Tag Archives: painters’ tape

What a difference a year makes.

I’ve been printing with my Replicator1 for just about a year and a half now. Here’s what my Penny Catapult prints looked like when I started out. (This print’s a veteran of many Seej battles.)

And here’s what my prints look like after countless hours of learning and frustration and failure and learning.

That cross-grain seam in the catapult’s side arm is probably caused by two pieces of blue painters’ tape butting up against one another. I do all my PLA printing on painters’ tape whether I’m using my Rep1 or Printrbot Simple.

One major difference between these two prints is that the top is ABS and the bottom is PLA– after a year of working with both I’d have to say I definitely prefer PLA. It smells better and heats up more quickly, which saves precious minutes of printer warming when repeatedly iterating through a design.

You can get a mirror-finish base with ABS, but apart from that I can’t see a reason to bother with it. Most of my stuff doesn’t wind up in high-stress situations so the added strength isn’t much of a draw for me.

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:


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.

Once More, With Rigor

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on printing with PLA, where I claimed that the orientation of the painter’s tape on the build platform is important to the stick-to-it-ive-ness of a PLA print.

But is it? Really?

A comment from CymonsGames (who’s doing some great stuff on Thingiverse, BTW) got me thinking. Is this 3d-printing feng shui, or is this a real effect? Does the grain of the painter’s tape matter? It worked once yesterday.

But anecdotes ain’t data, people. Imma test this.

I’ll try and remove as many variables as possible from the experiment, but since my basement clean room is currently occupied by an eldritch horror I’m stitching together from abattoir scraps, I’ve got my Replicator in the living room and ambient temperature control isn’t really possible. It’ll be somewhere between 64° and 69°F.

I made a special model for this print test: it’s just a 30x30x2mm solid with a raised zheng on it.

And some skeuomorphic rivets. Because, rivets.

Most importantly, this model is thin, so I can run this print a bunch of times quickly.

ReplicatorG Settings:
10% infill
.22 layer height
print 240° on first layer, 210° afterwards
HBP: 35°C

I used fresh tape before every print, all from the same roll. The first three prints were with front-to-back tape, the next three were with side-to-side tape. All tape was the same stuff, 3M Scotch 2090-1A ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape.

Minor tip: Make sure you have tape everywhere that you plan to lay down PLA, especially the homing line from the corner of the build platform to the start of the print. If you miss that little detail, your print head may end up dragging a blob of plastic all over your first surface and mess with the print.

Here are the results:

In summary: these tests don’t show much difference in stickiness with different orientations of painter’s tape.

I even mixed up the orientations just to see if I could mess up the print. No good. Every print looked more or less the same except for a little curling on front-to-back #1.

The information contained in that last post is no longer operative. Put your tape on side-to-side, front-to-back, whatever gets you through the day.

Scientific method. For great justice.

Printing on Painters’ Tape

Here’s a little tip that would have saved me some grief and troubleshooting when printing with PLA on painters’ tape with my MakerBot Replicator 1.

The orientation of the tape matters.

Lay your tape front-to-back on your build platform, not side-to-side.

Look at this photo (of blue PLA on blue painters’ tape, so click to embiggen):

See where the front-to-back tape ends, and the side-to-side tape creates a rats’ nest of tangled PLA filaments?

Now look at the same print, but with front-to-back tape covering the print surface:

Much, much better adhesion. Fun new model coming soon, so watch this space.