Tips for a Successful Print

Author: Aaron Siegel

3D printing is incredibly fun and exhilarating when it goes well, but failed prints do happen, and they can be a frustrating experience. This tutorial will help to ensure you get perfect prints every time!

The Importance of the First Layer

Getting a good first layer is the key to a successful print. If you've been 3D printing for long, you've probably heard that before - and it's absolutely true! This tutorial might well simply be titled "Tips for a Successful First Layer".

Warping and poor surface adhesion are perhaps the two most common printing problems. If the first layer adheres poorly, then at best its appearance will be marred, and at worst it will cause problems later in the print.

This is particularly a challenge for puzzle printing: the "underside" of a puzzle piece is just as important to the appearance of the finished product as all its other sides; and compounding the problem, puzzle pieces tend to have blocky geometries and sharp corners that warp easily.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to control these problems! Here are some of the things I've tried that have really helped.

Use a High-Quality Filament

I can't stress this one enough. Poor filaments are simply more prone to warping and other printing problems. Fortunately, though, "higher quality" doesn't necessarily imply "more expensive". Check out our Recommendations page for some specific filaments that have been tested to work well with puzzles.

Adjust Your Printer Calibration

  • The first layer should have a smooth, glassy texture. If there is visible "roughness" between lines of filament, your nozzle is probably too far from the bed. If the first layer gets visibly scuffed up when it first goes down, your nozzle may be too close to the bed (leading to overextrusion and other problems). If you're experiencing either of these problems, try adjusting your nozzle height. Your printer manual should include instructions on how to do this. (Don't overdo it - even 20 microns can make a big difference.)
  • Slowing the first layer print speed can lead to dramatic improvements in first layer consistency. (Your slicer should have an option to change it.) With my slicer's default setting of 20 mm/sec, I experienced frequent adhesion issues, particular around sharp corners. Slowing this to 12 mm/sec essentially eliminated that problem. The tiny increase in overall print times (there is no need to slow down the print for layers above the first) is well worth it. This is probably the simplest change you can make!
  • You might also try adjusting the print bed temperature (assuming your printer has a heated bed). I print most filaments onto a 65 °C bed - this is above most guidelines and, in fact, just slightly above the glass transition temperature of PLA plastic. But I've found the hotter temperature reduces warping. I also lower the nozzle temperature to 5 °C below the slicer's default settings (from 215 °C to 210 °C).

Keep It Clean

  • Clean your print bed frequently. Slight contamination of the print bed with dust or oils can ruin first layer adhesion - even a stray fingerprint can be devastating. Manufacturers' recommendations for cleaning solvents vary, but I've found that nothing works as well as 100% pure acetone. If you're having adhesion issues, try dabbing a cotton ball with acetone and swabbing the surface of your print bed with it. (I typically do this every 3 to 4 prints, and sometimes more often if I'm doing longer prints and want to be extra careful.) Be sure the acetone is 100% pure and does not contain aloe or other additives.
  • Maintain a clean print nozzle. Debris that is stuck to the nozzle can drip onto the surface during printing and disrupt your print. If your nozzle is covered in debris, try gently swabbing the heated nozzle with a Q-tip.