Print Quality Troubleshooting Guide
Use the thumbnails below to identify the print quality issue that you are seeing in your own 3D printed parts. You can click on thumbnail to jump that portion of the guide for immediate recommendations on how to resolve the issue. If you are not able to locate your issues from the thumbnails, scroll down and read through each section of the guide for more detail.
- Extruder was not primed before beginning the print
Most extruders have a bad habit of leaking plastic when they are sitting idle at a high temperature. The hot plastic inside the nozzle tends to ooze out of the tip, which creates a void inside the nozzle where the plastic has drained out. This idle oozing can occur at the beginning of a print when you are first preheating your extruder, and also at the end of the print while the extruder is slowly cooling. If your extruder has lost some plastic due to oozing, the next time you try to extrude, it is likely that it will take a few seconds before plastic starts to come out of the nozzle again. If you are trying to start a print after you nozzle has been oozing, you may notice the same delayed extrusion. To solve this issue, make sure that you prime your extruder right before beginning a print so that the nozzle is full of plastic and ready to extrude. A common way to do this is by including something called a skirt. The skirt will draw a circle around your part, and in the process, it will prime the extruder with plastic. If you need extra priming, you can increase the number of skirt outlines on the Additions tab in used software. Some users may also prefer to manually extrude filament from their printer using the Jog Controls in Machine Control Panel prior to beginning the print.
- Nozzle starts too close to the bed
If the nozzle is too close to the build table surface, there will not be enough room for plastic to come out of the extruder. The hole in the top of the nozzle is essentially blocked so that no plastic can escape. An easy way to recognize this issue is if the print does not extrude plastic for the first layer or two, but begins to extrude normally around the 3rd or 4th layers as the bed continues to lower along the Z-axis. To solve this problem, you can use the very handy G-Code offsets which can be found on the G-Code process settings. This allows you to make very fine adjustments to the Z-axis position without needing to change the hardware. For example, if you enter a value of 0.05mm for the Z-axis G-Code offset, this will move the nozzle 0.05mm further away from the print bed. Keep increasing this value by small increments until there is enough room between the nozzle and the build platform for the plastic to escape.
- The filament has stripped against the drive gear
Most 3D printers use a small gear to push the filament back and forth. The teeth on this gear bite into the filament and allow it to accurately control the position of the filament. However, if you notice lots of plastic shavings or it looks like there is a section missing from your filament, then it’s possible that the drive gear has removed too much plastic. Once this happens, the drive gear won’t have anything left to grab onto when it tries to move the filament back and forth. Please see the Grinding Filament section for instructions on how to fix this issue.
- The extruder is clogged
If none of the above suggestions are able to resolve the issue, then it is likely that your extruder is clogged. This can happen if foreign debris is trapped inside the nozzle, when hot plastic sits inside the extruder too long, or if the thermal cooling for the extruder is not sufficient and the filament begins to soften outside of the desired melt zone. Fixing a clogged extruder may require disassembling the extruder, so please contact your printer manufacturer before you proceed. We have had great success using the “E” string on a guitar to unclog extruders by feeding it into the nozzle tip, however, your manufacturer should also be able to provide recommendations.
- Build platform is not leveled
Many printers include an adjustable bed with several screws or knobs that control the position of the bed. If your printer has an adjustable bed and you’re having trouble getting your first layer to stick to the bed, the first thing you will want to verify is that your printer’s bed is flat and level. If the bed is not level, one side of your bed may be too close to the nozzle, while the other side is too far away. Achieving a perfect first layer requires a level print bed. All popular softwares already includes a useful bed leveling wizard that you guide you through the bed leveling process.
- Nozzle starts too far away from the bed
Once your bed has been properly leveled, you still need to make sure that the nozzle is starting at the correct height relative to the build platform. Your goal is to locate your extruder the perfect distance away from the build plate - not too far and not too close. For good adhesion to the build plate, you want your filament to be slightly squashed against the build plate. While you can adjust these settings by modifying the hardware, it is typically much easier (and much more precise!) to make these changes from the used software. To do this, click “Edit Process Settings” to open your process settings and then go look for the G-Code tab. You can use the Z-Axis global G-Code Offset to make very fine adjustments to your nozzle position. For example, if you enter -0.05mm for the Z-axis G-Code offset, the nozzle will begin printing 0.05mm closer to your build platform. Be careful to only make small adjustments to this setting. Each layer of your part is usually only around 0.2mm thick, so a small adjustment goes a long way!
- First layer is printing too fast
As you extrude the first layer of plastic on top of the build platform, you want to make sure that plastic can properly bond to the surface before starting the next layer. If you print the first layer too fast, the plastic may not have time to bond to the build platform. For this reason, it is typically very useful to print the first layer at a slower speed so that the plastic has time to bond to the bed. All softwares provides a setting for this exact feature. If you click on “Edit Process Settings” and go to the Layer tab, you will see a setting labeled “First Layer Speed”. For example, if you set a first layer speed of 50%, it means that your first layer will print 50% slower than the rest of your part. If you feel that your printer is moving too fast on the first layer, try reducing this setting.
