, and baked it in a domestic electric fan oven for two hours at 170C. The paint is then firmly bonded to the PEI and passes the sticky tape test. Then I used the adhesive to stick it paint side down on one of my glass bed plates. This allows me to remove the print and glass plate so that I can cool it down faster and release the print.
I have achieved excellent results printing PLA on to PEI heated to about 65C, although it’s claimed that you can print PLA on cold PEI. A test print of PETG on PEI heated to 100C also went well.
Other build surfaces
This list is by no means exhaustive. In particular, it doesn’t include masking tape (also known as blue tape), PVA glue stick on glass, or hairspray on glass.