What Causes 3D Print Warping and How to Prevent It

Warping is caused by poor bed adhesion and inconsistent printing temperatures. Here’s how to fix the 3D printing problem.

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01 Apr, 2022

Warping occurs when 3D printed parts curl away from the build plate

Warping occurs when 3D printed parts curl away from the build plate

3D print warping is a common problem in fused deposition modeling (FDM) that causes parts to deform on the print bed. If you’ve ever noticed that the base of your 3D print is curling up and the corners are unsticking from the build plate, that’s warping. The good news is that there are several tips and tricks to prevent warping and improve your chances of a successful, warp-free 3D print. 

What causes 3D print warping?

3D print warping happens when extruded filament layers on the 3D printer build plate cool too quickly and shrink. This causes the plastic material to contract and pull away from the build plate, resulting in warping (or curling, as it is sometimes known).

We can understand the problem of warping better if we zoom out a bit and look at the FDM process on the whole. In FDM 3D printing, a heated extruder deposits melted filament onto a print bed. This filament is made from a thermoplastic, a type of material characterized by its ability to melt into liquid form and resolidify when cooled. This means that in the printing process, as each layer is deposited, the filament hardens as it cools, but it also shrinks.

3D printer building blue partThermoplastic filament shrinks as it cools; if it shrinks too quickly it can lead to warping

Warping occurs when the cooling process happens too quickly or unevenly and 3D printed layers shrink and pull on less solidified layers, ultimately lifting the first layer off the build platform and causing deformation. Though it is possible to experience warping with any type of 3D printed part, it is more common when 3D printing larger parts or parts with a large surface area. Certain 3D printing filaments are also more prone to warping than others. Typically, materials with a higher printing temperature, like ABS, suffer more from shrinkage because the temperature difference as they cool is more extreme.

How to fix 3D printer warping?

Fortunately, the chances of 3D print warping can be mitigated and 3D print outcomes can be improved using a few key techniques.

Bed Adhesion

One effective way to minimize the risk of 3D print warping is to improve your 3D printer’s build plate adhesion. Good bed adhesion will keep your 3D printed part stuck to the build surface and prevent the first layers of the print from curling up as they cool. 

Bed adhesion can be achieved in a few ways. For example, there are dedicated 3D printer adhesives that can be applied to the build plate before printing. Many also opt for more DIY adhesives, like glue sticks and hairspray. A third option is tape, which is placed on the build plate surface. Painter’s tape is a popular option because it can be removed easily and the porous texture of the non-stick side keeps filament stuck down.[1] Kapton tape is also commonly used to encourage bed adhesion.

If you are using adhesives on your 3D printer, be sure that the print surface is clean before and after printing. Glue residue can cause an uneven print surface, potentially impacting calibration and the quality of future prints. It is also a good idea to try a test print if you are using a new adhesive to ensure it keeps the bottom layer of the print down but can also be easily unstuck when the print is done.[2] 

3D printer with enclosureAn enclosed build chamber can reduce the risk of warping by maintaining a stable print temperature.

Temperature

Because cooling filament too quickly is what causes shrinkage and warping, it is key to control the temperature of your build as much as possible. 3D printer temperatures can be regulated using different methods or a combination of approaches. One of the most effective tricks for improving bed adhesion is to use a heated build plate. Each type of filament will have its own recommended bed temperature for good adhesion—for example, PLA works best with a heated bed at a temperature of between 60 and 70°C, while ABS requires a hotter print bed of between 100 and 120°C.[3]

Using an enclosed print chamber can also help to maintain an ambient temperature throughout the printing process and stop 3D printed layers from cooling too quickly. Many 3D printer models have a built-in enclosed chamber, but those that don’t can still benefit from a DIY enclosure. Other ways to improve temperature consistency in your 3D printer are to adjust cooling fan speed settings (especially for the first layers of a print) and keeping your room temperature as ambient as possible (i.e. keeping cold air out by closing windows).

Brim or Raft

Brims and rafts are tried and true techniques for boosting bed adhesion, especially for ABS and other high-temperature filaments. These 3D print features are added in slicer software right before printing and have several functions. 

Specifically, a brim is a 3D printed border that connects to and goes around the edges of a 3D printed part. Brims are typically a few millimeters wide and consist only of 1-2 layers. They increase the footprint of the 3D printed part and anchor its edges to the build platform. A raft is similar, only it is also printed under the 3D printed part, acting as a base for it.

Brims and rafts are especially beneficial for 3D printed parts with unbalanced geometries or small footprints, as they can stabilize the print and secure it to the build surface. Both brims and rafts must be removed after printing, either by hand (by peeling them off) or using a tool. Printed parts with brims or rafts may require additional post-processing to achieve a smooth first layer.

3D printed part with brims3D printed brims can help to anchor the printed part down to the build platform.

Slicer settings

The risk of warping can also be reduced substantially by implementing the right print settings for the first layers of the printed object. Most slicer software programs allow you to adjust the print speed and layer height specifically for the first layer. A slower print speed for the first printed layer of a build will help to ensure that the filament sticks to where it has been deposited and is not pulled by the nozzle as it moves. Choosing a slightly thicker layer height for the first layer can also improve bed adhesion and help reduce any leveling inconsistencies.

Another print setting that can influence warping is fan speed. Fans are built into some FDM 3D printers and ensure the build space does not get too hot. By tweaking fan speeds you can maintain closer control over print cooling. For example, fans can be programmed to turn on only after the first few layers of a print have been deposited. This helps the first layers cool slowly and evenly on the print bed. 

Conclusion

3D print warping is a frustrating problem most makers will encounter at some point or another. By following the tips and methods laid out in this article, however, you can ensure good bed adhesion, consistent printing temperatures, and ultimately reduce warping and improve print quality overall.

References

[1] TapeManBlue, 2022. “The Complete Guide to Blue Tape for 3D Printing”. [Internet]

https://tapemanblue.com/blogs/tips-tricks/blue-tape-for-3d-printing [Accessed March 31, 2022].

[2] Ultimaker, November 10, 2020. “Build plate adhesion: How to get your print to stick to the build plate”. [Internet] https://support.ultimaker.com/hc/en-us/articles/360012015680 [Accessed March 30, 2022].

[3] Simplify3D, 2022. “Warping”. [Internet] https://www.simplify3d.com/support/print-quality-troubleshooting/not-sticking-to-the-bed/ [Accessed March 30, 2022].

01 Apr, 2022

Based in Montreal, Tess is a freelance content writer and editor with over five years of experience in the technology and manufacturing fields. She has a background in media studies, and holds a master’s degree from the University of Amsterdam.

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