Category Archives: troubleshooting

Clearing a Jammed Filament

printrbot calibration fails

In the beginning, One does not know that which One does not know. The Dark Art of 3D printing is shrouded in a miasma of confusion and rage and smug forum posts, and One despairs.

With time, kobolds and goblins and glitches and bugs fall beneath one’s blade as vermin are wont to do, and One’s place at the tavern edges ever closer towards the dim corner where the new Ones timidly approach to receive their quests.

And when One’s troubleshooting reflexes are honed vorpal-sharp, One is a scythe to trouble, or a rapier, or a headsman’s axe, and no issue endures the coming of dusk.


As troubleshooting goes, this is an easy one, but the trick to it is recognizing when it’s happening. This happens on my Replicator, too, it’s just a thing with FDM printing.

The Symptom: The extruder motor pulls the filament in for a few centimeters, and then stops. You can’t feel the motion of the filament between your fingers any more. The extruder motor continues to chug to no effect.

The Problem: A small piece of filament has snapped off inside the extruder, past the drive gear’s ability to move it further. This filament scrap is blocking the new filament from entering the hot end.

The Solution: Remove the hot end from the extruder assembly by backing out the screws that hold it in. Place the hot end on a non-flammable surface and heat it up to 200°C or so. Remove the offending filament with pliers. Let the hot end cool down and then replace it.

Pro tip: an animal-print workspace brings the boys to the yard. Gridded workspaces are sooooooo 2012.

Printrbot Simple: First Impressions


Lao Zheng's Printrbot Simple

In mid-May I got all hopped up on endorphins from 6AM yoga and BAM! right there in my Twitter feed was an offer. The first N users who bought a Printrbot Simple would save $50 off the already low, low price of $300. My impulse control weakened by the flush of healthy qi, I had one in my shopping cart within two minutes, or roughly the time it takes me to huff and puff four sun salutations.

Two-fiddy plus shipping isn’t a budget breaker for a 3d printed squirrel magnate, and the gnomes at Interdimensional Bank of Zheng say we haven’t skimmed anything off the upgrades fund in a while, so why not, indeed.

A quick note for anyone thinking they might purchase this printer once it’s out of beta in June and available to folks other than the lucky N.

if (eval(‘yourTime’)>=eval(‘yourMoney’)):
     buyADifferent3DPrinter()
else:
     thisIsThePrinterForYou()


If you’re a high school student with a few hundred bucks and a weekend to burn, grabbing the Printrbot Simple is a no-brainer. If you own a complete set of matching stemware, look elsewhere for your first 3D printer. Especially if your only exposure to 3D printing so far has been the SkyMall catalog.

Make no mistake, even more so than the Replicator1, this is a hacker’s 3D printer. You’re like two steps up from a homebrew RepRap when you get into the Printrbot Simple. If tweaking and calibration and watching prints fail while you dial in gCode ain’t your thing, purchase a different printer.

On the other hand: right after I made my first successful print on the Simple I was mobbed by Brazilian bikini models. Your mileage may vary.

On the gripping hand: as an instructional tool, the impact of the Printrbot Simple can’t be overstated. Anyone who assembles, calibrates, and prints with this bot is going to learn buckets about the ins and outs of 3D printing at a granular level.

Best of all, at $299, it’s relatively inexpensive. I’d be disappointed if hundreds of these bots don’t find their way into high school STEM clubs.

Well-to-do techie parents looking to build a 3D printer with their tweens might be the sweet spot for this bot, but Mom or Dad should be prepared to sneak back to the basement after bedtime to put in an hour or two of extra build time.

The Build

warning The Simple is a beta, so there are guaranteed to be some bumps along the road. It ships as a kit, so you’ve got to put it together yourself. You’re also paying someone else for the privilege of beta testing their hardware, which is a genius business model if ever there was one. Fortunately Printrbot is up front about that fact; “BETA” is laser-etched onto the build platform. You buys your ticket, you takes your chances.

Printrbot describes the build difficulty as “moderate.”

I am reminded of the time I went to the Thai place across town that isn’t my usual Thai place and I ordered the larb with a 7 on the 1 to 10 spicy scale which is where I like it but they use a different hotness scale and hoo doggies that’ll burn tomorrow on the way out but I could still mostly finish it. Ach, mein ass.

