3d Printers – Do I Need a Heated Print Bed?

The cheaper the 3d printer, the less bells and whistles that come with it, and the less functionality it will have right out of the box. Most FDM 3d printers come with heated beds, but some do not.

A heated bed is near-essential on an FDM 3d printer. There are very few cases where a heated bed is not useful, and having one does not detract in these cases. So it’s better to have one.

What Does A Heated Bed Do?

The heated bed on an FDM 3d printer is used to give the best chance for the first few layers of filament to deposit and stick in a print run. Adhesion for ABS is very difficult without heating the print bed, whereas PLA and PETG don’t require a heated bed at all. That being said, most report better results when using a heated bed with these two materials.

Especially with cold ambient temperatures, an unheated bed risks the filament exiting the heated extruder end and cooling as soon as it hits the print bed surface. The plastic will contract when it cools, and may unstick in the process. If that first layer doesn’t stick down, then it will instead stick to the moving extruder. It’s immediately a failed print. If you notice it right away, you can correct and print again, but if you don’t, then you’ve got a large mess, as the printer will happily print away without the print sticking to the bed. You’ll have a large ball of plastic mess to clean up, and a lot of wasted filament.

The other main issue for printers without heated beds is warping. It’s essentially the same problem as mentioned above, but it manifests a little differently. If you have adhesion on your first few layers, then you’re in good shape from the point of view of getting a model out the other end. The problem comes later in the print, when the lower layers are cooling (as they’re farther away from the hot plastic being deposited). The lower layers shrink, pulling up from the print bed. It may cause the whole model to become unstuck from the print bed, or it may just pull up a corner or two of a model. This pulling up is what is causing the bottom edge to be warped.

With a heated bed, the lower layers tend to remain stuck to the bed, and it’s quite a few layers before the temperature difference between the bed and the relatively cold middle layers can cause any warping. Due to the fact that the heated lower layers are stuck down firmly, the warping can’t happen and your model comes out looking correct.

Another trick is to use skirt loops to ensure that the filament is extruding properly before it starts to print the first layer. This ensures that the filament is flowing well and gives you the chance to ensure that the first layer is adhering to the print bed. Set the first several layer’s filament temperature to +5°C to +10°C above what you will print the rest of the model, to ensure that good first layer adhesion.

What Is The Best Temperature For PLA Filament?

PLA filament doesn’t technically require a heated bed. That being said, anyone I know with a 3d FDM printer uses one with a heated bed, and finds that they get better results because of it. Start with a print bed setting of 70°C. Most people find that this setting is perfect, although your ambient temperature and conditions in the room that you’re printing in can affect the print.

If you find that your print is not adhering correctly, try upping the temperature by +5°C. If that still doesn’t work, try another +5°C. Stop there. You don’t want to go higher with PLA as the material remains soft at higher temperatures. If that’s the case, you may find that larger prints start to collapse due to the weight of the upper layers onto the lower, melting layers. It’ll look more like S’Mores than the model you’ve intended to print!

What Can I Do If I Don’t Have a Heated Bed?

The trick is to ensure that you have adhesion on your first few layers. If they stick, and remain stuck throughout the print run, then your model will look good. You’ll avoid warping and you should get a good looking model as intended.

I would not recommend ABS filament. It is the hardest to get to work due to warping and non-adhesion. PLA, PLA+ and PETG are all good materials to use. First, try the print and see if you’re getting good adhesion. If not, then you can try adding material to the print bed to help that adhesion. Here are a few:

  • Blue painter’s tape: stick painter’s tape all over the print bed, ensuring that there are no gaps or overlaps. The whole print area needs to be covered. This material also helps after the print is completed in removing the piece from the print bed. Replace any blue tape that gets damaged on removal. Replace all of the tape every five to 10 prints, as the adhesion will lessen with the more prints that you do. Don’t use this if you have a heated bed. It’ll melt the tape’s glue and it will fail.
  • Glue stick: you can cover the print bed with the glue from a glue stick. It gets a little messy, but the tackiness of the glue with help with adhesion. Many people swear by this method. You will have to reapply the glue after every print. I recommend only applying it just before starting the next print. Don’t apply and wait overnight, for example, before printing again.
  • Elmer’s glue (or PVA glue or wood glue): This is the white or near-white children’s glue that they use for crafts. You can thin this with water. I recommend a 50/50 mix of glue and water. Use a paint brush and paint your print bed with the mixture. Let it dry before you begin printing, or it won’t help adhesion at all. Don’t use this if you have a heated bed. It’ll melt the tape’s glue and it will fail.
  • Hairspray: not the best of solutions, but if it works, it works! It creates a tacky surface on the print bed that can improve adhesion. Your mileage may vary. Again, you’ll have to reapply before every new print. I don’t recommend this method.
  • Masking tape: this is a cheaper version of the painter’s tape method. It doesn’t work as well, but if it works, then you have a cheaper and easier solution. Masking tape tends to come in wider rolls than painter’s tape, so it may be faster and easier to apply. Don’t use this if you have a heated bed. It’ll melt the tape’s glue and it will fail. I don’t recommend this method.

Will An Enclosure Around My 3d Printer Help?

Yes, an enclosure will help with bed adhesion even if your bed isn’t heated. Essentially, you’re raising the temperature of the ambient atmosphere. It will help, but a heated bed will help more. Both in combination are great for ABS, but it may be too hot for PLA and PETG filaments.

PLA and PETG don’t require an enclosure either, but if you have one, your printing will still work. You will likely find that you’ll have to lower the print bed temperature -5°C to -10°C. Some experimentation may be required to dial in the exact settings that work for you. Someone printing in sub-zero temperatures in mid-winter may have a totally different set of settings from someone in hot summer conditions.

Related Questions

What is a 3d printer heated bed max temperature?

The maximum temperature that you’d set your heated bed on your 3d printer is 80°C for PLA and 110°C for ABS filament.  If you are using different material, however, like PETG, check the materials properties for the filament and the manufacturer’s suggested range. PETG, though, will likely be similar to ABS for maximum temperature.

What is the best 3d printer heated bed?

The best 3d printer heated bed is the one that comes with your printer. This may sound glib, but there’s no need to upgrade or replace it with a better one unless the printer doesn’t come with one. If you don’t need one on a normal basis, I still recommend that you get one, and just set it to off for those times you don’t need it.

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