First layer problems? Here are 5 3D printing surfaces to the rescue


They say 3D printing is simple. Just watch the first layer roll out successfully and the printer will take care of the rest. This is easier said than done, considering that most beginners give up on the hobby after failing at this seemingly simple task.

Solutions to first coat adhesion issues range from glue stick and hairspray applications to AI trickery and automatic bed-leveling probes. But none of this will work without the right 3D printing surface. It’s entirely possible to use the wrong build surface for your filament of choice, so here’s how to choose the right one.


How to choose 3D printing surfaces

Before we learn how to select the right 3D printing surface for your needs, let’s first discuss some prerequisites. No build surface can help print adhesion if your 3D printer bed is not level. Bed leveling and first layer calibration are essential for successful 3D prints. Understanding this should be your first course of action. Our comprehensive 3D printing primer covers all of that.

FDM 3D printing compatible build surfaces come in dizzying varieties. Some build surfaces work well with many common filaments, while others have been developed specifically for certain difficult-to-print FDM materials. The right choice depends on a number of factors, such as bond strength, ease of removal, maximum allowable bed temperature and bottom layer finish.

This guide will break down the inherent strengths and weaknesses of popular and obscure (but useful) 3D printing surfaces, and explain what it takes to choose the right one for your specific 3D printing needs.

1. Float glass

The glass sheets provide an almost perfect 3D printing build surface. They are inherently flat and inexpensive, making them ideal for inexpensive 3D printers with warped beds. A thick sheet of glass negates all underlying surface undulations of even the most hopelessly warped beds. In addition, the low coefficient of thermal expansion of glass makes it even more resistant to warping. It is significantly cheaper and easier to achieve perfect first coat results with this build surface.

Although glass takes longer to heat up to print temperature, this also makes it more resistant to temperature fluctuations, a virtue that improves print consistency along the Z axis. can also easily withstand the bed temperature of 120°C (about 250°F) guaranteed by the ABS filament. Its inherent softness also imparts an attractive glossy bottom surface finish to 3D prints.

What’s the catch, then? Adhesive strength is one area where glass does not match its peers. It is fine with beginner-friendly PLA filament, but struggles to adhere to ABS, ASA, nylon, and other specialty engineered materials. However, this can be solved with adhesion aids such as PVA glue stick, hairspray, ABS suspension and Kapton/polyimide tape. On the bright side, the smooth, non-reactive nature of glass makes these grip aids easy to clean.

However, glass’s biggest flaw stems from its inability to flex. This makes it difficult to release prints once they are complete. In fact, materials such as PETG and TPU adhere so well to glass that they often strip pieces of the build surface upon removal. Despite all its advantages, glass is the worst in terms of ease of print removal.

2. Carborundum glass

Carborundum glass comes with some variants of the Creality Ender-3 3D printer, easy to upgrade. This build surface, in turn, is considered an upgrade over regular float glass sheets. The prefix carborundum refers to a thin layer of silicon carbide, a chemical compound that mimics the crystal structure of diamond, while incorporating its hardness.

The hardness of the material itself doesn’t matter much, as regular glass is very hard for 3D printing purposes. However, imbuing the smooth glass surface with a rough texture is the very purpose of carborundum coating. This solves the biggest flaw of glass as a building surface material – the ease of print removal.

The textured finish also increases the overall contact surface. This improves adhesion while allowing the print to peel off on its own once the material has cooled. Carborundum glass has all the benefits of an ordinary glass build surface, but with improved adhesion and easier print removal.

3. Spring steel sheet and tape

You’re not a real 3D printing enthusiast until you’ve earned a few scars by removing prints from a glass bed. Scratching stubbornly attached prints on a rigid construction surface is a potentially dangerous business. Switching to a flexible build surface is the best way to keep you from inadvertently anointing your 3D printer with blood. And spring steel sheets are excellent for this purpose.

