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Make Your Printer Reliable with BuildTak

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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:

Bare Kapton Painter’s Tape Hairspray BuildTak
Stickiness Low High Medium Exceptional High
– Corner Lift High Medium Medium Low Low
Replacement Low Medium Medium High Low
Mess Low Low High High Low
Expense Included with Printer $30 for 3”x36 yards $12 for 3” x 60 yards $5 for 8oz can $20 $12 for one sheet

Stickiness

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.

Replacement Cycle

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.

Mess

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.

Expense/Value

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!

Summary

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.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

Gallery

BuildTak pad fresh out of the package
BuildTak pad fresh out of the package

 

Stock MakerBot Replicator 2 Build surface.
Stock MakerBot Replicator 2 Build surface.

 

Prior to Installing BuildTak, prepare the build plate by removing all dust and material. Swab it down with alcohol to get rid of oils.
Prior to Installing BuildTak, prepare the build plate by removing all dust and material. Swab it down with alcohol to get rid of oils.

 

BuildTak cut to fit the MakerBot Replicator 2 build plate.
BuildTak cut to fit the MakerBot Replicator 2 build plate.

 

Remove backing, align, and apply. Squeeze out bubbles by pressing down using a plastic wedge (credit card used here).
Remove backing, align, and apply. Squeeze out bubbles by pressing down using a plastic wedge (credit card used here).

 

BuildTak-dressed build platform reinstalled in MakerBot Replicator 2.
BuildTak-dressed build platform reinstalled in MakerBot Replicator 2.

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New High Tech Filaments from Proto-Pasta

Frankly, we all want 3D printers to make anything out of any material. The folks at ProtoPlant are helping us get there with their line of fortified filaments for desktop 3D printers. They make PLA and ABS filaments that are stronger and more heat resistant than normal. We spoke to the inventors of this filament as they were fundraising on Kickstarter. Here’s what they had to say!

Practical 3DP: What does ProtoPlant Inc do?
ProtoPlant:
We design and build prototypes and one-off custom fixtures and equipment for manufacturers and aerospace companies.

