Mastering 3D Printer Calibration

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

Written by Kyle Wall

Any 3D printing enthusiast knows the frustration of a failed print. More often than not, these failures signify the need for 3D printer calibration; whether a novice or a seasoned veteran, understanding how to calibrate your printer is pivotal to taking your projects to the next level.

Let's delve into calibration and test prints, valuable tools for fine-tuning your 3D printer's performance. Together, we can turn our print failures into successes, fostering a thriving 3D printing community.

We'll explore popular calibration and test prints, each offering unique insights to help you achieve consistent, high-quality results:

Temperature Tower: This helps pinpoint the optimal temperature settings for your filament, varying print quality based on the temperature used.

Calibration Cube: A simple yet powerful tool to check dimensional accuracy and identify potential issues with steps per millimeter settings in X, Y, and Z directions.

• Benchy: The 'torture test' designed to test your printer with various complexities, helping to identify necessary adjustments.

Importance of Printer Calibration

Calibration is vital as it directly impacts the quality and success of your prints. The 3D printer translates digital models into physical objects by layering material using a preset pattern. However, the printer is oblivious to the physical world. It relies on your settings and calibrations to implement crucial factors like nozzle position, filament extrusion amount, and melting temperature.

With this understanding of the importance and role of calibration in the 3D printing process, let's get into the specific benefits it provides regarding dimensional accuracy, print quality, and material usage.

Dimensional Accuracy: Calibration ensures that the physical object matches the digital model's dimensions. Even slight discrepancies in calibration can result in significant problems in prints where precision is necessary.

Print Quality: A well-calibrated printer handles intricate details and complex structures like overhangs and bridges better than a poorly-calibrated one. Proper calibration mitigates or eliminates issues like stringing, blabbing, or layer separation.

Material Usage: Calibration of the extruder affects the amount of filament extruded. Incorrect calibration may result in over- or under-extrusion, leading to flawed prints and filament waste.

Now that we've explored the benefits and importance of calibration let's delve deeper and discover how three popular test prints can assist you in fine-tuning your 3D printer's calibration.

A Closer Look at Test Prints

Temperature Tower:

The Temperature Tower is a 3D printer designed to find the optimal printing temperature for specific filament types. It includes features like overhangs, bridges, small details, and other temperature-sensitive elements on each tier, allowing you to evaluate the print quality at each temperature level.

Optimal Print Temperature: The Temperature Tower helps find the optimal print temperature for your filament empirically. Each filament type, even different brands or colors of the same filament, can have varying optimal printing temperatures. With a Temperature Tower, you can visually inspect and compare the quality of each tier, enabling you to find the best balance of layer adhesion, surface quality, and detail resolution.    

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Once you print a Temperature Tower with a roll of filament, mark the optimal printing temperature on the spool for quick reference later!

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Different Print Materials: Optimal print temperature is critical for other print materials due to their unique properties. For example, PLA and ABS have different melting points. Printing at an incorrect temperature can cause issues, like weak prints due to low temperature or deformation of the print from high temperature. Therefore, a Temperature Tower is valuable for achieving high-quality prints, regardless of the filament type.

Calibration Cube:

The Calibration Cube print is your guiding star for printer calibration issues. These 3D models, molded into a simple cube, are vital for diagnosing and rectifying printer calibration issues. The 20mm cube is the go-to calibration print thanks to its simplicity and speed. It lacks intricate details, overhangs, or bridges, streamlining the printing process.

 Purpose and Measurements: The Calibration Cube print serves a primary goal – checking your 3D printer's dimensional accuracy. Once the cube prints, you'll need a caliper or similar precision tool to measure the X, Y, and Z axes. Compare the measurements to the anticipated dimensions (typically 20mm x 20mm x 20mm).

The Calibration Cube assists with the following:

  • Step Calibration: Determine the accuracy of the steps per millimeter (SPM) setting in your printer firmware. If the SPM is incorrect, your prints may be too small or too large.
  • Z-Axis Consistency: Measure the cube's height to check your printer's consistency in filament layering. This process can identify potential issues such as inconsistent extrusion or Z-axis wobble.
  • XY Dimensional Accuracy: Evaluate the X and Y dimensions of the cube to determine your printer's accuracy for movement commands.

