The Best Methods for Removing Supports From 3D Printed Objects

How best to remove support

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You can create some spectacular models using 3D printing, but there may be certain steps required to ensure a neat print. Depending on the additive manufacturing method you choose and the complexity of your design, one of the first considerations you might have to make is 3D printing support. 

Custom 3D printing supports are structures that your model will hang from or lean on to get a detailed print, especially for complex 3D designs.  The importance of these supports is undeniable, but questions are always raised about how to choose the right type, how to get rid of them, and what their downsides are. This post will answer those questions and give you tips on how to use it effectively. 

In this article, we will be discussing key details of 3D printing support structures, which include when to use them, their types, tools to use in removing supports, and some best practices. 

Printing Supports: When to Use Them?

Most of the time, printing supports are used when 3D printing large or tall models or models with complicated or overhanging shapes. They help the model stay in place while it’s being printed and reduce the risk of warping and other problems that can happen if there aren’t enough support structures. 

The use of supports differs from printer to printer; 

  • In FDM printing, supports help to address the challenge of building 3D prints when extruding filament in layers. To ensure success, overhanging geometries must have an underlying surface for support. 
  • If you choose Jet Fusion or Selective Laser Sintering, the powder used to make the print will hold it up, so you won’t need to worry about extra support. In other words, if you choose SLS or Jet Fusion technology, you won’t ever have to worry about support. 
  • The supports used in procedures like metal printing will only typically impact the print quality if you’re looking into more cutting-edge technologies.
  • The level of complexity in your design affects the need for support. For overhangs, determine their tilt. Most FDM printers can handle overhangs with tilt angles up to 45 degrees. If the angle is greater, supports may be necessary to prevent sagging.
  • If a part of your design bridges a gap between two sections, consider using 3D printing supports. If the bridge is shorter than 5 mm, no support structure is needed.

Types of 3D Printing Supports

The type of support used depends on the material and geometry of the 3D model being printed. Supports are classified into two types:

Soluble and Non-soluble. 

Complex shapes and overhangs often use soluble or dissolvable supports because they dissolve in water, making them easy to remove. The supports are made from a soluble material.

Non-soluble supports need to be cut away manually and are often used for large flat surfaces where the surface area justifies the amount of work needed to remove them. The insoluble supports are further divided into two types, which are the lattice or linear and the tree types.

When using soluble supports, all you need to do is remove the 3D-printed object from the print bed and immerse it in a solution. Warm water quickly breaks down PVA filaments, but a Limonene solution is needed to break down HIPS. 

In both cases, it’s important not to put the parts in too hot of water because that could change the shape of the real model. Additionally, keeping the water moving while your component is underwater may hasten the dissolution of the supports. 

If you need to remove the supports quickly, you can let them soften for about 10 minutes and then use pliers to cut the majority of them off. Re-immerse the part in the bath to get rid of any last bits of support.

Lattice or Linear Supports

Lattice supports rise up from the build platform in the shape of straight vertical columns holding up overhangs and bridges. Because it supports these aspects so well, this method is very popular. 

Lattice supports are effective for prints with steep angled overhangs, as they can provide support in the form of columns and secure the parts. Most often, these lattice structures are used because they can be made quickly and work with most 3D printers.

This kind of support can be removed by hand using a knife, pliers, or flush cutters to cut and break off the parts that aren’t needed. This is a more precise way to get rid of the support. The whole model can be sanded at the end to achieve a more sleek look. 

Tree Supports 

These are tree-like supports. They start as thick trunks and thin out as they get closer to the model, which is helpful if you need to support specific areas. You should use this kind of support if your design has a lot of overhangs but isn’t too vertical.

If you use tree-type supports wisely to hold up only the most essential parts of your model, they will make less contact with your print and be easier to take off.

Using pliers is an excellent option if you want to grip, twist, and pull your supports off your part. You can start gently with your fingertips if the support you want to remove is reachable and large enough to accommodate. 

Depending on how important the look of your part is to you and how many marks the supports have left behind, you may need to sand the areas that touch the supports to get a better surface.

Watch this for intricate details on post processing 3D model support:  https://youtu.be/TIR0AISivF0

Best Tools for Easier Support Removal Process

Most 3D printing enthusiasts have access to some excellent professional tools for a reason—they make jobs simpler. The greatest tools you can buy for yourself to remove supports quickly are included in this section.

3D Print Tool Kit

A 3D print tool kit is a collection of tools specifically designed for removing supports from 3D printed models. 

It usually has needle-nose pliers, tweezers, scrapers, a pallet knife, a hobby knife, x-acto knife and other tools designed to help with the process.

With these tools, you can quickly remove support material without hurting the model or leaving any residue.

Spatula Removal Tool

Spatulas are a great tool for removing 3D printing supports because they provide an easy way to scrape away extraneous parts or pieces of support material. The flat edge of a spatula enables it to slide under the print, creating more contact and reducing the likelihood of causing damage.

Flush Cutters

Flush cutters are ideal for removing unwanted parts from your prints. They’re best for cutting soluble support structures precisely and close to the model without causing damage. They’re also effective for cutting non-soluble supports.

Sandpaper

Sandpaper is a great tool for smoothing out the rough surfaces of your prints that were caused by removing supports. Use wet sanding paper to remove the marks from support removal and give your 3D-printed part a beautiful finish.

Heated Knife

Using a heated knife is an effective method to remove 3D print supports. A heated blade will help you cut through the support material, leaving a clean and precise finish. A tiny butane torch would do, but you have to be very careful not to damage your 3D object. 

