Printing Tips

Calibration of Settings for Filaments

Every spool of filament has different density, heat, and viscosity characteristics. In addition, 3D printers have different components, capabilities, and supporting software. Therefore, the 3D printer must be calibrated for each spool of filament. The following section provides a guide for determining the best settings based on the capabilities of the 3D printer and the characteristics of the filament.

Benefits:

  • Prevent filament jams due to low temperatures or inappropriate feed rates
  • Improve the quality of prints by insuring proper layer adhesion as well as row binding
  • Extend the life of the 3D printer by eliminating strain on the extruder motor and hot ends
  • Improve your health by sleeping soundly during long multiple-hour prints

Typically, manufactures of filament only provide the heat range, e.g. 195 - 220 C°. That's not enough, and typically leads to problems such as the below.

Example 1 Example 2
Poor layers Bent corners

If lucky, there might be information from the manufacturer about printing speeds (mm/second), temperature settings (C°), and layer thickness (0.25mm or 25 microns). Good information but probably for a different 3D printer. This still isn't enough information but take a few notes, and store those away for reference.

Also, there may be some success stories from others. Most stories will include information on the 3D printer, heat settings, and layer thickness. Again, take a few notes and store those away for reference.

So, just what are the important settings?

  • Filament extrusion multiplier
  • Filament extrusion diameter
  • Filament extrusion layer thickness
  • Temperature of the extruder
  • Temperature of the bed (if available)
  • Movement speed of the extruder

These have to be “tuned” for each and every spool of filament. Here's how…

  1. Determine the Initial Extruder Temperature
  2. Calibrate the Extrusion Layer Thickness
  3. Calibrate the Extrusion Multiplier and Diameter
  4. Calibrate the Extruder Temperature (And Bed Temperature if required)
  5. Calibrate the Movement Speed of the Extruder

By the way, purchase a very strong magnifying glass. Viewing the fine details of each print is very important.

Where to start?


The best starting point is the default settings of the software, based on the type of material and quality desired. For example, the settings for PLA filaments producing a FAST (LOW quality) print. If unsure as to which is best then try the the settings for FAST prints.

If the software doesn't have default settings for the filament then refer to the reference notes.

Or follow this guide:

  • Set the filament extrusion multiplier to 1.0 (100%)
  • Set the filament extrusion diameter to Extruder Nozzle Diameter * 1.5
  • Set the filament extrusion layer thickness to the values found, or Extruder Nozzle Diameter * 0.80
  • Set the temperature slightly higher then normal, i.e. +5° from success stories, or +5° of the manufacturer's mid-point
  • Set the movement speed to 80% of the 3D printer's capability

Determine the Initial Extruder Temperature


These first steps determine the initial temperature for the extuder. Later, final calibration will be performed.

First, move the bed down away from the extruder. There should be enough room to easily view and remove the filament extruded.

Second, using the temperature determined above, manually set the temperature of the extruder. Wait for the extruder to reach the temperature…

Third, manually extrude 5 mm of filament.

Guide

  • If the filament came out as a nice thread of plastic then stop adjustments. Extrude 5 mm of filament, wait, extrude 5 mm of filament. Congratulations! You just determined the initial temperature of the extruder. Turn off the extruder.
  • If the filament came out as liquid or foam then manually reduce the temperature by 5°C, and wait for the temperature to decrease. Repeat…
  • If the filament did not come out then manually increase the temperature by 10°C, and wait for the temperature to increase. Repeat…

Note: The extruder may make some clicking noises when the temperature becomes too low.

Warning: Do not reduce the extruder temperature below the recommended temperature range of the filament. This could cause damage to the parts of the extruder.

Heated Bed Settings

In addition to the extruder temperature, the proper bed temperature is also important. If the 3D printer has a heated print bed then set the temperature to the recommendation from the manufacturer.

If there isn't a recommended temperature then try these:

  • PLA : 60°
  • ABS : 70°

If a print doesn't stick well then increase the temperature by 10°. Use the lowest possible bed temperature as this reduces the warping of printed parts, and saves energy.

Note: Properly setting the bed height is also very important. Follow the instructions as provided by the manufacuture, and verify the bed height is properly offset for the 1st layer of the print.

Calibrate the Extrusion Layer Thickness


In this step, the layer thickness (e.g. 0.28) will be determined. The result will be a rough setting for the following steps.

Note: Some people like to set a predetermined layer thickness, such as 0.300 or 0.200. You can skip this section if you have a fixed layer thickness.

