3D printing is a relatively new technology that has skyrocketed to popularity thanks to its convenience and the incredible things you can make with them. From replicas of your favorite fictional characters and weapons to parts for a new project, and even one of a kind tablet stands. All of your most wild and creative ideas can be brought to life with relative ease through the use of a 3D printer. However, with the technology being still new to general markets, people purchasing their first 3D printers can make mistakes, misunderstand, or not know quite how to use this miraculous piece of technology. One of those common mistakes and misunderstandings is not understanding why do 3D printers need a heated bed?
The most basic answer as to why you need a heated bed for your 3D printer is this; even cooling the 3D printer’s material. Regardless of the material that you’re using, improper cooling methods could leave the result warped and poorly constructed. This warping happens because the first part made is the first to cool down, while everything else goes on still heated. This problem exists among all of the materials used for 3D printing, and using a heated bed is the best way to lower the chance of having issues with warping significantly.
This warping issue is the main reason why a heating pad is necessary. The heating pad is made to protect the integrity of your creation throughout the process of making it and as it sets and dries later. The pad is an essential tool if you want to ensure that you can complete a problem with little to no obstacle. When the plastic cools down, it begins to shrink, causing the warping effect that you see on the material without a heating pad. The heating pad, however, can keep the material warm enough to not cool, and by extension, the plastic would not shrink or warp because of improper cooling.
Are these the only dangers or things to think about when thinking about buying a heating pad for your 3D printer? No, there are a few more essential reasons that you should consider a heating pad mandatory when you’re purchasing a 3D printer.
What Are The Main Reasons You Need a Heating Bed?
Warping and Shrinking
There are two main reasons that a heating bed is used for 3D printing. As mentioned above, one of the main ones is to help even out the cooling of the material so that there are no warping or shrinking issues while you are working. As will be discussed in the next section, the worst offender for shrinking and warping is ABS. That being said, each material has its own reactions to being improperly cooled while printed, thus creating irreversible mistakes and damages to the final product.
The problem with warping and shrinking that doesn’t exist in the other reasons for a heating pad is that there isn’t a workaround. Unlike the issue of adhesion, that we will get into next, creating a “raft” or using an adhesive glue on the surface you are printing on will not save it from warping or shrinking. The problem of warping and shrinking is entirely created through the relationship of the materials with the cooling fan, and the switch from the hot print to the cool air.
As many materials shrink when they cool down or warp when hot comes in contact with their cool surfaces, the only solution to this problem is not to let the material cool down. Instead, if you keep the material at a moderate/heated temperature until the whole thing can cool together, you will have a much more reduced risk of warping, becoming a serious issue.
As such, the only solution to this problem is not to let the material get cool while still printing it. This solution can be achieved through the use or purchase of a heating bed. Unless you are creating a project that doesn’t need to be precise, you cannot get away without using a heating bed.
Another use for the heating pad is to serve as the adhesive, like a pad for the material to remain stuck on. Though not adhesive itself, the heat allows some materials to stick and stay better than if the surface was cold or room temperature. Additionally, with the combination of adhesive hacks to keep your material in place with the heated pad, you can often rest easy even with the most difficult of materials to work with as they will remain perfectly in place. This method works by increasing the surface energy of the bed and improving the bonding strength, which is close to mandatory for some of the most popular to use materials as listed in the next section.
Materials are stickier when they are hot, rather than if they are cool. This “sticky-ness” will help make the prints more stable in the long run by giving them something to adhere to as the print continues. This is in contrast to, if you were to print on the cool surface, there would be no ability for the material to adhere, and it would become incredibly unstable. At the same time, it is hardening — no longer allowing the material to stick to the bed and remain stable.
In the end, using a heated pad will often help you save material as it leaves less room for mistakes. As well, it will help save you hassle if you start having issues with materials, not bonding to the surface properly. Does this mean the heated bed is mandatory? Not with all materials. There are ways to replicate the effectiveness of adhesion created through printing on tape, glue stick, and the like. However, sometimes not even that is enough, and it entirely depends on the material.
All materials have a different requirement when it comes to heating beds; some of them need the heating bed to keep their form as intended. Other materials don’t need the heating pad and can have that replaced by something else. That being said, when you can only “replace” the heated bed by using a non-reusable product, oftentimes, that becomes a waste of money and resources in the long run. Though purchasing a heating pad may be an expensive one-time purchase, replacing it with a non-reusable solution like tape or a printed “raft” for the project will quickly cause you to go through a lot more resources than you would with just the heating bed. This deficiency is something to consider while you are purchasing which materials you want to use, their recommendations regarding heating pads, and finding a solution for potential cooling and adhesion issues throughout the print.
Do All Materials Need a Heating Bed?
Do You Want To Print With ABS?
If you want to use ABS as a material, then having a heating mat is not an option. ABS has a high contraction rate when it cools down, which will lead to severe warping and shrinking problems while you’re printing without a heating pad. Your heating pad needs to be 110 degrees Celcius to be able to keep your ABS creation from completely warping out of place from either being too warm or cooling too fast.
