Bed Prep for PLA with Painter’s Tape
I get a lot of questions from folks starting to 3D print – everything from what printer to buy, to what material to use. Once past those, the next one is almost always, how do I prepare my bed?
Since I recommend using PLA filament for your first prints (more in an upcoming blog post on why), let’s talk about how to prepare a bed for that. When I was starting out, I experimented with printing directly on a slab of the same acrylic as the build plate that came with my MakerBot Replicator 2 as a lithophane technique. It worked really well. I mean really well. That plastic stuck to the acrylic like my dog on leftover turkey – there was no way I was going to get it off.
When I got my LulzBot TAZ4, I tried PLA directly on the PET film, and while it wasn’t quite as strong, I’m glad I didn’t try it directly on the glass (I learned really quick both how to replace PET film, and that it was something I didn’t want to do every day).
So printing PLA directly on glass or acrylic build plates, or even on PET film often results in needing to either buy a new build plate, or hire a local bodybuilder to remove the darn thing. I actually broke the print in half trying to remove it from the PET film.
So let me back up. When I first got my Replicator 2, I used the provided blue Painter’s tape and had generally good results. It’s relatively cheap and easy to apply and replace – and I did a lot of that as you get started. You can get sheets direct from the printer company, but that is fairly pricy, and I like to change the tape fairly often (after a few prints, the adhesive starts lifting up). I tried using tape from my local Home Depot, but that involves getting it really close together without overlapping. Seams can leak through to the bed, and overlaps can cause extrusion and leveling problems – and there’s some inconsistency in thickness between brands.
I did some research and found a great place to buy my painters tape in wide rolls (wide enough to use a single piece): www.tapecase.com – it’s cheaper than the sheets, and still easy to apply. I tried some generic brands, but found that real 3M brand-name tape works the most consistently. When you’re starting out, it’s all about eliminating variables so you get successful, so it’s worth a few extra bucks for the good stuff.
When using painter’s tape, most printer manufacturers recommend turning off the bed heater, and cleaning the bed with isopropyl alcohol (just make sure it’s turned off and dead-cold). The alcohol cleaning helps keep the tape from lifting off the bed – if you’re having problems with the print lifting off the tape, wipe down the top after applying it too.
If you’ve got other suggestions for printing with PLA, drop a comment below – suggestions are always welcome!