- Temperature or cooling settings
Plastic tends to shrink as it cools from a warm temperature to a cool temperature. To provide a useful example, imagine a 100mm wide part that is being printed with ABS plastic. If the extruder was printing this plastic at 230°С, but it was being deposited onto a cold build platform, it is likely that the plastic would quickly cool down after leaving the hot nozzle. Some printers also include cooling fans that speed up this cooling process when they are being used. If this ABS part cooled down to a room temperature of 30°С, the 100mm wide part would shrink by almost 1.5mm! Unfortunately, the build platform on your printer is not going to shrink this much, since it is typically kept at a fairly constant temperature. Because of this fact, the plastic will tend to separate from the build platform as it cools. This is an important fact to keep in mind as you print your first layer. If you notice that the layer seems to stick initially, but later separates from the print bed as it cools, it is possible that your temperature and cooling settings are to blame. Many printers that are intended to print high-temperature materials like ABS include a heated bed to help combat these problems. If the bed is heated to maintain a temperature of 110°С for the entire print, it will keep the first layer warm so that it does not shrink. So if your printer has a heated bed, you may want to try heating the bed to prevent the first layer from cooling. As a general starting point, PLA tends to adhere well to a bed that is heated to 60-70°С, while ABS generally works better if the bed is heated to 100-120°С. You can adjust these settings in your software by clicking on “Edit Process Settings” and then selecting the Temperature tab. Choose your heated build platform from the list on the left-hand side and then edit the temperature setpoint for the first layer. You can just double-click on the value to change it. If your printer has a cooling fan, you may also want to try disabling that cooling fan for the first few layers of your printer so that the initial layers do not cool down too quickly. You can do this by clicking “Edit Process Settings” and going to the Cooling tab. You can adjust the fan speed setpoints on the left-hand side. For example, you may want the first layer to start with the fan disabled and then turn on the fan to full power once you reach the 5th layer. In that case, you will need to add two setpoints into that list: Layer 1 at 0% fan speed, and Layer 5 at 100% fan speed. If you are using ABS plastic, it is common to disable the cooling fan for the entire print, so entering a single setpoint would suffice (Layer 1 at 0% fan speed). If you are working in a breezy environment, you may also want to try to insulate your printer to keep the wind away from your part.
- The build platform surface (tape, glues, and materials)
Different plastics tend to adhere better to different materials. For this reason, many printers include a special build platform material that is optimized for their materials. For example, several printers use sheet on the top of their bed that tends to stick very well to PLA. Other manufacturers opt for a heat treated glass bed such as Borosilicate glass, which tends to work very well for ABS when heated. If you are going to print directly onto these surfaces, it is always a good idea to make sure that your build platform is free of dust, grease, or oils before starting the print. Cleaning your print bed with some water or isopropyl rubbing alcohol can make a big difference. If your printer does not include a special build platform material to help with adhesion, you still have options! Thankfully, there are several types of tape that stick well to common 3D printing materials. Strips of tape can be applied to the build platform surface and easily removed or replaced if you want to print with a different material. For example, PLA tends to stick well to painter’s tape while ABS tends to stick better to Kapton tape (otherwise known as Polyamide film). Many users have also had great success using a temporary glue or spray on the top of their build platforms. Hair spray, glue sticks, and other sticky substances tend to work very well if everything else has failed. Feel free to experiment to see what works best for you!
- When all else fails: Brims and Rafts
Sometimes you are printing a very small part that simply does not have enough surface area to stick to the build platform surface. Most of the softwares includes several options that can help increase this surface area to provide a larger surface to stick to the print bed. One of these options is called a “brim.” The brim adds extra rings around the exterior of your part, similar to how a brim of a hat increases the circumference of the hat. This option can be used by enabling the “Use Skirt/Brim” option. Most of the softwares also allows users to add a raft under their part, which can also be used to provide a larger surface for bed adhesion.
- Incorrect filament diameter
The first thing you want to verify is that the software knows the filament diameter that you are using. You can find this setting by clicking Filament tab in your software. Check to make sure that this value matches the filament that you purchased. You may even want to measure your filament yourself using a pair of calipers to make sure that you truly have the correct diameter specified in the software. The most common values for the filament diameter are 1.75mm, 2.85mm or 3mm. Many spools of plastic also include the correct diameter on the packaging.
- Low extrusion speed
If your filament diameter is correct, but you are still seeing under-extrusion issues, then you need to adjust your extrusion speed. This is a very useful setting in 3D printer control panel that allows you to easily modify the amount of plastic that is extruded (otherwise known as the flow rate). You can find this setting by turning the knob to enter “Configuration”. Specific setting process as follows: Press the knob то enter the menu, choose “Configuration”, confirm，turn to “motion”, confirm, find “Esteps/mm” tab, turn the knob to adjust extrusion speed. The default value is 95mm/s, you can change it to 97mm/sec. that means the plastic will be extruded more 2mm/s than before. Try increasing your extrusion speed and then reprint the test cube to see if you still have gaps between your perimeters. Notice that increasing a little once to avoid extruding too much plastic.