So maybe Printrbot’s definition of moderate is different than mine.

I’m not a complete idiot. I can read English and make logical deductions, I’ve got a well-stocked toolbox, I have an amateur’s burgeoning knowledge of electronics, and I’m not afraid to jimmy-jim-jim a part to get it to work. Surprisingly, given my pyrotechnic proclivities as a pup, I still have all ten fingers. I have a SparkFun wish list, for the love of Pete.

Even with my bona fides, I still find Printrbot’s estimate of one to two hours for assembly of the Printrbot Simple wildly optimistic. I’m sure there are wizards from the Printrbot community who can wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am this printer into a finished state in that time, but coming at this build cold I’ve probably got 8 hours put in over the course of three days. Keep build time in mind while you’re salivating over that $300 price tag.

Printrbot’s marketing claims that you can put this together with only a screwdriver. Maybe, if you’re the Last Son of Krypton or you have vise grips for hands. There are a few tools that will make this process much easier:

  • you’ll need super glue.
  • it amazes me that my kit didn’t include an Allen wrench. Maybe Printrbot figures that IKEA has acheived such market penetration that the probability of an Allen wrench being within reach is approaching 1.0 for a given location in the Western hemisphere.
  • a cordless drill with an Allen bit will speed up the assembly considerably.
  • a metric/Imperial ruler so you can tell the different bolts and screws apart
  • scissors or a hobby knife– you’ll be cutting fishing line.
  • an adjustable wrench, and maybe an M3 socket.
  • needlenose pliers
  • zip ties. You’re going to need a lot more zip ties than are included with the beta to manage all those cables.
  • painters’ tape for the print bed. No sense in marring that nice birch any more than you have to.

Most people willing to tackle this process are going to have this stuff in the toolbox anyway, I just include the list because I’m a huge fan of deflating marketing hype by emptoring my caveats.

There’s a point during assembly where one must gently fit two steel rods through laser cut plywood holes; these are the rods that stabilize the extruder arm as it traverses the lead screw. The holes are cut to very fine tolerances, so much so that it can be difficult to push the rods through.

I recommend that you put your steel rods in the freezer maybe an hour before you get started on the build. Thermal contraction will temporarily shrink them just enough to get them through the plywood. Once they warm up again they’ll be nice and snug.


rods in the freezer

Be prepared to slightly modify some of the parts that came with the kit to get them to fit. The laser cut plywood all fit together perfectly, but I had to file down the plastic edges of my hot end so that it fit into the extruder assembly. I accidentally stripped the wood around an M3 nut and had to super glue the nut in.

Not a big deal for your average maker geek, but someone expecting a snap-together 3D printer is going to be sorely disappointed around hour three. You can see where my file chewed up the top of the hot end in the closeup below.


hot end

Suggestions for Printrbot

I’d like Printrbot to etch more directions onto the wooden parts of the printer. Etched labels like “this side faces out” would be very helpful in determining orientation during the build. I got turned around a few times and ended up dismantling and reassembling the previous two steps of my build.

At the end of each step, a photo of the entire printer from multiple angles could help a lot. I kept getting disoriented and had to backtrack or skip ahead to find out what part went where.

Once you get the bot together the first print is very satisfying, but along the way there is likely to be some gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Here’s a test print of a small cylinder that I did, just to make sure everything was put together properly.


first print

Calibrating the Printrbot Simple so that your prints are the right scale is a whole other can of worms. I’ll get into that in a subsequent post sometime in the next few days. Watch this space.

MakerWare 2.1.061 Review

TL;DR summary: MakerWare is rapidly maturing, and while the UI is easier to use than ReplicatorG, I had a lot of difficulty getting anything more than a basic print out of it. I’m hopeful for the next version, but in the meantime I’m sticking with ReplicatorG.

This is my third review of MakerWare. The first. two. reviews showed the software to be promising but beset with enough problems so as to be unusable. Some problems persist, but the usability’s taken a big step up.

