Ever since the low-budget 3D printers began to spring up, one of the biggest challenges faced by their users was to ensure that the 3D models were properly attached to the printer bed. In the early years the printing makers coped with the problem in various ways – either by covering the bed with blue paint tape or by coating it with office glue or the so-called “ABS juice” – a solution of acetone and pieces of ABS. The launch of the BuildTak pad turned out to be the real breakthrough and became the best commercial alternative to the above-mentioned methods. However, it was not until the end of 2014, when with the arrival of the Spanish Dimafix the matter of adhesion took on a whole new meaning.
BuildTak has a major advantage and a disadvantage. It is very simple and user friendly – it is enough to stick it onto the 3D printer bed, calibrate the device again, based on its height, and start printing. Unfortunately, the pad wears out rather quickly and after 2-3 months of intensive use it needs to be replaced with a new one. Dimafix is different. Marketed in the form of spray, contains an adhesive that is activated at temperatures above 50°C. Just cover the surface of the bed, heat it up to the required temperature, and the material will adhere to its surface like a dream. When the print is over and the temperature of the bed drops, the printed model will easily come off from its surface.
BuildTak and Dimafix outlined the two paths of the development of adhesives for 3D printers, which is why alternatives quickly started to pop up. Interestingly, one of the companies that successfully launched their creation was the Polish CORO Technology – the producer of COROPad, a substitute for BuildTak, and of C-STICK, a substitute for Dimafix. Some time ago, we decided to test a few of these products, to determine if they differ from each other and whether any definitive leader could be pointed out.
For the purpose of the test I focused solely on the products sold in the form of a spray or an atomizer – the pads are too different in their usage and it is difficult to carry out a reasonable test that could assess whether they are better or worse than other adhesives. I used four products – two sprays and two atomizers – two Polish products and two foreign ones. I conducted the tests on the same 3D printer – Ultimaker 3, using two proprietary filaments of the producer – ABS and Nylon. I used four models – making two copies with each filament, printing a total of 16 models.
The test models were:
- a cube with a hole in the middle – used in nylon tests
- a long element from the Stormtrooper helmet – used in nylon tests
- a cube with a hole in the middle surrounded with an additional rim – used in ABS tests
- a structural element of a vice – used in ABS tests.
The tested formulas were evaluated in four categories:
- the appearance and the quality of packaging
- ease of use
- price-performance ratio
- efficiency of sticking the printed model to the bed surface.
The first place in a category would be awarded with 4 points, the second with 3, the third with 2, and the fourth place with 1. In addition, I defined an importance hierarchy for each category, trying to avoid a situation when 4 points for the appearance of the package would have the same value as 4 points for the effectiveness of the product itself. Therefore:
- the points for the first category remained in their original form
- the points for the second category were multiplied by 2
- the points for the third category were multiplied by 3
- the points for the fourth category were multiplied by 4.
Thus, the maximum number of points to be scored was 40 (4+8+12+16).
So much for introduction… Let’s meet the participants of our test!
1. C-STICK – an adhesive material in the form of a spray, manufactured by the Polish company CORO Technology. The product was presented in September 2016, during the VIII edition of 3D Printing Days in Warsaw. It was launched on the market in January 2017.
2. Dimafix – an adhesive agent in the form of a spray, produced by the Spanish company DIMA3D. Made its debut in the market in 2014, in early January 2015 appeared in Poland through Blackfrog.pl – its distributor in the country.
3. PrintaFix – one of the first adhesives in the form of an atomizer, produced by the Austrian AprintaPro. It has been marketed by get3D since 2016.
4. NeedIT – a Polish adhesive material in the form of an atomizer, manufactured and sold starting from 2016 by Seb-Comp.
Round 1 – the appearance and the quality of packaging
Although it seems like a less important factor, the majority of users tend to make an initial evaluation of a product on the basis of its looks. Being myself a sales and advertising creature, I believe that a good look of a product demonstrates whether the manufacturer is serious about his business. Of course, a beautiful packaging sometimes happens to conceal the weakness of the product, but it is usually characteristic of young markets – mature manufacturers know that in order to sell even the best product, they must provide it with a good cover.
The people from CORO Technology have not yet reached this stage. The C-STICK spray can looks awful and the cover graphics is more suitable for a floor product than a table adhesive for 3D printers. On the positive side, however, there is a simple, pictorial manual. Graphically it fits right into the terrible design of the whole thing, but at least it makes it perfectly clear how to use the agent.
Dimafix seems to be way more attractive. Both the design and the colouring are top notch. The manual is also aesthetic and legible. Definitely the winner in this category.
