Support structures are often a necessary evil when it comes to 3D printing, especially if your project has a lot of overhangs or wide bridges. However, when the time comes to remove the structures, your technique needs to be precise in order to avoid damaging your project.
Here are 5 ways to make 3D print supports easier to remove:
- Use tools for removing supports.
- Heat your sharp tools to remove supports.
- Use sandpaper.
- Use nail polish for corrections.
- Integrate supports into the project.
Removing 3D print supports can be frustrating, but these tips should make the process easier for you! Let’s take a deeper look at each of these tips and tricks to discover which method is best for you and your 3D printing project.
1. Use Tools for Removing Supports
While there are some situations where you do not need structural supports in your printing project, you need them most of the time. If you opt-out of printing supports, your project could come out looking like it went through a shredder in areas where it needed the support.
Support structures are often a necessary evil when it comes to 3D printing. But, they don’t have to be difficult to remove if you’re using the right tools and methods.
The best tools to use to remove 3D printing supports include (available on amazon.com):
Use Your Fingers to Remove Large Pieces
First, I would advise you to remove supports when your 3D print is still fresh. Allowing time to cool and settle will only make removing the supports more difficult.
Next, you’ll want to remove the larger and easy to reach supports with your fingers. What you want to do is break off the supports from your project as gently as possible, but also try to get them as close to the model as possible to minimize the work you’ll do in the following steps.
Take your time when you’re using your fingers to remove the supports. If you rush through this step, you could end up breaking your model and have to reprint/start over. Only try to remove the pieces that your fingers can quickly get to, and avoid any delicate or refined areas of your project, as these will be easier to remove with tools.
Use Pliers for Making Cuts
Once you’ve broken away the significant pieces of the supports away from your project, you will want to take your needle nose pliers or flush cuts and use them to snip away at the supports.
You’ll want to cut each support close to the project, but don’t worry about being too exact. If you cut too deeply, you could leave puncture marks or indentions in your project, so take your time and be careful.
Scrape off Leftover Supports
Next, you will use small files to scrape off the leftover supports. Finally, you’ll sand away the bumps and nubs from the project, but you’ll want to do so in small circular motions. This will blend the spots into your project, so they aren’t visible.
After that, you’ll use sandpaper to finish blending the bumps into the surface of the print.
You can use chapstick to mask the sanding scratches left behind to finish. To do so, you’ll simply use your finger to apply a small amount of the chapstick, you do not need a lot, into the surface of the print.
If you use too much chapstick, your project will get oily, so don’t use it very much.
Check out this YouTube video for a quick and easy tutorial if you want to visualize this process.
2. Heat Your Sharp Tools To Remove Supports
Most 3D printing professionals and hobbyists use the steps outlined in the section above to remove supports from their completed and printed projects. However, there are times when you may need a little bit more firepower to get the job done.
One way to make the material easier to work with and remove supports is with a small butane torch and a knife, Exacto knife, or sharp scraper or blade of some kind.
If you elect to use an Exacto knife, be very careful. These tools are incredibly sharp and have the potential to severely injure a reckless operator or even damage your project.
Once you’ve selected the type of blade you want to use, you’ll use your torch to heat the edge of the blade. Heating the blade will make it easier to slice through the supports in the model.
Some 3D printers hobbyists, such as in this article from LifeWire Tech, also suggest heating the model to help slice the supports more easily. However, I would be careful doing this method as you don’t want to damage your project.
Make sure that you are extremely careful if you’re using a torch. Butane torches can be great for use on other crafts besides 3D printing.
Before using the torch, you need to fill it with a butane canister. You can get these at most major retailers or your local hardware store. Once it squirts out, that means your torch is full and ready to go.
Make sure your torch is off before you fill it, though! Then, when your torch is loaded and ready to use, slide the tab on the front of the torch to the position where it says “gas.” Then you simply rotate the ring of the torch so that the holes on the mechanism are partially covered.
The halfway mark on the torch controls the flame. So it’s a good idea to start off halfway, which is somewhat low, so that you don’t have a large flame or flames out of control right off the bat.
From there, you just need to hit the ignition button and use it on your blade to heat it. If you want a continuous flame so that you can release the ignition button, most torches have a feature or button you can push for a continuous flame to be produced.
