That First 3D Print – Part 4, You Made Your Bed, Now You Can Print On It

Wait!  Before you run the file through your printer, you’ll need to make sure the printer is ready to print.  Beginning with: getting the build surface ready.  Do you want to build directly on the bed surface or do you have something else in mind?  There are companies that make surfaces designed for 3D printing that the plastic will stick to readily.  Some of these are stickers that adhere to the bed, while others are flexible build plates that clip to the bed.  I personally have best luck for adhesion with blue painter’s tape and a swipe of glue stick.


Another part of getting the bed ready is tramming it.  This is usually called “leveling the bed.”  Whichever term you use, it means adjusting the build plate to be parallel to the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ axis’, perpendicular to the ‘Z’ axis and at just the right distance from the nozzle.  If it is not, you WILL have problems.  The bed needs to be close enough to the nozzle to press the plastic onto the build surface, just enough to stick well to it and if the bed is not orthogonal, not all of the bed will be set to the right distance.  Some 3D printers have automatic bed leveling, but if yours does not and most don’t, no need to worry, it’s a simple process; no fancy tools are needed, usually just your fingers and a slip of regular paper.  Briefly turn on your machine and choose in the menu to send it to its “home” location.  This will send the hot end to its zero or default position and its zero height.  After that you can turn off your printer to free up the stepper motors or choose it in the menu.  Either way, you need to be able to freely move the bed and ‘X’ axis.  If it’s not already, move the bed and ‘X’ axis so that the hot end nozzle is just inside a corner of the bed, about an inch from either side.  Using the slip of paper slide it between the bed and the nozzle.  There should be only a slight drag of the nozzle into the paper.  If not, adjust the bed height until there is the slight drag.  Then move the bed and/or the ‘X’ axis to another spot about an inch inside another corner and repeat the sliding paper process of adjusting the bed until you feel a slight drag on the paper by the nozzle.  Repeat this process for every corner of the build plate.  You may have to do this to every corner a few times before the bed is set to correct distance and “level” with the machine.  When you can slide the paper between the nozzle and bed with only a little friction and without any more adjusting, it’s time to check the middle of the bed.  Move the bed and/or ‘X’ axis until the nozzle is in the center of the bed and use the slip of paper to check here.  If it’s good in the middle, your bed is ready to go.


If you’re ready to print, you have something to print, it’s been “sliced” into g-code and the build plate has been levelled, then you’re ready to turn the printer on and preheat to the desired temperatures; for the nozzle, that’s about 180 to 210 Celsius for PLA or 210 to 240 C for ABS and the bed should be about 80 to 100 C for ABS and not necessary for PLA, but if you have the option, 60 C is recommended.  If you’re using the glue stick on blue painter’s tape or on glass method of adhesion, you should apply it after the bed is warmed up.


If you haven’t already, place the SD card in the slot on the machine and using the menu, choose to print the file and here goes nothing…  You should watch the first few minutes of the print, just to make sure your adhesion is good and if not, cancel the print, figure why and try again.  Now for the hard part, especially if this is your first print, you must wait until it’s done, and it’ll take forever if you watch it, but you almost must watch it, since it’s the first and you want to make sure nothing goes wrong.  When you converted the file to g-code, the slicing program probably told you how long the print will take.  They’re generally correct about their estimation.


When it’s finished printing, oh, congratulations by the way, you’ll still need to wait a bit to let everything cool down.  That will help with no warping and prints come off the build surface much easier when they are cooler.  Don’t try to pull or twist the print from the bed, you may snap a piece off or break it altogether.  Very often, these 3D printers come with a putty knife for removing prints from the bed.  Just use caution not to cut yourself or cause any damage to the printer or your newly printed object.  Once you get it off okay, your new print might need some post-processing.  That’s another way of saying you may need to sand and paint it or other stuff before you consider done.  I’ll cover post-processing in another blog.  All I need to say here is, sometimes post-processing includes removing some support material from the print.  Support material is extra plastic laid down by the printer to support any overhangs that are greater than a 45-degree angle.  Generally, removing supports is not too difficult, because they are designed to easily separate from the rest of the print.  But you still must take care not to remove parts of the print you want to remain a part of the print.

For the other parts of the series:

Part 6: It’s Serious, But Don’t Get Discouraged

Part 5: The First Minute Of A 3D Print Is The Most Important

Part 3: What Will You Print First?

Part 2: The 3D Printer Does The Labor

Part 1: The Maker


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Darren Hughes

Darren is a Nerd/Jock hybrid. In fact, he maybe the original nerd. In the '60's, he and his Sister were certainly among the first Trekkies, having pretended to be the crew of Enterprise at night (after watching the original series during it's inaugural run) and playing little league in the day. Darren holds a few college degrees. One of them for Engineering and another for Computer Networking. He's always been a fan of learning and technology. Darren has only been 3D printing for a couple years and still considers himself a novice. It is his hope for this blog site to share what he learns as he goes with other beginners, to save them time and hassle finding the best 3D printing and avoiding the worst.