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Fixing 3D printer first layer problems – sticking to the bed

I have had a 3D printer for about two and half years now and I’m still learning. One of the biggest problems I have had is problems with getting the first layer to stick to the print bed. This is a common problem, but not one that I’ve been able to find a simple solution. Until now!

The Printer – Wanhao i3 Plus

The printer I have is a Wanhao i3 Plus 3D printer.

Wanhao i3 Plus 3D printer

It’s a reasonably priced printer which has a simple setup procedure. I am happy with the quality of the prints, but since day one I’ve been having problems with getting the prints to stick to the printer bed. I now believe that the printer bed is at least partly to be blame, but there are a number of things that I tried. These are all valid things to try and in fact all these need to be correct before the final solution. Before I came up with the final solution my success rate appeared to be getting better. I had thought that it was because I was getting better at adjusting the settings (which would have had some effect), but in reality I found that it was because the print bed covering was getting worn and that meant the prints were sticking better. When I replaced the print bed the problem with it sticking was almost as unreliable as when I first got the printer.

It’s still important to get the basics right so all the suggestions are worth looking at.

Height of the print head and leveling the printer

I’ve covered these two together as they are both carried out together.

The height of the print-head is the distance between the print bed and the print head (actually the hotend which is part of the extruder assembly). This gap should be 0.1mm, which is approximately the same thickness as a sheet of printer paper. If the gap is too big then the filament is being dropped over the bed and will not stick to the bed. If the gap is too small then the filament will be pressed down too much or may not come out of the print head.

The printer base also needs to be leveled correctly as if you have the correct gap at one side, but a different gap at the other then the same problems will apply.

The way to adjust the gap between the print head and the bed depends upon the printer. It could mean adjusting the height of the bed or the position of the print-head. In fact it may involve both, but that is usually during the initial setup as once you have fixed one of these the amount of adjustment needed should be very small.

In the case of the Wanhao i3 plus there are some thumbscrews underneath the print bed that tighten or loosen the distance between the bed and the base of the printer. There is a print leveling option on the screen which moves the print head to 4 different positions (front-left, front-right, rear-right, rear-left). At each position the appropriate thumbscrew needs to be turned so that the paper fits between the print-head and the print bed. In my case I adjust it so the paper can move but that you feel some resistance when moving it.

This is one of the most important adjustments which needs to be correct.

Different filaments

Not all filaments are made equal.

The different filaments available can stick differently to the print bed. I have avoided using the word quality as it may be that some cheaper filaments don’t stick and some better quality filaments do stick, although I do think that sometimes buying better quality and possibly more expensive filament can help. These are the brands that I currently use, but this by no means suggests that other brands would be worse.

The different types of filament can also have different amounts of “stickyness”, which even applies to different colours. I’ve found PET-G and metalic coloured PLA are harder to work with compared with base coloured PLA.

This becomes less important later as I have had more success with various different filmament, although I still think it is worth buying a good quality filament

Different extruder temperature

The extruder temperature can also affect how well the first layer sticks. This doesn’t appear to be as important as the other factors, but it’s worth experimenting with different temperatures. Make sure you are working within the specified range from the manufacturer.

Catching the pre-print

One of the problems I find is that prior to starting printing the 3D printer pushes out a bit of filament. If this sticks at the correct point then it can be useful, but more often than not it just sticks to the end of the hot-end and gets dragged around until it sticks somewhere it’s not supposed to. I’m now prepared for this by having a pair of pliers / tweezers read to grab that bit of filament as soon as it looks like it’s going wrong.

Different bed temperature

If you have a heated bed then that can also help. I found that hotter temperatures (around 60°C) would improve how well the first layer stuck, although some PLAs recommend lower temperatures so you should stay within their guidelines. The problem with hotter temperatures is that it increases the amount of warping when the print cools. I’ve now gone back to using lower temperatures for the print bed.

Different print bed coverings

I also tried adding different coverings to the print bed. One of the recommended materials is blue painters masking tape (as shown in the photo above). Whilst some people have reported better print with the tape I didn’t find it worked very well. It is perhaps more popular with those using ABS rather than PLA.

Cleaning the print bed

Cleaning the print bed can help. If the bed is dirty, such as oil from fingers or from the general area then it can prevent adhesion. I found that methylated spirit is particularly good at cleaning the print bed prior to use.

Build plate adhesion option in slicer

One option in 3D Printer slicer tools is print bed adhesion. This is something that is controlled in the software, before sending to the printer. I normally use Ultimaker’s Cura, but there are other alternatives such as slic3r. Selecting this option will print additional material around the base of the object to help it stick better. This is something I do anyway as I find it can also help with stability problems or if there is some stray filament at the start of the print. It is normally turned on by default so you don’t normally need to do anything to use this option.

Special 3D printer Glue

The above aspects are all important to get right first, but the solution I have come across which works very well is glue. I first tried a couple of different glues such as hair spray and watered down PVA, but they didn’t work very well. In the case of the PVA glue it left a horrible coating all over the print bed which took weeks to get rid of.

I finally found a good glue from the 3D Meetup UK (3D printer event) in Birmingham. I was actually running a workshop there on Pygame Zero for Makers. At the one of the sponsors was 3D Printz who gave free samples of Magigoo Print Bed Adhesion Solution. I thought I’d give it a try and my first print worked fine, so did my next and more and more prints worked reliably. There are still some occasional problems when the filament doesn’t come out cleanly, but my success rate has increased dramatically. Not only that, but the glue it’s easy to apply (glue stick), easy to remove the print (wait for it to cool) and easy to clean off with a damp cloth.

Magigoo 3D printer adhesive - fix first layer print problems

The catch, it is expensive. At the time of writing this there is actually a promotion on, but normally the large bottle is over £40 which is as much as two reels of PLA. It does provide a reasonable amount of glue, but it couldn’t be described as cheap.
Is it worth it? In my opinion definitely! The amount of time I have wasted in failed prints more than justifies the cost and on top of that there is the wasted PLA from the failed prints.
If you are having problems with your filament sticking to the 3D printer bed then after checking print gap and leveling give Magigoo a try.

Here’s a video of how to level the bed and then the Magigoo in action.

Note: This is purely my own opinion. Whilst this website does include affiliate links to help with the costs of running the site, that is not the case for the links for Magigoo. I have not received any money, goods or promises of such for writing this article.