So you’ve bought yourself a brand new 3D printer and you can’t wait to get started. Trouble is, you can’t just jump right in. Before that, you’ll have to know exactly how and why 3D printers are calibrated. That’s where we come in.
This guide will explain how you can calibrate your 3D printer. We’ll also be covering a little of the science behind it all, but we’ll try to keep things as easily understandable as possible so don’t worry. Now, let’s start by addressing the most basic question: “why do we need to calibrate at all?”.
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What Is Calibration For?
Imagine you’re a baker. You’ve finally created a recipe that makes perfect bread every time. Congratulations! But fans keep writing to you telling you the recipe doesn’t work. After a while, you realize it’s because they’re all using the wrong size of baking tin. So how could this have been avoided?
Calibration allows 3D printers to avoid scenarios like this. Essentially, calibration helps ensure every print comes out exactly the same, regardless of the equipment used to create it. Nothing lopsided will be printed (unless that’s your intention), and your creations will be identical every time.
Preparing For Calibration
3D printers are very complex machines, and as such, calibration isn’t a one-click kind of task. We’d recommend setting aside at least half an hour to allow you to really get to the bottom of any issues that might occur.
You should also note that all printers are calibrated differently. Some have physical adjustment levers while others are controlled entirely via software. As such, the advice we’ll be giving should be used as a general guideline and not taken as concrete instructions.
How To Calibrate The Extruder
There are two main problems the extruder (the part that spits out hot filament) can have. The first is over-extrusion, where too much filament is used, and the second is under-extrusion, where too little is. You should also consider the filament thickness, but this is easy enough to correct if it’s wrong.
To see if your printer is over or under-extruding, you’ll need a ruler, measuring tape, or set of calipers. Make two marks on the filament 100mm apart and align the bottom mark with the top of the extruder. Next, in your software, set the extrude length value to “100” and tell it to extrude.
If everything has worked as intended, the top mark will now be aligned perfectly with the top of the extruder. If not, you’ve got some work to do. You’ll have to adjust the extrusion (sometimes called “Flow”) percentage until the top mark aligns correctly.
How To Calibrate The X, Y, and Z Motors
Okay, the next step is to make sure your printer has its measurements right. To do this, use a piece of tape to mark two areas that are 100mm apart on the base plate. Position the nozzle over one, tell the printer to move 100mm in the correct direction and see if it ends up exactly over the tape.
You should note that it’s likely not going to be perfect on the first try. 100.01mm isn’t the same as exactly 100mm, but these small differences can have large repercussions later on so it’s best to address them now. Adjust the M92 values for both the X and Y axes until it works perfectly.
For the Z motor, you’re going to want to use a ruler. Stand it vertically on the print bed and move the Z axis by 100mm. After this point, the process is the same: just change the M92 values until it moves exactly 100mm each time.
How To Calibrate The Base Plate
If you’ve noticed that your layers are too thin or that filament is gathered around the nozzle, you’ll likely want to level your base plate. This is so you can ensure that the nozzle is the same distance from the base at all times. So how do you do this?
Start by centering the print head. You’ll likely have been provided with an index card, so place this between the print head and the base plate. By editing the Z-axis end stop variable, you can fine-tune the head’s distance from the base.
Most printers will have screws you can turn at each corner. Adjust these until you feel a slight resistance when you try to move the index card – you should still be able to move the card, but not freely. When you achieve this, you’re done!
3D printers can be difficult to get the hang of as there are dozens of options to tinker with at first. That said, there are only a few steps to take whenever you make a change. We’ve addressed these above and now, hopefully, you’re ready to start printing. Good luck and most importantly, have fun.