The Ender 3 is a solid entry-level filament FDM (fused deposition modeling) printer. It’s the type that takes thin, spaghetti-like plastic and extrudes it to make 3d models. The print surface that comes stock with the printer is usually reasonably good, but there are times when you’ll want to switch to other print surfaces.
The magnetic replacement surface with original material is a cheap alternative to the stock surface. It has all the benefits of the original, with the added convenience of being flexible, allowing you to bend it to remove cooled parts from the surface easily without use of a scraper.
Ender 3 is a common printer, and a good one. So you’ll be able to find replacement or add-on parts for the printer on many retail sites. I’ve included Amazon.Com affiliate links to the items below. Like all affiliate links, using them does not add any cost to you, but does provide a small income to me.
Stock BuildTac Surface
The original build surface is a sticker onto the build platform. It’s a rough surface that should do well sticking prints to it when heated. I had a tough time getting prints to stick when I started, but this was due to me not properly leveling the bed and not the material.
If the surface won’t take the print well, first try releveling the bed. After that, clean it with isopropyl alcohol. Finger print oils are particularly slippery to 3d prints.
The first layer (or the surface of your model that gets printed first and is against the build surface) will be slightly bumpy (as it’s stuck to a bumpy surface). Most models this won’t be an issue. If it is, and you’d prefer a smooth surface, then consider the tempered glass, PEI or polypropylene surfaces.
If the surface works for you, great! No need to replace it or add to it. If not, replace it with one of the options below.
Magnetic BuildTac Surface
This is effectively the same surface as that which came with the Ender 3 to begin with. The original surface was a sticker, stuck down to the build plate. When I got mine (second hand) it was pealing off some, and was in need of replacement.
Even if the sticker is fine, you may still want to upgrade to the magnetic surface. The chief advantage comes when the model is finished printing, and the bed has cooled down. You can remove the bed, with the model still attached, and flex the surface. Since the printed model is now cool and static, it won’t bend but the surface will. You can simply peel away the model with no need for spatulas or scrapers. This saves on damage to the model, too.
I made a YouTube video on how to remove the original bed and replace it with the magnetic version. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/SZnkvNG1U-M. You only have to do it once, and the nice part is that you can use the same magnet for this or the PEI surface (discussed below).
Clean the surface much as you would the original surface and for the same reasons with isopropyl alcohol. Remember that isopropyl alcohol is flammable, so keep this in mind for safety, and keep away from flame and store safely, and away from children.
Just as with the original, the first layer will be a little bumpy.
Creality Tempered Glass Surface
The tempered glass surface from Creality is not just glass. It has a thin layer of something to ensure adhesion. Otherwise, prints wouldn’t stick and you’d have to add something to it to get it to stick.
You clean this surface with glass cleaner. You shouldn’t need to add glue or spray with hairspray if the microlayer is still working on the surface. If you decide to use the other side (just a flat glass surface), then you will need glue or hairspray to make the print adhere to the surface.
Because it’s glass, the surface won’t flex, so you’ll have to scrape the print off. When it cools though, you may find that the print comes loose, as the surface and the model will shrink at different rates, so the print may lose adhesion.
Some have reported that the microlayer stops being effective after several months of use. I think this is disturbing, but I have no direct experience showing this, so take it with the same veracity as “some guy on the internet said ….”
You will definitely get a smooth first layer (against the build surface) as it’s up against glass. If you’re using the microlayer side, you may get a very fine pattern, but it will be negligible compared to the BuildTac surface.
Magnetic PEI Surface
I first started using a PEI surface when I couldn’t get anything to stick to my original surface on the Ender 3. It requires that you use more heat (a higher setting for the build plate in your prints) to get to effectively stick. I used this for some time but over time, I had issues with prints not sticking well.
My impression is that this was seasonal in nature. The more humid it was, the less adhesion I would get. Here in the US southwest, it can be very dry in the summer, and that’s when I got the best adhesion. Leveling the build plate is critical with this surface, too.
But what I found was that once I’d spent extra time leveling the bed, it worked fine. But I switched to the magnetic BuildTac surface and it printed fine, too. So I think my first layer adhesion had more to do with the leveling of the surface than it did with the humidity or material. You can lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to improve adhesion, too.
You’ll have to clean this surface with isopropyl alcohol after every print. No exceptions. As I said earlier, be careful with alcohol as it can be a safety hazard. Just be safe.
The PEI surface bends slightly, so that prints pop off when they cool. It’s magnetic, too, so it comes off the build plate so that you can flex it. Prints are super-easy to remove. You never need to scrape.
You’ll get a smooth first layer (against the build surface) with PEI. It’s a coating on a thin steel plate, so it’s as smooth as the glass surface would be.
Polypropylene is a relatively new solution for a build surface. It boasts excellent adhesion and is smooth like glass. Prints stick solidly at 60°C but come off right off at 35°C with little to no effort.
Clean polypropylene with glass cleaner just as you would a glass surface. In many ways, this is a great substitute for a glass surface, but it adheres better. It won’t flex and is smooth, so you’ll get a smooth first layer with this surface.
You will likely want to wait an extra minute for the build surface to heat up as it’s a thicker (usually 4mm) surface attached to the build plate using small binder paperclips.
This might be the best option to turn to if the standard BuildTac surface isn’t working for you.
Does Ender 3 have a heated bed?
Yes it does. This comes stock. If you add a different bed to the surface, like adding a glass bed, ensure that you give extra time for the extra bed surface to come up to temperature (as it sits on top of the heated build plate). The temperature can go as high as 110C, sufficient for printing PLA, PETG or ABS (although you’ll likely need an enclosure for ABS printing to minimize drafts).
How do you use a glass bed with Ender 3?
The bed will need to be clipped into place on top of the standard build surface of the printer. Use small binder paperclips to keep the surface in place. When printing, ensure that you leave time for the heated bed to heat the glass. This will take a little longer than the stock build surface. Give it about a minute for the temperature to rise in the glass. Use a thin coat of hairspray to make the surface tacky to ensure that the first layer sticks.