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HOW TO SUCCEED WHEN PRINTING IN PLA

Table of Contents

What is PLA Plastic ;

Getting the First Layer Right


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Printing with PLA on Blue Tape

Printing on Glass With a Heated Bed

Other Printing Surfaces

Getting the Temperature Right ; Changing Filament ; Printing With a Makerbot Replicator

MatterHackers PLA Temperature Quick Reference ; What to do When Things go Wrong

PLA or Polylactic acid is a thermoplastic polyester.


If you have printed with ABS filament, you will find PLA filament to be harder, wear more slowly, and be easier to get a
nice flat part with. PLA is less thermally contractive and much easier to print big parts with. The thing to consider is that
being stiffer and harder also means that it is more brittle. If the part you're printing will be used where it might receive a lot
of banging or sharp collisions, PLA may not be the best material.
The other important consideration when printing parts with PLA filament is knowing what sorts of temperatures the part
will be subjected to. PLA plastic becomes soft at 70C - 80C and will deform if used in environments that remain above
those temperatures for any prolonged time. This is why you should use ABS filament or some other material near the
extruder. At MatterHackers we generally use PLA filament for all our printer parts except those that are directly around
the extruder (such as the x-carriage, mounting plate and extruder block) which we print in ABS.
GETTING THE FIRST LAYER RIGHT
The first layer is the most important part of any print. There are a few things you need to do to get the first layer to stick
well.
1. You need the print bed (or print surface) to be level.
2. You need the extruder to be homed to the correct height from the bed.
3. You need a good base material for your PLA to adhere to.
Below is a video from MatterHackers' 3D printing 101 series that will help guide you in the right direction for getting a
stellar first layer. View additional videos from this series.
PRINTING ON BLUE TAPE
Blue Tape, or Painters Tape, is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get a great print from PLA. Here is a quick checklist
of things you want to make sure you are doing.
1. Check that the Blue Tape creates an even layer. Don't miss any spots. Don't overlap the edges.
2. Don't heat the bed when using Blue Tape, it will not stick well to your PLA
3. Replace any tape strips that get damage when removing parts.
4. Replace the tape after 5-10 prints or when parts stop sticking.

5. If your first layer is not sticking - make sure the print head is close enough to make a nice squished line of PLA. If
that doesn't take care of your problem, you may want to increase the 'first layer temperature' 5 to 10 degrees
(start with 5 and increase if necessary).
Blue Tape is not perfect but it is very easy to use and generally gives great results. However, sometimes your parts can
pull the tape up off the glass during printing, and you will see some warping when that happens. To reduce the Blue Tape
from pulling up, we have had great results putting Blue Tape on top of PET tape, but that's just crazy :).
NOTE: PLA will not stick well to Blue Tape when it is warm. You do not want to heat the bed if you plan to print on Blue
Tape. Also, the surface of the Blue Tape will lose its ability to hold onto a part with use. You should replace the tape when
you start to see the adhesion degrading (usually somewhere between 5-10 prints on the same spot).

Printing On Blue Tape


PRINTING ON GLASS WITH A HEATED BED
When you have a temperature controlled bed, printing directly on glass can be a great option. The recommended bed
temperature for PLA is 70C.
1. Having your bed level and extruder at the right height is extremely important when printing on glass. If your
extruder is too far from the glass your PLA will not stick AT ALL, if it is too low the glass will completely block the
extrusion of material and it will not stick AT ALL.
2. If your first layer is not sticking
1. Make sure the bed is level.
2. Make sure the nozzle is close enough to make a nice squished first layer.
3. Make sure you run the extruder enough before your print starts so there is filament going onto the bed
during the entire first layer. In MatterControl you can turn the number of 'Skirt' loops up to 4 or 5 or more
depending on the part.
4. Make sure the extruder temperature is hot enough to properly melt the filament. Otherwise, the plastic
may cool too quickly and lift from the bed. This can cause the nozzle to snag on the first layer when
traveling around the bed and gum it up. Many people like to set their first layer's extrusion temperature 510 degrees higher than the other layers to ensure a proper stick.
5. Make sure the speed for your print moves aren't too fast. Printing too fast can cause the plastic to cool too
quickly and lift from the bed and cause a failed print.
6. Clean the glass with denatured alcohol
When you can get it working well, glass is the absolute best way to print PLA. It make a great shiny bottom layer and the
heated bed ensures that parts stay nice and flat.

Printing Directly On Glass


GETTING THE TEMPERATURE RIGHT
When working with a new roll of filament for the first time, we generally like to start out printing at about 200c and then
adjusting the temperature up or down by 5 degree increments until we get the quality of the print, and the strength of the
part, to be in good balance with each other.
What to Look for:
If the temperature is too high
You will see more strings between the separate parts of your print and you may notice that the extruder leaks out a lot of
plastic while moving between separate areas of the print. If this happens you should try to incrementally lower the
temperature by 5 degrees until the extruder is not leaking so much material.
Sometimes you will have a material that is simply less viscous than other PLA and will leak more even at lower
temperatures. We recommend you increase the retraction a few millimeters (3-4 seems like a good number for most
every PLA we have tried).

If the temperature is too cold


You will either see that the filament is not sticking to the previous layer and you are getting a rough surface (like the
picture below), or you will get a part that is not strong and can be pulled apart easily. In either case, you should increase
the temperature by 5 degrees and try again until you get good line segments on every layer and have a strong part when
done printing.

