The Ultimate Guide on 3D Printer Calibration

by Julien Gandelin

You’ve just bought a swanky new printer, and you’re bursting with excitement. However, there’s one slight setback. You can’t jump right in and start 3D printing. You’ll need to understand how the firmware works and how 3D printers are calibrated. Here’s where this guide comes into play.

We’ll walk you through a quick beginner’s guide to 3D printer calibration.

Why Is 3D Printer Calibration Important?

Picture this. You’re a baker who has crafted a recipe that makes bread perfect each time you bake it. However, there’s one caveat. Fans keep reaching out to you that your recipe doesn’t work, accusing you of withholding information or being dishonest. After a while, you realize it’s because they are using the wrong baking tin size. How could this have been avoided?

Well, the same applies to 3D printer calibration. It allows you to avoid such scenarios. In a nutshell, calibration allows you to make sure each print comes out the same, irrespective of the equipment used in the production process. Nothing lopsided will be printed (unless that’s your goal), and your creations will be identical each time.

Preparation for 3D Calibration

Let’s face it. 3D printers are complex, and therefore, calibration isn’t a one-click type of task. We’d suggest setting aside at least half an hour to allow you to get to the bottom of any issues that might crop up. Additionally, keep in mind that all printers are calibrated differently.

You should keep in mind that each printer is calibrated differently. While some have a physical adjustment lever, others are solely controlled by software. Therefore, the insight provided in this guide should be used as a general guideline rather than concrete instructions.

With that being said, there are three major components of your printer that call for calibration; the base plate, the extruder, and the stepper motors. Let’s discuss how to attend to each of these components.

Importance of Extruder Calibration

ANYCUBIC Mega S 3D Printer, FDM 3D Printer with Extruder and Suspended Filament Rack + Free Test PLA Filament, Works with TPU/PLA/ABS, 8.27''(L) x8.27''(W) x8.07''(H) Printing Size

Source: Pixabay

The component that gives off hot filament is known as the 3D printer’s extruder. It may have two issues. For starters, over-extrusion entails the excessive use of a filament. Secondly, there’s under-extrusion whereby insufficient filament is used. Additionally, you should consider the filament wall thickness, which is easy to rectify if it’s wrong.

To check if your printer is over-extruding or under-extruding, you’ll require a measuring tape, set of callipers, and ruler. Mark two points on the filament (100mm apart) and ensure the top of the extruder and the bottom point are perfectly aligned.

Then, set the extruder length to a value of 100 (on the software) and instruct it to extrude. If all goes as planned, you’ll notice that the top mark is now perfectly aligned with the top of the extruder.

If not, the job is not done, which means you’ll require adjusting the extrusion (also referred to as the ‘flow’) percentage until the top mark is in perfect alignment.

How to Calibrate the X, Y, and Z Motors

The next step is to ensure your printer has dimensional accuracy. That entails using a piece of tape to label two areas (100mm apart) on the base plate. Next, position the nozzle as per the instructions, instruct the printer to move 100mm in the correct direction, and check whether it ends up exactly over the tape.

It’s worth keeping in mind that there’s a high likelihood you may not get it right on the first attempt. After all, 100.02mm is different from 100mm on the mark. While it’s a seemingly small variation, these small differences can have significant repercussions down the road, so we recommend nipping them in the bud. Alter the M92 values for the Y and X axes until the printer works seamlessly.

For the Z motor, you’ll want to use a ruler. Position it vertically on the print bed and adjust the Z-axis by 100mm. After doing so, the process is the same. Simply move the M92 values until the axis moves by exactly 100mm each time.

How to Calibrate the Base Plate

If you’ve noticed that the filament is gathered around the nozzle or your layers are overly thin, that’s your cue to level your base plate. Bed leveling so ensures the nozzle maintains a uniform distance from the base at all times.

To accomplish this, begin by centering the print head. You’ll likely have an index card. Therefore, position it between the base plate and the print head. By editing the Z-axis end stop variable, you can fine-tune the distance of the head from the base.

Most printers come with easily adjustable screws at each corner. You have free rein to adjust them until you notice a slight resistance upon attempting to shift the index card. You should still have the ability to move the card. When you accomplish this, your work is done.

How to Fine-Tune Filament Settings

Each roll of filament is different. Plastics from various manufacturers and various colours of the same material have varying properties. To get the best possible prints, you’ll require fine-tuning your filament settings following the two steps below.

Typically, you can get good prints by using the settings suggested by the filament manufacturer. However, you should follow these steps each time you open a new filament roll for the best outcome.

Step 1: Measure Your Filament

The diameter of a roll of filament usually varies from the diameter the manufacturer indicates by a small percentage. The tolerance diameter is typically printed on the spool. Therefore, it’s essential to use a caliper to measure the true filament diameter. Here’s a starting point on how to adjust your slicer settings and ensure that the functionality of your filament is working:

  • Measure your filament at three or more places on the spool using a caliper
  • Compute the average of your measurements
  • The result of the average represents the filament diameter in your slicer

Getting this figure right is crucial as it aids in ensuring that your printer will extrude the ideal amount of filament

Step 2: Get the Ideal Print Temperature

To ensure dimensional accuracy, you can get the perfect temperature by 3D printing a ‘temperature tower.’ While there’s a wealth of options available online, the fundamental idea is standard for all of them. They are divided into blocks of varying heights, with each printed at a different temperature. By analyzing the blocks after printing, you’ll know the most ideal temperature to print your material.

Nevertheless, 3D printing a ‘temperature tower’ requires a bit of elbow grease. If your slicer doesn’t allow you to print with various temperatures at varying heights, you’ll need to manually edit your G-code before printing. That entails the insertion of G-code commands to set the extruder temperature. These commands usually start with M104.

3D Printing Calibration Summed Up

There’s a lot to consider when using 3D printers: flow rate, print quality, layer height, and much more! Nonetheless, once you get the hang of it, you’ll only need to take a few steps to adjust, as discussed in detail. Now you’re ready to print away and have fun while you’re at it.

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