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Leveling Your 3D Printer

A few years back I raced cars. I raced a 2nd generation RX7 on road courses. I removed all the unnecessary parts to save weight, you know like seats and AC and added top of the line suspension and cooling to optimize the performance of the machine. It was fast. I made every modification to the car I could but at the end of the day, my ability to maintain speed in the curves determined the outcome of the race. The perfect corner is to identify the apex of the curve and push the car by feel to the edge of breaking loose and spinning out of control.  Racing is a combination of technology and feeling, 3D printing is too.

I have several brands of 3D printers, and some are easier to level than others, but all require a certain “feel” when it comes to leveling. The goal is to position the nozzle the correct distance from the print bed to get good adhesion and print quality. Too far away and your print will “break loose”, too close and it won’t lay down a bead of plastic.

Leveling your 3D Printer

How do you know?  What does “too far” mean.    

Most manufacturers instruct you to use a piece of paper to gauge the gap between the nozzle and the bed. This is a good starting point but, in my experience, this does not always result in the optimal distances. It takes a certain feel to get it right. Think of the bed as a plane with its four corners suspended on springs. Similar to a car, an extreme movement on one of the corner springs will upset the stability. I have helped several of my customers get their “faulty” printers working by simply leveling the printer the correct way.

Nozzle Too High with 3D Printer

My observation is they have adjusted one or more of the corners to such an extreme they have the whole bed upset. I teach them that if you move the front right corner up then by default the back left corner will lower or you will bend the bed and the middle will concave. It is difficult to see this (maybe impossible), so you have to feel it or use your intuition.  

Nozzle too close with 3D printing

Sometimes the bed gets so out of plane, I have to reset it by ruler. This is the process of using a ruler or calipers to measure each corner and resetting them to the same distance.  Some manufacturers will tell you this value. If not, you will need to think about what a reasonable distance is, somewhere in the middle of your lower and upper adjustment range. Be sure to leave room to adjust the bed up or down.  

The ideal height will lay a bead of plastic, so the edges touch each other. You should not see any of the bed or gaps between the lines. A slight overlap is ok.

Steps on Leveling a 3D Printer

  • Start in the front left corner. Get eye level to the bed and look at the gap. Think about the plastic extruding out and how it will be formed by the nozzle. With experience, you will get good at knowing what that gap should be. 
  • As you move to the front right corner observe how the gap changes. If it narrows or widens make adjustments as you move it. Small ones. Keeping the gap consistent is very important.
  • Move to all four corners using the same method then do it again always keeping in mind an adjustment to one corner affects the opposite corner.
  • Finally check the middle. You should not see much of a variation in the gap. Certainly, too small to measure. Once you have leveled your printer don’t move it. Moving your printer will torque the frame and throw the level off.

When I first started 3d printing, I would get frustrated because the prints would not stick to the bed. I would send the manufacturers ugly emails telling them their printers stink. Once I learned the feel of the leveling, I had fewer adhesion problems. When I do, it’s most likely from a dirty bed. We will talk about cleaning the surface and adding glue or tape in a future article.