Jun 27, 2018

3D Printer Bed Leveling – Step by Step Tutorial

Leveling the print bed on an FDM 3D printer is a necessary two-step process if you want the foundation of your 3D print to succeed. This 3D printer bed leveling tutorial takes you through the steps and explains them along the way.

Why Do I Need to Level the Print Bed?

Much of the magic in FDM 3D printing is in the filament. The material behaves predictably at certain temperatures, making it possible to control its form. From the filament on a roll to your 3D printed object on the build plate.

All we have to do with our 3D printers is give the filament the right conditions to work its magic. A level 3D printer bed is a crucial part of this as it lets the material extrude evenly across the entire build surface.

After leveling the 3D printer bed, we need to adjust the Z height. First we do this manually in order to balance filament flow and bed adhesion. Then we set the value in software, so that the printer knows what the gap is between the nozzle and build plate.

We need both a level build surface and correct nozzle gap to get an even first layer. Then we have the perfect foundation for the rest of our 3D print job.

If either of these settings are off, you can easily tell from the first layer. You just need to know what to look for!

Signs You Need to Level the Print Bed

A level build plate shows a consistent first layer. Any signs of the opposite and 3D printer bed leveling can be suspected to be off:

  • Filament height and width varies across the build surface
  • Gaps between lines of filament varies across the build surface
  • Filament is sticking to the build surface only in some places

Signs The Nozzle Gap is Off

By setting the Z height you decide what nozzle gap you want. If the gap is too big or too small, you can often tell by looking at the form of extruded lines of filament on the build plate.

  • The first layer is barely visible or very thin: This indicates the Z height is set too low, creating too small a nozzle gap.
  • The nozzle plows trough filament already on the build plate: Again, this also indicates the nozzle is too close to the build plate.
  • Filament gathers on the nozzle: This can also come from the nozzle being too close to the build plate.
  • No filament extrudes onto the build plate: This can come from the nozzle tip being so close to the build surface that there is simply no room left for pushing out filament.
  • Filament doesn’t stick to the build surface: The nozzle should physically press down on each strain of extruded filament enough for it to squish onto the build surface and stick. If the nozzle is too far away, this won’t happen.
  • Filament comes out as spaghetti: This could be a severe case of the nozzle being too high above the build plate.

Required Tools

Here is a good starting setup of tools needed to maintain your 3D printer’s bed level and nozzle gap:

  • Index card: For 3D printer bed leveling and nozzle gap adjustment, you’ll need a card of a size you can comfortably hold and slide between the nozzle tip and the build plate. A piece of ordinary office paper cut down to about 100 mm x 40 mm should work. We prefer using a thickness of 120-160 gsm, but you will learn your chosen paper and how it should feel when using it.
  • Screw driver or hex key: Your 3D printer’s bed may require one of these tools to adjust screws on the bed.
  • Heat-resistant gloves, like these ones from Rapicca, are useful for working around the nozzle.
  • A clean cotton cloth and a brass brushlike the Hyde Tools Mini Brush work well for cleaning the nozzle.
  • A razorblade or a spatula can be used to scrape residue from the surface of your build plate. If you already have something like the BuildTak spatula, it should work well, too.
  • Dish soap and a clean, dry cotton cloth will also be useful for removing dust and grime.
  • Isopropyl alcohol, for example this one from MG Chemical, allows one to clean a build surface that is permanently mounted to the 3D printer. Just check that the build surface can handle the cleaning agent.