Now, print the 0.5mm thin wall design after setting the following:

  • Top Layers - 0
  • Bottom Layers - 3 (or what every makes the design stick to printer bed)
  • External Perimeters - 1
  • Infill - 0% (none)

The design includes some very thin walls, which are difficult to print if the layer size is incorrect. A good layer thickness will provide well “fused” layers and straight walls.

Guide

  • If the layers are not “fused” together then decrease the layer thickness by 0.02 mm
  • If the layers are smashed together then increase the layer thickness by 0.02 mm
  • If the layers are melted blobs then lower the temperature by 5°

Note: Move to the next step if one or two walls look good.

Calibrate the Extrusion Multiplier and Diameter


In this step, the extrusion multiplier and the extrusion diameter will be determined. In addition, the layer thickness will be verified (or modified if necessary).

Note: This is probably the most important step so spend time and effort to perfect these settings.

After determining the layer thickness, the 3D printer can be calibrated for the filament. Continue with the same settings that were used in Step 1 above.

Now, print the 20mm box design after setting the following:

  • Top Layers - 0
  • Bottom Layers - 3 (or what every makes the design stick to printer bed)
  • External Perimeters - 1
  • Infill - 100% (completely filled)

The design is very simple but a perfect print is difficult. A good print will have nicely “fused” layers, straight sides, and flat corners. In addition, the top will have nicely “fused” rows of filament, and flat turns of filament. Here's a few photos of a perfect print (Filament: ColorFabb Dutch Orange)

Top View Side View
Parallel, even rows Parallel, even layers
Consistent, fused rows Consistent, fused layers
Flat turns Consistent, non-bulging corners

Note: The perimeters are only one (1) layer, so some bulging on the corners should occur.

Guide

If the settings are slightly off then the sides may bulge, the corners may smash together, or the top may deform. This is because there is too much filament being extruded per layer. In these cases, improve the quality of the print by changing one of the following settings (in order of priority):

  • Increase the extrusion diameter by 0.02, but do not increase beyond (Extruder Nozzle Diameter * 1.7)
  • Increase the layer thickness 0.02, but do not increase beyond (Extruder Nozzle Diameter * 0.8) Note: Skip if the layer thickness is fixed.
  • Decrease the extrusion multiplier by 0.05 (5%). Also decrease the extrusion diameter by 0.02.

After a few adjustments, the quality of the print will improve, i.e. the sides will become straight. Keep adjusting until the sides are straight and the corners are nicely formed, i.e. no smashing of layers.

Now, focus on the top layer by making smaller adjustments. After a few more adjustments, the rows of filament should be straight and slightly fused together. In addition, the turns should be flat.

Here are some photos that show the print quality improving as the settings are adjusted.

Top View Side View Side View Side View Side View
Top View Side View Side View Side View Side View
Wavy, uneven layers Wavy, uneven layers Improving layers Consistent layers Parallel, fused layers
Gaps in top rows Improving rows Consistent, fused rows Consistent, fused rows Parallel, fused rows
Bulging corners and turns Bulging corners and turns Bulging corners and turns Bulging corners and turns Consistent corners, flat turns

After determining the correct settings, move to the next step.

Special Note: If the print quality degrades after each adjustment then the temperature is too high. Try decreasing the temperature by 5°.

Calibrate the Extruder Temperature


In this step, the best temperature setting will be determined. This step is simple but important to complete. Also, small objects and over-hanging corners require appropriate amounts of filament extruded at the optimum temperature.

Continue with the same settings that were used in Step 2 above.

Now, print the 50mm tower design after setting the following:

  • Top Layers - 0
  • Bottom Layers - 3 (or what every makes the design stick to printer bed)
  • External Perimeters - 1
  • Infill - 50% (typical infill setting)

The design requires proper extrusion settings as well as temperature setting. Here's a photo of a nicely printed tower.

Top View
Consistent, fused layers
Consistent, non-bulging corners

Note: There are no top layers so the top layer is also 50% infill.

Guide

If the temperature is too high then the tower will deform, even more then the box design above. The layers will melt together, resulting in bulging sides or even complete melt down. For this case, reduce the extruder temperature by 5° and print again.

Warning: Do not reduce the extruder temperature below the recommended temperature range of the filament. This could cause damage to the parts of the extruder.

Calibrate the Movement Speed of the Extruder


tbw

Summary


Still skeptical? Think that this is a waste if time?

Think again!!! Because having a print suddenly stopping after 3 hours will twist your guts.

Save yourself time and effort by performing these steps NOW for every new spool of filament.

Photos by Nick Gianniotis

Note: These designs come from "The Essential Calibration Set" by coasterman via Thingiverse