3D printing, like everything else on Earth, is limited by gravity. Despite its amazing ability to turn spools of plastic into toy soldiers, giant swords, and other fun models, 3D printers don’t print well over thin air…
To combat this problem, slicer software adds all sorts of 3D printed supports alongside your model. And once the whole thing is printed, those supports can be removed.
But not every 3D print requires supports — something to keep in mind when getting ready to print. A big part of 3D printing supports s knowing how to avoid them. First, ask yourself: Is 3D printing supports necessary for your model?
Here’s how to know whether your model needs supports:
As they say, prevention is better than cure. Here are some general guidelines to avoid having to print with supports:
So yes, you’re sure that you need supports. In Cura (or your preferred slicer) you can simply check that box and call it a day. But there are so many more ways to 3D print supports that may work well for your case.
Lattice supports are the most common type of support. They’re popular because they’re easy to customize, quick to generate, and work well for most 3D models. The downside is, if not printed properly, the supports can leave marks on the finished model and can be a pain to remove.
The default support type in Cura is a grid-pattern lattice support, which is reasonable since grid patterns serve as a great all-purpose support shape. However, there are actually 7 support patterns to choose from under the hood (some of which are pictured above). Make sure to pick a support pattern that fits your model’s shape. Concentric, for example, is useful for spheres and other shapes that aren’t evenly supported by a grid. Lines are great for when you need super-easy-to-remove supports, such as tricky holes or floors of a building. The other patterns are a little less commonly used, but feel free to experiment with them if the need arises.
Tree-type supports are almost exactly what they sound like. They start from a couple of ‘trunks’ near the base of your print, and branch out to support overhangs in your model as height increases. 3D printing these supports can save on material and print time.
Since tree-type supports don’t touch the model so much, they often offer better surface finish. However, they can take a long time to slice, since the trees are generated dynamically. Pick these supports if your model has lots of organic shapes, or overhangs that are small or not very steep (less than 70 degrees). These supports do not work well for flatter overhangs, such as a roof, since they only touch the model at a few points.
Dissolvable supports are a niche but high-quality alternative to typical supports, which are printed in the same material as the model. With the introduction of dual-extruder printers, one nozzle can print the model in PLA while the other prints all the support material in a water-soluble filament (commonly PVA). When the 3D print finishes, simply soak the print in some water and the supports will dissolve, leaving a clean model behind. How easy is that?
If you’re lucky enough to own a dual extruder printer and don’t mind paying for some slightly-pricey filament, we definitely recommend this option. Read this in-depth guide to learn more.
The next step is to decide the best density at which to 3D print supports. We recommend starting at a density of about 10% and then adjusting to your liking. To see your sliced supports in Cura, hit ‘Layer view’ and ‘Show helpers’. Here are some factors that affect support density:
Cura, an open-source software, has lots of other settings to fiddle with so you can perfect your print. You might never need to touch these settings, but it’s always good to know they’re there.
You’re ready to print! Pat yourself on the back for setting up your print for success. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t turn out as you planned — 3D printing supports is full of trial and error, and the best way to learn is through experience.
License: The text of "3D Printing Supports – 3 Easy Steps to Success" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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