  • Clean the nozzle. First thing’s first! If you have as much as a sitting on the tip of the nozzle, your 3D printer bed leveling and nozzle gap adjustment will be off. Thankfully, the tip is easy to clean with a dry cotton cloth. Just heat the nozzle to whatever temperature your last material was printed at and wipe it off. If that doesn’t do the trick, a brass brush may be used to carefully clean around the tip. Just be careful no to overdo it, otherwise the nozzle or hot end may be ruined by the hard brass bristles. And as always when working close to the hot end, wear heat-resistant gloves and use common sense.
  • Clean the build surface. As with the nozzle, your 3D printer bed surface also need to be clean. Or at least free from dirt or debris that may add to its thickness. For a glass build surface, we mostly use a razorblade or a spatula to scrape of any residue. The blade will also work on other hard surfaces, but be sure to not use it on a build plate that might be easily damaged. Then we proceed with washing the build plate (removed from the heating element and 3D printer) with ordinary dish soap and lukewarm water. For a non-removable build plate, you can often use isopropanol alcohol on a cotton cloth. After that, dry it with a fresh cotton cloth. It’s also a good idea to not touch the build surface with your bare hands, as that can add oils from your skin. We don’t want any grease on the surface, as that will hurt bed adhesion. For other types of build plates, other techniques may apply.
  • Hot or cold? For the bed leveling process, it doesn’t matter if the bed or nozzle is hot or cold. For setting the Z height, you should follow the recommendations for your your 3D printer model and type. If you’re unsure, start with a cold nozzle and print bed.

3D Printer Bed Leveling and Nozzle Gap Adjustment

Manual 3D printer bed leveling, with Z height adjustment for that perfect nozzle gap, can be a frustrating experience even for seasoned makers. But as soon as you understand the basics of the process, you will easily master this useful skill.

Many 3D printers have automatic or semi-automatic bed leveling, but often manual leveling will give a better looking bottom layer. And when something is wrong with your first layer, you may be able to find the faulty part or setting if you know what’s going on in the leveling process.

  1. Have your index card ready. Your most important tool for 3D printer bed leveling is the piece of ordinary office paper mentioned above. A good starting point for paper thickness is about 120-160 gsm, but you will learn to feel how much drag your chosen paper should produce (more on that later).
  2. Start by creating some work space. Most FDM 3D printer beds are mounted with three or four adjustable screws in the corners or along the sides of the build plate. Adjust each screw a couple of turns to increase the distance between the nozzle and build plate.
  3. Move the build plate. Now you want to get the nozzle close to the build plate, either by hand or with the software you use to control the 3D printer.
  4. Measure and adjust. You want to calibrate the 3D printer bed so that it is as level as possible at all four corners and in the middle. Staring with one corner, move the print head there and put the index card between the nozzle tip and 3D printer bed. If there is no resistance dragging the index card back and forth between the nozzle and the bed, adjust the closest screw to tighten the gap. Be careful not to put pressure on the 3D printer bed with for example your hand, as this will push the bed down enough to make the gap bigger than it really is. Use your index card again and repeat until you can feel a slight drag from the nozzle and 3D printer bed touching the index card when moving it back and forth. Then repeat the same process on all remaining corners. When the corners are okay, do the same with the print head in the middle of the build plate. Readjust the screws if necessary. Then, double-check each corner and the center again, as the constant adjustments may have affected other spots. If that’s the case, repeat the entire procedure until all five points are leveled.
  5. Set the nozzle gap. Because the nozzle gap changed while leveling the 3D printer bed, you now have to adjust the Z height and save the new value to your 3D printer settings. This is done using the same index card as before and your printer’s control software. A value of about 0.1 mm is good to aim for, but you ultimatley want the gap that produces that perfectly squished line of filament on the build plate. When you feel the index card dragging between the nozzle and the build plate, you should have about the right height.
  6. Inspect the first layer. Before running a complete 3D print job it’s a good idea to print only the first layer in order to verify successful bed leveling and nozzle gap adjustment. If successful, the first layer should look about the same over the whole surface. And when you have the Z height adjustment just right, your nozzle gap should produce slightly squished strains of filament on the build plate. Each line should touch, but not overlap so much that you get filament build up on the build surface or on the nozzle.

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License: The text of "3D Printer Bed Leveling – Step by Step Tutorial" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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