3D Printing – Improving Print Quality with Simple Modifications

Maximize 3D Printer Performance

There are several factors that play a role in the performance and quality of 3D printed parts.  A properly configured and maintained printer is an integral part in producing strong and high quality prints.  Below is a non-exhaustive list of things to look out for in order to guarantee the highest performance from your printer.

Axis Leveling

Z-Axis Squaring

On printers that use two independent steppers for the Z-axis, such as Prusa i3 model printers, it is important to ensure that the Z-axis is square before attempting to level the print bed.  Otherwise, first layer can occur when printing, and it can be impossible to correctly level the bed.  Use the following process to square the Z-axis:

  1. Power off the printer.
  2. Manually turn the Z axis threaded rods (lead screws), turning both at the same time and same rate, until both sides are firmly seated against the top Z axis end stops.
  3. Power on the printer. Home all axes.
  4. Re-level the print bed.

Build Surface:


It’s a well known fact that it can be a pain to level a printer’s print bed.  That said, for some plastic types a level build plate is the difference between a part printing successfully and a part detaching halfway through a long print.   Aside from reading about the importance of maintaining a level print surface, here are some tips to help level a tricky bed:

It is very common for a metal print bed to become warped over time, especially with heated beds.  This problem can be remedied by affixing a borosilicate glass plate, 3mm thick minimum, atop the metal bed.  The glass plate can be assumed to be ultra-flat, and will solve any leveling problems caused by an uneven metal print bed.  Simply secure the glass to the metal bed using binder clips.

For heated metal build beds, silicone thermal pads must be used to allow the heat from the heated bed to transfer to the glass plate.  Most thermal pads come in sheets and must be cut to size.  Use a checkerboard pattern of 1 square inch thermal pads between the metal bed and the glass plate.  For badly warped metal beds, it may be necessary to only use thermal pads in corners to elevate the glass plate above the warped metal bed.  When using thermal pads, it is unnecessary to secure the glass using binder clips, the thermal pads do a well-enough job at securing the glass.

Heated build bed with borosilicate glass plate on top. Silicone thermal pads are used between the two plates to allow heat transfer.  For relatively level metal build plates, a checkerboard pattern can be used for the thermal pads.  For badly warped metal build plates, only use thermal pads in the corners.

*Note: Some materials will damage borosilicate glass, such as PET-G.  PLA and ABS should have no problem.

Build Surface Material

Many users fuss around with painter’s tape, glue, and hairspray to increase bed adhesion.  However, a sheet of PEI makes an excellent build surface for both heated and unheated beds.  Secure the PEI sheet directly to the heated build bed using binder clips.  For the best possible performance, use PEI in conjunction with a glass plate (and thermal pads).  Adhere the PEI sheet to the glass sheet using 3M 468MP adhesive transfer tape.

High-performance 3D printer build bed.

*It may be necessary to raise the Z-limit switch when modifying the build plate.

Printer Rigidity:

Rigidity plays a huge role in the accuracy and precision of any CNC machine, such as a 3D printer.  3D printers require extreme accuracy,  thus, if they are prone to flex, the quality of prints diminishes quickly.  Below demonstrates the importance of a rigid system:

Importance of 3D printer rigidity.  Both printers are structurally identical, the first constructed of wood and the second constructed of metal.  The metal frame is significantly more rigid than the wooden frame.

Problems can arise with printers such as the one below where the Z-axis does not have proper support.  This is a common problem with Wanhao Duplicator i3’s and their clones (Monoprice Maker Select, etc.)  When the build plate moves, vibrations travel through the frame and shake the Z-axis.  For taller parts, this vibration is amplified and can lead to layer-shift problems.  These problems are resolved on printers with a more rigid frame, such as below.

Z-axis is prone to shaking.

A more rigid frame prevents Z-axis shaking.

Z-Brace Mod

A modification can be made to printer’s without sufficient frame rigidity.  A “Z-Brace Mod” will solve all problems related to frame rigidity, and it is inexpensive and easy to implement.

Wanhao Duplicator i3 clone (Monoprice Maker Select V2) with Z-Brace mod.