Glass vs. Buildtak: What’s the Ideal 3D Printing Surface?

Glass vs. Buildtak: What’s the Ideal 3D Printing Surface?
Unleash Your Creativity - Discover the Future of 3D Printing Today!
Unleash Your Creativity - Discover the Future of 3D Printing Today!

When I first started using a fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3d printer, I noticed most of my prints were getting stuck to the printing platel. So, I did some research into the topic to see what the cause is, and put together this helpful article about what I found regarding which is better glass or Buildtak.

So, Glass vs. Buildtak: What’s the ideal 3D printing surface? Glass is superior to Buildtak. This is because 3d prints stick better to it, it is more durable, and is easier to install. Buildtak was originally made as a solution to the out the box acrylic printing surfaces which came with most 3d printers.

Times have since changed, and 3d printers now come with glass printing surfaces by default. Although glass is superior, there are differences that can impact your choice. So, below I will discuss the differences between them, as well as, further details about what could influence your decision.

What is the best surface to 3d print on, glass, or Buildtak?

Below, is a table explaining the different reasons why one printing surface is better than another.

 Buildtak (score from 1-10)Glass (score from 1-10)
How well 3d prints stick to it89
How easy is it to remove a 3d print from the plate99
Durability510
Ease of installation58

So as can be seen from the above table glass is superior to Buildtak. This is because it lasts longer, and doesn’t have to be removed and reapplied once it wears out.

Now, there are three major ways in which a print can detach from the bed or be hard to remove. These are the surface coating, what the bed is made from, and the temperature.

Oftentimes, 3d prints will be difficult to remove at certain temperatures, but once they cool down they are easier to remove. So, keep this in mind when deciding which printing surface to go with.

If a print detaches from the bed it makes a mess. With Buildtak and Glass both, you typically will still need to use a bonding glue to save you from a time-consuming spill.

The key advantages of using a glass printing surface

  • Lots of do it yourself options. Though there are specialist manufacturers of glass plated for 3d printers. It is the case that you can buy a picture frame from a dollar store, and the glass is just as good. Just be careful when working with glass as it is very sharp.
  • They are easier to maintain and install. Glass beds just sit where they are and only require a few bulldog clips to hold in place. Buildtak, on the other hand, needs to be replaced periodically. This is because it wears out after 3d prints are removed from it. When you pull the finished print off it, it causes wear and tear to the surface. Glass keeps the same surface regardless, because of how hard it is.
  • Glass is easier to clean. Owing again to the miracle hardness of glass, it is very easy to clean. An object as sharp as a razor blade can be used to scrape off any remaining glue or other material. When using a knife or similar, make sure to scrape with the blade at a 45-degree angle. This makes it much easier to remove and minimizes the risk of scratching the surface of the glass.
  • It is very flat. Relative to Buildtak and other similar surfaces glass is perfectly flat. This is to do with the way it is manufactured. Glass is poured in liquid form into a mold. It forms a flat surface under its own weight. Silica is also a very stable molecule chemically. This means that it forms very tight bonds when it crystallizes.
  • The bottom of a 3d print is perfect. The surface of a Buildtak is slightly rough and has small indentations. So, when you print something the base is poured onto these imperfections. When you inspect the bottom of your 3d print it will have small indentations matching the surface of the Buildtak. With glass, this doesn’t occur because the surface is perfectly smooth.
  • They are inexpensive. You can buy one specifically for your printer for about USD$20. Though they are superior in some respects to Buildtak they are cheaper and easier to replace.
  • It’s easier to remove the print from the glass. Prints are easiest to remove from the glass when they have cooled to room temperature. This is because when the plastic has hardened it loses its adhesive properties. If you are having an issue with a particular formula you are using to create your mold, you can place it in the freezer for 5 minutes. This will really harden it and make it come off super easy.

The key disadvantages of using a glass printing surface

  • You may have to warm the glass. Glass is susceptible to cracking when changing temperature suddenly. This is more so the case when going from colder temperatures to very hot. You may have run into this when washing a cup that was in the fridge or freezer with hot water. If you do this the glass will break and shatter in the sink. The same happens with a glass plate. So be careful when using a cold plate on a heated bed, especially in the winter or in cold climates.
  • You have to prep the glass. You should hand the edges of the glass you are using, because the edges can cut your fingers easily. This occurs when you are taking the plate on and off your 3d printer. You should roughly sand the outer edges to remove any sharp edges.

The key advantages of using a Buildtak printing surface

  • It is better for older model 3d printers. Older model 3d printers came with an acrylic printing surface. Recently, mostly all 3d printers come with a glass printing surface. With the older models, Buildtak is a good solution. This is because the acrylic surfaces which come stock with some 3d printers didn’t stick well, and were difficult to remove.
  • You don’t have to replace tape or other solutions. Buildtak lasts longer than other solutions such as masking tape or Kapton tape. This means you don’t have to spend as much time fiddling around removing and replacing worn-out tape. As well as, removing tape residue.
  • The bottom is pretty smooth. You also don’t have issues with the bottom surface of your 3d print having imperfections because of overlapping tape. Glass does give a superior finish to the bottom of your 3d prints. But, Buildtak still gives a pretty smooth bottom finish relative to tape or the acrylic plate your 3d printer comes with.

