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3D Printing Supports: A Comprehensive Guide

Spencer Hill
Spencer Hill 12:52 12-09-2022
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Are you looking for a way to take your 3D printing projects to the next level?  If so, then you need to know about 3D printing supports. 

3D printer supports are structures used in 3D printing that help create overhangs and bridge gaps that otherwise would be impossible to print.

3D Printing Supports

In this blog post, we’ll explore:

Part 1. What are 3D printing supports
Part 2. Should you use support in 3D printing? (2 rules)
Part 3. The downsides of using supports
Part 4. How to remove supports from 3D prints
Part 5. How to minimize support material in your 3D printing endeavors

So, whether you are a beginner or an experienced 3D printing enthusiast, keep reading to find out more about 3D printing supports and how you can leverage them for your projects. 

What are supports in 3D printing?

To ensure a smooth printing process and retain the desired shape of an object, 3D printing often requires supports – these are pieces of material attached directly to the printed item during the build process to make sure high-angle or recessed features remain in their correct position. 

Supports give mechanical stability and stop parts from drooping or folding over during the building process. Supports are typically made from the same materials as the finished print and can easily be removed by hand afterward for a flawless end result.

Should you use support in 3D printing? (2 rules)

When it comes to 3D printing, there is much debate over whether or not support structures should be used. 

Support structures provide stability during the printing process and can help to prevent failed prints due to warping or parts of the model becoming disconnected.

On the other hand, supports can also increase print time, create unsightly ridges that need to be removed, and increase post-processing work.

Ultimately, the decision whether or not to use supports should be based on each individual print. Here are the two rules to follow when deciding whether or not to use supports in 3D printing:

Rule 1. Support overhang angle: 45°

The support overhang angle is the angle at which a part of the model hangs off of another without any extra support material. 

For example, when printing a bridge or an overhang, you can use a 45° angle to create a stronger and more reliable structure than if you were to print it with no supports. This allows for better adhesion of the layers and a better finish. It is important to note that you should not exceed 45°, as this may cause warping or structural instability.

Support overhang angle

Rule 2. Support overhang length: 5 mm

The support overhang length refers to how far down the model can hang without additional supports being added. When printing a large model, it might be required to add supports after 5 mm. This is important for creating a stable structure and ensuring the printed parts adhere correctly during the printing process.

The best way to ensure the printed parts adhere correctly is to make sure the support structures are no more than 5 mm in length. It should be noted that this overhang length may vary depending on the material being printed and how much support is needed.

The downsides of using 3D printing supports

However, using support also has some disadvantages. Here are the major downsides of using 3D printing supports:

  • One downside of using 3D printing supports is that they can be difficult and time-consuming to remove from the finished model.
  • Supports can also create additional surface roughness and imperfections on the model, especially if they are not carefully designed and placed.
  • Using supports can also increase the material and printing time required for a model, as well as the cost of the print.
  • In some cases, supports can create weak points or structural issues in the model, making it less durable or functional.
  • Using supports can also limit the design possibilities for a model, as certain complex geometries may require large or complex support structures that are difficult to remove or hide.
  • Additionally, supports can create additional waste and pollution, as they are typically made of the same material as the model and are discarded after the print is completed.

Overall, it is important to carefully consider the design and structure of the object being printed and to weigh the pros and cons of using support before deciding whether or not to use it.

How to remove supports from 3D prints?

Are you struggling to find the best way to remove supports from 3D prints? Don't worry—we've got you covered. Whether you're a novice or an experienced pro, our tips will help make your 3D printing process easier and faster. Let's get started!

Step 1. Begin by gently peeling away any loose or easily removable supports from the object using a pair of tweezers or a small tool. Be careful not to damage the object or its details during this process.

Step 2. For more stubborn supports, use a hobby knife or scissors to carefully cut or saw through the support material. Be careful not to cut too deeply or damage the object during this process.

Step 3. Use a pair of pliers or a small tool to carefully twist and pull out the remaining supports from the object. Be gentle and avoid applying too much force, as this can damage the object.

Step 4. For any remaining support material that is difficult to remove, use a heat gun or hair dryer to carefully heat and soften the material. This will make it easier to remove the remaining supports without damaging the object.

Step 5. Once all of the supports have been removed, use a small brush or toothbrush to carefully clean and remove any remaining bits of support material from the object.

Step 6. Finally, use a fine sandpaper or abrasive pad to carefully smooth out any rough or uneven areas on the object that may have been caused by the supports. This will improve the overall finish and quality of the object.

Step 7. Repeat the above steps for any additional objects that require support removal.

How to minimize 3D printing support material (2 tips)

After understanding the potential issues and challenges of 3D printing supports, it is important to know how to minimize them. This can be done by properly designing the model for 3D printing with minimal support material needed. Here are two tips to help you minimize 3D printing support material:

Reorientation

Properly reorientating the model is one of the best ways to reduce support material. This involves rotating and/or flipping the print so that any overhangs, bridges, or other support-needing features are supported by flat surfaces. This will reduce the amount of material needed to support those features and should be done whenever possible.

Control Support Overhang Angle

Another way to minimize 3D printing supports is by controlling the support overhang angle. If the overhangs are larger than 45°, then it may be necessary to add support. However, if the angle is kept under 45°, then the model may be able to self-support and no additional material will be needed. This can help save time and money when it comes to 3D printing supports.

FAQs about 3D printing supports

Q1. How to make supports easier to remove?

The best way to make supports easier to remove is by using the right solvent for your 3D printing material. For example, acetone is typically used for ABS and isopropyl alcohol is usually used for PLA. If a solvent is not available, then you can use tools such as pliers or flush cutters to carefully remove the supports. Additionally, sandpaper can be used to help remove the supports, but it is important to use high-grit sandpaper such as 220 to 1200 and wet sanding. Sanding will not only make the removal process easier but will also polish the model at the same time. You can also apply some water onto the area before sanding in smooth, light motions.

Q2. What supports are best for 3D printing? (Lattice supports are the most common type)

Lattice supports are the most common type of 3D printing supports and they are typically made of polymers or plastic. These supports can be used to support overhangs, bridges, and other complex geometries. The lattice-like structure helps disperse the load evenly, making them a great option for difficult prints. Additionally, lattice supports are easier to remove than other types of supports and can be used on various 3D printing materials. They are also more durable than other materials, making them ideal for long-term prints.

Q3. How thick should supports be for 3D printing?

The thickness of the supports should depend on the particular print and its complexity. Generally, supports should be at least 1mm thick for most prints, but this can vary depending on the model. It is important to consider factors such as the layer height and material used when determining the optimal thickness for your 3D printing supports. Additionally, some materials may require thicker supports, such as PLA which typically requires supports that are at least 1.5mm thick. It is important to do research and test different thicknesses in order to find the optimal one for your particular model.

Conclusion

3D printing support material can be an integral part of the 3D printing process, but it is important to understand the potential issues and challenges associated with them. By properly designing your model for 3D printing and using the right tools and techniques, you can minimize the amount of support material needed. Additionally, understanding what type of supports are best for your print and how thick the supports should be can help reduce post-processing time and cost. Following these tips will help ensure that your 3D prints come out looking great!

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