Choosing the best build surface for your 3D printer can be a confusing task at time, which took a while myself to figure out. I just wanted to know the popular options out there and why people pick them over others.
This article will aim to compare different 3D printer build surfaces so you can make a more informed choice on what to attached to your 3D printer.
There are five different types of surfaces that I will be going through in this article which are:
There are a few more options out there, but for most of our 3D printing needs, these are the main candidates that you will come across.
If you want a quick answer, I would personally recommend going for borosilicate glass ontop of your aluminum build plate for most materials. If you want to print with advanced materials, Garolte is a great option.
Although you don’t get the flex option with glass, it has amazing heat-resistance and durability for the longer term and is very easy to clean. They give your prints a lovely, glossy finish at the end which is pretty awesome to see.
They are in the medium price range when talking about build surfaces, whereas you can get some cheap picture frame glass that still gets the job done, but won’t last nearly as long.
Let’s start off with those glass build surfaces, then continue with the others!
Glass Build Surface
When talking about a glass build surface there are usually four main types:
- Borosilicate Glass
- Tempered Glass
- Normal Picture Frame Type Glass
Printing directly on glass seems to be the main choice when it comes to people using their 3D printers because it has a few benefits that come with it. Namely, the smooth, shiny finish that gets left at the bottom of your 3D prints.
Although there are a few different types of glass out there, the main one you’ll hear people speaking about is borosilicate glass, which is a little premium compared to standard picture frame glass that some people use.
Borosilicate glass has certain properties which give it the upper hand to use in a 3D printing situation, but picture frame glass or even mirror glass does work well and is considerably cheaper.
I think all of these options are great in their own right so it’s really down to preference and availability of how you can access these parts.
Borosilicate glass can easily be found on Amazon at the perfect sizes for your 3D printer, whereas some people will buy a cheap piece of glass and get it professionally cut to size.
Borosilicate glass usually has the upper hand because of its higher level of heat-resistance, durability and lower chance of breaking or chipping while trying to remove prints.
There are plenty picture frame glass or cheap glass stories where they crack, chip, or break after a short time which can aget pretty inconvenient after a while.
Cleaning the glass is a pretty easy process where you can either use some type of cleaning solution spray or even Windex, along with a scraper or razor to remove dirt. Some people use a layer of glue multiple times before it needs to be cleaned off the surface.
The presence of your print bed warping is quite common depending on what material you are using. Borosilicate glass does pretty well in this area, so you are unlikely to get leveling problems down the line by making this your choice.
There’s a reason borosilicate glass is widely used in labs for their equipment, mainly due to temperature resistance and doesn’t have characteristics within that expose it to fractures or exploding due to extreme heat.
It handles thermal shock very well, but is a higher mass so it takes longer to heat up than other types of glass. The upside here though is that it doesn’t fluctuate very much in temperature after it’s heated up.
Safety is a big factor for glass 3D printer build surfaces and you get that safety with borosilicate glass.
Tempered glass gets a mention here and there because it also works fairly well. The thing with tempered glass though is it can’t be cut due to the manufacturing method, or it will explode.
The tempering process provides mechanical strength to glass, and this isn’t really necessary for 3D printer bed surfaces.
PEI Build Surface
PEI is another very popular build surface which has many features and properties that make it an ideal choice for your 3D printer build surface.
It takes little to no preparation to implement and can be easily installed by using the laminated adhesive on top of your existing flat build platforms. Many people will get a borosilicate glass print surface and actually add a PEI surface on top of that.
You will find a nice adhesive backing already applied to your PEI surface which you can quickly pull back and stick to your printer’s bed.
The long-term value of this type of bed is great because it can be reused for multiple prints and cleaned with a substance like isopropyl alcohol between your prints. You won’t have any troubles printing PLA or ABS along with tons of other materials directly onto a PEI surface.
I think one of the best things though is how you don’t need those additional adhesives such as 3D printer slurries, gluesticks, tapes and all the rest of it.
This addition to your 3D printer really makes your printing journey that little bit easier. Making many small upgrades to your 3D printer like this really start to add up and make 3D printing a very enjoyable activity, rather than on that gets frustrating from time to time.
When it comes to a PEI surface, parts are easier to remove before the bed gets completely cold, but if you come back to a long print and a cool bed, it shouldn’t be an issue removing it.
The first layer of your prints should be squished a little into the bed with PEI, so the leveling process will ever so slightly change, but you’ll quickly get used to it (PETG is an exception).