PrintaFix is a rather inconspicuous little bottle with a simple yet aesthetic label. When we strip off some of it, it reveals a very neat instruction manual together with graphs of temperatures at which the agent starts working. Unfortunately, after you peel it off and try to stick it back on, it starts to come off which is no longer that appealing. Nevertheless, it is clear that someone devoted a lot of time to the project and it should be appreciated. A strong second place.
If there is anything that could make CORO Technology not feel about their spray container like a fan of Nicki Minaj during Peter Gabriel’s concert, it is NeedIT’s packaging. If I were to evaluate it only on the basis of its appearance, the test would be performed only with the first three products. NeedIT’s packaging looks as if it came through time from the shelves of a communist chemist’s of the late 70’s and 80’s. What’s more, it becomes further deformed with time and use, and the sticker gets ruffled. Last place.
1. Dimafix – 4 points
2. PrintaFix – 3 points
3. C-STICK – 2 points
4. NeedIT – 1 points
Round 2 – ease of use
Spray agents are very easy to use. Unfortunately, there is one major drawback – when they’re applied to the bed of the 3D printer, they also tend to get onto the device itself. Moreover, we have to make sure that both the bed and the head of the 3D printer are cool – although I have never seen an adhesive spray ignite due to contact with a heated head (I do not know if that is possible at all). The manufacturers stipulate that the product should only be used on the glass bed after it was removed from the printer.
They are indeed flammable and exude a rather intense smell, which should not be inhaled for too long lest it affects our health. Therefore, the spray should be applied onto the removed glass – ideally next to an open window, or better yet in a large open space (a big warehouse maybe). In reality, this may only be done when you work with one or two 3D printers. I remember when we implemented several larger low-volume projects in 2015. We applied Dimafix onto Monkeyfab PRIME beds in a room with a dozen 3D printers. There was no time to remove 6-8 beds, spray them, put them back and check if the device was still calibrated – we did it right on printers.
It was a mistake… Besides the high concentration of the agent in the air, which required ventilation of the room, the adhesive would settle on the 3D printers themselves, creating a thick layer of glue on their components. With time, it began to have an impact on their work. Therefore, since then, I am an enthusiast of atomizers. They are really helpful when it comes to precise applying the adhesive on the bed itself, without having to remove it or risking other components of the device.
C-STICK covers the bed with a layer of glue. It should be shaken well before use, as the spray tends to condense and splatter thick stains. Water alone is not enough to remove it from the glass, a dried agent may need to be removed with a scraper.
Overall, this was not a procedure that had to be repeated often, but during my testing it seemed like a nuisance. In fact, even when we applied a thick layer of glue on a clean bed, it could be easily scraped off with a finger. Unfortunately, prolonged use lead to such outcome as mentioned earlier. C-STICK has the scent of “a chemical hair spray”. It is not intense but should definitely not be inhaled.
Dimafix has the same properties as C-STICK (or maybe rather the other way around), the difference being that the glue layer on the table is completely transparent and washes off with water easily. A very intense smell is a problem though – it is similar to that of C-STICK, but stronger.
Both products have one thing in common, once the models have been removed from the bed, the glue that was in contact with the printout comes off with it and the spray needs to be applied again on such a spot. Consequently, the glass needs to be removed again or the 3D printer may be sprayed over. It’s a nuisance, which is why I prefer atomizers.
PrintaFix is much easier to apply – although it requires some practice. It should be applied gently – if the button is pushed to the end, it spews up too much and creates a small puddle on the bed. PrintaFix is transparent – a longer use, that is applying it to the same spot on the bed, may cause it to spread unevenly over the surface. It is easily washed off with water. Unfortunately, it also has a strong smell.
NeedIT is a pleasant surprise! It has a pleasant, lemon scent (the manufacturer admits that it is no coincidence) and spreads on the surface of the bed really well. It has the same features as PrintaFix.
In the end, the differences between both sprays and atomizers are small, which is why I award the first place ex-aequo to PrintaFix and NeedIT and the third place both C-STICK and Dimafix.
1. PrintaFix – 8 points
NeedIT – 8 points
3. C-Stick – 4 points
Dimafix – 4 points
Round 3 – price-performance ratio
The adhesives are sold at the following prices:
- C-STICK – €11,55 for 400 ml
- Dimafix – €12,00 for 400 ml
- PrintaFix – €12,99 PLN for 100 ml
- NeedIT – €9,30 for 200 ml.
Although the sprays come in a bigger amount, the issue with their application leaves us with at least 20-30% (if not more…) less. Especially if we apply them outdoors when there’s any breeze. NeedIT is a leader in this category. It is the cheapest, has a relatively large capacity and practically 100% (or at least 95%) of the material always gets onto the 3D printer bed. We have been using it for about 3 months and so far we have used maybe 20% of its capacity.
