Mar 5, 2019

PEI Sheet for Your 3D Printer – How to Use It as a Print Surface

Fed up with icky glue sticks and blue tape? Why not try a PEI sheet to get your models to stick? Learn how to apply a PEI sheet to your print surface to obtain the optimal results.

PEI Sheet – How to Use It as a Print Surface Introduction to the PEI Sheet

A typical PEI sheet for a 3D printer Source:

For nearly every maker, the relationship with your 3D printer is evolutionary, as the experience improves as you grow more familiar with your machine. Some may be great out of the box and provide a wonderfully warm feeling when that first model appears atop the print bed. Unfortunately, there are also certain obstacles that can appear on the path.

They may sometimes surprise you, like that horrible feeling of dread as you watch the print head grind through the print bed after you forget to re-level the bed after just changing filament. Or even where your model is halfway done, but suddenly slides out of place and refuses to stick to the build platform.

Needless to say, print adhesion is a critical part of the process. Initial internet searches will likely tell you to try out painter’s tape and glue sticks, but eventually, you grow tired of the mess and hassle of cleaning the bed after each print. Another viable option is to look into using a PEI Sheet for your print bed. In the following article, we’ll explain what a PEI sheet is, how to apply it to your print bed, and what results you can expect from this upgrade.

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PEI Sheet – How to Use It as a Print Surface What is a PEI Sheet?

PEI is easy to find Source: PJF Screen Capture

Polyetherimide, more commonly known in its abbreviated form PEI, is a “relatively maintenance free” build surface that can be used for all types of filament on a heated or unheated print bed. It doesn’t require any additional adhesives such as glue or tape. In the 3D printing world, these PEI sheets are sometimes sold under the guise of brand names such as Ultem.

PEI requires “no-surface-prep” before use, which makes it very convenient to work with. The guidelines for use also suggest that using a PEI sheet on your print bed will eliminate the need for a raft or brim, as parts are expected to adhere directly to the surface without issue.

PEI has excellent mechanical properties, radiation resistance, high and low-temperature resistance, high-temperature stability and high wear resistance as well as good flame retardancy, chemical resistance, and electrical insulation characteristics. Not to mention…it comes in multiple colors as well!

PEI Sheet – How to Use It as a Print Surface How to Use a PEI Sheet: Prepare the Print Bed

Remove the damaged sheet and replace with PEI Source: PJF Workshop

The first step in adding a PEI sheet to your print bed is simple: remove the old covering or sheet. The easiest way to do this is to set the bed temperature as if you were printing with ABS (110°C). Wait until the bed is heated and then start in one corner and peel it off. Sliding a spatula across the surface (being careful not to scratch the aluminium plate) can assist you in breaking the adhesive sheet.

At this point, you should have to assess the print surface. If the remaining adhesive is just a thin uniform coating rather than uneven blobs, you can apply the new self-adhesive sheet directly over the top. If not, you have to leveling some denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, using a scraper to give the heated bed to a clean smooth finish.

If you’re required to cut the PEI sheet to fit the print bed, you can do so with a knife or another type of cutting tool, trimming the corners if your adjustment screws are sticking up through the plate. If the PEI sheet is self-adhesive, remove the protective film by peeling back one edge of the PEI, but not too much though!

It’s very important that you scrape any bubbles or lumps out as you attach the sheet to your print bed. Be sure to take it steady and apply small portions at a time, starting along one edge and moving throughout the bed. Once the entire sheet is mounted to the platform, ensure no bubbles are showing up on the surface. You can use your printer’s scraper to smooth everything out until the PEI sheet is as smooth as possible. 

After the PEI sheet is applied, don’t forget to re-level the print bed (that is, if your printer requires manual calibration). 

PEI Sheet – How to Use It as a Print Surface Conclusion

PEI Sheet after 6 Weeks Source: PJF Workshop

Before we wrap things up, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using a PEI sheet on your 3D printer.

Pros of a PEI Sheet:

  • It is readily available, relatively cheap to purchase and easy to apply and remove.
  • It can provide excellent adhesion for a printed item, removing the need for tapes and glues.
  • It provides a smooth surface finish (while it remains undamaged).
  • It provides good thermal conductivity for a heated bed.

Cons of a PEI Sheet:

  • It is relatively soft and can be damaged by a poorly adjusted print bed or excessive scraping.
  • It can adhere very strongly to a printed item, risking damage to both the bed and the item as well as taking a lot of effort to remove the printed item.

The conclusion is that a PEI sheet is no universal panacea for print bed adhesion problems. It may be just what you need or could continue to tax your patience as you fill the discard box and tweak the many parameters that give you either a great or failed print.

All in all, a PEI sheet is an affordable option that provides exceptional adhesion, but the success of your print will also depend on factors like bed leveling. Either way, if you plan on sticking to 3D printing in the long-run, a PEI sheet can save you from future frustration by making sure your prints stick to the bed.

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If you don’t think a PEI sheet is right for your 3D printing needs, you can also replace your stock print bed with a glass sheet. You can read about the major advantages of a borosilicate glass bed here: 3D Printer Glass Bed – What to Consider & Which to Buy.

License: The text of "PEI Sheet for Your 3D Printer – How to Use It as a Print Surface" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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