3D Printing – When and Where to Use Soluble Support Material

When and Where to Use Soluble Support Material

More and more designers are including “dissolvable” support structures in their parts with the use of a second extrusion head.  These support structures are designed to hold up “overhangs” so that the part does not collapse and the support material is later dissolved.

Support generation has matured significantly and now it is possible to use one material for both print and support material.  For example, same-material supports, such as those generated in Apex software, are easily removable from the main part and leave little to clean up after the print.

Dissolvable support has also matured with the advent of materials such as Hydrofill.  This type of support dissolves in warm water and is extruded from a secondary nozzle.

A common question asked is, “Is dissolvable support really necessary what under what circumstances is the best applicable?”  Cases where soluble support material like Hydrofill really shine are with prints that feature internal geometry or extremely delicate features.  Since single head support material must be taken out by hand (usually using a set of pliers, etc.), there may be internal features that are completely inaccessible with a hand tool, and thus unsuitable for single head support.

Impossible 3D Print is possible with support material
The HydroFill Gearbox features rotating elements thanks to real, working gears enclosed inside the box – a design that is impossible to 3D print without effective soluble support material.

Ease of Use

Adding a second material of any type to a 3D printer introduces another layer of complexity to the print.  With more complexity comes more possibility of error. Specifically, two heads now have to work together to build the part correctly (vs. a single head print).  If either head jams, it can cause the entire print to fail.

It Takes Time

A job that may take only 3 hours in single head printing mode, may take twice as long using primary and secondary extruders.  In addition to adding prime towers as set forth above, soluble support material is generally more delicate than conventional materials and therefore tends to be printed at slower speed.

Storage

Soluble support materials are susceptible to moisture from the surrounding air and can degrade if not properly re-packaged after use. Proper handling and storage techniques are needed when using these materials.

Print Quality

While dual head prints have reached a level of quality that is accepted in the industry, a single head print, using intelligent single head support structures, such as those generated in Apex, can also achieve very high quality.  However, any time a second head is introduced, it is usually using a different material, and will need different, or slightly different settings to work properly. This complexity can lead to poor quality prints if settings are not correct.

Conclusion

The ability to use a secondary head for creating soluble support structures remains a powerful tool in the belt of the creator.   Featuring the ability to support inaccessible part geometry and to minimize post-processing time, dual soluble support will continue to be a staple of FDM additive manufacturing.  However, single head support needs to be factored into more purchasing, design, and manufacturing considerations.

Download our white paper "Support Material, Truths and Myths"

This white paper discusses the options and process involved in the use of support material in FDM additive manufacturing.  Real this white paper to learn:
- When and where to use soluble support material
- The pros and cons of same material support
- The pros and cons of soluble support

Reading time: 15 minutes

3D Printing SUPPORT MATERIAL TRUTHS AND MYTHS


Related Video: HydroFill Water Soluble Filament

Related Equipment:  EVO 22 PRINTER

Related Materials:  HYDROFILL SOLUBLE SUPPORT

Original Article: 3D PRINTING WITH SUPPORT MATERIAL