PrintaFix turns out to be the worst in this respect – €12,99 for 100 ml, even with a good result in the percentage of it actually getting to the bed, it is quite a high price…
1. NeedIT – 12 points
2. C-STICK – 9 points
3. Dimafix – 6 points
4. PrintaFix – 3 points
Round 4 – efficiency of sticking the printed model to the bed surface.
Let us move on to the most important part of the test – the quality assessment of the particular adhesives. As I mentioned in the beginning, I have performed the tests on the Ultimaker 3 printer using two proprietary filaments – first, I tested Nylon, then ABS. All my 3D prints were made with the default CURA slicer settings for the given filament. The tests took just over two weeks – throughout this time, the printer only printed the test models – I did not change the filament to any other, nor did I use any other adhesives.
What is important – I did not mix the adhesives. After the work with one material was finished, the glass of the bed was thoroughly cleaned and covered with another.
C-STICK vs. Nylon
The beginning of the test and a first big surprise! Ultimaker’s nylon completely refused to cooperate with C-STICK. When printing a detail from the Stormtrooper helmet, the model would become deformed already during the first hour of printing. The deformation would be so big that I had to stop the print. After the bed was covered with another layer of the adhesive the second attempt also ended in a fiasco.
Unfortunately, the cube did not come out better… After printing about 25% of its height, the model was deformed enough to break away from the bed. The result…?
To make sure that I did not miss anything, or did anything wrong, after completing all the tests described below, I gave the helmet detail one more try. Despite applying a really solid layer of C-STICK the effect was exactly the same… When consulting with the manufacturer, I was informed that CORO Technology never declared their product to work with nylons and polyamides. It is supposed to be designed to work with such materials as: ABS, ASA, SAN, HIPS, TPE, PET, PLA and related. 1 point.
Dimafix vs. Nylon
As I was already convinced that the models I selected are just too difficult for 3D nylon printing, Dimafix transpired to be a pleasant surprise for a change. Both details were printed correctly, despite the fact that some dimensional deviations did appear on them. The detail of the helmet was higher on one side by more than 1 mm, and the cube was slightly distorted on one side. 2 points.
PrintaFix vs. Nylon
PrintaFix has done even better. Although the detail of the helmet was slightly contracted too, the deformation was definitely smaller than with Dimafix. The cube printout was flawless. 3 points.
NeedIT vs. Nylon
However, the winner of the first stage of the test was NeedIT. Both models stuck to the print bed perfectly. 4 points.
C-STICK vs. ABS
This time everything went well – even too well… Neither of the test models was deformed, however, when one of the printouts was being removed from the table, a piece of glass came off with it… Later, when we turned the models upside down it appeared that they were slightly deformed underneath, which could be seen by the different colouring of their surface… Nevertheless, the printouts may be considered to be correct. 2 points.
Dimafix vs. ABS
Everything came out perfectly with this product. No visible deformations were visible on the models and the bottom of both parts was perfectly smooth. Dimafix is definitely better with ABS than with nylon. 4 points.
PrintaFix vs. ABS
While nylon printing proved to be satisfactory with PrintaFix, it was much worse with ABS. There was really a lot of deformations. During the printing of the two-piece model, a few minutes before the end there was a power outage (the printing took place at night). The differences in model height were insignificant though, so I decided the test to be conclusive and I did not repeat it. 1 point.
NeedIT vs. ABS
NeedIt also demonstrated its value really well, although the final result was not as perfect as with Dimafix, so in this part of the test we had to recognize the superiority of the other adhesive. 3 points.
Summing up of the points:
- C-STICK – 3 points
- Dimafix – 6 points
- PrintaFix – 4 points
- NeedIT – 7 points.
1. NeedIT – 16 points
2. Dimafix – 12 points
3. PrintaFix – 8 points
4. C-STICK – 4 points
THE FINAL SCORE:
1. NeedIT – 37 points
2. Dimafix – 26 points
3. PrintaFix – 22 points
4. C-STICK – 19 points
I am very (positively!) surprised with the result of the test. It turned out that the cheapest adhesive (and in terms of packaging the ugliest one) worked best. Even if we skip the first three categories and focus only on the effects of the actual work – NeedIT still takes first place. It does win with Dimafix just by inches, however, when we take into account the aspect of price and usability, it is clear that this is the best choice of all the tested four.
Of course, it remains unclear how the adhesive will behave with materials from other manufacturers and with other 3D printers. Nevertheless, I do not think NeedIT is going to work worse – possibly, the other products may achieve better results than with Ultimaker 3 and its dedicated filaments.
As for now I believe that Seb-Comp firm should consider changing the packaging, because even though their product is fantastic, its appearance definitely will not foster sales success…