The biggest change I’ve made to my setup is upgrading the Replicator Dual’s firmware to the most recent version. This fixes the MakerWare connectivity problems I was having a month ago, and also makes the Replicator quieter and faster. I jumped from 5.4 to 7.2, and frankly I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

I’ve started aiding the printerless by offering prints of some models on Etsy. A recent order for a set of three Magic: The Gathering +1/+1 counters prompted me to download the new MakerWare to try printing multiple models with a dualstrustion printer.

MTG +1/-1 Counters

downloadThese are small models and they should print quickly, which makes them ideal test subjects. (These counters are available in The Forge, so go ahead and print some for your local Friday Night Magic game. Tell ’em Zheng sent ya.)

Launching MakerWare shows me a familiar interface, including the NYC skyline that I’ve maligned in the past as an unprofessional distraction to the process of 3D printing. I have it on decent authority that this image is the view from Brooklyn, which makes sense given that MakerBot’s HQ is there.

MakerWare Launch

The story of the Brooklyn Renaissance has progressed from interesting to beating a dead horse with a twee-stick. I’m sure it’s great to live in a land where the streets are paved with locally-sourced artisanal chutneys, but give me the option to turn the image off, please. I hear enough about how awesome Brooklyn is from reading Gawker. Or replace it with a truly iconic skyline, like Chicago’s. OH, SNAP. Yes I did, New York.

Back to the review: I reach into my Bag of Holding, withdraw an STL, and MakerWare puts it in the center of the build space, defaulting to white plastic for the build material.

first import

I Command-C/Command-V twice, and now I’ve got three +1/+1 counters. This little feature is far and away my favorite improvement MakerWare makes over grizzled warhorse ReplicatorG. The GUI’s very easy to use when it comes to duplicating and arranging objects on the build platform.

Three counters

Minor feature request: I’d like to be able to select multiple items and group them the way I can in Illustrator, so that I can click one and rotate/scale/translate the group around a common origin. This functionality is kinda-sorta of implemented with a drag across multiple items, but there’s always a chance you’ll grab something else on the build platform by accident.

I import a new item (the -1/-1 counter) and it shows up at the origin, which I guess is to be expected but I have trouble selecting it because another very similar item is in the same spot. I try to move it out of the way and I end up screwing up my placement and I have to start over.

This time I import a single instance of each counter. There is no snap-to-grid option that I can find, but there is an Auto-Layout feature that easily separates the models and places them independently on the platform. Very nice.

Auto Layout

Next. I want to print the -1/-1 in black, and the +1/+1 in red. This is pretty easy to do. Click the instance you want to change and then click the Object button. Select the extruder you want to use. In my case I’ve preloaded the Replicator Dual with black on the right and red on the left.

There’s a color swatch in the Object popup, but clicking on it doesn’t bring up a color picker the way I’d expect it to. Instead I have to go to Preferences, which seems like a weird place to change an object’s settings. I guess if you’re thinking that you’re setting the preferences for the bot it makes sense, but I prefer to think about the object I’m building rather than the tool I’m using.

Object Color

It’s easy to make the +1/+1 counter red, and now I’ll just copypasta the pair of counters and I’ve got three of each. So far, so good.

Ready to Print

I click the make button and get a bunch of well-organized settings, but I’m going to pretend I have no idea what I’m doing and just accept most of the “High Quality” defaults.

I’ve never managed to get a print to work on a Replicator Dual with lower than .18 layer height, but the High Quality settings default to .1 layer height. Either that’s a theoretical minimum that better geeks than me have reached, or it’s a minor oversight in the software. I change the layer height to .2 just to be safe.

My first print fails due to an off-kilter build platform and I have to cancel it from the bot. This isn’t a MakerWare-specific problem– it can and does happen with any software.

Feature request: It’d be nice to have a “try” again button, because now I’m waiting for the slice to finish again. It seems odd to me that MakerWare isn’t caching the most recent slice operation so I can try again quickly. Failed prints aren’t exactly rare as hens’ teeth, and this slice-fail-repeat pattern is really slowing me down.

I re-slice, wait, and try again. This time, it turns out the left extruder head is slightly higher than the right. The first layer of red counter goes to la-la-land, crashes into the emerging black counter, and the whole print goes kablooie. I cancel, get out a wrench, and adjust the hardware while the extruder nozzle is still warm.