- Not enough top solid layers
The first setting to adjust is the number of top solid layers that are used. When you try to print a 100% solid layer on top of your partially hollow infill, the solid layer has to span across the hollow air pockets of your infill. When this happens, the extrusions for the solid layer have a tendency to droop or sag down into the air pocket. Because of this, you generally want to print several solid layers at the top of your print to ensure a nice flat, completely solid surface. As a good rule of thumb, you want the solid section at the top of your print to be at least 0.5mm thick. So if you are using a 0.25mm layer height, you would need at least 2 top solid layers. If you are printing at a lower layer height such as 0.1mm, you may need 5 solid layers at the top of your print to achieve the same effect. If you are noticing gaps between the extrusions in your top surface, the first thing you should try is increasing the number of top solid layers. For example, if you noticed the problem using only 3 top solid layers, try printing with 5 top solid layers to see if the problem is improved. Note that additional solid layers will occur within your part dimension and do not add size to the exterior of your part. You can adjust the solid layer settings by adjusting selecting of the Bottom/Top Thickness tab
- Infill percentage is too low
The infill on the inside of your part will act as the foundation for the layers above it. The solid layers at the top of your part will need to print on top of this foundation. If your infill percentage is very low, there will be large air gaps in your infill. For example, if you are using an infill percentage of only 10%, the remaining 90% of the interior of your part would be hollow, and this would create some very large air gaps that the solid layers would need to print on top of. If you have tried increasing the number of top solid layers and you are still seeings gaps in the top of your print, you may want to try increasing your infill percentage to see if the gaps go away. For example, if your infill percentage was previously 30%, try using a 50% infill percentage, as this would provide a much better foundation for the solid layers at the top of your print.
If you have tried increasing the infill percentage and the number of top solid layers, yet you are still seeing gaps in the tops of your print, then you likely have an under-extrusion issue. This means that your nozzle is not extruding as much plastic as the software expects. For a full description of this issue and how to correct it, please see the not extruding enough plastic section for a more detailed description.
- Retraction distance
The most important retraction setting is the retraction distance. This determines how much plastic is pulled out of the nozzle. In general, the more plastic that is retracted from the nozzle, the less likely the nozzle is to ooze while moving. Most direct-drive extruders only require a retraction distance of 0.5-2.0mm, while some extruders may require a retraction distance as high as 15mm due to the longer distance between the extruder drive gear and the heated nozzle. If you encounter stringing with your prints, try increasing the retraction distance by 1mm and test again to see if the performance improves.
- Retraction speed
The next retraction setting that you should check is the retraction speed. This determines how fast the filament is retracted from the nozzle. If you retract too slowly, the plastic will slowly ooze down through the nozzle and may start leaking before the extruder is done moving to its new destination. If you retract too quickly, the filament may separate from the hot plastic inside the nozzle, or the quick movement of the drive gear may even grind away pieces of your filament. There is usually a sweet spot somewhere between 1200-6000 mm/min (20-100 mm/s) where retraction performs best. Most of the softwares has already provided many pre-configured profiles that can give you a starting point for what retraction speed works best, but the ideal value can vary depending on the material that you are using, so you may want to experiment to see if different speeds decrease the amount of stringing that you see.
- Temperature is too high
Once you have checked your retraction settings, the next most common cause for excessive stringing is the extruder temperature. If the temperature is too high, the plastic inside the nozzle will become less viscous and will leak out of the nozzle much more easily. However, if the temperature is too low, the plastic will still be somewhat solid and will have difficulty extruding from the nozzle. If you feel you have the correct retraction settings, but you are still encountering these issues, try decreasing your extruder temperature by 5-10 degrees. This can have a significant impact on the final print quality. You can adjust these settings by clicking “Edit Process Settings” and selecting the Temperature tab.
- Long movements over open spaces
As we discussed above, stringing occurs when the extruder is moving between two different locations, and during that move, plastic starts to ooze out of the nozzle. The length of this movement can have a large impact on how much oozing takes place. Short moves may be quick enough that the plastic does not have time to ooze out of the nozzle. However, long movements are much more likely to create strings. Thankfully, Most softwares includes an extremely useful feature that can help minimize the length of these movements. The software is smart enough that it can automatically adjust the travel path to make sure that nozzle has a very short distance to travel over an open space. In fact, in many cases, the software may be able to find a travel path that avoids crossing an open space all together! This means that there is no possibility to create a string, because the nozzle will always be on top of the solid plastic and will never travel outside the part. To use this feature, click on the Advanced tab and enable the “Avoid crossing outline for travel movement” option.
- Movement Speed
Finally, you may also find that increasing the movement speed of your machine can also reduce the amount of time that the extruder can ooze when moving between parts. You can verify what movement speeds your machine is using by clicking on the Speeds tab of your process settings. The X/Y Axis Movement Speed represents the side-to-side travel speed, and is frequently directly related to the amount of time your extruder spends moving over open air. If your machine can handle moving at higher speeds, you may find that increasing this settings can also reduce stringing between parts.
