When replacing the nozzle in your 3D printer, your most important considerations will typically be the build material and bore diameter. However, you might wonder whether the compatibility of the nozzle with your 3D printer is something you should be worried about.
3D printer nozzles are not universal. When buying a nozzle, in addition to bore diameter and build material, you must check whether it is compatible with the 3D printer you intend to use it with. This problem is complicated because some nozzles may appear to fit but cause issues later.
In this article, I’ll explain why nozzles are not universal and explore the factors that determine a nozzle’s compatibility with a 3D printer.
Why Aren’t 3D Printer Nozzles Universal?
If a universal nozzle existed, you could use it in any 3D printer regardless of factors like manufacturer and size. While one nozzle can be compatible with a wide range of 3D printers, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all nozzle.
3D printer nozzles are not universal because the heater blocks of 3D printers come in different systems. For a nozzle to be compatible with a 3D printer, the heater block and nozzle must adhere to the same system. No nozzle can work with the heater blocks of all systems.
While buying a nozzle, you first have to find out the system that the heater block of your 3D printer uses. You should then ensure that the nozzle you choose conforms to that system.
Before we look at the central systems of heater blocks, let’s see why heater blocks are the determining factor for nozzle compatibility.
Why Does the Heater Block Determine a Nozzle’s Compatibility With a 3D Printer?
Before getting a new nozzle for your 3D printer, your first step should be to check what kind of heater block you are using. Skipping this step can render all other considerations you make useless because the product you choose might not work well with your printer.
The heater block is the main factor when evaluating a nozzle’s compatibility because every nozzle screws into a heater block. If a nozzle isn’t compatible with a heater block, it’s not compatible with the 3D printer.
Understanding the anatomy of the functional parts of a 3D printer makes it easier to understand the significance of the heater block when choosing a replacement nozzle.
The Basic Anatomy of the Extruder
The extruder is the functional part of a 3D printer. At a high level, the function of the extruder is to melt the filament and systematically pour it out to make the desired product. It has two subsystems: the cold-end and the hotend.
The cold-end is responsible for powering and controlling the motion of the filament on its way to being melted. On a typical extruder, the cold-end will be on one side and the nozzle at the end of the opposite side. Since the nozzle and the cold-end don’t come into contact, the cold-end doesn’t determine a 3D printer’s compatibility with a nozzle.
The hotend is responsible for heating and melting the filament. At the bottom of the hotend is the nozzle, which directs the melted filament onto the print bed, where it solidifies into the intended product.
Since the nozzle is a component of the hotend subsystem, the hotend is essential in determining whether a nozzle is compatible with a 3D printer.
Let’s take a brief look at the parts of the hotend.
Main Parts of a 3D Printer’s Hotend
The successful operation of a nozzle depends on the successful collaboration of the hotend parts. Thus, for a nozzle to work with the 3D printer, it must be compatible with the other elements of the printer’s hotend subsystem.
The main parts of the hotend are:
- The heat break
- The heat sink
- The heater block
- The nozzle
Below is an explanation of how each part fits into the hotend subsystem.
The heatbreak is a cylinder that carries the filament as it comes from the cold-end to the hotend. It provides thermal resistance so that the heat in the hotend doesn’t make its way back to the cold-end. Thus, the heat break ensures that the filament doesn’t start melting in the cold end, where it’s supposed to be solid.
The Heat Sink
The heat sink surrounds the heat break. It helps cool the heat break by dissipating heat through high-thermal-conductivity fins and the extruder fan. This sink is an extra fail-safe to ensure that your filament doesn’t liquefy too early as it goes through the extruder since it might burn or clog the hotend if it gets too hot too early.
The Heater Block
This part heats the filament. It contains a heater cartridge, which generates the required heat. It also controls a thermistor, which senses the temperature and helps achieve the desired level of heating to melt the filament.
The heater block connects two parts of the hotend system: the heat break and the nozzle.
The heat break feeds into the heater block on the upper side, providing a channel for the filament. The nozzle juts out of the lower side of the heater block, pouring out molten filament onto the print bed.
As such, the nozzle has to fit into the heater block. The fit must be perfect, or you’ll find yourself dealing with leaking filament.
When you screw the nozzle into the heater block, it should touch the heatbreak. If there’s a gap between the heat break and the nozzle, the molten filament will leak.
Leaked filament will inevitably cause the following problems:
- Your hotend will jam.
- Plastic will start oozing out from above the heat block, which will be a nightmare to clean.
The nozzle is the lowest component of the hotend and does the noble job of “building” the product by directing the semi-solid filament onto the print bed.
As I’ve shown above, the nozzle works closely with the heater block. As such, the heater block is central to the compatibility of a nozzle with the 3D printer.
I’ll now explore the differences in heater blocks, which will illustrate that nozzles can’t be universal.
