3D Printer Bed Warping and How to Prevent It

Are your 3D printed projects and parts not up to spec? Do your builds fail early or detach from the build plate? WarpPro will help clean up your prints and hold them firmly to the build plate, but what causes your parts to fail in the first place? We can help you get to the root of your 3DP failures and ensure every print comes out just as you designed it.

Warping, Thermal Expansion/Contraction, and Fused Deposition Modeling

The 3D printing technology you'll find sitting in most homes, garages, and consumer workshops is called fused deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication (FFF). This tends to be the form of 3D printing most people are familiar with, and although the world of additive manufacturing is full of competing and complementary technologies, the affordability, ease of use, and wide material selection makes FDM incredibly popular for first time and veteran users alike. FDM relies on the extrusion of a polymer filament from a nozzle by heating it up above its melting temperature and cooling it back down layer-by-layer to create a solid part. The vast majority of materials, including those you'd feed to your 3D printer, expand when heated and contract when cooled. This is why your prints warp, end up deformed along edges, or prematurely detach from the build plate. The more rapidly you cool a part, the more rapidly it will contract, pulling surrounding material with it and leading to the build up of residual stresses within the part. This is pronounced within the first few layers of the part, where adhesion is critical to the success of the rest of the print. If you cool too quickly, shrinking the material, it will pull away from the build plate and deform the rest of the build. So how do we prevent this?

Thermal Expansion of Common 3D Printed Materials

The evolution of thermal expansion over time, for a variety of common polymers found in FDM 3DP. Used under CC license. Polymers 2022, 14, 3061. https://doi.org/10.3390/polym14153061

Start Clean, Finish Clean

The first thing to try if you're having issues with warping of your prints seems trivial, but can make all the difference. Ensure your build plate is clean, free of scratches, or defects. Because there are a host of different build plate and printing materials, we don't want to approve or disapprove of any specific soaps or solvents. Use your best judgement here. Although it might seem like a lot of work, cleaning your build plate after each print will ensure the strong bond between plate and first layer needed for success. If you have dust, leftover polymer, oils/organics, or defects on your build plate you're not setting your print up for success. Your parents were right! Clean up after yourself!

Heated Bed and Temperature Control

If cooling a layer too rapidly results in thermal contraction and bed warping, the easiest thing to do if you're facing problems is enable and dial in the temperature settings for your material with a heated bed. Each filament will require a different temperature, and you might need to tinker with your settings going from brand to brand or material to material. PLA settings usually range from 50-70°C, while ABS is typically between 100-120°C. A heated bed is a pretty common feature on 3D printers these days, and very easy to set up.

Less common is an enclosure for your 3D printer. Some high end and most professional-grade FDM printers have a fully enclosed build chamber specifically to maintain an even temperature across the entire build and prevent temperature fluctuation over time. These are incredibly helpful, but do require a larger footprint and good quality enclosures (read: won't burst into flames) rarely come cheap.

Slicing and Supports

It's common for science fiction and more broadly the portrayal of 3D printing in the media to show it as a "press a button and its done!" type of manufacturing method. While printing some parts might be easier than spinning it on a lathe by hand, the reality is that 3D printing still requires skill, practice, and the know-how to produce a good part. Critical to this is figuring out what slicing settings, part orientation, and types of supports required for a given application. This can take some trial and error, but there are some good rules of thumb. For parts you've seen distortion or failure on, using a raft or a brim to ensure the first layer of your part will remain attached can really help. Rafts are typically used on more geometrically complex parts where there is no clear or optimal flat edge to align against the build plate, while brims are used where there is a large flat surface to build from. Again, this isn't a law, just helpful advice based on experience from thousands of prints.

A Raft Used to Support a Torus

Example of a raft used to support a part, the added surface area of the raft against the build plate ensures it says put. The raft is thrown away following the build.

The correct slicing settings and part orientation are also critical. For example, with the above image, you'd want to maximize the surface area of the part in contact with the build plate such that there is more adhesion between the part and the plate. If you were to rotate the ring vertically, there would be a tiny sliver in contact with the build plate and it is highly likely your build would fail (and increase the number of layers you need to print!) Like any machinist, if you're using a 3D printer think before you print and spend some time in your slicing program considering what will work best for your part. Slicing settings are critical to this as well. For example, slowing down your print speed for the first layer or two may increase your build time, but prevent failure down the road. Ensuring the cooling fan is turned off for the first handful of layers will help.

The Easiest Solution: WarpPro

The usage of print bed adhesives has been incredibly popular in the 3D printing community. For many crafters and professionals alike, the school glue stick has been the go-to solution and seen years of use but still leaves some wanting. It's difficult to spread evenly, leaves a residue, and based on material, your build plate, or application has mixed results. That's why a group of prototyping and 3D printing experts created WarpPro, an adhesive engineered to eliminate bed warping with easy application and clean up. WarpPro is an aerosolized adhesive, meaning there is no smearing or annoying application. Because its sprayed on, you can use a spatula to quickly form a thin layer for perfect adhesion every time. It's designed to be water soluble allowing for easy clean up following the build. It is fully compatible with all polymer 3D printing filaments (PLA, ABS, PP, PLA Wood/Marble, PC) and has been used on hundreds of builds.

If you're still struggling with bed warping and first layer adhesion on your 3D print, try WarpPro today. One small can will last for dozens of prints, streamline your 3D printing workflow, and ensure every part you print comes out warp free!

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