- Insufficient Cooling
The most common cause for overheating is that the plastic is not being cooled fast enough. When this happens, the hot plastic is free to change shapes as it slowly cools. For many plastics, it is much better to quickly cool the layers to prevent them from changing shape after being printed. If your printer includes a cooling fan, try increasing the power of the fan to cool the plastic faster. You can do this by clicking “Edit Process Settings” and selecting the Cooling tab. Simply double-click on the fan speed setpoint you wish to edit. This additional cooling will help the plastic retain its shape. If your printer does not include an integrated cooling fan, you may want to try installing an aftermarket fan or using a small handheld fan to cool down the layers faster.
- Printing at too high of a temperature
If you are already using a cooling fan and you are still seeing this issue, you may want to try printing at a lower temperature. If the plastic is extruded at a lower temperature it will be able to solidify faster and retain its shape. Try lowering the print temperature by 5-10°C to see if it helps. You can do this by clicking “Edit Process Settings” and selecting the Temperature tab. Simply double-click the temperature setpoint you wish to change. Be careful not to lower the temperature too far, as otherwise the plastic may not be hot enough to extrude through the small opening in your nozzle.
- Printing too fast
If you are printing each layer very quickly, you might not allow enough time for the previous layer to properly cool before you are trying to deposit the next layer of hot plastic on top of it. This is particularly important for very small parts where each layer only requires a few seconds to print. Even with a cooling fan, you may still need to decrease the printing speed for these small layers to ensure you provide enough time for the layer to solidify. Thankfully, most of the softwares includes a very simple option to do exactly that. If you click on “Edit Process Settings” and select the Cooling tab, you will see a section labeled “Speed Overrides” This section is used to automatically slow down the printing speed for small layers to ensure they have enough time to cool and solidify before printing the next layer. For example, if you allow the software to adjust the printing speed for layers that take less than 15 seconds to print, the program will automatically slow down the printing speed for these small layers. This is a vital feature for combating these overheating issues.
- When all else fails: Try printing multiple parts at once
If you have already tried the 3 items above and you are still having trouble achieving sufficient cooling, there’s one more thing you can try. Create a copy of the part you are trying to print (Edit > Copy/Paste) or import a second object that can be printed at the same time. By printing two objects at once, you can provide more cooling time for each individual part. The hot nozzle will need to move to a different location on the build platform to print the second part, which provides a short relief for your first part to cool down. This is a simple, yet very effective strategy for fixing overheating problems.
- Toolhead is moving too fast
If you are printing at a very high speed, the motors for your 3D printer may struggle to keep up. If you attempt to move the printer faster than the motors can handle, you will typically hear a clicking sound as the motor fails to achieve the desired position. If this happens, the remainder of the print will be misaligned with everything that was printed before it. If you feel that your printer may be moving too fast, try to reduce the printing speed by 50% to see if it helps. To do this, click “Edit Process Settings” and select the Speeds tab. Adjust both the “Default Printing Speed” and the “X/Y Axis Movement Speed.” The default printing speed controls the speed of any movements where the extruder is actively extruding plastic. The X/Y axis movement speed controls the speed of rapid movements where no plastic is being extruded. If either of those speeds are too high, it can cause shifting to occur. If you are comfortable adjusting more advanced settings, you may also want to consider lowering the acceleration settings in your printer’s firmware to provide a more gradual speed up and slow down.
- Mechanical or Electrical Issues
If the layer misalignment continues, even after reducing your print speed, then it is likely due to mechanical or electrical issues with the printer. For example, most 3D printers use belts that allow the motors to control the position of the toolhead. The belts are typically made of a rubber material and reinforced with some type of fiber to provide additional strength. Over time, these belts may stretch, which can impact the belt tension that is used to position the toolhead. If the tension becomes too loose, the belt may slip on top of the drive pulley, which means the pulley is rotating, but the belt is not moving. If the belt was originally installed too tight, this can also cause issues. An overtightened belt can create excess friction in the bearings that will prevent the motors from spinning. Ideal assembly requires a belt that is somewhat tight to prevent slipping, but not too tight to where the system is unable to rotate. If you start noticing issues with misaligned layers, you should verify that your belts all have the appropriate tension, and none appear to be too loose or too tight. If you think there may be a problem, please consult the printer manufacturer for instructions on how to adjust the belt tension.
Many 3D printers also include a series of belts that are driven by pulleys attached to a stepper motor shaft using a small set-screw (otherwise known as a grub screw). These set-screws anchor the pulley to the shaft of the motor so that the two items spin together. However, if the set-screw loosens, the pulley will no longer rotate together with the motor shaft. This means that the motor may be spinning, but the pulley and belts are not moving. When this happens, the toolhead does not get to the desired location, which can impact the alignment of all future layers of the print. So if layer misalignment is a reoccurring problem, you should verify that all of the motor fasteners are properly tightened.