Why Use Calibration Cubes: Calibration Cubes offer a quick and straightforward method to verify your 3D printer's basic calibration. They are pivotal in diagnosing and resolving dimensional inaccuracies in your prints. If the cube's dimensions are off, your printer's settings may need adjustments. Calibration Cubes facilitate quick printing, measuring, and setting adjustment, leading to better-quality prints.

Benchy: Capability Assessment

The 3DBenchy, popularly known as "Benchy," is a Creative Tools 3D model that has evolved into an industry benchmark for testing and comparing 3D printers. Despite its size, the Benchy incorporates many features that thoroughly test a printer's capabilities.

  • Overhangs: The hull's smooth curve tests the printer's ability to handle unsupported overhangs.
  • Bridging: The cabin's open window and door arch test the printer's bridging abilities.
  • Small Details: The text at the bottom, the circular portholes, and the anchor hole test the printer's finesse with small features.
  • Cooling Performance: The sharp cabin roof corners and the chimneys test the printer's cooling performance.
  • Dimensional Accuracy: The Benchy's shape and components are dimension-specific, facilitating a check for the print's dimensional accuracy.

Benchy's Popularity: The Benchy stands out in 3D printing for its comprehensive yet compact design. It quickly tests various printer capabilities, offering meaningful insights in just a few hours of printing time. Its design simplifies quality assessment, requiring no special tools. Thanks to Benchy's widespread use, there's ample online support for troubleshooting and result comparison, boosting its popularity.

Now that we have a basic understanding of basic test prints, it's time to navigate through the potential challenges. Let's dive into some common issues you might encounter in your 3D prints and the possible underlying calibration problems they might signify.

Identifying Common Calibration Issues

Understanding what to look for in your 3D prints can give you a strong indication of what might be causing specific issues. Here's a quick guide on identifying common calibration issues based on test print outcomes:

  • Poor Bed Adhesion: If the first layer of your print isn't adhering to the print bed, or if the entire print detaches during printing, you may have a bed adhesion issue. The first layer might look squashed or uneven or stick to something other than the bed. 
  • Potential Causes: Improper bed leveling, incorrect nozzle-to-bed distance, a dirty print surface, incorrect bed temperature, or an unsuitable print surface material could cause this issue.
  • Warping or Curling: If your prints are curling up at the edges or appearing distorted, this is typically an issue with the print cooling unevenly.
  • Potential Causes: Insufficient bed adhesion, incorrect bed temperature, the print cooling too rapidly, or using a material prone to warping, such as ABS, might cause this.
  • Stringing or Oozing: If thin threads of filament appear between separate parts of your print, this is known as stringing.
  • Potential Causes: This usually arises from incorrect retraction settings, such as retraction distance and speed, or printing at an elevated temperature.
  • Layer Shifting: If your print appears skewed or the layers don't align properly, you may be experiencing layer shifting. 
  • Potential Causes: Loose belts or pulleys, the print head colliding with the print, incorrect stepper motor currents, or printing at speeds that are too high could cause this.
  • Over-Extrusion: You might be over-extruding if your print is coarse or blobby or if the infill pushes out between the perimeters. 
  • Potential Causes: Incorrect filament diameter settings, incorrect flow rate, or incorrect extruder calibration might lead to over-extrusion.
  • Under-Extrusion: If your print appears thin, has gaps in the infill, or the extrusion seems inconsistent, you might be under-extruding. 
  • Potential Causes: A partially clogged nozzle, incorrect filament diameter settings, incorrect flow rate, incorrect extruder calibration, or issues with the filament feed might be responsible.

Examining your prints and matching them to common issues can help you spot calibration problems in your 3D printer. Addressing these can enhance your print quality, but remember, calibration is iterative and often requires multiple tries. It's a crucial component to ensure consistency and precision in your prints. This process is continuous, with factors like environmental changes or filament brands demanding recalibration. Embracing this process is critical. It might seem complex, but the time and effort put into calibration is invaluable and differentiates an average print from a great one. Don't fret about perfection; calibration, like any skill, requires patience and practice. Every step you take towards mastering it contributes to creating more precise, reliable, and impressive 3D prints. Remember, 3D printing is a constant learning and passion journey, not a destination. Happy Printing!

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