If you’ve done tons of printing on your PEI sheet, you can actually lightly sand it with 600 grit sand paper to give your PEI sheet some more life.
One of the best things about PEI though is how it can easily be cut to size with a hobby knife, making it universally compatible with any 3D printer.
Many 3D printers already come with PEI film on it because manufacturers realize how well it works. Beginners love a surface like this as they can get started pretty quickly and not run into common problems of prints not sticking to the bed.
I actually wrote an article about Stopping 3D Prints Moving While Printing which you can check out.
BuildTak Build Surface
The BuildTak 3D Printing Build Surface is quite a staple build surface in the 3D printing community, working as an all-purpose sheet which has an adhesive back which can easily be peeled off and stuck to your bed. Having easy installation is always ideal when it comes to 3D printing.
It’s compatible with all sorts of materials (PLA, ABS, TPE, PETG, HIPS, Wood-fill etc.) so you won’t have to worry about changing surfaces back and forth. The design and manufacture of this build surface makes it very durable over a long period of 3D printing.
After your prints have finished, print removal and cleaning is very easy with this surface.
For a smooth 3D printing experience with your FDM 3D printer, get the BuildTak build surface as many other thousands of users have happily purchased for themselves.
You even have the option to add on a magnetic base on top of the existing print bed, which has an attached BuildTak sheet so it connects nicely. The two sheets can easily be slid away from the print bed and you can flex the build plate until your part pops off.
I’ve seen many people complain about prints being too strongly stuck down to the print bed, so this upgrade will solve that problem and lessen your frustrations with the 3D printing process.
PETG can be especially difficult to get to adhere to a print bed, but many users mention how it stuck very nicely to the BuildTak Build Surface without issues and without needing all the fancy adhesive substances.
People that have tried numerous 3D printing products which don’t work as well as they thought say how this part is a great upgrade. One user has been using their build sheet for over a year and it’s still going strong.
The only damage they experienced was from an incorrectly calibrated printer head which was set too low, but it still works perfectly after the fact.
You can minimize your use of rafts and still get prints to stick down, and I would recommend getting the BuildTak Build Surface if you are serious about 3D printing.
Creality Flexible Magnetic Build Surface
The Creality Magnetic Flexible Build Surface is a nice feature to add on to your Creality 3D printer, whether you have an Ender 3, Ender 5, or a 3D printer with a similar build volume.
Being able to make use of the functionality of a removable, magnetically secured build surface makes for a productive 3D printing experience. With this behind you, you no longer have to worry about using a sharp knife, spatula or other removal tools that you are so used to.
The best thing about this build surface is being able to bend the flexible build surface and watch the finished part pop right off without damaging your bed or the part itself. It saves plenty of time and frustration when you have this on your 3D printer.
You can easily customize the size of the magnetic surface by cutting it to your desired dimensions so it can be used for all types of build sizes in your FDM 3D printers.
Simply remove the 3M adhesive backing from the magnetic build plate then place the upper magnetic build surface ontop of this sheet.
It works great for heated or non-heated 3D printer beds.
They advertise it as being mainly for PLA or PLA-based materials, and I’ve seen some examples of people trying to print with PETG and things being ripped and damaged, so I would stick with the advice.
There is a nice textured surface on the top of the upper build plate which helps overall print adhesion.
One user purchased the Creality Build Plate Surface as a replacement to his Ender 5 surface and found it very easy to install, as well as liking the efficiency it gave in the printing process.
Garolite Build Surface
Garolite is a fiberglass/epoxy laminate material which is similar to what is used in circuit boards. It’s a surface which also doesn’t require adhesive substances or even bed heating to get it to work great.
This build surface is mainly aimed at advanced, high-temperature materials such as Nylon, Polycarbonate and PETG. These type of materials are more likely to warp compared to lower temperature materials, so they need a better surface to reduce the warping chances.
Many higher-end 3D printers will come with a Garolite build surface just for those more advanced materials to not warp while printing.
This build surface isn’t as popular as the others, but it really works great for its intended use. You can get a thinner sheet of Garolite and use it on a flexplate so you can take it off and easily flex it to take your parts off.
You don’t require heat with this type of build surface, but still using a little bit of heat helps out that little bit extra so your prints have a better chance of being successful.
The texture of the Garolite Build Surface does plenty to get difficult materials to stick well to it.
I hope this helps you to make a more informed decision about which 3D printer build surface to go for.