There are also several other common electrical issues that can cause the motors to lose their position. For example, if there is not enough electrical current getting to the motors, they won’t have enough power to spin. It is also possible that the motor driver electronics could overheat, which causes the motors to stop spinning temporarily until the electronics cool down. While this is not an exhaustive list, it provides a few ideas for common electrical and mechanical causes that you may want to check if layer shifting is a persistent problem.
- Layer height is too large
Most 3D printing nozzles have a diameter between 0.3-0.5mm. The plastic squeezes through this tiny opening to create a very thin extrusion that can produce extremely detailed parts. However, these small nozzles also create some limitations for what layer heights can be used. When you print one layer of plastic on top of another, you want to make sure that the new layer is being pressed against the layer below it so that the two layers will bond together. As a general rule of thumb, you want to make sure that the layer height you select is 20% smaller than your nozzle diameter. For example, if you have a 0.4mm nozzle, you can’t go too far past a layer height of 0.32mm, or each layer of plastic will not be able to properly bond to the layer beneath it. So if you notice that your prints are separating and the layers are not sticking together, the first thing you should check is your layer height compared to the size of your nozzle. Try reducing the layer height to see if it helps the layers bond together better. You can do this by clicking “Edit Process Settings” and selecting the Layer tab.
- Print temperature is too low
Warm plastic will always bond together much better than cold plastic. If you notice that your layers aren’t bonding together and you are certain that your layer height isn’t too large, then it is possible that your filament needs to be printed at a higher temperature to create a strong bond. For example, if you tried to print ABS plastic at 190C, you would likely find that the layers of your part will easily break apart. This is because ABS typically needs to be printed around 220-235C to create a strong bond between the layers of your print. So if you feel this may be the problem, verify that you are using the correct temperature for the filament you have purchased. Try increasing the temperature by 10 degrees to see if the adhesion improves. You can do this by clicking “Edit Process Settings” and selecting the Temperature tab. Simply double-click the temperature setpoint you wish to change.
- Aggressive Retraction Settings
One of the first things you will want to check are the retraction settings for your extruder. If the retraction speed is too fast, or you are trying to retract far too much filament, it may put excessive stress on your extruder and the filament will struggle to keep up. As an easy test, you can try reducing your retraction speed by 50% to see if the problem goes away. If so, you know that your retraction settings may be part of the problem.
- Increase the extruder temperature
If you continue to encounter filament grinding, try to increase the extruder temperature by 5-10 degrees so that the plastic flows easier. You can do this at Temperature tab. Plastic will always flow easier at a higher temperature, so this can be a very helpful setting to adjust.
- Printing too fast
If you continue to encounter filament grinding, even after increasing the temperature, then the next thing you should do is decrease the printing speed. By doing this, the extruder motor will not need to spin as fast, since the filament is extruded over a longer period of time. The slower rotation of the extruder motor can help avoid grinding issues. You can adjust this setting by clicking Speeds tab. Adjust the Printing Speed, which controls the speed of any movements where the extruder is actively extruding plastic. For example, if you were previously printing at 3600 mm/min (60 mm/s), try decreasing that value by 50% to see if the filament grinding goes away.
- Check for a nozzle clog
If you are still encountering filament grinding after increasing the temperature and slowing down the print speed, then it’s likely your nozzle is partially clogged. Please read the Clogged Extruder section for instructions on how to troubleshoot this issue.
- Manually push the filament into the extruder
One of the first things you may want to try is manually pushing the filament into the extruder. Open Machine Control Panel and heat your extruder to the appropriate temperature for your plastic. Next, use the Jog Controls tab to extruder a small amount of plastic, for example, 10mm. As the extruder motor is spinning, lightly use your hands to help push the filament into the extruder. In many cases, this added force will be enough to advance the filament past the problem area.
- Reload the filament
If the filament still isn’t moving, the next thing you should do is unload the filament. Verify that the extruder is heated to the appropriate temperature, and then use machine control panel to retract the filament out of the extruder. As before, you may need to apply some additional force if the filament isn’t moving. Once the filament is removed, use a pair of scissors to cut away the melted or damaged portion of the filament. Then reload the filament and see if you are able to extrude with the new, undamaged section of filament.
- Clean out the nozzle
If you weren’t able to extrude the new section of plastic through the nozzle, then it’s likely you will need to clean out the nozzle before proceeding. Many users have had success heating their extruder to 100°C and then manually pulling the filament out (hopefully along with any debris that was inside!). Others prefer to use the E string from a guitar to push the material backwards through the nozzle tip. There are plenty of other methods and each extruder is different, so please consult your printer manufacturer for precise instructions.
- Out of filament
This one is pretty obvious, but before checking the other issues, first verify that you still have filament leading into the nozzle. If the spool has run out, you will need to load a new spool before continuing the print.
