How to get the best 3D prints

Updated on Aug. 8, 2016. To get the best performance out of your Airwolf 3D printer, please download our free APEX 3D Printing Software.

The key to getting the best prints is mastering your slicing software. Programs such as Cura perform an action called “slicing”, which converts your STL file into gcode. In Cura, you can change numerous settings to achieve a perfect print. Customers are often surprised when prints, which seemed virtually unprintable, now come out perfectly with only a few tweaks to the Cura settings. The printer itself is incredibly accurate; it is just a matter of giving it the proper inputs.

A good place to start is with relatively small prints. Using a small, simple print will allow you to quickly tell if all of your settings are correct. Start with a part that is approximately 2-4 inches in diameter that preferably does not need support. Open up Cura and import our recommended settings profile for the filament you are printign with (provided on the USB drive received with your printer). Slice the part with those settings, then run the print. If the part printed out great, there is no need to tweak any settings, unless you want to change some of them slightly to get a faster prints. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Speed – The slower you print, the less room for error. This does not necessarily mean errors in the accuracy of the machine, rather, errors in the filament. For example, if you specify a slow speed for the perimeters (to get a nice outer surface), but try to cheat a bit by specifying high infill speeds, this will often result in some flaws. This may lead to blobs in parts of the print where the nozzle passes from an infill section to a perimeter. This happens because pressure builds up in the hot end during the high speed infill. When moving to a perimeter where the pritn speed slows, that pressure spikes and you will see blobs corresponding to the spikes. To minimize this problem, be conservative in the differences between your infill and perimeter speeds.

Cooling – One of the great features available in Cura is the ability to control the speed of the print though the “Cooling” settings. For instance, if you wanted to print out an object with an hourglass cross-section, such as a trophy, without the cooling settings, your results would be disastrous. The reason for this is the printed layers of filament need time to cool before the next layers can be printed onto them. While the base of your trophy may print out well, the thin cross-section of the center portion will be problematic. The plastic would not have enough time to “set” before the next layer is printed. When the plastic “sets,” it is cooling and decreasing in volume. If the layer does not have time to cool, the next layer will print onto the soft underlayer and will likely warp or have a “melted” look. Things will not straighten out until the layer speed correlates to the time it take for the filament to set. This is where “Cooling” comes into play. With cooling, you can specify a minimum layer time. We use 15 seconds and a minimum speed of 1mm/s to be safe. Now when the printer approaches the center section of the trophy, Cura will have altered the gcode to slow down the print speed such that the layer is printed in no less than 15 seconds. As the printer reachs larger layers, it will begin printing faster until it hits your set print speed.

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