Types of 3D Printer Heater Blocks
Thread standard is the property of a heater block that impacts compatibility with the nozzle. As long as a heater block and a nozzle adhere to the same thread standards, they’ll work well together.
Heater blocks can be classified according to the thread standards they adhere to, which include:
- Proprietary standards by major brands
I’ll get into these thread standards, highlighting what makes them unique.
The MK6 classification refers to an extruder system and covers all extruder parts, including the hotend and the nozzle. Typically, MK6 components come bundled together.
Below is a list of the features of the MK6 extruder system:
- It is suited more for use with the 3 mm filament than the 1.75 mm filament.
- It comes with a stainless steel heater block or an aluminum block in the MK6+ upgrade.
- It uses the M6 thread size, making the diameter of the thread 6 mm.
If your hotend is MK6, you must get a nozzle with the same thread size to ensure compatibility.
Worth noting is that the MK6 standard is outdated and is typically only in old 3D printers.
The MK8 classification refers to a dual extruder hotend system. It uses the M6 thread size, making it compatible with MK6 systems.
Nozzles that conform to the MK8 system have the following properties:
- A diameter of 6 mm and a thread pitch of 1 mm
- A total nozzle height of 13 mm
- A filament diameter of 1.75 mm
- Variable bore diameter, starting from 0.15 mm
Since the MK8 nozzle conforms to the M6 thread size, you can use it with an MK6 extruder.
MK8 nozzles are compatible with a wide range of 3D printer hotends, including models from Creality, MakerBot, and MicroSwiss.
The MK10 system saw a complete overhaul of the hotend system. Rather than the M6 thread standard, it uses an M7 thread standard.
The MK10 hotend works with a PTFE tube.
Any hotend part that conforms to MK8 and MK6 will be incompatible with a 3D printer that works with the MK10 system. Similarly, an MK10 nozzle will be incompatible with an MK8 or MK6 hotend system.
MK10 nozzles have the following properties:
- A diameter of 7 mm and a thread pitch of 1 mm
- A total overall length of 13 mm
- Filament diameter of 1.75 mm
- Variable bore diameter
3D printers that use MK10 nozzles include the Cocoon Create and the FlashForge Dreamer.
The RepRap is a nozzle standard that has the following properties:
- A thread diameter of 6 mm and a thread pitch of 1 mm.
- A total nozzle height of 12.5 mm.
- A filament diameter of 1.75 mm.
- Variable bore diameter.
The RepRap is compatible with the Copperhead hotend, the Mosquito hotend, and the Kodak Portrait 3D Printer, among many other systems.
Proprietary Standards by Major Brands
Brands like Creality and Raise3D have their thread standards. Creality uses the Creality Pro standard for the CR-10 Max, the CR-10S pro, and the CR-10S pro v2.
One of the most prevalent proprietary standards in modern 3D printers is the E3D V6. E3D V6 parts come as a system that works seamlessly.
Properties of the E3D V6 hotend system include:
- It uses the M6 thread size.
- E3D V6 nozzles are adapted to generate lower back-pressure, resulting in a smoother filament flow.
- You can use the E3D V6 hotend with other 3D printers that conform to the system, such as the Prusa i3.
- It allows customization of the flat surface tip to optimize it for precision or the printing of wider layers.
Although the V6 uses the M6 thread size, it is not exactly compatible with systems like MK8, which also use the M6 thread size.
If you try to use a V6 hotend with an MK8 system, the printable area on your printing bed is likely to become smaller. That is because the radiating block in the V6 hotend is shaped differently and requires a different mounting to handle.
The Difference Between Interchangeable and Universal Nozzles
3D printer nozzles are not universal, as I’ve shown in this article. However, they are interchangeable. What’s the difference?
If there was a universal nozzle, you could use it in any 3D printer because it is compatible with every hotend system. 3D printer nozzles are interchangeable in that you can replace a nozzle with another nozzle made of a different material or that has a different bore diameter.
The fact that 3D printers support interchangeable nozzles significantly increases their utility.
Suppose you have been printing large products that don’t require intricate details. If you want to switch to a product that needs fine details, all you’ll do is swap out the nozzle with one that has a smaller bore diameter.
Without interchangeable nozzles, you’d have to own two printers, one for printing large models fast and the other for models that require intricate details.
A universal nozzle would be pretty cool too. When buying a new nozzle, all you’d have to worry about is the bore diameter and the build material. Compatibility wouldn’t be an issue. However, this nozzle doesn’t exist, primarily because hotends come in different systems.
3D printer nozzles are not universal. No nozzle in the current market will work for all 3D printers. Nozzles are compatible with specific extrusion systems, and you can’t use them for others.
Nozzles attach to the hotends of 3D printers, which come in different systems. One system will vary from another system. For example, it might have a distinct thread size. In such a case, a nozzle will only be compatible with a hotend system if they have the same thread size.