This is frustrating, but not unexpected in the world of home 3D printing. So I try to keep things simple, and go back to printing a single color print of a single -1/-1 counter with Make it Now. Success.

Success

I need to print two more of these, so I Make To File and export the gCode. The gCode file is ready in a few seconds.

Export to File defaults to .x3g, so if you’re not poking around in there or haven’t RTFM’d you won’t even know gCode’s an option. You can’t print an .x3g file directly from MakerWare, at least not in this version.

I choose File->Make It from File (this really should be an option under the Make button) and a dropdown appears. I click Make It and the build fails before it even gets to the printer. It tells me to look at the log to see what happened. I see a bunch of cryptic errors in the logs that I’m unqualified to troubleshoot. I’m abandoning this method for now, and I’ll just print two more single copies of the -1/-1 counter, slice delay and all.

I’ll also need some red +1/+1 counters, so in the interest of keeping it simple I import the STL, change the color of the instance to red, and discover a bug shortly after I hit the Make It button. This version of MakerWare doesn’t like single-extruder prints with the left nozzle for some reason.

The Replicator goes through the motions, tracing an empty line on the build platform, but the extruder’s not heating up. It’s got residual heat from a previous attempt, but it’s not getting hotter.

doesn't heat up

But. Both extruders work just fine if I try a dualstrusion print again, now that I’ve leveled the HBP and made sure my nozzles are both at the same height. They work just fine in that they manage to extrude plastic, but they do that job just a little too well.

Both prints have these filament morgellons sticking out of them. Close observation during the print reveals that a little bit of filament continues to seep out of the nozzle as the machine switches colors. That tuft of filament catches on the print the next time the extruder sweeps over the top layer. Maybe this could be fixed in gCode by running the extruder drive motors in reverse for a bit in-between colors. I dunno.

morgellons

This is more cleanup than I want to get into. Probably better to print one color at a time.

At this point my effit-o-meter’s in the red zone, so I give up and go back to printing with ReplicatorG. It looks like MakerWare is sufficently advanced to handle a simple import-and-print operation, but for more complicated operations I’d prefer software that allows for quick and easy print iterations.

Verdict: Still waiting for MakerWare to live up to its potential. I’m looking forward to the next version, but for now the software is a perfectly cromulent way to troubleshoot away your Saturday morning.

Dualstrusion with MakerWare Beta 2.0

TL;DR summary: The UI’s handy and the MakerBot slicer is mind-blowingly fast, but I had a great deal of difficulty getting a dualstrustion to print with MakerWare.

I opened a support ticket with MakerBot yesterday, trying to get MakerWare to connect to my bot over USB. If you’ve read yesterday’s post you’ve seen the litany of troubleshooting steps I’ve already tried. Today I’m thinking maybe I’m due for a firmware upgrade, but we’ll see what MBI has to say before I fix things that are only slightly broken.

While I’m waiting for that request to percolate through the support structure I thought I’d try a workaround: printing from the SD card. I’m interested to see how MakerWare’s new dualstrustion generation works, because ReplicatorG’s method is a little kludgey.

This is MakerWare 2.0.1.211 running on OSX 10.6.8.

I’m going to print my Magic: The Gathering Vampire and Cat tokens, because I already have black and white ABS filaments loaded. One color for each token.

I import the cat and MakerWare helpfully asks me if i’d like to put the model on the build platform. Yes, yes, I would like to do that.

cat

I can command-c/command-v to copy and paste multiple cats onto the platform, and Makerware automatically places them next to each other. This is quite a nice little feature.

Just for fun I see if MakerWare will let duplicate cats off into empty space. It does.

lots of cats

The delete key rapidly relieves me of my extra cats. Next I import the vampire. The vampire and cat are cohabitating, which needs to be fixed before I can print. That’s a simple click and drag.

cohabitation

I’d like to have a keyboard shortcut for “Add,” if anyone from the dev team is reading this.

MTG Vampires are either black or red, so I need to change the vampire’s color. I click the vampire token and then the Object button, which brings up the properties of this instance.