- The filament has stripped against the drive gear
During a print, the extruder motor is constantly spinning trying to push the filament into the nozzle so that your printer can keep extruding plastic. If you try to print too quickly or you try to extrude too much plastic, this motor may end up grinding away the filament until there is nothing left for the drive gear to grab onto. If your extruder motor is spinning, but the filament is not moving, then this is likely the cause. Please see the Grinding Filament section for more details on how to resolve the issue.
- The extruder is clogged
If none of the above causes apply to you, then it is very likely that the extruder is clogged. If this happens in the middle of the print, you may want to check and make sure that the filament is clean and that there is no dust on the spool. If enough dust is attached to the filament, it can cause a clog as it builds up inside the nozzle. There are several other possible causes for a clogged extruder, so please see the clogged extruder description in the Not Extruding at Start of Print section for more details.
- Overheated extruder motor driver
The extruder motor has to work incredibly hard during your print. It is constantly spinning back and forth, pushing and pulling plastic back and forth. This quick motion requires quite a bit of current, and if the printer’s electronics do not have sufficient cooling, it can cause the motor driver electronics to overheat. These motor drivers typically have a thermal cutoff that will cause the driver to stop working if the temperature gets too high. If this happens, the X,Y and Z axis motors will be spinning and moving the extruder toolhead, but the extruder motor will not be moving at all. The only way to resolve this issue is to turn off the printer and allow the electronics to cool down. You may also want to add an extra cooling fan if the problem continues.
- Try alternate infill patterns
One of the first settings you should investigate is the infill pattern that is used for your print. You can find this setting by clicking the "Infill" tab. The “Internal Fill Pattern” determines what pattern is used for the interior of your part. Some patterns tend to be more solid than others. For example, Grid, Triangular, and Solid Honeycomb are all strong infill patterns. Other patterns like Rectilinear and Fast Honeycomb may sacrifice some strength for faster printing speeds. If you are having trouble producing strong reliable infill, try a different pattern to see if it makes a difference.
- Lower the print speed
The infill is typically printed faster than any other portion of your 3D print. If you try to print the infill too fast, the extruder won’t be able to keep up and you will start to notice under-extrusion on the inside of your part. This under-extrusion will tend to create weak, stringy infill since the nozzle is not able to extrude as much plastic as the software would like. If you have tried several infill patterns, but continue to have problems with weak infill, try reducing the print speed. To do this, click "Speeds" tab. Adjust the "Printing Speed”, which directly controls the speed that is used for the infill. For example, if you were previously printing at 3600 mm/min (60 mm/s), try decreasing that value by 50% to see if the infill starts to become stronger and more solid.
- Increase the infill extrusion width
Another very powerful feature most common softwares is the ability to modify the extrusion width that is used for the infill of your part. For example, you could print the outline perimeters with a very fine 0.4mm extrusion width, but transition to a 0.8mm extrusion width for the infill. This will create thicker, stronger infill walls that greatly improve the strength of your 3D printed part. To adjust this setting, click “Edit Process Settings” and select the Infill tab. The “Infill Extrusion Width” is set as a percentage of the normal extrusion width. For example, if you enter a value of 200%, the infill extrusions will be twice as thick as the outline perimeters. One thing to keep in mind when adjusting this setting is that the software must also maintain the infill percentage that you specify. So if you set the infill extrusion width to 200%, the infill will use twice as much plastic for each line. To maintain the same infill percentage, the infill lines must be spaced further apart. For this reason, many users tend to increase their infill percentage after increasing the infill extrusion width.
- Retraction and coasting settings
If you start to notice small defects on the surface of your print, the best way to diagnose what is causing them is to watch closely as each perimeter of your part is printed. Does the defect appear the moment the extruder starts printing the perimeter? Or does it only appear later when the perimeter is completed and the extruder is coming to a stop? If the defect appears right away at the beginning of the loop, then it’s possible your retraction settings need to be adjusted slightly. Click on “Edit Process Settings” and go to the Extruders tab. Right below the retraction distance, there is a setting labeled “Extra Restart Distance.” This option determines the difference between the retraction distance when the extruder is stopping and the priming distance that is used when the extruder is restarting. If you notice a surface defect right at the beginning of the perimeter, then your extruder is likely priming too much plastic. You can reduce the priming distance by entering a negative value for the extra restart distance. For example, if your retraction distance is 1.0mm, and the extra restart distance is -0.2mm (note the negative sign), then each time your extruder stops, it will retract 1.0mm of plastic. However, each time the extruder has to start extruding again, it will only push 0.8mm of plastic back into the nozzle. Adjust this setting until the defect no longer appears when the extruder initially begins printing the perimeter. If the defect does not occur until the end of the perimeter when the extruder is coming to a stop, then there is a different setting to adjust. This setting is called coasting. You can find it right below the retraction settings on the Extruder tab. Coasting will turn off your extruder a short distance before the end of the perimeter to relieve the pressure that is built up within the nozzle. Enable this option and increase the value until you no longer notice a defect appearing at the end of each perimeter when the extruder is coming to a stop. Typically, a coasting distance between 0.2-0.5mm is enough to have a noticeable impact.
