If you’ve used a 3d printer, then it’s likely that you’ve experienced warping. Warping is one of the most common problems encountered in 3d printing and it’s one of the most annoying.
It doesn’t always cause a catastrophic failure of the object being printed like some other problems can. However, it does cause the object to deform enough to look unacceptable and unprofessional. Worst case is your warped 3d print can pop off the heated bed and fail completely.
Why has my 3D print warped?
Warping typically occurs when an object is cooling after printing. Cooling, as you know, causes contraction and this contraction causes stress along the object’s lateral surfaces. The quicker the cooling occurs, the greater the stress on the object.
This stress is greatest at corners where two sides meet. There, the pulling stress exerted on both sides causes the corner of the object to deform and pull up and inward. The result is not pleasing to the eye and usually makes the object unusable.
As we said, warping is one of the most common problems that occurs when 3d printing. The good news is that even though it can be caused for a number of reasons, it is relatively simple to prevent. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the ways that can help you prevent print warping.
Once upon a time, heated print beds were relatively rare. Because of this, printed objects tended to cool very quickly once a job was underway. This caused high levels of lateral stress and warping was the result.
Today, most people are printing on a heated print bed. This causes a printed object to cool much more slowly. This reduces the stress caused by contraction which, in turn, helps to reduce warping. Heated beds are not an all-in-one solution to warping, but when used in conjunction with other preventatives, they do lower the chances that your object will warp.
One thing to note with heated beds, is that the heating element isn't always the full size of the bed - this means the edges might not get hot enough (depending on your printer). The diagram below illustrates the common causes of warping. So it's worth taking this into consideration if large prints warp, but smaller central ones don't.
It’s extremely important to regard how different printing materials are affected. For example, PLA doesn’t require a heated bed. However, when printed on one at around 50C it can help those first few layers adhere a little more consistently. But, if you print PLA at too high a heated bed temperature (eg. over 60C) it can cause it to warp.
Whereas with ABS, if you’re experiencing warp a big culprit is likely to be that the heated bed simply isn’t getting hot enough.
With something very sensitive to cooling too fast, like the UV resistant ASA; you’ll want to make sure it’s printed in a warm ambient area with no drafts or it can warp so badly you see cracks in the print. More on this later.
Use a Build Surface that Promotes Adhesion
This is quite likely the most important step that you can take to eliminate warping in your printed objects. Most printers come with a glass or aluminum build surface that is durable, but also far too smooth. Extruded thermoplastics have nothing to grab onto when they encounter smooth surfaces. The result is that warping caused by cooling becomes more pronounced.
The solution is to start using build surfaces that enhance adhesion. There are a number of things that you can try in order to achieve this. Painter’s tape and Kapton tape both work well to reduce warping in PLA and ABS respectively. Hairspray applied directly to the build surface to increase tackiness is used by many in a pinch, but it is messy and has limited durability.
Pritt stick accomplishes the same effect much more efficiently and with much less mess. Finally, a substance like PEI (polyetherimide) comes in sheets that are easily attached to your build surface, are affordable and give excellent adhesion to just about any print material. Find out more about build surface adhesion solutions here.
Clean Your Build Surface
No matter how adhesive your build surface is, dirt and grease will conspire to reduce that adhesion and put you back at square one when it comes to warping. Make sure that your build surface is as clean as possible before you begin printing.
An ammonia based product like Windex or Halford’s Glass Cleaner works great to remover grease and fingerprints from the build surface. An isopropyl alcohol and water solution also works well. When your build surface is clean, your print material has a much greater chance of adhering which will reduce warping.
One interesting way to reduce warping is to design objects that have rounded corners whenever possible. A rounded corner tends to ameliorate the amount of upward stress that occurs where two or more flat surfaces meet, by distributing that stress over a wider area. Less stress means less warping and less warping means more successful printing.
Check Your Starting Z Coordinates
Sometimes, printing a good first layer is key to achieving a successful result. One way to increase the odds of putting down a decent first layer is by checking your starting Z coordinates before printing.
If the Z axis is starting too high, extruded print material has a longer distance to travel before contacting the build surface. The longer the distance that the material has to travel, the cooler the material becomes and the greater the chances are that it will not adhere correctly.
If you’ve tried everything and are still experiencing warping, try lowering the Z axis height in 0.05mm increments and see if that corrects the problem. As you do this, keep in mind that you never want your extruder nozzle to come too close to the build surface, as this will cause its own set of problems.
The key to controlling warping is a slow and steady cooling process.
The quicker that cooling occurs, the more likely it is that your object will warp, no matter how many steps you’ve taken to prevent it. This is why eliminating all drafts while you’re printing is extremely important if you want to reduce the instances of warping.
You should consider printing in a room in your house or place of business that provides the steadiest ambient temperature. Remind others in the area that you have a print job running and ask them to stay out of the room in question for the duration.
Having someone open a door while your printer is running can cause the warping that you’re trying to prevent. If your home or office is especially drafty, or if your printer must be located in a somewhat high traffic area, you might want to consider enclosing it so that temperature remains stable, or just significantly hotter while you print.
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