This flexible build surface consists of two parts: the spring steel sheet and the magnetic sticker. The latter is placed above the bed of the 3D printer and attaches the spring steel sheet to it. This arrangement allows the sheet to be lifted from the bed. Releasing the prints is then a simple matter of slightly bending the sheet. It also allows you to use multiple spring sheets with one bed, which is a boon to productivity.

On the other hand, the thin sheet of spring steel is a good conductor of heat. The low thermal mass of the ferrous sheet improves heat transfer from the heated bed to the print. However, this also makes it susceptible to thermal fluctuations. Therefore, it is important to run a PID calibration routine to ensure accurate bed temperature control. Failure to do so will result in increased Z bands in prints.

As for filament compatibility, it depends on the actual material associated with the spring steel sheet. Although you can print directly onto the sheet with adhesion aids, such as glue stick and hairspray, it’s usually paired with Kapton/polyimide tape (pictured above) or tape blue painter. The former adheres well to materials such as ABS, ASA, and Nylon, while the latter is best suited to PLA, PETG, and TPU.

While Kapton tape is more durable, blue painter’s tape (pictured below) requires periodic replacement as its adhesive properties diminish over time. Painter’s tape is also more likely to scratch and gouge from the nozzle. On the other hand, Kapton tape is one of the few build surfaces compatible with polycarbonate filament.

4. PEI (Polyetherimide)

PEI, or polyetherimide, is an amber-colored thermoplastic that is closely related to the highly sought-after engineering plastic PEEK. Like its more expensive cousin, PEI has an extremely high glass transition temperature. This makes it an excellent choice for heated beds and high temperature filaments such as ABS.

PEI is known to bond extremely well to most common 3D printing filaments, such as PLA, PETG, ABS, ASA, and TPU. In fact, PETG and TPU in particular run the risk of permanently bonding to PEI build surfaces, if the first layer is applied too close. In this case, it is advisable to use hairspray or a glue stick as a release agent. ABS and ASA prints, in particular, adhere extremely well to PEI without the need for adhesion aids.

PEI is almost always used in conjunction with spring steel sheets, either as a thin adhesive film or as an even thinner powder coating. Adhesive films are cheaper to manufacture, but they have a risk of delamination, especially when subjected to high deformation forces associated with large ABS and ASA prints. This PEI format is nevertheless popular because it is an inexpensive and easy way to achieve a smooth surface finish.

You can find more information on how ABS and ASA are superior to PLA, and when to use them, in our PLA vs ABS explainer. If you’re using PLA, read our tips on how to fix PLA that won’t stick to the bed.

Spring steel sheets with a thin layer of powder coated PEI are the most durable way to implement PEI as a building surface. The extremely thin coating cannot be delaminated, making it ideal for use with filaments that like to warp. Although it is nearly impossible to achieve a smooth finish with powder coated PEI, the textured surface further enhances adhesion while allowing finished prints to self release upon cooling.

5. Garolite

Garolite, also known as G10, is the trade name for glass fiber reinforced phenolic resins. The material is quite similar to PCB substrate and is often used interchangeably by enterprising 3D printing enthusiasts. The G10 also happens to be extremely versatile and inexpensive.

Garolite building surfaces can be made flexible or rigid by varying the thickness of the sheet. The fiberglass reinforcement gives it enough rigidity and structural integrity to be used without the need for a spring steel sheet support. Like PEI, Garolite has a high glass transition temperature, making it compatible with heated beds.

But, unlike PEI, Garolite sheets are excellent for 3D printing with nylon filaments. It is also one of the few construction surfaces that works well with PETG without running the risk of permanent adhesion. However, the TPU should be printed unheated on G10 sheets for ease of removal. The material also works beautifully with PLA, ABS, and ASA filaments. Garolite is less expensive than PEI, while being more versatile.

Simplified 3D printing surfaces

Between these five build surfaces and knowing their association with different 3D printing filaments, you are now in a position to make an informed choice. We recommend using PEI coated spring steel sheet for general purpose printing and purchasing specialty build surfaces for printing engineering plastics such as nylon and polycarbonate.


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