To see a butane torch in action, or how it works, check out this YouTube video tutorial:
3. Use Sandpaper
Another great way to remove 3D model support structures is by using high grit sandpapers. It’s essential to use high grit sandpaper somewhere between 220 and 1200. Sandpaper is excellent for removing delicate or small nubs leftover from support structures.
Before you use the sandpaper, though, it’s essential to remove the bigger chunks of support structures with your hands, if you can, and other tools. Sandpaper is great for small pieces left behind and for polishing your work, but it would be a pain to only use it to remove all the support structures.
I would also advise you to wet the model or part you intend to sand and then lightly use the sandpaper.
When you get the project, it helps polish the 3D print while it smooths away blemishes left behind from the support structures.
Sanding your 3D project is really a finishing touch that you can do before painting or completing your project.
Some sanding techniques will help you produce the best possible product. For example, 80, 120, and 240 grit sandpaper are great for dry sanding your piece, but you’ll also want to use 400, 1000, and 1500 grit sandpaper for wet sanding areas.
Use a gentle circular motion when you’re sanding your project, and take extra care around the edges and seams of your project.
To see a video tutorial of how to sand your 3D project, check out this YouTube video tutorial:
4. Use Nail Polish for Corrections
Removing 3D print supports is not always easy, especially when structure supports are often necessary.
All 3D projects with an overhang or a bridge that isn’t supported by anything under it must have a 3D printing support structure. While not every bridge or overhang has to have support, it’s a good idea to include them when you need to to keep your project looking the way you designed it.
Designs can become messy and distorted when they are printed without necessary supports. We all may hate removing them, especially when they don’t come off easily, but if you don’t, it could cost you.
Sometimes when we remove supports, scratches and blemishes can happen, especially if you’re new to the art of 3D printing. If this happens to you, don’t worry; you can do some easy fixes.
If your 3D model has been left with stress marks or chips or whatever, you can use nail polish varnish for covering up those pesky imperfections.
There are different types of nail polish varnish that you can use or even primer spray that can work for this. The great thing about nail polish is that it comes with a small brush that usually works well on delicate projects.
Some hobbyists suggest using acetone if you’re not getting the smooth results you want with the nail polish.
If you choose to use acetone to make corrections, crack a window open as the fumes can be potent. Also, acetone is flammable so store it in a safe location.
5. Integrate Supports Into the Project
Another option you can try is rather than removing support structures from your project, is to try and incorporate them into your finished piece.
This is definitely easier said than done as there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to do this. For example, some artists use this technique on mini sculptures, like recreations of the Venus Victrix sculpture.
This can be challenging to do successfully. If you want to try this, my advice is to plan ahead. Think about what design you want to create and how to mold supports so that they blend into the work as if they are meant to be a part of the finished product.
In all honesty, this method is effective if you plan it out this way. First, you have to build your model and support structures in a way that incorporates all pieces into a work of art.
Other Options for Removing Supports
Sometimes, you can minimize or eliminate the number of supports you need in your 3D structure by simply reorienting the design. Often, merely repositioning your work can create new ways of supporting your object without many or any support structures. Again, this is a great way to minimize materials, time, and potential blemishes.
Another option is to get a printer with break-away 3D printing support structures. These printers allow you to adjust the density of the support structures to break them off more efficiently when the product is finished and printed.
There are even better options available, though, if you get a printer with two extruders. With these printers, you can load one extruder for your printer model and the other one with a water-soluble material.
The cool thing about double extruders is that when you print your model, all you need to do is dunk it in water and let it dissolve the structures. This makes your life so easy! No tools or breaking required! Plus, this can save your model from potential damage.
3D printing has the potential to create anything that you can imagine, but it’s not always easy to do. While 3D support structures are sometimes necessary for a well-printed object, they don’t have to be difficult to remove.
When removing support structures from your 3D print, remember to start by taking off the big pieces with your fingers. Try to do it when the paint is fresh. Then, you can use various tools like needle nose pliers, sandpaper, and blades to remove the rest.
Of course, you can also try 3D printers with easy-to-remove structure components.