Most people who want to enter the 3D printing industry first think either about manufacturing and selling of 3D printers or about services performed with them. The clever ones enter into filament sales, and recently there has been a plethora of micro-enterprises which conduct workshops on the basics the FDM 3D printing in their “Training Centers”. All the while, 3D printers are vastly more versatile and it does not necessarily mean exceptionally innovative things or game changing revolutions… In November last year, I described a Kickstarter project by the Additive Solutions company, offering color casings for Makerbot Replicator 2. The idea – rather trite, if you get down to it, allowed the company to gain funding 2.5 times bigger than requested and to operate successfully today. The Ideal Jacobs Corporation had a similar idea, but unlike Additive Solutions, it was not limited to only one 3D printer model. Instead of creating personalized casings, they decided to solve one of the RepRap’s biggest problems – the issue of sticking prints to the build plate.
Since the very beginning of RepRaps, the adhesion of the printed models to the surface was one of the key problems. In order to resolve it, several methods are used:
- 3D printing on a heatbed (PLA and ABS)
- 3D printing on blue tape (PLA)
- 3D printing on the Kapton tape
- 3D printing on the so called “ABS juice” (pieces of ABS dissolved in acetone)
- 3D printing on water-soluble glue
- 3D printing on a layer of hair spray.
Each of these methods has its good and bad sides. The best choice is to use the heatbed, however, it involves a higher cost of the device (mind that ABS in general should not be printed without a heatbed). Using the tapes means we will need to buy them constantly and then stick them the appropriate way. The ABS juice is not environment friendly nor good for your health, whereas glue or hairspray tend to be unreliable in certain types of materials. Either way, except for the heatbed, all the above solutions are rather unprofessional, and while they may aid the work with the 3D printer, they hinder it in a way too.
There are companies that solved the problem yet another way – Up! and Zortrax use plates with a perforated surface that does not require anything beyond a raft (an initial print layer, which detaches from the printed model). This solution works best in my opinion, as it does not require any other action with the build plate before printing – just upload the file with the model and start printing (the plate of course must be pre-heated, which is standard in both companies’ 3D printers). The 3D printing of the first layer is done at exactly the same rate as the other ones, you do not need to slow your device down to a ridiculously low speed in order to prevent the first layer from peeling off accidentally.
I do not understand why other 3D printers manufacturers do not use this solution rather than plates made of glass, acrylic or metal. The American Ideal Jacobs Corporation also decided not to analyze the subject and instead decided to make money on it. Thus, BuildTak was created – a special sheet for 3D printers’ build plates, enabling 3D printing without the need of other auxiliary materials (except the heatbed, of course).
A BuildTak sheet for testing was provided to us by its reseller, Get3D. At first I wanted to do a very thorough job – I wanted to try it with several types of materials, document the tests with dozens of pictures, write down all the available 3D printer settings. But already during the first print I knew it was pointless… BuildTak is simply great – all the problems I had with the beginning of printing just disappeared. When I tested the sheet on Monkeyfab’s Prime 3D for the first time, it felt as if I was printing on Up! or Zortrax – I just started printing and it got printed…
BuildTak comes in several formats: 139 x 139 mm, 165 x 254 mm, 203 x 203 mm, 254 x 228 mm, 254 x 254 mm and, depending on the size, costs from PLN 24 to PLN 68 (gross). Get3D provided me with the 203 x 203 mm one. The installation of the sheet is simple, although the old, tried and tested method should be used:
- first thoroughly clean the plate, with alcohol, acetone or any other degreaser,
- then, peel off some protective film from the bottom and stick the top of the sheet at the top of the plate,
- gradually glue the whole sheet peeling the film off of the bottom; all the while press the sheet’s consecutive parts to prevent the formation of air bubbles between the plate and the sheet.
When the BuildTak is glued, the plate should be re-leveled relative to the printhead. In case of Monkeyfab Prime the plate’s level rose up so much that I did not have the possibility of adjusting its height and had to raise the “zero point” of the Z axis… It was enough to place a 1-cent coin under the endstop 🙂
It is particularly important as BuildTak is made of plastic and if pressed against a printhead heated up to 200° – 250° Celcius, it just gets melted. Once we have set the “zero point” and leveled the plate, we can start printing.
Working with BuildTak
If you work with the PLA, then it is easy, simple and pure fun. Just start printing and the material successfully sticks to a cold plate. In my tests I used the blue Noviplast from Get3D. I started with simple models, such as the LITTLE BUILDER digger or various types of phone casings. After five successful prints I decided to try to print something really difficult – the Lament Configuration Case. The filament adhered without a problem – and it was still on a cold plate.
The next material that I picked for testing was the Taulman’s t-glase. It is a very problematic material, despite several previous attempts, I had not managed to print anything from it yet. The t-glase either did not stick to the plate at all (a cold or hot glass – dry or covered with glue), or after printing 1-2 layers the printhead ripped away what had been printed so far. With BuildTak’s help I was successful already the second time around. The speed and adequate leveling of the plate proved to be crucial (more information on this topic may be found in the t-glase reviews). Either way, the most extreme of 3D printing materials which I had ever used was now tamed and it was largely due to the sheet!
When it comes to removing the prints, in the case of PLA and t-glase there are no particular problems – in extreme cases you need to use a scraper and gently pry it off. If the head is too close and the sheet is pressed against the plate, a piece of the print may get stuck to the plate. This happened in the case of the “Lament”, where some small pieces of the print got crumbled. The bottom of the printouts looks very interesting – it is smooth, although a delicate granularity can be felt to the touch, same as on the surface of the BuildTak sheet.
I did not manage to test the ABS yet, however, some users have reported that the problems with removing the printouts are considerably larger and require some proper technique in the case of this material . If it is done incompetently, either the printout or the sheet itself may be destroyed.
There is really only one – the sheet has a limited lifetime and over time it just wears out. After printing there may be some marks on the sheet – strands that may be removed with a scraper, or wiped off with some traditional glass cleaning agent. Do not use acetone or alcohol to clean BuildTak, it can get damaged this way. Removing of the ABS printouts is yet another issue – it has been reported that after five days of intensive use the sheet became disfigured and a hole appeared in it, because of some harsh manipulations with the scraper when removing the prints. Finally, incompetent or careless calibration of the printhead may cause the heated head to melt a fragment of the sheet.
BuildTak – despite some flaws and imperfections is a godsend. Working with the sheet considerably improves the quality of work with a RepRap class 3D printer and improves the output quality. No more experiments with various types of chemicals, precision plastering of plates with tape, or seeking proper glue in office supply stores. If you manage to keep your BuildTak’s lifespan for 3 months, the cyclical expense of about 40-60 PLN should fully pay off.