The key disadvantages of using a Buildtak printing surface

  • You have to heat it longer. Glass takes longer to heat all the way through. This means when you get a heat reading of acceptable. The surface is often a bit cooler than that. This is because of the insulation caused by the layer of Buildtak. This can make it more difficult to get a good print. This occurs because you have to get to know your machine and mixture to know when the plate is hot enough.
  • You will still need to use a heated bed. You still have to head the bed to get the best results. If you don’t do this, the print won’t stick to the Buildtak and will make a mess.
  • Some materials still require adhesion products. Materials such as nylon and t-glass by Taulman need a special glue for the print to stick to it. T-glass when printed produces clear objects that look very cool. Nylon is known for being difficult to adhere to the printing surface.

Why is my 3d print not sticking to the bed?

There are three main factors that contribute to the adhesion of a print to the printing plate. These are temperature, printing surface, and bed leveling. So below, I will explain what to look for when adjusting these parameters.

1.   The temperature of the printing surface

The printing surface temperature is recommended to be at or near the glass transition temperature. This is at which the printing material goes from being a liquid to being a solid. It is a technical term and is determined by experimentation. It varies based on what you are printing with. Below is a table of the temperatures of the common printing mediums:

MediumAverage required plate temperature
Polylactic Acid (PLA)140°F (60°C)
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)212°F (100°C)
Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-modified (PTG)185°F (85°C)
Nylon212°F (100°C)
Polycarbonate230°F (110°C) at a minimum, higher temperatures work better

When the temperature of the plate is too cool, the print will not stick to the plate. This is because the bottom will cool and harden too soon before it adheres to the printing surface. If you are getting prints that don’t stick properly you should look at what temperature is recommended for the specific medium you are using.

There are many mixes of the printing compounds listed in the table. Which means that they will have varying plate temperature requirements. Therefore, you should use the above numbers as a guide.

2.   Bed Leveling

Bed leveling is where your printing surface isn’t precisely level. This causes a range of common issues with 3d printing. These are:

  • Under Extrusion. This is where the bed is too close to the filament tip. This creates a situation where the filament can not come out because the printing surface is too close.
  • No adhesion. This is where your print doesn’t stick at all to the surface. This can be caused by a slight angle in one direction. This causes the small parts that harden to the surface to become unstuck as it flows slightly downhill towards the lower side.

There are many methods to level your printing surface properly. One we recommend was made by the Spaghetti Detective and is called the paper leveling trick. Click here to go to their guide now.

3.   The printing surface

This one has largely already been covered above. But, briefly, the surface impacts how well a 3d print will stick. Some people use glues, different types of tape, as well as glass or a glass cover such as Buildtak. Depending on the specific filament being used and what you are printing some may work better than others. In general, the best is a glass printing surface.

What type of glass is used for 3d printing?

Any type of glass will work for 3d printing. The main considerations are to find a piece of glass that will fit your 3d printer correctly. There are glass cutters available for purchase or you can get a custom piece from a local glass smith. Many people recommend getting a picture frame from a dollar store. Then remove the glass from the frame and use it as your printing surface.

Some people have said that borosilicate is the preferred type of glass, however, there are conflicting opinions about which is better and why.

Can 3d Printers Print glass?

There have been recent advancements in 3d printing technology that have allowed for the 3d printing of glass according to the Smithsonian. This uses the not so commonly used stereolithography.

This is a technique where the printing surface is dipped into the polymer. A laser draws on the surface, which hardens where the laser draws. The printing surface is then lifted slightly to allow the next layer to be drawn. This process continues until the object is finished.

What is the best surface to 3d print on?

Although acrylic printing surfaces were used in the original 3D printers, people now largely prefer glass surfaces to print on. This is because it provides a smoother surface. The smoother surface occurs on the bottom of the object.

There are also adhesive skins that can be placed over your glass or acrylic printing surface. These perform better than using tape but become unusable after a certain amount of uses. They last significantly less than glass plates.

Certain 3d prints you are doing may require different printing surfaces based on the properties of the polymer you are using. Therefore, you should look at the manufacturer’s instructions about what printing surface is recommended. In general, the best surface currently to print on is glass.

How do you clean a 3d glass bed?

Most people use a washable glue stick before beginning printing. The glue stick is the same as those used in elementary school scrapbooks. Once the object has been printed you need to clean your glass bed before printing again.

The most effective product to use is a glass cleaner. It works better than just water. Use it as per normal, but ensure to remove any glass cleaner from the glass. Do this by using water and a small towel, or paper towels. Once you have done this you will want to remove any small fibers from the glass. You can do this by using a microfiber cloth.

When you are finished there should be no traces of glue, and the glass should look shiny.

Why do 3d printers need a heated bed?

A heated bed keeps the polymer from drying too quickly. When it dries too quickly it won’t stick as well to the printing surface and can cause warping. Previous to heated beds being used 3d printed items used to be ‘rafted’. This was where a small piece of material such as glass was placed under the corners. This made the entire object cool at a similar rate.

When the bottom is heated the heat travels upwards keeping the sides of our object warm as well. The top where the polymer extrudes from is the hottest part. So, when the polymer squeezes out the remaining object is still fairly warm. If the object already printed cooled down too much, the polymer would cool too fast. This causes the object warp, and not print precisely to plan.

Conclusion

Glass and Buildtrak have different use cases. In general, though, glass is the ideal 3D printing surface. This is because it is easier to clean, easier to replace, gives a good finish on the base of what is being printed, and is inexpensive.

Buildtak was good for when most 3d printers came standard with acrylic printing surfaces. Acrylic has common issues when 3d printing. So, Buildtak created its product which stopped the common issues associated with printing on acrylic.

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