- Avoid unnecessary retractions
The retraction and coasting settings mentioned above can help avoid defects each time the nozzle retracts, however, in some cases, it is better to simply avoid the retractions all together. This way the extruder never has to reverse direction and can continue a nice uniform extrusion. This is particularly important for machines that use a Bowden extruder, as the long distance between the extruder motor and the nozzle makes retractions more troublesome. To adjust the settings that control when a retraction takes place, go to the Advanced tab and look for the “Ooze Control Behavior” section. This section contains many useful settings that can modify the behavior of your 3D printer. As was mentioned in the Stringing or Oozing section, retractions are primarily used to prevent the nozzle from oozing as it moves between different parts of your print. However, if the nozzle is not going to cross an open space, the oozing that occurs will be on the inside of the model and won’t be visible from the outside. For this reason, many printers will have the “Only retract when crossing open spaces” option enabled to avoid unnecessary retractions. Another related setting can be found in the “Movement Behavior” section. If your printer is only going to retract when crossing open spaces, then it would be beneficial to avoid these open spaces as much as possible. Most of the softwares includes an extremely useful feature that can divert the travel path of the extruder to avoid crossing an outline perimeter. If the extruder can avoid crossing the outline by changing the travel path, then a retraction won’t be needed. To use this feature, simply enable the “Avoid crossing outline for travel movement” option.
- Non-stationary retractions
Another extremely useful feature in most of the softwares is the ability to perform non-stationary retractions. This is particularly useful for bowden extruders that build up a lot of pressure inside the nozzle while printing. Typically when these types of machines stop extruding, the excess pressure is still likely to create a blob if the extruder is standing still. So there is an option that allows you to keep the nozzle moving while it performs its retraction. This means you are less likely to see a stationary blob since the extruder is constant moving during this process. To enable this option, we have to adjust a few settings. First, “Edit Process Settings” and go to the Extruder tab. Make sure that the “Wipe Nozzle” option is enabled. This will tell the printer to wipe the nozzle at the end of each section when it stops printing. For the “Wipe Distance”, enter a value of 5mm as a good starting point. Next, go to the Advanced tab and enable the option labeled “Perform retraction during wipe movement”. This will prevent a stationary retraction, since the printer has now been instructed to wipe the nozzle while it retracts. This is a very powerful feature and a great option to try if you are still having trouble removing these defects from the surface of your print.
- Choose the location of your start points
If you are still seeing some small defects on the surface of your print, some softwares also provides an option that can control the location of these points. Click on “Edit Process Settings” and select the Layer tab. In most cases, the locations of these start points are chosen to optimize the printing speed. However, you also have the ability to randomize the placement of the start points or align them to a specific location. For example, if you were printing a statue, you could align all of the start points to be on the backside of the model so that they were not visible from the front. To do this, enable the “Choose start point that is closest to specific location” option and then enter the XY coordinate where you want the start points to be placed.
- Not enough outline overlap
Most of the softwares includes a setting that allows you to adjust the strength of the bond between the perimeter outlines and the infill. This setting is called the “Outline overlap” and determines how much of the infill will overlap with the outline to join the two sections together. This setting can be found by going to “Edit Process Settings” and selecting the Infill tab. The setting is based on a percentage of your extrusion width, so that it easily scales and adjusts for different nozzle sizes. For example, if you are using a 20% outline overlap, it means that the software will instruct the printer so that the infill overlaps with 20% of the inner-most perimeter. This overlap helps to ensure a strong bond between the two sections. As an example, if you were previously using an outline overlap of 20%, try increasing that value to 30% to see if the gaps between your perimeters and infill disappear.
- Printing too fast
The infill for your part is generally printed much faster than the outlines. However, if the infill is printed too fast, it will not have enough time to bond to the outline perimeters. If you have tried increasing the outline overlap, but you are still seeing gaps between your perimeters and infill, then you should try decreasing the print speed. To do this, click “Edit Process Settings” and select the Speeds tab. Adjust the “Default Printing Speed”, which controls the speed of any movements where the extruder is actively extruding plastic. For example, if you were previously printing at 3600 mm/min (60 mm/s), try decreasing that value by 50% to see if the gaps between your perimeters and infill disappear. If the gaps are no longer present at the lower speed, gradually increase the default printing speed until you find the best speed for your printer.
- Extruding too much plastic
One of the first things you should verify is that you are not extruding too much plastic. If you extrude too much plastic, each layer will tend to be slightly thicker than intended. This means that when the nozzle tries to move across each layer, it may drag through some of the excess plastic. Before you look at any other settings, you should make sure that you are not extruding too much plastic. Please read the Over-extrusion section for more details.
