TL/DR: BuildTak is a reliable build surface for your printer
Making your 3D print stay in one place is surprisingly hard, particularly for long prints. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a complex print fail because the corners peeled up or the model lifted off entirely. The choice of build surface plays an important part. For extrusion printers, the options include:
- Bare (Acrylic, Glass, Metal), either heated or un-heated
- Tape – Kapton, Painter
- Liquids – Cubify’s spray glue or hairspray
You almost need a rubric to figure out which surface is best for a given print. Just recently I was made aware of a product called BuildTak, which replaces all of these options. Per the manufacturer:
“We believe offers a superior alternative to using masking tape or heat resistant films (such as kapton) on your FDM 3D printer’s build plate. BuildTak is a proprietary, patent-pending composition that comes in pre-cut, specially textured plastic sheets that adhere to your build platform with its heat-resistant adhesive backing.”
BuildTak is essentially a textured melamine pad with a glue backing that covers the entire build surface of your printer. The texture isn’t sticky or rough, but is noticeable to the touch. I was a bit skeptical of the “total replacement” claim, so I decided to test it it for a few weeks against the other options. I was primarily looking at this from a mainstream consumer perspective. In short, they want reliability. That breaks down into four categories:
- Stickiness – Do the models stick to the build surface? Do the corners stay as flat as possible? Do I have misprints or need large rafts?
- Replacement cycle – How often the surface needs replacement or replenishment?
- Mess – Does the surface stick to the print and require cleanup? Does it cause a mess inside the printer? Is it a pain to remove?
- Expense – How much does it cost relative to the number of prints. Is this simply another consumable for the printer?
I tried printing exclusively on each surface for 2 weeks on my MakerBot Replicator 2 with a stock, un-heated Acrylic platform, printing PLA on the “rough” side. This is what I found. In general, lower is better, except for stickiness:
|– Corner Lift||High||Medium||Medium||Low||Low|
|Expense||Included with Printer||$30 for 3”x36 yards||$12 for 3” x 60 yards||$5 for 8oz can|
Hairspray was the stickiest material of the lot. Bare platform was the most variable; for some small-footprint objects, I experienced great adhesion. For others, I couldn’t make them stick even with a raft. Models reliably stuck to both Buildtak and Kapton tape, even without rafts. Painter’s tape was somewhere in between Kapton and Bare platform. Corner lift was an entirely different story. Without helper disks or rafts, corners lifted off of Kapton and Painter’s tape relatively frequently (>50% of the time). With BuildTak, I hardly observed any corner lift. I also observed that the more I printed the same object in the same spot, the “stickier” that spot became and the better the prints turned out. These surfaces never totally eliminated the need for rafts or helper disks, but I used them far less frequently.
Painter’s tape tore every time I removed the printed piece and needed replacement after almost every print. I replaced sanded Kapton twice due to tearing or wear-out twice, primarily after printing several identical parts in the same spot in succession. Unsanded Kapton held up well, at the expense of stickiness. With both types of tape, I had to be careful to avoid overlaps or gaps and to ensure it was pressed firmly to prevent de-lamination early in the print. I never had to replace BuildTak, but I had to be a LOT more careful removing items to prevent scratching or slicing the surface. Note: I use a thin pocketknife blade to lift extremely stuck prints. A side effect of replacement is that you need to recalibrate/level the print bed. With BuildTak, I recalibrated once per week using MakerBot’s firmware level utility, but I never had to adjust the leveling screws.
Hairspray is the WORST when it comes to mess. Either you need to coat the platform outside the printer and recalibrate or you end up with fine sticky particles inside of it. I found painter’s tape stuck TOO well to small prints and I had to remove small pieces constantly. When that happened, the tape was compromised and I had to reapply it. Kapton went on cleanly and removed cleanly; the only messy part was sanding it down. BuildTak provided mess-free installation and usage. I did reposition the BuildTak once and there was no glue residue on the platform. Both Kapton and BuildTak attracted dust, which was easily removed with an alcohol wipe.
On the value side, I went through almost a third of a roll of painter’s tape in 2 weeks with a few 2-3 hour prints per day. With similar usage, I consumed perhaps 1/8 of the Kapton tape roll. I went through almost the whole can of hairspray. Extrapolating to one month, that’s around $8 in painter’s tape and around $5 in hairspray and Kapton.
It would take 3-4 months of usage to justify one piece of BuildTak, purely from a cost perspective. That said, convenience is a big part of value, for me. BuildTak costs about the same as 6 weeks worth of tape; considering the other benefits, it’s totally worth it.
Edit: Readers have kindly pointed out that pricing for a sheet that will fit a Replicator 2’s build surface costs $12, not $20 as I originally indicated. I’ve updated the table and this paragraph accordingly. Also note I’ve not figured shipping into any of these estimates!
Overall BuildTak makes my 3D printer feel like it “just works.” It’s not perfect, but the complaints are minor (see below). I plan to use it long term on my Replicator 2 and also on a printer with a heated build platform. Stay tuned!
My Recommendation: BuildTak makes your printer reliable. Buy it.
- Set and forget. No need to install, reinstall or remove once it’s there.
- No residue to clean off of the print.
- Reduced the number of rafts I use dramatically. This won’t replace rafts and helper disks entirely, but will really reduce the need.
- Simple to install and calibrate.
- Need to be careful about gouging BuildTak when removing prints.
- Seems to need “seasoning” before it really becomes sticky.
- We’d prefer a single solid color w/o logo. It’s hard to see corner lift without getting in close.
- Attracts dust.