A controlled heating pad with ABS is mandatory, but an important tip is that you shouldn’t print directly onto the glass of the heating pad with ABS. Doing this would make it incredibly difficult to clean the bed, and instead, you can use a PET tape over the glass to keep the heating pad clean and functional. Additionally, having the bed completely level is essential to printing on the tape instead of the glass. As well, the extruder should be at the right height and remain at the right height because if it is too far from the glass, your ABS creation will not stick. This creates a whole host of problems in this situation, and it goes both ways as if the extruder is too low, the glass could end up blocking the material from coming out and creating a jam.
Additionally, when using the heating pad and the tape over the top, you need to ensure that there is something on it for the ABS to adhere to while printing. Something sticky like using glue sticks is okay, and even hairspray can work. The last thing you want is the ABS getting damaged, shifting, or warping because of a misused heating pad.
Moreover, ABS needs to be printed in an enclosed printer space, so that it’s cooling speed is slowed by the heat in the enclosed area. This is for the same reason that you need a heating pad, ABS is a notoriously fast cooling material, and if you’re not careful, it could cool and shrink too early and warp the whole project. For this material, you should be turning off the cooling fans altogether.
Things to Look Out For When Using Heat Pad and ABS
If the extruder’s temperature is too high, you will start to see strings between the separate parts of your project that shouldn’t be there. There will be much more of those spider web-like strings between parts of the project then there should be, and should be turned down in 5-degree increments. If the problem is in the heating pad, however, the ABS won’t harden and stay rather flimsy. You want to be keeping your heating pad below the melting level of ABS at about 105 to 110 degrees celsius.
If it’s too cool as discussed, the problem of shrinking will begin, and the project will end up warped and unusable.
Do You Need a Heating Bed For PLA Printing?
This material can be printed both with and without a heating bed, but having one available is never bad. If your printer does come with a heating bed, you should set it between 20 and 60 degrees celsius. It prints best at 210 degrees on its way from the machine, and the cooling fans should be on while you are printing with a PLA filling.
The thing about PLA that makes it the most popular material to use by far is that it is easy to use. It takes very little work and fussing to make it successful. ABS needs to have the fuss of the heat bed, as long as you follow the instructions and adequately cool the PLA material, it is very easy to be successful with this particular printing material. As such, technically, you don’t need a heating bed for your PLA material, but if you start to see cooling problems or use different materials for a host of different projects, PLA is functional and can be successful both with and without it.
PLA is a great beginner material because of how forgiving it is and how successful you can be when you are just getting started in 3D printing.
Do You Need a Heating Bed for PETG?
PETG is a relatively new material for 3D printing made by taking the best aspects of PLA and ABS to create a material that doesn’t have the same cooling problems ABS does. However, using a heating pad still has a solid use for PETG, which is similar to the use that PLE has for it.
Many people use tape or some form of sticky/adhesive product on the area they’ll be printing onto to keep the print completely in place the whole time. Another way to ensure that your PETG and PLE material prints remain in place is by using a heated bed at 50 to 75 degrees celsius. This heated temperature of the heating bed ensures that the material sticks, and because PETG is so forgiving, you don’t have to worry as much about shrinking, warping or other common problems.
PETG is much less demanding than ABS, which means that the cooling fans can be on while printing with it. However, it is not nearly as easy to use as PLA, so you do need to ensure that while you’re printing, you’re careful of its adhesion to the heating pad or other base that you have. You also don’t want to put the heating pad hotter than 75 degrees celsius to avoid delaying the print’s hardening. PETG’s print temperature is somewhere between 220 degrees to 250 degrees on average, but you’re only using the heating pad to ensure that the print is stable. Unlike ABS that needs the heating pad to avoid warping.
Do You Need a Heating Bed for Nylon?
Nylon is another tricky material to use, as it is a powerful but challenging material in general. It has the hottest printing temperature at 240 to 260 degrees celsius. However, it doesn’t need the heating pad for the same reason that ABS does, though it does require the heating pad.
This material has a notorious issue with adhesion for larger bed projects, but even average projects can face serious uphill battles keeping the connection with the bed. As such, you want to keep your heating pad somewhere between 70 to 100 degrees celsius and raise or lower it depending on your results with the temperature you have set it at. In addition to the heating pad, a layer of some kind of adhesive, like glue stick, is strongly recommended because of the trouble Nylon has with it’s adhesion to the base throughout the print.
Though Nylon does not have the same shrinking and cooling habits of ABS, you still shouldn’t use the cooling fans while printing with it. This is because you do not want to risk making the adhesion worse even with the heating pad and the glue stick. This is what makes Nylon hard to work with at first and why you must have a heating pad when working with the material.
Additionally, Nylon is a very absorbent material that will soak up the moisture in the air. What this means is that you need to ensure that both the room and all of the surfaces are completely dry while you’re working with the Nylon. The room’s humidity will absorb into the material and greatly reduce the quality of the material.
This material can be incredibly challenging to use for the first time or new users to it, but it is an incredibly reliable and strong tool when used properly. The learning curve using Nylon can be intimidating, but it is an incredibly rewarding material to learn how to get the hang of and use.
In general, having a heated bed is strongly recommended for the use of a 3D printer. Even if you intend to only ever work with PETG, the ability to support adhesion without needing additional disposable products is invaluable. Though you can technically get away without using a heated bed for some projects with certain materials, you will find it a lot easier to confidently use your 3D printer if you have access to a heated bed to ensure the quality of your project every time.