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6 Common Causes of Ripples in 3D Prints

If you own a 3D printer or have ever used one, you probably understand what rippling is. Ripples appear as surface defects in prints, often as waves or repeated lines. However, it can be difficult to understand what exactly is the cause of ripples in your 3D prints.

Here are 6 common causes of ripples in 3D prints:

  1. Vibration in the 3D printer.
  2. Mechanical and electrical issues with the 3D printer.
  3. Misconfiguration of jerk and acceleration settings.
  4. Inconsistent extrusion.
  5. Print speed is too high.
  6. Momentum from heavy components.

This article will cover the potential causes of ripples in your 3D prints. It’ll dive deeper into each of these causes and discuss their solutions to help you achieve smoother 3D prints in the future.

1. Vibration in the 3D Printer

The most typical source of ripples in 3D models is vibration of the printer, which results in rapid changes in speed and direction when printing. Such vibrations may appear if your printer is unstable.

Unwanted Printer Movement Causes Ripples

Ripples appear when the mechanical parts of your printer, like the print head, move too quickly. When the print head moves too fast, the abrupt changes in direction create an additional force, inducing lingering vibrations. This causes the 3D printer to deposit material unevenly or in the wrong places, which creates the rippled effect of the model.

Printer vibrations are usually quite evident. You may notice that your 3D printer is shaking when vibrations occur.

If your 3D model has sharp angles, it’s more likely to have ripples. An acute angle and a fast print speed make it hard for the print head to slow down.

Slow Down the Printer To Prevent Vibrations

The best solution to printer vibrations is to slow down the printing speed. Granted, it’ll take longer to create your 3D models at a lower speed, but you’ll be able to create smoother 3D prints since the moment of inertia is lower.

2. Mechanical and Electrical Issues With the 3D Printer

Sometimes the reason behind the ripples in 3D prints is mechanical and electrical issues that the 3D printer has. These issues may cause the print head or the build plate to become unstable during printing resulting in wavy lines on some model parts.

These issues include:

  • Belt tension
  • Z wobble
  • Loose grub screws

All of these mechanical issues can impact the quality of your 3D print. Luckily, most of them can be easily fixed.

Belt Tension

Most 3D printers use belts to allow the motors to control the tool head’s position. Over time, these belts may become too loose, affecting the belt tension required to position the tool head properly. If the belt was initially placed excessively tight, it could cause excessive friction in the bearings, hindering the motors from spinning.

The ideal belt tension is slightly tight to avoid slipping but not too tight to prevent the system from rotating.

Z Wobble

Z wobble occurs when a printer’s Z-axis movement component, such as the Z-axis rod or lead screw, is skewed or crooked, which causes the print head to move incorrectly. If you suspect Z wobble is causing ripples in your 3D prints, inspect the Z-axis rod and lead screw to ensure they’re arranged correctly. 

Loose Grub Screws

The sequence of belts included in many 3D printers are operated by pulleys attached to a stepper motor shaft via a grub screw. These grub screws secure the pulley to the motor shaft, allowing the two components to spin together. If the grub screws loosen, the pulley will no longer revolve in tandem with the motor shaft, causing the tool head not to reach the desired position when printing.

If your 3D prints still have ripples after reducing the printing speed, you may want to check these issues and fix them accordingly.

3. Misconfiguration of Jerk and Acceleration Settings

In reference to 3D printing, acceleration refers to how fast the speed changes. On the other hand, jerk is how fast the acceleration changes. These two settings cause your 3D printer to move while it is stationary.

It’s paramount to find the proper acceleration and jerk settings to avoid high moments of inertia that cause rippling.

Adjust the Jerk Setting To Optimize Printer Response

If your jerk setting is too high, the print head will make faster rapid movements in different directions. If it’s too low, your nozzle will stay in places for too long, obscuring details as it takes too long to shift directions.

After much experimentation, we discovered that most 3D printers respond well to a jerk setting of seven for the x and y-axes and an acceleration of 700. When tweaking the jerk and acceleration settings, this can be your baseline to start with.

However, these values may vary for different models, so searching for your model’s best settings is a good idea. You should also note down the original settings somewhere before changing them, just in case this wasn’t the cause of the rippling.

4. Inconsistent Extrusion

Inconsistent extrusion is the non-uniform material deposition from the print head’s nozzle. This issue is frequently produced by a partially clogged nozzle or atypical temperature changes. A partially clogged nozzle might cause uneven material extrusion, forming ripples in your 3D print.

This problem can be easily fixed by cleaning the nozzle of your 3D printer. You can do so by pushing a small needle into the nozzle hole.

5. Print Speed Is Too High

When the printer speed is too high, you’ll notice ripples in your 3D models. Your printer may start shaking or become unstable, impacting your final print. The solution is to lower the print speed.

Keep in mind that a slower print speed may need you to adjust other variables, such as the nozzle temperature, to maintain a steady print.

Lowering the print speed will ensure lower moments of inertia occur, which directly translates to smoother models.

Lower print speeds can improve the quality of your 3D prints even when you haven’t optimized other parts of your 3D printer, like the stability and weight of its moving parts.

6. Momentum From Heavy Components

3D printers have a few moving parts, like the print head with an attached nozzle. As the printer moves, these parts move too. If the printing speed is too high, it may make the heavy components of the 3D printer move erratically. These movements will manifest as ripples in your model.

Making your printer’s movable parts lighter reduces the energy required to move them and the amount of energy dispersed when they move about the print bed.

Here’s a YouTube video showing experiments on the effect of heavy components on 3D prints: