Printing your own 3D terrain at home can be a tricky business, even for those of us producing dozens of models a week. Being a newish technology, it’s always going to be fraught with inconsistencies in quality and performance.
One of the biggest issues I’ve faced has been getting a model to print with the same level of detail and quality each time. With variances in everything from slicing software to filament quality, it can be difficult to produce great quality prints every time.
Calibrate your printer according the manufacturer’s guidelines
Depending on the brand and type of 3D printer, your machine might print great straight out of the box, but it also might not! So it’s best to check your printer’s manufacturer guidelines on their website or from the manual before you start printing your terrain. Some manufacturers are better than others when it comes to documentation on setting up the printer. We run Prusa printers here at Corvus HQ and find they’re great to set up and get really nice quality prints, even when printing from the build-your-own-kit models. Our modular Warhammer 40K terrain prints beautifully on the Prusa and the larger bed makes it easier to print more pieces at the same time.
Level your bed!
Some printers come with auto bed-levelling as standard, which definitely makes it easier to get that perfect first layer. The majority of FDM machines don’t have auto bed-levelling as standard yet. Again, read up on the guidelines or check Facebook groups and forums for the best way of levelling your printer’s bed. It’s usually best to check your bed level after a couple of good prints. A simple piece of regular letter paper under the nozzle usually gives a pretty accurate level. Simply slide the paper under the hot end (with the bed heated to your usual temperature) and home your printer. Start in the left corner of the bed, move your print head slightly to get at your levelling screws or hex screws or however your printer levels itself. Adjust the screw in that corner until the paper is just able to slide from under the nozzle with a little bit of resistance. Repeat on the remaining corners. You might need to do this one or two more times, as the corner height changes slightly when you tighten the other screws. Don’t forget to check the centre of the bed as well after you’ve levelled the corners. Once I’ve levelled the bed, I tend to drop the level about an eighth of turn. It’s best to run a test print with good sized skirt or brim, and live adjust as needed. If the extruder is ‘clicking’ when printing, tighten the screws a little to drop the level a little. You can also keep an eye on the printed filament as it’s going on to the bed. If it’s very transparent, then it’s probably a little too close to the bed.
I print only with PLA and don’t have any experience with ABS. I also try to stick to one manufacturer of PLA if possible. It helps with inconsistencies in diameter and printing temperature. I have found that PLA prints well in or around the 205-210C mark. I’ve tried it at 190C and it printed well, but seems to give less problems with clogging when printed at 205. I usually start the print at 210 and drop to 205 after the first couple of layers. You might need to do a few test prints to see which temperature works best for your filament. I’ve had good 3D terrain prints from a slightly higher temperature combined with changing my extruder multiplier.
This one is definitely a personal preference issue. Corvus HQ uses a number of slicers, including Simplfy3D, Cura, and Slic3r. Each one has it’s own way of slicing and preparing models. When preparing the prototypes for our modular Warhammer 40K terrain, I was using Cura 3.0 and printing on a smaller Malyan M200. For production models, we switched to Simplify3D for printing on a Prusa i3 Mk2S. There are small differences in how the models are printed, but S3D handles faster printing really well using the linear advance settings for the Prusa. You might need to play around with different slicers to see which one suits your printer and the models you’re printing.
Slicer PE produces great looking prints of our Warhammer 40K terrain and, like Cura, it’s free, which is a great bonus.
One of the best ways to getting a better looking print is to make sure it sticks to the bed in the first place. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve had failed prints due to models coming unstuck during the first few layers, or taller objects vibrating when printing higher up the Z axis and coming loose.
Corvus HQ has tried a lot of the usual solutions for bed adhesion, and each one has their pros and cons. Which works best for your printer is just like with everything else in life … the answer is - it depends. A lot of people favour printing on PEI sheet, or a PrintInz removable plate. I’ve used painter’s tape (which sucked), glass (which broke), glue stick (got really messy), PVA glue (got really, really messy), and hair spray (a bit hit and miss). I’ve used a combination of these things, and it really depends on the model and the machine. Our little Malyan machine now has a 3mm glass bed and takes cheap hair spray pretty well. It leaves a nice underside to the finished print and is easier to remove than using painter’s tape. The Prusa Mk2s sometimes needs a little bit of glue stick smeared on the bed, particularly when printing tall, narrow models. It can also help a little with curling and warping. A paint scraper or spatula is great for removing the finished models.
So there you go. Probably stuff you already knew about 3D printing wargaming terrain, but if not, hopefully we’ve helped you print your new terrain at the best quality. The best advice we can leave you with is to pick a model and play around with it in different slicers and do a few test prints before setting out on a huge terrain printing adventure.