3D Printing Support Structures – Tree vs Standard Supports

This discussion has a more recent version.
edited May 2023 in 3D Printers

3D printing allows users to create three-dimensional objects from a digital design. However, when it comes to 3D printing intricate structures with overhanging features, sharp angles, or bridges, your print may fail if you don’t use supports. There are many types of supports you can use, and today we will discuss the difference between tree supports and standard supports. 

Our Setup:

Printer: Ender 3 V2

Filament Used: Inland Light Blue PLA Filament

  • Nozzle Temp: 205°
  • Bed Temp: 50°

Slicing Software: UltiMaker Cura

Why Do I Need to Use Supports?

3D Printing supports are used when you are printing a model with an overhang that is more than 45 degrees, or if part of your print does not begin on the build plate. Without supports, both can fail. Basically, the filament doesn’t have anything to build on and will fall into the space underneath it.

A great example of this is the Customizable 3D printer support test by zapta. The X at the top of this print falls into both above categories. It has an overhang more than 45 degrees and has a piece that is not supported by the build plate.  

Here is what the above model looks like if you print it without supports. The first layers of the X are extremely stringy. They didn’t have any support, so the melted filament fell and didn’t create a smooth layer. This model had a 24-minute print time without supports.

Standard Support Types

When adding supports to your 3D models, you have a couple different options. Standard support types can be printed in patterns such as lines, grid, triangles, gyroid, or zig zag.

Lines: The line support creates linear columns inside the support structure. This pattern will work for most overhang angles or bridges. However, they are a bit more difficult to remove and you could end up damaging your print. Adding this support type brings this total print time to 46 minutes.

Grid: The grid support creates a perpendicular pattern inside the support structure. This pattern will work great for models with a flat surface. The grid support is quite strong and uses more material. It may take longer in your post-processing and there is a chance you could damage the model. Adding this support type brings this total print time to 48 minutes.

Triangle: The triangle support creates equilateral triangles inside the support structure. This pattern is more stable than the grid pattern. Like the grid, triangle supports use more material and you could damage the model during the support removal process. Adding this support type brings this total print time to 47 minutes.

Gyroid: The gyroid support creates a series of waves inside the support structure. This support is quite dense, so you can print with a slightly lower infill. The dense support structure ensures equal supports to all lines of your overhang or bridge. Adding this support type brings this total print time to 44 minutes.

Zig Zag: The zig zag support is among the most widely used supports, it is the best utilized for large overhangs and angles. It uses less plastic than the other support patterns, has a shorter printing time, and is the easiest to remove resulting in a smoother, more polished final print. Adding this support type brings this total print time to 44 minutes.

Tree Supports

Picture a tree. It has a large, thick trunk low to the ground. As it grows, its branches grow out of the main trunk to support smaller branches and limbs. This is how the tree support works for your 3D model. The base is thicker and as your model “grows” support branches reach out to support overhangs, angles or bridges in your model.

Tree supports are best utilized for intricate detailed models, bridges, miniatures, or steep overhangs. Tree supports don’t touch the print as often as standard supports. Because of this, they are very easy to remove and are often removed in one piece, limiting damage to your 3D print. 

Adding this support type brings this total print time to 35 minutes.

Choosing your 3D support type will vary print to print. How large is your model? How long? How intricate? Are there overhangs, bridges, or angles? Ask yourself these questions before deciding which support to use.

The difference supports can make is huge!

What type of support do you use most often? Comment below!

Looking for more information on 3D printing? We’ve got a 3D Printer section of the community, as well as plenty of guides and tips like 3D Printing with ResinSetting Up Your Printer with the Torture Toaster, and How to Choose a 3D Printer! And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to post a new discussion and the Community will be happy to help!


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