P3DP: What is Proto-Pasta and what are its applications?
PP: Proto-Pasta is a new line of FFF filaments for consumer grade 3D printers.  We tried very hard to offer some materials that are just not available to consumers.
  1. Carbon Fiber PLA is, in a word, stiff.  It resists bending more than standard PLA,  It is not lighter or stronger but this added stiffness makes parts that feel really solid and that are hard to deform or bend.  It prints very well with good adhesion and without clogging nozzles.
  2. High Temp PLA becomes less soft than normal PLA at elevated temperatures.  It is similar to ABS in temperature resistance after it has been annealed for a few minutes at 80C.  It also prints very easily and seems to bridge better than normal PLA. It is a solid color, not translucent like normal PLA.
  3. Polycarbonate ABS makes tough parts with much higher impact resistance than either ABS or PLA.  This material is tougher to print with, requiring up to 280C at the hot end and a 120C heated bed.
Proto-pasta
P3DP: Who can benefit most from Proto-Pasta?
PP: Anyone who is interested in experimenting with printing some new materials with their printers and expanding what is practical to make.
P3DP: What’s the coolest thing you’ve been able to print with your filament? The most useful?
PP: We have focused on testing and evaluating our materials, not so much on printing. Some of our beta testers have printed interesting things like bridges and bottle openers.  We have a tester who manufactures split board snowboard bindings who prototyped some parts.
P3DP: Where will Proto-Pasta have the biggest impact?
PP: Proto-Pasta will have the biggest impact in fueling people’s imaginations for 3D printing.  We know there are folks out there looking for new and interesting materials to work with and we are hoping to help fill that need.
P3DP: Have you run Proto-Pasta through a 3Doodler?
PP: Nope, but good idea.
P3DP Note: If you have a 3Doodler and would like to try this filament, contact us! We want to see this happen!
P3DP: Where can we get it?
PP: We are working on rolling out several distributors in the US and UK, more details to come.  We will be also selling it from proto-pasta.com
P3DP: How much does it cost?
PP: Working on that, but somewhere close to the Kickstarter pricing.
P3DP: What is your background? Education?
PP: I have a Mechanical Engineering Technology degree from Montana State University and am a licensed Professional Engineer in Washington State.  My background is in aerospace, designing and manufacturing satellite missions for NASA that study the sun. Aaron has a Computer Science degree from MSU as well.  His background is in virtual reality and 3D graphics.
P3DP: How has Portland/Vancouver’s startup ecosystem helped ProtoPlant?
PP: Portland is an awesome community for creative minds.  My family and I live in Alberta Arts and really enjoy the community.  I have worked with ADX in Portland for inspiration and networking.
P3DP: How does your work make 3D printing more practical or usable?
PP: Our work opens doors into areas where affordable 3D printing may have been cut off before.   We think our users will answer this question.
P3DP: What are you looking forward to being able to print someday?
PP: Nothing specific in mind, but we have had some awesome ideas from backers.  One I thought was super interesting was high performance engine valvetrains.  This backer was looking for a stiffer material to verify valve designs and was very excited about our CF-PLA.
P3DP: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen printed?
PP: There are some awesome prosthetic hands and fingers that I think really show off the flexibility and utility of 3D printing.  It is not something that you can really mass produce because people are all different and it really impacts price and people’s lives.
P3DP: What is needed to make 3D printing easily usable by everyone?
PP: There are some things in the works to address this point, but I think that moving toward a less “maker” user experience (like the buccaneer) is a good start.  Hopefully at the same time we can all keep things relatively open source and not too corporate feeling.
P3DP: What materials would you like to print with one day that you cannot today? What would you build with it?
PP: I have some ideas that hopefully you will see on Kickstarter or proto-pasta.com soon!  But I think anything different is awesome, and really respect the work of folks like Taulman.
P3DP: What is some of the interesting research that you are following in the 3DP space?
PP: I love the work being done on delta-robot style printers, along with some rotary stage printers currently funding on KS (no affiliation or cross promotion, just think it is cool)
P3DP: What’s next for ProtoPlant?
PP: We are really hoping to build a reputation as a premium supplier for 3D printing materials and hardware over the next few years.  We love the creativity and newness of this space and are excited to explore what opportunities are there..
P3DP: Anything else you’d like to add?
PP: Maybe just a shout out to Kickstarter and our backers, it is pretty amazing to have this opportunity to bring something we are really interested in to the greater community.
Proto-Pasta is a line of fortified 3D Printer filaments with extra strength and heat resistance, made by ProtoPlant in Vancouver, WA.  You can find more information at their website and their Kickstarter campaign.
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Wireless Charger Dock for Nexus 5

So, my shiny new Google Nexus 5 arrived a week ago, and I spent the first couple of days just ogling the new device, setting it up with all my favorite apps and tools, enjoying games and videos on my 5″ display and generally wasting the days away 🙂  After years in the iPhone world, it was time to cross over to the dark side (or is iOS the dark side?).

After the initial euphoria about the new toy subsided, I started looking for a good protective cover for my N5, and being a 3D printing nut, I searched on Thingiverse before I even thought of Amazon :-). Unfortunately for me, the phone was very, very new, and there was only one conceptual design on Thingiverse for a Nexus 5 case, with no successful prints yet.  That’s fine, I thought… this is the realm of DIY and Tinkering.

Sourcing the Design

BUT, something else on Thingiverse had caught my eye when searching for the N5 case:

Now, reading the specs for the Nexus 5, I knew that it supported wireless charging, but the Google wireless charger was not available on the Play store when I looked.  However, this charging dock was designed for the Nokia QI Charging Pad, which is available at a few places (like AT&T stores) for $24.50, and the design posted by Joe F on Thingiverse would provide a nice inclined base to match! WOOT!

