Amid the coronavirus pandemic the world, communities, and locals have been coming together to help their fellow people out. One of the key ways people have been helping out is by 3D printing safe PPE face masks and face shields to combat the spread of the virus. If you have been wanting to join the fight and get 3D printing these important items you’ve come to the right place!
I know people have been looking for a good resource or guide to 3D print masks safely so that’s what I’ll aim to do in this post. Keep reading to get some key information on doing it according to guidelines and public professional medical advice.
There are wide shortages of face masks and face shields around the world so 3D printing has become a very efficient solution to this problem. You may have heard stories about people 3D printing several hundred masks or mask clips, not only to help healthcare workers but also to help protect the general public.
When wearing a face mask or face shield you drastically reduce the chance of both contracting the coronavirus and spreading it, so if everyone is wearing one it make a massive difference.
The video below by Joel at 3D Printing Nerd does a spectacular job illustrating the process and effectiveness of 3D printed face shields, so do take some time to watch it if you want some useful information.
What Do I Need to 3D Print PPE Face Masks/Shields?
Several people are using this opportunity to get their first 3D printers and it’s amazing to see!
We’ll get into how you 3D print safe PPE face masks, shields and accessories but first, lets go over what you need to get started.
- A good quality 3D printer
- 3D printer filament – PETG is the best plastic
- A face mask or face shield model/design file
- A slicer program to create the G-Code file (file your 3D printer uses to print)
- For face shields A4 transparent film sheets
- A hole punch & scissors for post-processing
Face shields require a plastic sheet which extends past the chin, but you can still print the plastic parts and donate these so don’t worry too much.
A good quality 3D printer
If you don’t already have a 3D printer, you can purchase one for a pretty good price nowadays. Since 3D printers have been getting so popular, manufacturers have created plenty which brought the price right down.
The most popular 3D printer that is very reliable has to be the Creality Ender 3 (from Amazon for quick delivery).
3D Printer Filament – PETG or PLA
The reason PETG is the main plastic that is used is because of it’s ability to hold up against strong cleaning products. PETG also has great temperature resistance and a good tolerance to widely used chemicals. It’s around the same price as PLA so if you are buying filament rather than using some left over filament, there isn’t a downside to using it. The upside for PETG is it’
The PETG I would recommend you to get is the SUNLU PETG Filament. It’s a very popular filament with a high regard for precision and tolerance. Once you purchase SUNLU filament, you’ll gain a lifetime 24/7 warranty and receive a high quality, durable filament.
If you have some leftover PLA, this can usually still be used but do ask the potential end-users whether they are accepting it, because there are different levels of scrutiny that is used for these organizations.
A face mask or face shield model/design file
While doing some research about this topic, I was surprised at the amount of designs and models that people have come out to create! You’ll find no shortage of face mask or face shield printer files to choose from.
In my opinion, it’s much better to print face shields than face masks because masks have high standards to be considered safe.
Masks need to first seal your face and be airtight, have comfort so it can be worn for several hours, have a good enough filter to keep small particles out and more. This is hard to make in the first place, let alone make consistently at home.
With the basic tools and knowledge, I’d recommend you stick with face shields and some useful PPE accessories.
I’ve put together some of the most popular, widely-used files in the section below.
Keep in mind, to print the full face shield you are going to need extra parts to complete some of these designs such as acrylic sheets, visors etc.
A lot of healthcare organisations are happy with some of the smaller 3D printed accessories such as face mask clips, so don’t worry about sourcing out extra parts to still be able to help out.
A slicer program to create the G-Code file (file your 3D printer uses to print)
The standard slicer program in the 3D printing community would definitely be Cura. It’s very user-friendly and takes no time to get started preparing your files. From the time you import a 3D print model file, slice it and save it to your SD card it can literally take 1 minute so don’t be overwhelmed by the technical stuff.
Steps to use Cura Slicer Software:
- Download Cura from the official website
- Download your 3D print file from the links above
- Open Cura after download
- Import your 3D file onto the Cura platform
- Change one or two settings such as temperature and infill
- Click the blue ‘Slice’ button on the bottom right
- Save to your SD card and insert it in your 3D printer
- Load up the 3D file and watch it start printing your parts!
After you initially get your first few 3D prints successful, you can start to place multiple objects to print at once to speed things up and minimize downtime.
How Do I 3D Print PPE Face Masks? (Easy Steps)
Step 1. Find a reliable Face Mask design that is proven to work
Here are the most popular face mask designs:
It satisfied a number of requirements:
- Reliable sealing around the face while moving
- Uses HEPA filters
- Breathable for physicians
- Easy to communicate clearly through
- Easy to print
- Comfortable after long periods of time
- Used with large straps for comfort and security
Here are the most popular face shield designs:
Prusa Face Shield – Prusa designed and fine-tuned, used in several hospitals today.
