What they are and when you need them

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3D printing delicate parts can be tricky, and that’s where support structures come in. Supports ensure that complex parts don’t get misaligned or come loose during the 3D printing process. They are typically used with objects with overhangs or features that protrude from the main body of the print, which can cause the entire model to collapse.


Benefits of using supports in 3D printing

There are many reasons why you should use support structures in your project. Here are the main ones:

  • 3D printers typically have a limited build area, so using supports helps make the most of that space by allowing you to add more intricate detail and functionality to your design.
  • Supports also help increase the overall strength of your 3D print. They act as reinforcement in areas where there may be thinner sections of material.
  • They make it easier to 3D print sharp angles that are typically difficult to print and help improve print quality by preventing warping and dimensional inaccuracies.

Although supports are essential, there are times when they are not necessary or even recommended. Below we discuss the three main usage scenarios.

1. When the overhang is more than 45 degrees

Although it is possible to 3D print most overhangs without the need for supports, it is crucial to use supports when the angle is greater than 45 degrees as this ensures that your object will withstand stress and deformation without risking structural failure or deformation. The added weight and leverage of the cantilever makes the structure more susceptible to collapse. By using supports, you can ensure that the vertical elements are sufficiently reinforced.

2. If your print is taller than it is wide

Printing a 3D model can be difficult if the object is taller than it is wide, as the printer will struggle to orient and print all sides of the model evenly. This is because most printers typically work by laying thin layers of material on top of each other, starting at the bottom.

Since larger objects will require more layers to print, they will also tend to warp more easily due to uneven heating or cooling of the material during each layer. Supports help prevent this from happening as they help hold parts of the print in place while printing. They also ensure that your 3D models are stable and display as expected.

3. When creating structures with complex shapes and angles

When creating complex structures that require precision and stability, it is important to use supports to achieve the desired shape. These supports can be essential for building pieces with complex curves and unusual angles, as they help provide the level of stability and support needed. Supports also prevent designs from warping or breaking during the printing process.

Whether you work with plastic or metal, using them allows you to create strong 3D printed objects that will last over time. Additionally, using these supports allows you to make fine adjustments to ensure your model matches your original design.

How to add supports to 3D prints

Adding supports is pretty much the same no matter which slicing program you use. In Cura, you can add them by going to the Print settings menu and selecting the Support option. Once you are in the Supports menu, you can choose different options. For example, you can choose to have supports placed everywhere or just touching the build plate as shown below.

There is also an option to select the pattern for your brackets. Whether triangles, lines, grids, concentrics, zigzags or crosses.

Cura also has an option to add custom supports. Custom brackets are essential if you want to have more control over where your brackets go. To do this, click Personalized, and adjust the displayed parameters accordingly.

Once the settings are complete, you can access Parameters per model and select Print as support. You can then slice your design and preview it to see if supports are added as needed. The figure below shows a preview after adding supports to the model.

You can also change the support models if you don’t like the one displayed.

Common Media Problems and How to Avoid Them

Here are four common problems people have with 3D printing media and how you can avoid them:

  • Supports not adhering well to the printed object. You can avoid this by using a brim or raft when printing. Edges are extrusion lines around the edge of an object that help it adhere better to the build plate. Rafts are layers of extrusion under an object that also help it stick better.
  • The brackets are too difficult to remove. You can avoid this by using support materials that are easier to remove, such as water-soluble supports.
  • Supports leaving marks on the object. Avoid this by using support structures with a larger contact surface or a support material that does not stick to the printed pattern as well.
  • Supports not strong enough. You can solve this problem by increasing the fill settings or using thicker layers.

Supports can be a pain, but they don’t have to be if you do a little planning. By avoiding these common issues, you’ll 3D print with fewer headaches and better results.

How to remove supports

There are several ways to remove supports from 3D prints. The main thing in the process is to adjust the settings of the 3D printer’s slicing software to make removal easier. You can weaken them or diminish them. Below are other key methods to easily remove the brackets.

  • A common way is to use a pair of pliers or tweezers to break the supports. You can also use a cutter to cut them out of the print.
  • Sandpaper or a file are also useful, especially if the supports are not very thick. It may take some time, but it will give you a smoother finish on your print.
  • Another way is to use chemicals. There are products available that can dissolve 3D printing supports, and they can be a quick and easy way to remove supports, but you have to be careful not to damage your print in the process.
  • You can also soak them in water. Soaking your design in water can help loosen the support material and make it easier to remove. Be careful not to soak too long, as this can damage some filaments.

3D print overhangs and complex shapes with confidence

Supports are useful when dealing with complex shapes and parts of an object that hang unsupported in the air. With the right supports in place, it’s possible to print a wide range of complex designs with confidence, and you won’t have to worry about having a failed 3D print due to the complexity of your design.

Adding and removing supports is not always complicated. Just be sure to take note of the common problems that 3D printer enthusiasts encounter highlighted above and know how to fix them so you can effectively fix them in case they happen to you.

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