I downloaded the design files for the dock from Thingiverse and set out to customize the dock for myself a little bit. I just wanted to add something to it myself, to convince my wife that I did not just “download and print” , but had put in some effort myself 😉

Modification/ Customization

I first uploaded the design files (STL format) to TinkerCad, a fantastic online tool to do quick and fun tweaks to your design files.  I then rotated the body so I could lay it flat on the work surface.  Then, I grabbed the letters of my last name from the model gallery, put them in order, grouped them, and stood them up, like a wall.  I then extended the letters along the y-axis so that the letters penetrated opposite walls of the dock, like so:

QI_Dock_TinkerCad_1

 

I then marked this object as a ‘hole’ and the base as a solid object, and then proceeded to use this object to punch a hole through the solid base, resulting in:

QI_Dock_TinkerCad_2

 

With this complete, I finalized the model, and the final render came out looking like:

QI_Dock_TinkerCad

 

Voila!  I had just downloaded something from Thingiverse, and quickly modified and personalized it using free, online tools! What could be more thrilling!

Printing the dock

Next, I downloaded the customized model in .STL format to my Mac, and fired up MakerWare, available from MakerBot here.  In MakerWare, I positioned the TinkerCad model on the build platform and exported out the machine code file (.X3G format), selecting options for a Normal Print and ‘Supports’ since the lettering cutouts on the dock meant that I would have a lot of overhanging parts.  I then transferred the .X3G file to an SD card, fired up the trusted MakerBot Replicator2 and loaded it with a translucent blue filament, and fired off the ‘Print from SD’ command.

After roughly 4 hours and 60 grams of plastic, I had my very own charging dock!

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[vc_column width=”1/3″]2-QI_dock[/vc_column]
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Kudos to Joe for a flawless design, as the Nokia QI charging plate fit into the designed groove very very nicely.  The dock now sits nicely on my nightstand, and my N5 rests on it peacefully every night, charging wirelessly without worrying about plugging and unplugging the darn little micro-usb cable!

My dock can be seen on Thingiverse at: http://www.thingiverse.com/make:53498 

 4-QI_dock

 

Technical Specs

  • Printer: MakerBot Replicator 2
  • Software / Services: Thingiverse, TinkerCad, MakerWare (using MakerBot slicer)
  • Settings: Standard mode (15% infill, 0.2mm layer, 90mm/s), Rafts disabled, Supports enabled.
  • Print Time: 4 hours
  • Material: Translucent Blue 1.75mm PLA
  • Mass (Weight): 40 grams

 Final Thoughts

Thingiverse is quickly becoming my first stop to look for new designs, and I was pleasantly surprised to see designs related to N5 popping up there almost as soon as the phone was launched.  This was also my first pass at using TinkerCad for an actual design-to-print project, and I was pleasantly surprised at its usability, considering it is a fully browser-based tool.  I also felt the pain of dealing with small geometries and support structures, as evident from the no-so-clean finish on the final piece and the broken ‘U’ on one side.  Next time, I might try changing the print orientation or cleaning up the model using MeshMixer or Netfabb.

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The key to mainstream adoption of 3D printing is availability of content. Tools such as AutoDesk and TinkerCAD make learning how to create 3D models much easier. At the Inside 3D Printing Expo, we saw another new tool that makes it simple for people to personalize existing models. It’s called Leopoly, a 3D model store and editing tool.

Though it’s currently in Beta, we got to see some key features, such as:

– Manipulation of the mesh to add new features, such as a second handle to a mug.

– Addition of color/shading

– Editing in Stereo 3D, which requires graphics card and monitor support and an optional 3D stylus.

Overall, Leopoly makes us _want_ to try customizing 3D models and we think mainstream customers will agree. We can’t wait to try the final version!  Check them out online:

http://www.leopoly.com

If you are at the #3DPrintConf San Jose tomorrow, make sure to check them out and say Hello to Gábor for us !!

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3D Printing Basics: The Terminology, Illustrated by Shoes! – Additive Fashion

3D Printing Basics: The Terminology, Illustrated by Shoes! – Additive Fashion

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High School Senior 3D Prints Finger Splint

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Zeus is Not Just a God. He’s a 3D Printing Fax Machine.

Zeus is Not Just a God. He’s a 3D Printing Fax Machine.

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Elon Musk Announces Latest Invention: Gesture-Based 3D Printing

Elon Musk Announces Latest Invention: Gesture-Based 3D Printing