There’s a strange, unused text field under the dropdown menu. No idea what this is for. I can’t click or type in it.

text field

Ah. It turns out this alleged text field is a white color swatch indicating the color of the model. I find this out when I go to change the cat’s color. A label would be helpful here for first-time naïfs like myself.

It’d be nice to have a double-click on the color swatch bring up a color picker. As is I have to go to the Settings button on the other side of the screen.

I go to change the color of the extruders in Settings, and MakerWare crashes.

changing colors

So. I retrace my steps and I’m back in business in two minutes.

Exporting the .thing to a file is a single click of the Make button, and I don’t have to mess with any settings here. I just choose “High Quality.”

welcome

Out of curiosity I poke into the Advanced settings. The speed while extruding /traveling seems really fast to me– I’m usually printing around 45/65 and MakerWare defaults to 80/150.

But I’ll give it a go since I’m trying to approach this software as if I’m a n00b who just unboxed my machine.

Skeinforge is the default slicer for High quality. The slice starts OK, and then seems to hang around 66%. I’ll give it a few more minutes and then try again.

I come back three minutes later and the slice weirdly jumps back to 33%. Two minutes later it does some “Weave” business, then a print-to-file step, and finally it’s done! Total slice time, about 15 minutes.

Remember I can’t print via USB yet, I’m exporting a .s3g file and then printing from the Replicator’s SD card slot.

The first layer looks like this:

fail

It looks like some piece of software, either MakerWare or Skeinforge, forgot to take the cat offset into account when building the gCode for this print.

So I try it again with the MakerBot slicer, which slices so quickly at first I think something’s wrong. It takes literally less than 30 seconds.

I believe that somewhere between 1.0 and 2.0 the in-application name of this slicer got changed from Miracle Grue to MakerBot Slicer. This is disappointing.

This print, too, failed in exactly the same fashion, so it’s not Skeinforge that’s the problem. I’m looking askance at you, MakerWare.

So I move the cat over a little bit, to force the geometry to change in the reslice.

nudged

Also, as long as I’m here I’m going to drop the travel speeds to something I’m more comfortable with; the machine’s rattling violently at the default speeds. Here’s the result, still overlapping.

fail

I’ll try one last time with plenty of distance between the models printing at 45/65 travel rates.

fail

And finally I get something close to a decent print.

final

The vampire printed fine, but there are little bits of black filament embedded in the white plastic– I have no idea how they got there. They don’t look like they rubbed off the left extruder head, and they don’t show up when I print models with a single extruder.

My hunch is that this is an atypical dualstrusion print– maybe I had such a hard time because MakerWare thinks all dualstrusion prints are intended to be fused together and not two models separated by a lot of space. I can’t say for sure.

It’s disappointing. MakerWare’s got a lot of promise but it’s not going to be a regular part of my workflow for a while.

MakerWare 2.0 Beta: First Look

TL;DR summary: I was all excited to check out the performance of this new software, but couldn’t connect to my Replicator Dual even after extensive troubleshooting. I’m sticking with ReplicatorG for now.

This is MakerWare 2.0.1.211 running on OSX 10.6.8.

The download: the DMG for this called the MakerWare Bundle of Awesome; MBI remains lighthearted even in its mundane business details. I’m downloaded and installed in less than a minute. So far, so good.

The first thing I notice when I launch the application, even before the “What’s New” dialog, is that they’ve replaced the old gradient background with a subtle cityscape.

welcome

The software asks which MakerBot I’ll be using today. I’ll just select my Replicator Dual, now second from the bottom in the drop-down menu, and continuing its descent into obsolescence as progress trudges on.

The first thing I want to do is turn off the cityscape. I’m used to design applications that get out of the artist’s way– Photoshop, Maya, Illustrator, all these give me the option to eliminate geegaws and focus on the work at hand. I’d like an RGB 161,161,161 background, please.

I click the settings button in the upper right. No luck there, but it’s nice to be able to change my object display colors. So I go to MakerWare->Preferences, hoping maybe there’s some advanced settings there. Nope, it opens the same dialog.

I can’t find a place to turn the background off, so it looks the the cityscape is here to stay. Moving on.

