In 3D printing, it can be difficult to understand the function of the many parts that make up the printer itself.
After all, these components must all be tuned precisely and work together in perfect harmony to create a print that is clean and functional. So, how does the heated bed play a part?
When I first started my 3D printing adventure, the heated bed was a component that was difficult to comprehend. What does it do? What settings should I use? Do I even need it? These are just a few of the questions I asked myself. Fortunately, I’ve come a long way since then. So, do you need a heated bed for your 3D printing projects?
In short, a heated bed is helpful but not always necessary. Like many things, it depends on the material you’re using. The heated bed helps prints stick to the bed and prevents warping from uneven cooling. You can print quality parts without it, but having a heated bed can only help.
A heated bed on your 3D printer can certainly be a nice touch. In fact, it can save you material and hassle in the long run. Let’s find out if a heated bed is right for you:
Better Grip, Better Prints
The heated bed does exactly what the name suggests; it heats up to a warm temperature. This then increases the molecular energy of the first few layers of your print.
In general, most materials are stickier when they are hot than when they are cold. So, by warming the bed, when your first layers are laid down, they don’t fully cool. By keeping them in this in-between, warm state, they are much stickier and thus grip the plate better.
When you print onto a heated bed, your prints automatically become more stable because they are gripping onto something. But think about the other way to accomplish this… a raft.
By printing a raft, essentially a throwaway portion, you give your real model something to stick on. So, you can actually achieve the same effect that a heated bed gives (in terms of sticking) by printing a raft.
Unfortunately, printing a raft does two things: increases print time and uses lots of material. When you must use a raft, you waste quite a bit of material on something that is quite literally just thrown away when the print completes.
So, although a heated bed is not necessary, it is helpful. It will save you money on material costs and time off your prints. Plus, you will be able to perform test runs on early layers of your prints without having to do a raft each time.
Ever get a print finished and see how ugly it is that you just want to smash it? We’ve all been there. This is mostly due to a phenomenon called warping. Warping occurs when plastic on the edges of a part cool down at an uneven rate compared to the interior.
This leaves behind corners that are warped up and a model that comes out as something other than what you intended it to be. This could mean it is crooked, poorly shaped, or that the print fails entirely.
A heated bed helps prevent warping by keeping your part warm throughout the printing process. This keeps the material at (or above) its heat-deflection temperature. This is the temperature at which it is malleable.
For PLA, the range is around 50-60 degrees C. For ABS, the range is higher, around 100-110 degrees C. By keeping the plastic in this state, you can ensure that it remains flat on the print bed. Then, the entire print will cool evenly after everything has been printed.
Although rafts can also help with warping, there is no replacement for a heated bed. In fact, there’s barely a workaround. If you aren’t printing parts that need precision, you might be able to get away with it.
However, if you’re doing anything with precise measurements, small features, or a large part that needs to stay flat, you’re going to need a heated bed.
Types of Heated Beds
There are many different types of heated beds. That being said, you can get one pre-installed on a printer or install one yourself. Either way, the upgrade will certainly add some convenience to your printing routine and will likely help you produce better parts. Here are some of the most common types of heated beds:
PCB Heat Bed
The MK2A heated bed is a good example of a PCB bed. These are used by many 3D printer manufacturers because they are affordable and versatile. They require little vertical clearance, offer holes for leveling and installation, and offer even heat distribution. The only downside is that they can take a while to heat up.
Kapton (Polyamide) Film Heater
Kapton, also known as polyamide is a well-known tape for printing surfaces. It features heat resistance, high adhesion for PLA, and a smooth finish that leaves your prints clean.
By sandwiching a heating element between two pieces of tape, you have a reliable heated bed. Finally, Kapton heaters come in a variety of shapes and sizes so they are good for printers that may have an odd-shaped print plate.
Aluminum Clad Heater
This final heater is very efficient and inexpensive. However, it requires some more technical installation. It must be screwed onto a surface, usually another aluminum or stainless-steel plate.
Then, the electrical circuit has to be completed with a thermistor and an insulator. Though difficult to install, it offers a reliable heating solution that is evenly distributed throughout the bed.
Ultimately, you can 3D print without a heated bed. However, it is generally recommended that you have one. You’ll have better prints with less warping and better adhesion to the build plate.
In addition, you’ll save time and material by not having to print rafts on every run. Even if your printer doesn’t come with a heated bed, there are plenty of options to install one at little cost. Since it is relatively cheap to do so, there’s really no reason not to.