Intro to 3D Printing, Part 3

What other things do I need to think about?

Now that we’ve covered what you need to know before you even get a 3D printer, we need to talk about the hidden costs of printing. There aren’t a lot, but there are definitely some things that you’ll need to either know about or buy that won’t be in the box.

Over the course of this post, we’ll talk about:

  • Build surfaces and materials
  • Getting prints off the bed
  • Power
  • Interference (specifically of the little human kind)
  • Noise considerations
  • Fire hazards

Build Surfaces

Every printer has a bed (the build platform that the object is printed onto) but sometimes actually getting the plastic to stick to the bed requires some… effort. Several surfaces exist, but here are the most common ones:

  • PEI, a mildly sticky plastic
  • Glass (just normal plate glass or a mirror)
  • Textured metal

Most 3D printers today either use PEI (a light orange color) or black textured plastic for cost purposes. Some nicer printers offer flexible textured metal build surfaces that are removable, though it’s often available as an aftermarket upgrade.

A lot of printers, though mostly machines that are a few years old, use glass as the bed surface of choice. Hot plastic grips to glass very well and releases easily when it’s cool. With a quick dash of some cheap hairspray, prints will stick to the glass with no problems.

The recommended brand of hairspray is Aqua Net Extra Super Hold – you can usually find it for a dollar or two at Walmart or your local corner store. Keep in mind that you only need hairspray if your printer uses a glass or mirror build surface.

PEI and textured metal don’t require any additional help to work, but may need cleaning from time to time. You’ll want to pick up some 90%+ isopropyl alcohol to clean them – you won’t need much, as a single bottle will go a long way.

Watch out!
DO NOT use acetone to clean PEI or textured surfaces; they will be ruined permanently!

Other surfaces exist – everything from machined stone to painter’s tape – but the above listed ones are what you’re most likely to find. Hairspray also isn’t the only thing you can use to change the properties of surfaces like glass; you can use purpose-built chemicals like 3D Gloop or even things you might already have around the house, like Elmer’s Glue Stick!

Getting Prints Off the Bed

All that talking about different methods of getting prints to stick brings up a good question: how do we get them off the bed when they’re done?

The most tried-and-true method is to use a sharpened scraper (like a paint scraper) or a purpose-built tool like this one from Gizmo Dorks. If you’re careful, wedging a razor blade under the print will often release it without too much issue, but try to stick to tools that have handles for your safety (and the safety of those around you).

This is why some people opt for removable, flexible build plates; when the print is finished, you simply remove the build plate with the part on it, then carefully flex the plate – the part pops off! Take a look at some example retrofit kits here or to see a printer that comes with them, check out the Prusa MK3S here.

Power Considerations

When getting ready to run a 3D printer, it’s important to remember that prints frequently last for hours at a time, and the printer can’t lose power during the print. If you live in an area that is prone to brownouts or power outages, you may want to consider investing in an uninterruptible power supply to plug your printer into. This is definitely not a requirement (for reference, none of the printers I run are on uninterruptible power supplies) but may be something that you might need.

(Little) Human Interference

Though we talked about little humans in the last post, we’re revisiting this topic because playing with a 3D printer while it’s off and playing with one while it’s running are two very different things. 3D printers are very sensitive pieces of equipment, and if they’re bumped or jostled while they’re running, those movements will show up as defects in the finished print. It (most likely) won’t ruin the work, but it certainly won’t help.

As interested as small hands may be, it’s important that they CANNOT interact with the printer while it’s hot. They could severely burn themselves.

Noise Considerations

A 3D printer is, almost without exception, not a quiet machine. It will hum, sing, and otherwise whirr its way through a print; some homes amplify these sounds and make them seem louder than they are due to their frequencies. Silencing a printer is a complex matter that can sometimes be accomplished through hardware upgrades or by running the machine slower… but nothing beats a little bit of foam. Check out this video from CNC Kitchen about quieting a 3D printer with a little bit of foam and a concrete tile.

Fire Hazards

Anything that gets very hot can cause a fire, and 3D printers are no exception. Thankfully, the number of fires caused by printers is extremely low and there are some easy things you can do to help guard against the possibility of a fire:

  • Buy a small fire extinguisher – these are what I use; keep it nearby to your printer in a place where it can be easily grabbed
  • Get a smoke detector and install it right above your machine
  • Make sure that the machine is plugged into a power strip or an outlet that you can easily reach if you have to unplug it quickly

Hopefully you should never have to deal with anything relating to fires or scares, but it’s “playing with fire” to not invest in some adequate protection. Also, stay away from any 3D printers under $250 USD. You get that low price when they skimp on safety features. It’s not worth it.

It is the official recommendation of that you verify that a working smoke detector is in use for the room where the printer is running. Though the chances of something going wrong are low, it is not something worth betting against.

Wrapping Up

In this post, we’ve covered a lot of things you need to know prior to (and during) your first and subsequent prints. In the next post, we’ll talk about cleaning up prints, dealing with plastic waste, and finishing up your masterpieces with glue and paint!