Steps to take when you first get your 3D printer


Your wonderful new 3D printer has been delivered, it has been masterfully assembled by yours truly (That’s you, not me). Sitting back with your mug of coffee gripped in one hand and the supplied SD card in the other. Your ready, good to go!

*IMPORTANT* Check your 3D printers wire connections and solder points on the motherboard. Check that there are no signs of loose solder, or solder placed where it should not be. This should be done on all electronics to help safe guard against a short circuit and potentially a fire.

If your lucky your printer’s instructions have been great, and your initial print has come out looking not too bad at all. If however, you are unlucky, you may well find there is a steeper learning curve in order to get anything resembling the test print.

That said you will learn more about 3D printing with an initial bad printer. However, you may go bald, and you may have extra costs of replacing your double glacing.

Lucky or unlucky, chances are however the following steps in how to correctly set up your 3D printer were not covered. So let’s get to it.

Calibrating your 3D Printer

Critically one of the most important aspects of 3D printing is getting the very first layer of filament to adhere well to the bed. This is because your 3d print needs a good foundation to work up from.

Levelling the X-Axis

Recommended tool: Digital Caliper with 0.01mm reading

Err, what is the X-Axis? In a computerised 3D environment we generally rely on three axis reference points in order to know where the item is placed. On most 3D printers the axis is the same, there are some exceptions to the rule but you should find it is the same for your machine.

X-Axis

The horizontal axis going from left to right of your 3D printer.

Y-Axis

The axis that has the bed of the 3D printer attached to it. This Y-axis moves from the back to the front of the machine.

Z-Axis

The vertical axis going up and down on your 3D printer.

Let’s get levelling that X-axis.

  1. Home all axes via your 3D printer’s menu.
  2. Disable all stepper motors via the menu.
  3. Move your hot end to the centre of the printer. (The piece that your heated plastic extrudes from)
  4. Using your digital callipers measure the distance on both the left and right side of the printers x-axis rods to a common height point. On some 3D printers, you can use the frame as they are both the same height from the x-axis on both sides. You may find that you need to measure the height difference of the x-axis rods to the surface on which the 3D printer is sat. Adjust both the left and right side of the x-axis until both sides are an equal distance from your common points.
  5. Repeat the above steps again to ensure that the x-axis is level to the printer bed. You may need to do this a few times until it levels out, just keep redoing the above steps until level.

Bed levelling

Recommended tool: Feeler Gauge

At this point in time, I am going to talk about manual bed levelling. Automatic bed levelling is a whole subject on its own which will be covered in another article. Now many 3D printer manufacturers suggest using a piece of paper to gauge the nozzle height from the 3D printer bed. Personally, I found this incredibly frustrating and unreliable. Hopefully, you have seen our article on What do you need to get ready before your 3D printer arrives. If not go and have a quick look now to get up to speed.

Rather than using a piece of paper that could be of any thickness, I much prefer to use a feeler gauge. My first layer bed adhesion improved dramatically when I started to know exactly what distance the nozzle was from the printer bed. For those who are not aware, a feeler gauge is a tool to measure the clearance or gap between objects. Commonly made out of steel strips, a feeler gauge is a perfect tool for setting your 3D printers bed level and nozzle height.

Where to adjust your printers bed in order to level it.

On the underside of your 3D printer bed, is a set of screws holding the bed in place. It is by adjusting those screws nuts that we can raise or lower the bed in order to level the bed itself. Regardless if your printer has four screws or three holding the bed, the principles are the same.

I begin with imaging a two-inch box from each corner. I then use those as a point to measure the distance between your 3D printers nozzle and the printer bed. Let’s get leveling that bed.

  1. Disable your stepper motors via your 3D printer’s menu.
  2. Manually move your extruder on the x-axis, and the printer bed on the y-axis so that you can position the nozzle onto one of imaginary measuring points.
  3. Using your feeler gauge set to 0.20mm (.008) measure the gap between the nozzle and the bed of the printer. If the gap is too large then loosen the nut until it just very slightly touches the feeler gauge. If the gap is too small then tighten the nut until it is again only just touching the feeler gauge. Ideally, you do not want the extruder lifting slightly as you run the feeler gauge underneath.
  4. Move on to the next measuring point and go through the above procedure again, now work your way around the printer and retest the first measuring point. You will more than likely go around and around a good few times. It can get painful but once it is done you should not need to adjust it for a good while.

Same again but warmer

Recommended tool: Feeler Gauge, heat safety gloves.

Your 3D printers extruder and bed when heated will expand when they heat up. This will alter the distance between the bed and the nozzle of the 3D printer. So the bed levelling we did before, needs tweaking again.

  1. Home axes via your printer’s menu.
  2. Disable all stepper motors via your printer’s menu.
  3. Make sure that your nozzle is not touching the bed. If need be manually move the printers nozzle to a position where it is no longer touching.
  4. Heat up your extruder and bed via the menu of the printer to a working temperature. For most uses, the bed of your printer can be set at around 60˚c. Let this run for about 20 minutes (longer if it is in a cold environment) so that the bed has had a chance to warm up evenly. Now, remember your safety is important! Your printers bed will be heated and are hot now, so use the metal bed holder to manoeuvre the bed around.
  5. Heat up the extruder to 210˚C whilst leaving the print bed still heating.
  6. To save you accidentally marking or burning your bed, use your printer menu to raise your Z-axis height a little, say about 10mm. Then manoeuvre the printers nozzle into position to measure the distance in a corner, the same way as bed levelling. Now you can begin lowering you Z-height back down to zero. As you do ensure you place the metal feeler gauge between the bed and the nozzle as it is lowered. This way if it is too small a gap, the metal will protect the bed, and you can lower the applicable bed levelling screw nut. Just in the same way as you did when levelling the bed.
  7. Follow step 6 until your bed is level again.

Setting the nozzle height

  1. Continuing on from above. Leave the temperature set, so both the extruder and bed are still being heated.
  2. Raise the Z-axis by around 10mm and move the extruder nozzle into the centre of the bed.
  3. Lower the Z-axis back down whilst placing the feeler gauge between the nozzle and the bed of the printer. Double check the gap between the extruder nozzle of the printer and bed is correct.

If your nozzle is to close or too far away from the centre of the bed, problems arise with the first layer adhering well to the bed of the printer. Thankfully there are a few easy methods you could use to fix this.

The nozzle height can be corrected by simply altering settings within your slicer, printers firmware, or manually adjusting the Z-min limit switch.

The easiest option when manually adjusting the nozzle height tends to be in your 3D slicers software. In the example image the Z offset has been set at -0.10mm. Resulting in the nozzle height being lowered by 0.1mm.


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