Let’s face it, we spend more time tinkering with settings, leveling our beds and performing upgrades than we do actually printing. Unless you spend several thousand dollars on the absolute top of the line printers, you are probably going to need some form of calibration out of the box. Many hobbyist printers invest hundreds of hours in to figuring out exactly what works best for their printer, ranging from the temperatures to the retraction distance.
While there aren’t any shortcuts to escape good old fashioned experimentation, we do have a number of prints to help optimize our machines. You will find it is much easier to locate the source of flaws when printing objects that are specifically designed to highlight the cause of such problems. Each of these included below has a unique purpose, with the goal of achieving the perfect 3D Prints.
Figuring out the best temperature to print is extremely important. Every roll of filament is different and what works for a roll of black PLA may not be the best for a roll of blue PLA. Manufacturers will often include a range of optimal temperatures but these are general figures at best. The Temperature Tower allows you to see exactly what the print looks like with variations in the extrusion heat.
There are a wide variety of these models available, each remixed with its own set of listed temperatures. I personally prefer this one, where it not only gives you an insight into the basic print quality at each level but also shows overhangs as well. Just find the one that best fits your needs and you will have a visual breakdown of what your prints look like at several different temperatures.
XYZ Calibration Cube
Sometimes we finish a print, only to find that there is a problem we cannot quite pinpoint in the layers. Prusa style printers including the Maker Select and Wanhao Duplicator i3 are especially susceptible to this given the design. The XYZ Calibration Cube helps narrow down troubles occurring on a specific axis, such as loose belts or Z-wobble.
In addition to checking the X, Y and Z axis, this particular print also provides you with the option of calibrating your e-steps as well. Using E as the Expected Dimensions (taken from the slicer software), A as the Actual Dimensions and S as the Current Steps per Millimeter, the formula (E/A) x S will provide you with the correct Steps per Millimeter to input into your printer.
Bed Leveling Square
A perfectly level bed is the absolute most important step to ensure your print adheres to the build plate, yet this is by far the most common cause of problems we face. Even a slight misalignment may very well ruin an otherwise fantastic print. While printing several skirts can often times allow for last minute tweaks to bed leveling, I recommend using the Bed Leveling Square to make sure its entirely level before you even start.
The goal is to observe the print as it progresses, adjusting the bed screws in each corner as necessary until the layers are laid out evenly. This particular print has 3 nested squares, where you can continue to loosen or tighten as needed until there are no longer any variations in the extrusion.
Z-Axis Alignment Posts
Prusa style printers operate with two vertical rods, one on each side of the frame which the extruder assembly traverses during print. If the rods on the X-Axis are not level, this will cause unexpected variations in the print.
To address this, the Z-Axis Alignment Posts are placed on either side of the extruder assembly, as close to the vertical rods as possible while maintaining a level surface to sit on. Turning the Z-Axis (vertical) rods by hand, you can lower the X-Axis (horizontal) rods until they sit perfectly in the top of the posts. Make sure that both sides are sitting flush, then use the control box to raise the Z-Axis enough that the posts can be removed.
The #3DBenchy has become a rite of passage in the 3D Printing community, often the first benchmark each new owner creates to see what their printer is capable of. Although it seems to be nothing more than a toy boat, it actually offers a great deal of insight into potentially problematic areas, pinpointing exactly what calibration is required.
The bottom and rear of the boat have written text to examine the fine details of letters. The front hull and chimney provide curved surfaces while the outer ridge, doorway and roof emphasize overhangs. As a whole, you can determine exactly what tweaks to perform based just off the flaws in this print.