Before I can print anything, I’ll have to connect to my Replicator. The broken USB cable button in the lower right looks helpful, so I click it. I get a notice that my Replicator Dual isn’t connected, and an option to “Export to File,” which I assume lets me save my bot settings.

not connected

I poke through the menus, looking for something that’s obviously “Connect to Machine.” Can’t find it. Must be an autodetect? I’ll quit and restart.

MakerWare starts up and some status boxes appear and disappear telling me that the Replicator is connected *and* disconnected. Don’t blink, you might miss it. The bot still doesn’t appear to be connected, since that USB cable icon is broken.

UI Design tip: the “sheared cable” icon might imply that the cable’s just really, really long; a less ambiguous visual cue would be a big red X over the icon.

Twenty years of talking relatives through hardware problems over the phone tells me the next logical thing to do is power cycle the bot.

The bot chirps its happy startup song and I see the same connected/disconnected status boxes fade in and out. As far as I can tell, I’m still not connected to the bot.

Sometimes the USB ports on my laptop get a little fussy, so I’ll try moving the cable around. Same results: still a disconnected Replicator.

So I click the Help button. It’s all UI help. Useful, no doubt, but not in my present circumstance.

help screen

I had some trouble with MakerWare 1.0 and the conveyor background services, so I’ll try turning those off and on again. No good.

Now I reach way way down into my troubleshooting bag of tricks, into the late 80’s. Turn everything off and on again, and restart from scratch.

Still no connection between the software and the hardware. MakerBot’s support page tells me to go to Services->Restart background service. I’ve done that already, but OK, let’s give it another go.

Still no connection. Just to make sure I’m not a complete idiot, I quit MakerWare and hop over to ReplicatorG to see if I can connect there. ReplicatorG connects instantly, so this is definitely a MakerWare problem.

Ok, big guns. Go to Terminal and ps -ef | grep conveyor. Find the conveyor process and kill -9 it, so I can restart it from MakerWare. This is the Unix equivalent of taking off and nuking the site from orbit.

Go back to MakerWare and restart the service. MakerWare crashes after a few seconds of spinning beachball. Maybe kill -9 was a bit much.

Restarting shows me a services error.

services error

ReplicatorG still works.

I try an uninstall/reinstall, using the uninstaller provided in the disk image. I’m back to the broken USB icon again.

Meh. I’ll try a workaround tomorrow, printing from the SD card so I can evaluate the UI and printing experience. In the meantime I’ll get in touch with MakerBot Support and see if we can’t figure out what’s up.

Repairing a Canon G11 Dial

I take most of the photos for my blog with a beat-up Canon PowerShot G11. It’s an older prosumer camera with a known hardware issue: the control dial for the manual settings will gradually fail, and setting exposure, shutter speed, and manual focus becomes progressively more difficult and eventually impossible.

The fix is pretty simple if you’ve got a small Phillips screwdriver, an electronics cleaning solvent, and some patience. I followed the steps on this forum, and took pictures with my phone as I went along.

Apparently the latest in the PowerShot line doesn’t have this problem, but I’m not one to skip a chance to vivisect a gadget. Also, the discretionary budget for electronics in Casa de Zheng is tapped out.

WARNING: This will void your warranty, might destroy your camera, yadda yadda yadda. Proceed at your own risk. Take the battery out first, so an errant slip of your screwdriver doesn’t short something in the camera.

Tinkering 101 tip: Have an ice cube tray, egg carton, or other segmented container handy to separate the screws for each step.

Also, never, ever work near a floor register. Trust me on this.

Step 1: Remove the screw next to the preview button.

Step 2: Remove the screws on the bottom of the camera.

Step 3: Remove the screws on the left side of the camera. The strap harness is a separate piece and will come off easily.

Step 4: Remove the screw on the right side of the camera, next to the AV door.

Step 5: Open the AV door and remove the screw inside.

Step 6: Gently pry open the case with a flat tool and pull the case straight back. Some fiddling may be required to get things apart. There’s a ribbon cable holding things together, so don’t yank too hard.

Step 7: Flip the little tab holding the ribbon cable in place upwards. Be gentle.