- Vertical lift (Z-hop)
If you know you are extruding the correct amount of plastic, but are still having trouble with the nozzle dragging across your top surface, then it might be worth looking at the vertical lift settings in your software. Enabling this option will cause the nozzle to lift up a set distance above the previously printed layer before moving to a new location. When it arrives at its final location, the nozzle will lower back down to prepare for printing. By moving at an elevated height, this can avoid the nozzle scratch on the top surface of your print. To enable this option, click “Edit Process Settings” and select the Extruder tab. Make sure that retraction is enabled, and then set the “Retraction Vertical Lift” to the distance that you would like the nozzle to raise. For example, if you enter 0.5mm, the nozzle will always raise up 0.5mm before moving to a new location. Please note that this vertical lift will only occur when the nozzle is performing a retraction. If you want to ensure that a retraction is taking place for every single move that the printer does, click on the Advanced tab and make sure that “Only retract when crossing open spaces” and “Minimum travel for retraction” are disabled.
- Not enough perimeters
Adding more outline perimeters to your part will greatly improve the strength of the foundation. Because the interior of your part is typically partially hollow, the thickness of the perimeter walls has a significant effect. To adjust this setting, click “Edit Process Settings” and click on the Layer tab. For example, if you were previously printing with two perimeters, try the same print with four perimeters to see if the gaps disappear.
- Not enough top solid layers
Another common cause for a weak foundation is not having enough solid layers for the top surfaces of your print. A thin ceiling will not be able to adequately support the structures that are printed on top of them. This setting can be adjusted by clicking edit process settings and selecting the Layer tab. If you were previously using only two top solid layers, try the same print with four top solid layers to see if the foundation is improved.
- Infill percentage is too low
The final setting you should check is the infill percentage used for your print, illustrated by a slider under the Process Settings or found under the Infill tab. The top solid layers will be built on top of the infill, so it is important that there is enough infill to support these layers. For example, if you were previously using a infill percentage of 20%, try increasing that value to 40% to see if the print quality improves.
- Inconsistent extrusion
The most common cause for this issue is poor filament quality. If the filament does not have very tight tolerances, then you will notice this variation on the side walls of your print. For example, if your filament diameter varied by just 5% over the length of the spool, the width of the plastic extruded from the nozzle could change by as much as 0.05mm. This extra extrusion will create a layer that is wider than all the others, which will end up looking like a line on the side of the print. To create a perfectly smooth side wall, your printer needs to be able to produce a very consistent extrusion which requires high-quality plastic. For other possible causes of variation, please read the Inconsistent Extrusion section.
- Temperature variation
Most 3D printers use a PID controller to regulate the temperature of the extruder. If this PID controller is not tuned properly, the temperature of the extruder may fluctuate over time. Due to the nature of how PID controllers work, this fluctuation is frequently cyclical, meaning that the temperature will vary with a sine wave pattern. As the temperature gets hotter, the plastic may flow differently than when it is cooler. This will cause the layers of the print to extrude differently, creating visible ridges on the sides of your print. A properly tuned printer should be able to maintain the extruder temperature within +/-2 degrees. During your print, you can use your machine control panel to monitor the temperature of your extruder. If it is varying by more than 2 degrees, you may need to recalibrate your PID controller. Please consult your printer manufacturer for exact instructions on how to do this.
- Mechanical issues
If you know that inconsistent extrusion and temperature variation are not to blame, then there may be a mechanical issue that is causing lines and ridges on the sides of your print. For example, if the print bed wobbles or vibrates while printing, this can cause the nozzle position to vary. This means that some layers may be slightly thicker than others. These thicker layers will produce ridges on the sides of your print. Another common issue is a Z-axis threaded rod that is not being positioned properly. For example, due to backlash issues or poor motor controller micro-stepping settings. Even a small change in the bed position can have a major impact on the quality of each layer that is printed.
- Printing too fast
The most common cause for ringing is that your printer is trying to move too fast. When the printer suddenly changes direction, these quick movements will create additional force that can cause the lingering vibrations. If you feel that your printer may be moving too fast, try to reduce the printing speed. To do this, click “Edit Process Settings” and select the Speeds tab. You will want to make adjustments to the “Default Printing Speed” and the “X/Y Axis Movement Speed”. The first controls the speed of any movements where the extruder is actively extruding plastic, while the second controls the speed of rapid movements where no plastic is being extruded. You may need to adjust both settings to see an effect.
- Firmware acceleration
The firmware that runs on your 3D printer’s electronics typically implements acceleration controls to help prevent sudden direction changes. The acceleration settings will cause the printer to slowly ramp up in speed and then to slowly decelerate before changing directions. This functionality is vital for preventing ringing. If you are comfortable working with your printer’s firmware, you may even want to try decreasing the acceleration settings so that the speed changes more gradually. This can help reduce ringing even further.
- Mechanical issues
If nothing else has been able to resolving the ringing issues, then you may want to look for mechanical issues that could be causing the excessive vibrations. For example, there could be a loose screw or a broken bracket that is allowing excessive vibrations to occur. Watch your printer closely while it is running and try to identify where the vibrations are coming from. We’ve had many users that eventually traced these issues back to mechanical problems with the printer, so it’s worth checking if none of the suggestions above were able to help.
Choose the location of your start points