Optimal 3D Prints – Fine Tune Your Slicer Settings

For those new to desktop fabrication, a slicer is the software that processes 3D model files and calculates the toolpaths for a 3D printer to follow. Dialing in the optimal slicer parameters makes all the difference between average quality prints and exceptional, professional grade output.

In this post, we will provide an in-depth look into the most critical slicer settings you can make within your slicing engine to get the best possible physical prints. Whether you use free tools like Cura or advanced commercial packages like Simplify3D, understanding and correctly configuring these settings for your specific machine is crucial.

Join us as we explore layer height, print speeds, cooling, supports, infill patterns, and more. We’ll also discuss common print defects and how to resolve issues by tuning your slicer. Let’s get started!

Layer Height

One of the fundamentals slicer settings is determining the thickness in microns or “resolution” of each vertical layer that will make up your rising 3D printed output. The thinner each layer, the higher resolution and usually smoother the surfaces on an angle or curve. Typical layer heights range from:

The tradeoff is that smaller layer heights greatly increase print time and material use. For prototyping and making angel investors think you know what you are doing, choose lower layer heights around 150 microns to clearly display fine details and avoid visible ribbing between layers.

But for everyday prints and quantity, you can speed up the process going up to 200 microns with minimal impact on appearance.

Print Speeds

Upon specifying the vertical layer resolution, the next major consideration is how fast the print head physically moves during extrusion of each layer, measured in millimeters per second (mm/s).

This includes both the speed traveling between sections laying down lines of melted filament, as well as the rate of extruding out new melted plastic and “drawing” paths.

In general you balance speed versus precision, but also prevent limits leading to slipped filament or botched layer accuracy. Buzzing along too fast can decrease extruder precision and physical stability of already deposited layers to anchor onto.

Temperature Settings

Whether printing out of commodity PLA plastic or engineering ABS filaments, you must melt plastic to a liquid state in order prepare the raw material for extrusion onto each new layer.

This is achieved by heating the extruder nozzle itself as an endpoint for filament just before it squirts out. Most 3D printers have the ability to hit target temps from 185 degrees C to 250+ degrees C.

But not all plastics require the same thermal energy to transition from solid to workable liquid. This is why dialing in the optimal heating settings for both your extruder nozzle and heated print bed surface is essential.

The slicer allows setting these target temperatures that your printer firmware will then attempt to hit and stabilize at.

Retraction Settings

Now that we have our print nozzle happily squirting out a thin stream of melted plastic filament along each tracking path thanks to stable heating, we need to be able to precisely start and stop that flow on demand.

Enter retraction – the act of reversing filament direction to pull it back up into the hot end right at layer path endpoints. This prevents excess plastic from oozing out messily between finishing one area and moving to start the next pattern region.

Retraction Distance defines how far back in mm to draw the filament completely into the tube away from heat. Values of 4.5mm to 8mm are common depending on hot end and tube inner geometry.

Retraction Speed then determines how fast in mm/s to execute this reversal motion. 35-70mm/s covers a wide range. Minimal extrusion resuming distance upon restart completes definition of this dance!

Part Cooling/Fans

As freshly laid down extruded plastic meets cooler room temperatures, it begins solidifying. This thermal contraction can cause warping or loose adhesion within the layers themselves or down against the build platform.

Multiplying tiny inaccuracies across hundreds of layers of complex geometry adds up to physical prints going askew or layers separating into visible ridges and cracks on angles. No good!

This is where part cooling fan settings come into play within most slicers. Fans mounted on print head carriages blast layers just put down with cool air to regulate this gradient.

Fan speeds between 40% and 100% help new plastic layers gently settle into fully bonded and shaped finished areas.

Override part fan settings globally or even better customize settings only where benches or delicate spans need regulated cooling versus larger solid masses.

Easy Device Removal vs Strong Build Plate Adhesion

Let’s briefly discuss how slicers give options to help first layers stick or release from the build platform.

Default settings add extra traces (“skirts” and “brims”) around the base.

“Brims” maximize adhesion for challenging prints prone to wobbling but waste material.
“Rafts” act as sacrificial intermediaries assisting bed contact then discarded after, preserving bottom face quality.

Specialty perforated build plates, glues/slurries provide strong magnetic hold then easy release when cooled.

Infill % and Internal Patterns

Variable density infill speeds prints by selectively filling inside volumes versus printing completely solid. Slicers allow adjusting fill percentage – 10-30% provides a good blend of strength, weight reduction and speed.

Common infill patterns include gyroids, cubic, concentric and triangle, with lines optionally alternating directions each layer to distribute loads. Mastering infill dials in optimal internal density, durability and routing for your print.

Print Orientation for Minimum Supports

Tuning orientation minimizes tricky overhangs needing custom supports. Rotating parts aligns to cardinal axes also helps. Auto-generated temporary supports brace suspended sections, then remove easily by hand after, preventing surface imperfections.

Common Print Pitfalls

No matter how meticulously tuned, 3D printing can often hit unexpected issues manifesting mid job. Let’s cover some of the most notorious print fails and how slicer settings present remedies when used judiciously.

Warping – corners of larger flat expanses peeling up due to stresses from contraction and convection. Combat with beefed up brims, slower cooling or alternate materials less prone to shrinkage. Prevent rather than seize up later messing up an otherwise long build.

Stringing – think spiderwebs. This classic 3D printing headache happens when extruder nozzle oozes out excess strands of plastic in-between finishing one section and rapidly moving long distances to start the next feature. Tune retraction, avoid melty filament types, add wipe routines to clean nozzle tips, or post-process cuts away dangling bits after.

Blobbing – surface imperfections that can plague delicate curved lattices from overextrusion. Verify filament diameter consistency and extruder step precision. Slow down print speeds in problem regions allowing precise deposit rather than racing through leaving behind globs. Or use alternate infill patterns more forgiving to fast movements.

Scarring – visible surface layer shifts ruining silky clean vertical walls and precision mating seams when mechanical drive components slip during propulsion. Increase temps to avoid under melting, verify proper nozzle diameter in firmware, or decrease speeds reduces risk of printer axes stability getting overwhelmed mid print moves unable to keep up.

Optimization: Speed vs. Precision

Knowing limitations of your 3D printer hardware and real mission goals lets us tune slicer parameters balancing production speed versus dimensionally precise cosmetics for prototyping judges.

Speed focus means thicker layers, higher infill ratios, avoided supports even if visible underside spanning by cranking overall velocity way up. Total print time goes way down but sacrifices delicate details and accuracy. Great for high quantity cookie cutter prints or early iterating functionals.

Detail optimization shifts Inverse – thinner slowed layers, conservative support structures guarding every spec of geometry, fan speeds perfected even if total print time soars into days for intricate artistic models destined for client presentations. Weights tradeoffs based on end goals!

Key Takeaways

You now have the power to take 3D printing results to the next level by understanding and properly configuring slicer settings. Take care calibrating initial test prints, then lock in profiles known to push your printer’s limits. What custom slicer tweaks or optimizations worked best for your scenarios? Let us know!

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