As the desktop 3D printing market continues to expand with state-of-the-art hardware and advanced materials, adhesion solutions have become increasingly critical to successful prints. Whether you’re using a name brand products or makeshift solutions like hairspray and glue sticks, laying down the first layer of material is the most important of all.
Most desktop 3D printers are equipped with a print bed made of aluminum or glass. The smooth surface makes it quite difficult for the extruded filament to stick naturally onto the print bed. If this first layer fails to catch or becomes warped, the rest of your print will be subsequently impacted.
Therefore, a number of companies and makers have created a wide range of solutions to ensure proper layer adhesion. Some 3D printers offer heated print bed, which helps to keep the first layers warm and in form during the entire print. But sometimes, especially with specialty filaments, this heated source isn’t enough to hold the first layer of filament in place.
Another popular solution is liquid adhesion solutions specially engineered for use with 3D printing. Homemade options like hairspray and glue sticks are adequate in some situations, particularly with basic PLA and ABS, but either make prints difficult to remove or are limited in scope.
But products like Printafix, Magigoo, and Dimafix all provide an excellent adhesion solution that avoids the downfalls of the other makeshift options. Other homemade solutions like ABS Juice are designed just for ABS material and is quite toxic, but works well nonetheless.
My experience has shown me that we have two different concepts on the market and also two user groups which either use a spray or wipe on adhesives and foil adhesives,” said Mathias Zwirschitz, CEO and founder of AprintaPro, creator of Printafix. “Usually the users don't tend to switch between these concepts. So a user which has a PrintaFix will more likely try a another spray or wipe on adhesive than a foil adhesive.”
There is also a third category of solutions that don’t involve a liquid solution, rather they are products that can be equipped to the print bed to improve adhesion. Options include painter’s tape (ideal for PLA at low temperature), the BuildTak 3D printing surface (thin layer of plastic placed over print bed), and the PEI build surface (durable, affordable, and perfect for ABS and PLA).
Outside of these external adhesion solutions, there are also many steps that you can take with your printer to improve that crucial first layer. Simple and effective tips include:
- Use a closed chamber for ABS prints
- Print with a raft and brim
- Reduce infill of print
- Slow down print speed
- Print at slightly lower temperature (Warning: printing at a temperature that is too low will destroy your extruder)
- Constantly clean your print bed
- Calibrate your z axis at 0.10mm
You may be wondering why so many adhesion solutions and tips are needed just to get that first layer of filament to stick. This is because engineering-grade materials like PC, PC + ABS, Nylon, and others are much more difficult to print with than PLA and ABS.
“Given that engineering plastics are known to be more demanding to print with, we foresee an increase in adhesion problems. Also, given the higher cost of such materials per kilogram, the need to solve adhesion problems and to increase reliability and repeatability of 3D printing with engineering plastics, is even more a reality,” said Dr Keith M. Azzopardi, Director & Researcher at Thought3D.
These current range of adhesion solutions have yet to master these advanced filaments, proving that we still have a long way to go before first layer adhesion is no longer a glaring issue. Needless to say, whether you’re using household items or a professional adhesion solution, experimentation is sometimes necessary to ensure success.