6 Key Principles of 3D Printing Supports that Work

3D printing resins
Updated on May 16, 2019

We have noticed one standard issue for most beginners of “bottom-up” style SLA 3D printing. That is when you get only support structures on the build plate after 3D printing instead of the intended object. In this article we will cover this very frequent issue of SLA 3D printing. This problem is more common to beginners but is also not uncommon for more experienced 3D printing users.


Resulting desperation and frustration might send a nice resin 3D printer into the trash bin. However, by understanding underlying reasons of this phenomena one can easily adapt simple techniques and get rid of this issue. So, let’s discuss this in more detail.

Why do you need supports?

Before diving into this subject, we would like to discuss why we use supports in SLA 3D printing in the first place. There are some subtle aspects here and it is worth understanding them. These are not all of them, but we listed most important ones based on our learnings.

So, when you take all factors in you might end up with a bunch of supports all around the object.

Potential risks and problems

With previously mentioned techniques where one places entire object on supports also comes the risk of potential failures. Apart from many parameters related to individual support, the key parameter usually is its tip diameter.

AmeraLabs key principles of supports that work recommended support tips

 

Smaller tip diameter (typically less than 0.3 mm) enables easier removal of supports and leaves less marks on the surface, but is also weaker. On the contrary, thicker support tips (typically larger than 0.4‑0.5 mm) are stronger but leave more visible marks after removal. Support tip weakness usually comes from the fundamental bottom-up resin 3D printing action, i.e. newly printed layer peeling action from FEP film. Emerging forces during that peeling motion are really high. They greatly depend on cross-sectional area of newly “cooked” layer: the larger the area, the higher peeling forces.

And here comes the key moment. If during printing of an object layer peeling forces from FEP become way higher than forces holding an object on its supports, you have a failure. Keep in mind that quite often our 3D printing sessions can consist of thousands of individual layers and each of them puts some stress on all previously printed layers. See image.

AmeraLabs key principles of supports that work suction force on fep why supports break

That is what we want to avoid. Let’s get into some possible solutions.

6 key principles of supports that work

Based on previously mentioned reasons for this issue, it is natural to come up with possible ways to solve this problem. One can think that increasing density of supports or tip diameter will always help to avoid failures. That is partially correct, but answer is not that simple.

It is also worth mentioning that most people choose their own way based on past experience and personal preferences. There is no universal or correct way here. Every 3D print is somewhat unique and requires careful planning in order to get high success rate. Therefore, we will also share our own experience and guidelines that could be used. However, these also should be filtered out and adapted to different situations. Let’s look at solutions from various point of views.

1. Thicker support tips

We usually recommend thicker support tips, i.e. around 0.4–0.5 mm on average, over thinner ones (typically referred as 0.2-0.3 mm). Based on our experience, if one wants to print fast with high lift speeds (like the ones that are used by Anycubic Photon), supports with thicker tips are a safer way to go. That does not necessarily mean that you should place just a couple of thicker supports and be done with it. We learned that resin 3D printing demands a lot of supports in order to get exceptional success rate and outstanding quality. Thus, you must tune support tips with density.

AmeraLabs key principles of supports that work support tip thickness.png

Nevertheless, some situations still require very thin support tips. These typically are extremely intricate overhangs of models. In those situations, you have no other options. Still have a look at other strategies below and try to incorporate those in such situations to increase your chances of success.

2. High/Medium density of supports

If you use supports, you will always have visible surface marks. So why not use more supports then? If your plan is to get smooth surface, sanding will be necessary. Therefore, by adding additional supports you will not add so much of sanding work for yourself, but your success rate increase can be dramatical. Also, you can plan your orientation that surface with least importance gets heavily supported. This way you might get away with fantastic success rate and zero post-processing efforts. But remember that with increased density you will also increase consumption of material and removal of supports might sometimes be tricky.

AmeraLabs key principles of supports that work recommended support tip density

 3. Use software wisely

Quality of supports greatly depends on your chosen software package. Such programs like Autodesk Meshmixer allows you to modify almost all parameters of supports. By trying various configuration options and running experiments you can easily find a way that works best for your setup. Remember, that you do not have to stick to original 3D printing software provided by equipment manufacturer. You can import your STL to other software packages, add supports, export that updated STL file and use that on software that runs your machine.

One critical point here. Never fully rely on automatic support generation! Almost all such functions are not perfect and can be used as a starting point, but further analysis and manual adjustment must be done. This is extremely important.

4. Interconnected supports

This is often overlooked. If you use some third party software, keep an eye on those that allow you to bridge supports together instead of placing them individually.

AmeraLabs key principles of supports that work recommended interconnected supports

Such connections among supports greatly reduce chances of support failures. This technique will produce stiffer set of base and secondary supports that are less prone to breakage and failures. However, that also leads to higher consumption of material.

5. Consider resin properties

Resin choice is an important subject here as well. We learned that if you are trying to obtain details of an object with as low number of supports as possible, harder resins work better. Such resins like our AMD-3 LED is specifically designed for models with intricate details, which require careful and small-tipped supports. Harder SLA 3D printing resins do not flex severely during layer separation action from FEP film. Such rigidity ensures that even the tiniest features of the model will be preserved.

On the other hand, resins that have flexibility properties might require different tactics. Such resins work best with more supports and thicker tips in order to compensate their flexibility during 3D printing. Moreover, if you couple that with interconnected supports, you can obtain decent success rate with outstanding printing quality.

6. High quality FEP 

Last, but not least is condition of your FEP film. We learned that new and fresh FEP film performs better than the one which has been used for a while. If you started to see unexpected failures, when you expected easy 3D printing session, consider checking your FEP film. If it is highly scratched, foggy or warped, go ahead and get yourself a new one. Also remember to take care of your FEP by using silicon spatula and avoid any sharp tools. You can get new sheet for as little as 3€ in our shop

And always remember that the highest resin consumer is failure and not when you add some “extra” safety measures like supports to avoid it. Would you like to add something else to this list? Share in the comments bellow.

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