Easy 3D Printed Face Shield – fast and light face shield, just have to slide the A4 sheet in and close it
Stacked Face Shields V4 – these are hard to get right, but once it’s good you can be printing high volumes
This video below has clear instructions on how to get things right.
Here are the most popular PPE accessories:
Ergonomic ‘Deri’ Door Handle Grabber – specially designed to help the elderly open doors hygienically.
Adjustable Extension Connector Band for Face Masks
Step 2. Print the Face Mask Design
The first few prints won’t be perfect but you can tweak settings to get good results.
Step 3. Remove the Print & Post-Processing
Once you get your printing rhythm going you’ll get used to the process and an
Some prints might require some sanding down and post-processing to make it suitable and comfortable enough to be worn for a full shift which can last several hours.
3DWasp made a custom 3D printed mask with a replaceable filter, that uses a 3D scan of an individual wearer’s face to fit ergonomically.
They use a material called PCL or Polycaprolactone which is widely used in the medical field. You can also hand-model after putting the mask in hot water to make it temporarily softer.
How to Speed Up & 3D Print Face Shields Faster
The best method here is to print with normal settings then gradually make small changes until you fine-tune and find your perfect settings. I’ll go through the main factors for you to trial and error.
This awesome video below shows how one 3D print user went from printing one face shield in 3 hours all the way down to just 15 minutes.
The main factor that speeds up printing time is by changing your nozzle to a 0.8mm diameter nozzle, some PPE designs can even go up to a 1mm nozzle.
You might not be able to melt this amount of plastic at once depending on the quality of your hotend. The higher your nozzle diameter, the higher the temperature you should set in your slicer. With a 0.8mm nozzle you can go as high as 250 C, so use trial and error to get the perfect balance.
Your layer height should be, at maximum, 75% of your nozzle diameter so if you are using a 0.8mm nozzle you can have a 0.6mm layer height. A 0.4mm nozzle will use a 0.3mm layer height.
- Layer Height: 75% of your nozzle diameter (multiply nozzle diameter by 0.75)
Remember to manually change speeds because the ‘Print Speed’ default doesn’t change all the values. Some speeds are harder to print with on some 3D printers so it will take some trial and error.
If you are using a larger nozzle, your print speed will automatically come down. See what the default gives you on your slicer, increase it by 50%, then see if your print is successful. You may be able to go even higher if all goes well.
With a 0.8mm nozzle, a normal default will be around 25 so increase it to around 40 and see how it goes.
- Print Speed: Up to 80mm/s if your 3D printer can handle it but much lower if using a big nozzle
- Wall Speed: Up to 75% of your print speed
- Wall Line Count: 4
- Wall Thickness: 1.6mm
- Top/Bottom Thickness: 1.5mm
- Top Layers: 2
- Bottom Layers: 2
- Infill Density: 10%
Print Multiple Parts in Same Print
By disabling a setting in Cura called ‘ensure models are kept apart’ you can print more than 1 model in Cura to reduce overall printing time. The setting is found in the ‘General’ settings tab by going to Preferences > Configure Cura > uncheck ‘ensure models are kept apart’.
You then rotate your 3D print models on the print bed so it fits without overlapping. Your risk of a print failing does increase when you do this so you may have to fine-tune and calibrate your 3D printer to a high standard before doing this print.
Where Should I Send My 3D Printed Facemasks & PPE?
MatterHackers also has a great resource that lists many organizations and facilities that need PPE , as well as groups that are printing PPE, basically being a middleman.
Frequently Asked Questions About 3D Printed PPE
What are the possible risks linked with 3D printing PPE for healthcare professions?
A huge risk that arises with 3D printing for coronavirus aid is the belief that 3D printed PPE can replace professional standard N95 masks and other certified PPE. Professional standard masks are very complex and require extreme precision to get right.
Although you have good intentions and want to help people out, you should realise that it is only a temporary bridge and shouldn’t be your standard.
Masks carry this risk more, face shields on the other hand are hard to get confused with air-tight, highly filtered masks.
When hospitals and healthcare facilities are running low on PPE, 3D printed face shields are a great piece of equipment to use rather than going without any.
You also have to think about sterilization and whether the materials you are using are compatible. PPE will be exposed to several different types of environments where if they aren’t high quality, can easily fail in a time where it’s most needed.
Do I still need to stand at least six feet away from someone if I have a mask?
Yes, you should still follow these guidelines even if you have a mask or face shield. The CDC is clear in this recommendation, as well as other preventative measure such as frequently washing your hands and not touching your face. The mask is what mainly protect other people if you have the virus without symptoms, so it’s not spread around.
I can just use a cloth mask, why should I bother 3D printing masks or face shields?
In the same way a cloth mask is better than nothing, a well-3D printed mask or face shield is better protection than a cloth mask. Also if you want to donate PPE cloth masks wouldn’t be accepted in a clinical environment so 3D printing helps a massive amount more.