Extruded Filament Not Hot Enough


CHANGING FILAMENT
When switching PLA colors:
1. While the extruder is cold set the heat to 80c and wait for it to heat up.
2. When you reach 80c remove the current filament from the extruder. You may be able to back it out by hand or
you may need to reverse the extruder.
3. If you are having trouble removing the filament, increase the temperature to 100c and try again.
4. Increase the heat and load the new filament normally.
5. Run the new color through the extruder until it runs clean and the new color is all that is coming out of the
extruder. If you are switching from a dark color (such as black) to a light color (like white or natural) run a while
longer to be sure you don't have any dark contamination:
1. Clean the extruder gear and blow out any particles from the extruder entrance.
2. Print something that you don't care if it has bits of the previous color in it, or run the extruder for several
minutes. It may take as much as 10 to 15 minutes of extrusion before you can have confidence that there
won't be dark material mixed with lighter material.
Note: We recommended removing the filament when soft rather than when fully melted so that there is less possibility of
depositing melted material onto the extruder drive gear or leaving meterial high up the melt chamber entrance. Both of
which can cause jamming and are hard to clean out. Soft removal also helps ensure that you get everything out of the
extruder tip.

PRINTING WITH A MAKERBOT REPLICATOR


The Makerbot Replicators extruder is not quite as powerful as some of the RepRap geared extruders so here are some
extra tips that can really help get great results.
1. Make sure your bed is absolutely flawlessly leveled.
2. Measure the filament with calipers. Take 5 measurements, throw out the bottom and top values and average the
remaining 3. Put this number in for the filament diameter.
3. Clean the extruder. If you been having problems you probably need thoroughly clean the extruder.
4. Clean the teeth of the drive gear. Make sure it is free of any debris or remnants plastic.
5. AND THE BIGGIE! Use a tiny drop of canola oil on the end of the filament during the filament change. We got this
tip from a customer and it has been AMAZING, not a single filament jam since!
If you are having issues with your replicator, to the extent that you are inclined to take some drastic measures, we wrote a
simple Guide to swapping out the stock hotend for an all-metal E3D Hotend.
MATTERHACKERS PLA TEMPERATURE QUICK REFERENCE
Color
Recommended Temperature
Recommended Range
Black
195c
190c - 210c
Glow-In-The-Dark
190c
185c - 205c
All Other Colors
210c
205c - 220c
Note: You may need to experiment with the temperature that will print the best on your printer. Ambient temperature,
humidity and the calibration and uniqueness of your printer all play a part in how your prints will turn out.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
There are a few key things to check when your prints aren't working. But before we look at solutions we need to have a
brief description of your symptoms.
"I can't get the first layer to stick."
1. Make sure the extruder is at the right height. Adjust the limit switch or extruder 0 height
2. Make sure the print bed is level. Level the bed
"The part has bad internal layers and top surfaces."
1. Check the extrusion temperature (you may need to increase it by 5 degree bumps)
2. Check the filament tension.
3. Clean the filament drive gear
"The outside edges of my parts have lots of little bumps on them."
1. Make sure your printer is getting enough data. If printing from a computer, ensure that the computer is not too
busy to feed the printer commands. If the printer is pausing it is usually due to the printer being too busy.
2. Print from SD card. On some printers you can try and print from SD card. This often helps the printer have
enough data to run more smoothly.
3. Source better PLA. We have found that the quality of your print material can have a big impact on the quality of
your part. Getting better PLA can help you get better parts. However, don't be too quick to assume the problem
is in your PLA. With the right settings and patience hobbyists have succeeded in printing all sorts of materials

many of which have very low viscosity and inconsistency. You should be able to get at least usable parts even
with some lower quality filament.
"Tall sections of my prints look melted or squished together."
1. Turn on "Cooling". If your printer has a fan you should enable "cooling" in the print settings.
2. Get a small fan. If your printer does not have an integrated fan you should look into getting a small desk fan.
This can help dramatically with tall sections of your print or when "bridging" (printing top layers that span gaps).
"My printer will not put out any material."
1. Make sure your hot end is getting hot. Check that the hot end is heating at all. If it is not you need to have your
printer serviced. It is likely that you have a loose connection or your electronics have been fried (assuming the
printer is still connected and responding to your host software :).
2. Clean the drive gear and adjust tension. The first thing we are going to do is clean the filament touching drive
gear and ensure that we have proper tension against the filament. Usually improper tension or a clogged drive
gear will make the print look more like the picture we have for low temperature filament, but it sometimes does
prevent extrusion all together. Clean the pinch wheel with a wire brush, and make sure your tension is good and
solid (too much can also prevent extrusion and is more common with direct drives [the motor is directly connected
to the drive gear] but less common with geared drives).
3. Remove the current filament. It may be that you have a small particle in your extruder tip jamming the plastic.
Use the change filament technique described above to pull out any particles that are in the extruder tip.
4. Check for and remove jams between the extruder and hot end. This is the most extreme type of problem
because now it is time to take things apart. Sometimes heat can creep up the filament in the extruder and cause
a bulge that then cools and prevents any further extrusion. This is usually at the junction between the extruder
and hot end. Take off the extruder and remove all the PLA you can (you may need the hot end hot (80c-100c) to
get all the material out. If you can't get out all the filament by pulling it out you may need to try and drive it down
through the hot end. We usually use a small allen wrench. If this fails you can try and drill out the extruder or hot
end but you may need to replace parts. Be sure to take precautions against being shocked or burned. If you are
not qualified to do this work find someone who is, rather than risk injury.