You did it! You got the 3D printer of your dreams and you’re ready to start creating the coolest new designs. Whether you’re planning on printing medical tech or cosplay armor, the first thing you’re going to have to do is make sure that your printing bed is level – otherwise you’re going to end up with unsuccessful prints.
Seasoned 3D printers might already understand what leveling means in this context, but just in case: when we say that a 3D printer bed needs to be leveled, we don’t mean level like with shelves (although this is obviously important).
No, the leveling of a 3D printer bed is to make sure that the nozzle is the correct distance from the surface before it starts printing. If it’s too close you risk clogging up the nozzle or the nozzle dragging the design with it as it moves. Too far away and the filament won’t always stick, or you’ll see gaps in your design.
A lot of newer models come with automatic leveling, but some of the older products might not, but have no fear! In this article we’ll rundown the different ways to ensure that your printer bed is the perfect distance from the nozzle before you start (or if you’ve already started, how we can fix it before any more materials are wasted).
If your 3D printer includes automatic leveling technology, then the process is going to be quite simple. Your printer should have come with instructions on how to either activate the leveling procedure, or how to set it so the firmware is always working, throughout projects, ensuring you get a perfectly leveling result every time.
Most higher tech printers want to minimize user intervention down to a minimum, but you should still be able to manually adjust the level, if you feel as though the printer isn’t working properly, or if you just want to be sure. If that’s the case then you can still follow the guide below on adjusting the level manually.
If your printer doesn’t include automatic leveling, or if you just want to be sure then here is a handy-dandy guide to manually leveling your 3D printer.
The first thing you want to do is give yourself some room to work with, by tightening the corner screws a little. This will make them nice and sturdy, and allow you to loosen them later when adjusting.
You want to send the nozzle back to the home position, which should be coordinated to 0, 0, 0. That last 0 is the important one, and that is the Z axis: what the printer considers to be the correct distance from the printer bed. This wants to be just barely touching the bed in theory, so you need to find something to measure that.
There’s some debate about what’s best to measure with, the tried and tested method is just using a simple sheet of A4 paper, however it’s been pointed out that these aren’t always consistent, so some people suggest using 0.010″ thick brass shim stock that can be bought at most hobby stores.
This ensures consistency, however it can be more difficult to get your hands one, especially when compared to a piece of paper, which most households will have in a drawer somewhere. Whatever you decide to use, you can still use the same method detailed below.
Put the sheet underneath the nozzle – if it slides under it with no resistance at all, then the nozzle is too far away. If the sheet cannot move under it, then the nozzle is too close. What you want is for the nozzle to slightly drag on the sheet without tearing or otherwise stopping it.
Once you’ve tested this in the middle, you should have a good idea of what the issue is with your printer. So now to fix it. Disable (or unlock) the stepper motors so that you can move the nozzle on the XY-axis.
Then move it over to one of the corners and repeat the sheet process you just did for the center. Now you can adjust the screw in that corner as needed. Remember, you want to feel the sheet dragging under the nozzle, but not being completely stopped.
Repeat this step in every corner until you have a completely level bed – meaning that the center is also accurate. This might take a couple of attempts, and may take some time the first time you try it, but it’s worth the perseverance. Go back around again and double check before sending something to print.
Step 6 (Final)
The final step is to send something to print. If you want to triple check that your bed is completely level then just print the first layer and make sure that it’s not missing any filament. If you don’t think it looks right, go through the sheet method again – you may also want to make sure that the bed isn’t unintentionally warped.
But if you’re confident, then you can just get cracking with your print, safe in the knowledge that everything is going to be accurate and even.
You’re All Set
Now that you know why it’s so important for the bed to be level, you should be able to keep an eye out for the symptoms of an unlevel 3D printer bed. More than that, you know how to fix it if it ever does happen to your printer.
If you need a little more help then you can find files for calibration squares online which will show you a little more accurately whether you need to level your printer bed – these can be modified to suit whatever size bed you have.
Good luck with all your printing!