Step 8: Remove the clear plastic covering these screws, and then remove the screws. Gently pry the metal piece off, making sure to save the small L-shaped bracket on the lower left.

Here’s the the dial assembly.

Step 9: This is where the magic happens. Lift the front of the dial away from its contact pad a little bit. Don’t try to pop it off, just create some space between the two pieces. Spray your solvent into this space. I just dribbled some isopropyl alcohol in there and then rotated the dial around a bunch of times to clean out the mystery gunk that was causing my dial to fail.

Follow these steps in reverse order to reassemble. I used some packing tape to replace the plastic removed in step 8.

Getting the ribbon cable back into its socket can be a little tricky, but the rest of the case snaps back together in less than a minute.

The Emperor Wears No Kapton

The MakerBot 2X was just released, and I’m a little disappointed to see that MakerBot Industries hasn’t gotten rid of the Kapton tape part of the printing process yet. It’s easily the most frustrating part of working with the printer, and in a lot of cases it’s completely unnecessary.

For non-3D printer people who have stumbled across this blog post, Kapton tape is a space-age amber adhesive tape that one lays down on a build platform to help prints stick while printing. Kapton tends to bunch up and self-adhere, making the process of affixing it to the platform a real exercise in patience.

Without some adhesive assistance, prints slide all over the platform and you get a big bag of fail.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use a 2X yet, but I’ve been printing on a Replicator 1 for about a year and I’ve found a few workarounds that let me concentrate on designing stuff rather than getting my prints to stick to the first layer. Presumably these tips will apply to your shiny new 2X, too.

The models in all of the following photos were printed on a Replicator 1 using ABS of various colors, using the original Replicator firmware. I’m using ReplicatorG to slice.

HBP 110°
extruder 240°
layer height: .25 to .27
feedrate: 45
travel feedrate: 65
ReplicatorG 037
Skeinforge 50

I’m generally printing small models onto painter’s tape. The base on this squirrel is maybe 5 centimeters in radius.

squirrel token with NUNCHUCKS!

I get at least a 95% success rate printing these. (I need a lot of them because the kids and I use them as tokens in Magic: The Gathering.)

If you’d like a nunchuck squirrel of your own, download the STL here. Unarmed squirrel tokens also exist.

I was having such success printing tokens of all kinds on painters’ tape that for a while I was thinking Kapton was completely unnecessary until I tried to print a Dungeons and Dragons dice plinth.

painters tape plinth

See that circled gobbet of filament? That’s caused by not covering the entire platform with tape. The plastic won’t stick to bare aluminum, so when the extruder does its pre-print nozzle clearing it takes the extruded plastic along for the ride.

These gobbets can mess with your print if they get caught up in the print area, so it makes sense to cover the extruder path with a strip of tape.

Note where the edges of the dice plinth curled up from the platform. My understanding is that as layers of plastic cool, they contract and pull the lower layers of the print upwards. If you want to avoid this pulling, the first layer really has to stick to the platform.

The Sharpie marks around the print help me to make sure the build platform is locally level in the print area. I hardly bother with MakerBot’s platform leveling script anymore. I don’t see the point of having level platform corners if I’m not printing that far out, and getting level corners is a second exercise in patience that I just don’t have time for.

So. I lay down a small piece of Kapton in the build area only. Don’t bother trying to cover the whole build platform if you don’t need to. It’s much easier to work with that way.

I spread a liberal application of ABSynthe in the build area and then hit the print button again. Success. Those bubbles in the kapton are usually a problem, but with enough ABSynthe anything will stick to the HBP.

plinth with absynthe

Take a look at the difference between these two prints from the side. Painters’ tape on the left, Kapton with ABSynthe on the right.

plinth comparison

But, there’s a small downside to using ABSynthe: look at the bottoms of these prints:

underside

The ABSynthe I have at the workbench is a noisome slumgullion of every ABS filament color I have, which leaves a murky film on the bottom of the print. Note to self: make mono-colored ABSynthe for higher-quality prints.

Why not use ABSynthe on painter’s tape? I’ve tried it. The ABSynthe fuses with the tape and it can’t be removed from the bottom of the print without a lot of sanding.