Shall You 3D Print Without Supports?

Printing a brain with supports

Occasionally, I’ve had to print complex objects that require support constructions to hold the main print in place. In the process, I understood how crucial it is to understand the role of supports that 3D printers employ and how they affect the overall print quality.

What are supports in 3D printing?

Supports in 3D printing are the additional elements printed to support the weight of the main print while printing larger models. It offers room for the filament to work and enables the printer to print finer details and overhangs without making any errors.

What are the types of supports?

There are basically two types of supports that are commonly used in 3D printing:

  1. Linear Support 

Linear supports touch the entire ground directly beneath the prints where it overhangs. I found them pretty useful for flat and steep overhangs. But the problem with linear support is that they take a little bit more time and use more filament to print. 

  1. Tree-like Support

Tree-like support is a tree-like structure that supports the overhangs of the object. It only touches the overhang at certain points. I found it useful for printing arches and rounded overhangs. 

How do you print without supports?

If we are willing to give up having things printed in one go, almost anything can be printed without support. Printing items that usually require support is possible by using a slicer to reduce the size and angle of the object sections. Nevertheless, the printing process will become considerably time consuming.

Failed attempt to print a slanted complex object without support

What are the pros and cons of not having supports in 3D prints?

While working on a variety of projects, I have experimented with printing items without supports in an effort to determine whether or not doing so offers any advantages over printing with supports. During the course of the tests, I made the following list of advantages and disadvantages of using and not using supports for 3D prints:

Why not to use supports:

  • Less Filament: It can be difficult to justify using a whole support system for the entire print when filaments are expensive and I am using half of the roll on printing supports that I will eventually toss away (recycle).
  • Quick Cleanup: When printing using supports, a large amount of waste is produced that must be disposed of after printing is complete.
  • Faster Prints: If you have to print a large object that needs support, cutting it up into smaller parts can make the process go much more quickly.

Waste produced from printing supports

Why to use supports:

  • Print Stability: A 3D print’s instability increases in proportion to its size. The 3D prints will be consistently stable if you provide them with enough support to keep them supported and attached to the printing bed.
  • More surface to print: More surface area can be used for printing if supports are used, as there will be more scopes to use a slicer to cut up an object and print it in smaller parts.
  • Strong prints: Due to the increased connectivity enabled by the support, the printed object is significantly more durable, and the time required for the layers to dry in order for another layer to print on top of it is also reduced. The objects achieve better durability by eliminating the chances of sagging and layer displacement during the print. The likelihood of overhanging or separating owing to weight is extremely low.

Printing without supports is possible, and most small projects can be performed quickly and easily. However, as the complexity and size of my projects have grown, I’ve had to educate myself on when and how to make use of supports while printing to get the best output.

Experiences that boost learning

As a first-year student worker at the Makerspace in Williams College, I have encountered my time here to be highly enriching. In these two months, I have learned core abilities that have helped develop my problem-solving and analytical skills as a woman in the STEM field. Prior to coming to Williams, I had taken part in two projects related to 3D printing technology in Paraguay (my home country), where I assisted with a 3D store and assembled 3D printed prosthetics, thus I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the Williams College Makerspace.

During the course of my first weeks, I familiarized myself even more with the use of 3D printers, practicing how to properly slice models for printing and changing filaments. I also learned how different modifications in parameters of 3D printers’ slicing software, such as layer height, print speed, supports, infill patterns and temperature are crucial for a 3D print to go smoothly. 

Nonetheless, after several successful prints for students’ requests, I have also encountered some obstacles such as clogging and bed adhesion issues. When printing a Minecraft lamp, I found that it had been detached from the printer’s bed, resulting in a waste of filament. To solve this, I used glue or tape — depending on the printer bed material, to help the filament stick better to the platform. In another instance, one of the printers got its filament stuck and clogged the extruder completely, making it unable to properly function. Therefore, I had to unclog it manually, disassembling the extruder to reach the clogged section near the nozzle and cleaning the obstructing filament piece away from the extruder channel tube. A valuable lesson I learned from these experiences is that it is essential to always be alert while the 3D printer is working, and look for strategies to solve the problems that may occur.

Figure 1. Me unclogging a Dremel 3D printer.

As for 3D modeling, I have started experimenting with Fusion360, a specialized software to create and edit pre-existing 3D models. This has been extremely useful to repair corrupted open-source models to efficiently print them. I have used this tool to edit designs students would request. For instance, a student once requested a keyholder that had an open section in the center but wanted the object to have a solid surface without the hole. Thus, I filled the gap using the tools of this specialized software.

Aside from that, I started to become familiar with operating Virtual Reality (VR) equipment, which is an essential and cutting-edge technology that not only allows for fun recreational time but also has academic applications. From playing VR games, like the popular Beat Blaster, to exploring a variety of countries using Google Earth; there is a world of possibilities when it comes to Virtual Reality.

Lastly, I am working on the promotion of the makerspace with peers and faculty to make more members of our campus aware of the wonderful opportunities at the Makerspace. Looking forward, I aim to continue increasing my knowledge on these topics to be able to make an impactful contribution to our community at Williams College.

The Fine Art of Unclogging

Picture this: You have a hard time deciding what you want to print at The Williams Makerspace, you talk to your friends to brainstorm the best possible artifact, and just when you finally decide to print your so-awaited masterpiece, you find out that the 3d printer is broken. This not-so-uncommon outcome can be disappointing. Though, as a student worker at The Williams Makerspace, I can tell you that this is totally normal! One of the reasons for this happening might be that the 3D printer is clogged. In this blog post, I will talk about my experience unclogging a Dremel DigiLab 3D45 for the first time.

First things first — purging the filament! At this stage, we don’t know what might be causing the clogging, so purging the filament is a safe start. To do so, we cut the filament and press the “Purge” button on the preheating option section. Once clicked, the Dremel should start purging all the filament out, cleaning the inside.

Figure 1. Purging the filament

Unfortunately, purging the filament didn’t fix the issue in this case, so I had to go a little further! To ensure there were no clogs in the stepper motor, I had to turn the Dremel off and allow the extruder and print bed to cool to at least 60°C. Then, I removed the right screw on the bottom of the housing using a T10 Torx bit. From there, I removed the two screws on top of the extruder housing using a 2.5mm hex bit. At this point, I removed the top cover and unplugged the filament runout switch to disconnect the extruder terminal box. I unscrewed – but not entirely – the two motor screws using a 2.5mm Allen key. This allowed me to remove the extruder stepper motor assembly. Taking a clean brush, I gently cleaned the motor as carefully as possible and then put everything back in place. And just like that (drum roll, please), the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 was unclogged!

Figure 2. Taking the cover off

I know this might sound like a lot at first — because it is! But as you get used to working with 3D printers, you will encounter this and many other problems on your way — so beware! For me, one of the best parts of working with these kinds of machines is learning how to use them and fix them! So, the next time you walk into the Williams Makerspace, be assured that we will guide you through any questions or concerns about 3D prints or 3D printers. The best part is that if we don’t know the answer at the top of our heads, we will do our best to answer it as soon as we can.