There are several factors affecting the quality of 3D printing. Some of them are strictly hardware-related but the overall quality may be also influenced by the material’s condition, slicing options and many other factors! Let’s focus on the key factors that can ruin your 3D print, or contribute to the creation of a top-notch product.
First of all, let’s take a single layer into consideration. The crucial factor is the layer’s thickness. This determinant is not only connected to slicer settings (that you use to obtain your gcode) but also to the 3D printer you are using. The rule is simple – the smaller layer thickness, the better quality of a 3D print. Although thin layers will make your print’s walls smoother, you have to bear in mind that it will take a 3D printer much more time to accomplish printing.
Not every 3D printer will be able to print really small layers. Common RepRaps can go up to 100 microns tops. Professional machines – like Zortrax M200 – will go beyond that and give a maker ability to deposit layers of 90 microns and less.
This factor may be obvious to some users, but I would like to dig deeper into the subject. Mechanical properties of a material are reflected in a 3D print’s features. There are no illusions – poor material properties will affect the quality of a 3D printed object, especially in a field of impact strength and hardness. Moreover, if a low-grade filament is contaminated, the risk of the extruder jamming is rising.
Now let’s consider some other facts. The material quality can be measured by its diameter deviation. If a filament’s diameter alters rapidly on a small linear distance, you will probably observe some inconsistencies on a 3D printed wall, such as small bulges and cavities. This can happen because a 3D printer extrudes more material (feeding filament of larger diameter) in one moment and deposits less material in another moment, when the filament of a smaller diameter is inserted into printhead. In extreme cases, when the material’s diameter is too big, it may not fit in the extruder entrance.
Diameter deviation can be examined in workshop environment during spool unwinding. The only needed tool for this test is a caliper. Just write down the values every 10 or 15 meters of material usage. If diameter deviation is higher than 3-4%, I would recommend changing the material provider or informing them about the existing issue.
This factor is strictly related to the slicer set up that is – most commonly – easily accessible by user. The temperature of plastic extrusion must be configured differently for every type of material. On the other hand, Zortrax materials can be automatically recognized by the 3D printer – Zortrax M200 will apply the best 3D printing settings as soons as you hook a spool on a holder.
To achieve great 3D printing quality using ABS, remember to set high extrusion temperatures of 240- 250 degrees Celsius, and be sure to pump up your building platform temperature to around 100 degrees Celsius. Set your fan speed to around 10% to avoid extensive thermal shrinkage and close the build chamber, if your 3D printer has one.
To be successful with PLA plastic, be sure to set the nozzle temperature to around 200 degrees Celsius and your fan speed to 100% after initial layers are deposited. You can heat your build plate to around 50-60 degrees Celsius for the PLA to stick better.
This feature can be configured in your slicing software. Configuration of material retraction is very important when the extruder needs to travel some distances without actual extrusion. For example, when you are printing fishnet objects and the printhead jumps to perimeters.
In this case, the best way to maintain good surface quality is to set a high speed for material retraction. This will prevent the forming small clods of material on the perimeters. Be prepared to experiment with retraction parameters for your 3D printer in order to get best results!