Nylon Brush

A nylon brush is the ideal tool for removing stubborn supports without causing harm to the model. The brush enables you to access small crevices and remove the supports with ease through scraping.

Ultrasonic Cleaner

An ultrasonic cleaner can be used to dissolve the support material, eliminating it in a matter of minutes. This is the perfect tool for complicated prints with difficult-to-remove supports.

Electronic Digital Caliper

An electronic digital caliper is a tool employed to gauge the thickness of parts and 3D printed models. 

The electronic digital caliper is an indispensable tool during support removal as it permits precise measurement of material thickness, avoiding the risk of overcutting or removing too much material at once..

Deburring Tool

A deburring tool is used to remove the burrs from 3D printed models that have been cut or broken off.  It is a good finishing tool with a special blade that can cut away any extra material without damaging the model’s surface. This makes it a great choice for removing supports.

Avery Glue Stick

An Avery Glue Stick is a great tool for removing 3D print supports. By putting the stick on the surface of your model, you can soften and remove support material without hurting the model. The glue stick will not leave behind any residue or marring on your print, making it an ideal choice for post-processing work.

Best Practices For Removing 3D Printing Supports

There are some best practices for removing 3D printing, here are a few;

Make Sure to Plan Ahead

Before you start printing, make sure you have the proper support structures in place. If your part will require support, make sure to position it so that the support will easily come off once the print is complete. 

It’s also worth noting that the more support your model requires, the longer it will take to remove it.

Sanding 

This is a post – processing step for smoothing down rough surfaces by using an abrasive material such as high-grit sandpaper. Sanding is used to get rid of extra materials, smooth out scratches and dents, and get a surface ready for painting or other finishing processes. 

Overhangs Angle 

Following the overhang angle rule of thumb (the 45-degree rule) can help you know ahead of time if your model will have features that require support material and how many. This can help you plan for a better print with fewer supports.

To save post-processing time, preform orientation models should be used so that the supports only touch flat print surfaces or parts of the model where surface polish is not as important.

Support Settings

The majority of commonly used slicers provide a setting for how many layers you want to put between your support and your product; you can add an extra layer to experiment to see if that is more effective for you. 

For example, Cura’s default setting for support bottom distance, which is part of support Z distance, is the layer thickness shown in layer Height. The support bottom distance is 0.2 mm if your layer height is 0.2 mm. In this example, the Support Top Distance choice for the top is two layer heights, or 0.4 mm. In the expert mode, these options are available, and you can look for them in the search box, as seen in the figure below.

Use Alcohol Baths

Alcohol baths are a great way to quickly remove small amounts of support material from your parts. Use isopropyl alcohol in a container that’s large enough for your 3D-printed object, then soak it for approximately 10 minutes. 

The support material will soften and can easily be removed with tweezers or a toothpick.

Be Gentle When Removing Supports

When you are ready to start taking off the supports, it is important to be gentle and use a non-abrasive tool. You don’t want to damage the part, so take your time and make sure that you remove each support carefully.

Use Automated Supports for Complex Models

For more complex models, it may be easier to use automated support structures instead of manually placing them in the model. Automated supports are designed to be easily removed after the print is finished, so you can save time and effort on removing them.

Reducing Printing Temperature

Reduce your printing temperature as another way to make supports simpler to remove. When your nozzle temperature is higher than necessary, the filament becomes somewhat more melted and adheres to itself more firmly.

You are more likely to obtain supports that don’t firmly adhere to your model when your filament is heated to the precise temperature needed to extrude it, making it easier to remove the supports.

Experiment With Different Support Materials

Different 3D printers have different types of support materials. Experimenting with different materials can help you find one that is easier to remove or has better adhesion properties. You can also use materials that are specifically designed for easy removal.

Clear Nail Polish Can Be Used to Conceal Your Marks

Sometimes, especially if your 3D print is composed of PLA, you can’t help but leave stress marks. Use clear nail polish to hide any scratches or other damage that this might cause.

Conclusion

In the end, supports are crucial to 3D printing because they enable the creation of intricate geometries with overhangs and bridges that are otherwise difficult to print. This means that support removal is a crucial stage in the 3D printing process, regardless of whether you’re an expert maker or a newbie.

It’s important to remember that the best way to make sure your prints turn out well is to take the time and do it right. Make sure you have all of the necessary tools before you start, plan ahead and consider using automated supports if you can, and always be gentle when removing supports. 

With some practice and patience, you  will soon be able to remove supports from your 3D prints quickly and precisely. 

FAQs on How to Remove 3D Printing Supports

Why Is My Support So Hard to Remove 3D Printing?

Support material can be made from a wide range of materials, each with its own strength and flexibility. Depending on the 3D printing process used, the supports can sometimes become fused to the model during curing, making them impossible to remove without causing damage.

Can You 3D Print Without Support?

Yes, it is possible to 3D print without support by using certain processes such as SLA (Stereolithography) and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering). These processes use a thin liquid layer of resin or powdered material that can be cured with a laser in order to form the desired shape.

What Support Density Should I Use?

The support density you choose will depend on the type of 3D printing process, filament or material you are using and how complex your model is. If a model has many overhangs or intricate details, then it may require more support than one with simpler geometry. 

What Are the Best Support Settings for 3D Printing?

The best settings for support depend on the type of 3D printing process being used and the complexity of the model. Generally speaking, more complex models require more support material, while simpler models can often make do with less. 

What Materials Should I Use for Support?

Support materials are typically chosen based on their strength and flexibility. PLA and PETG work well for support applications because they are both stiff and flexible yet easy to remove after printing. HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) or PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) can also be used in some cases.

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