How to Get the Perfect First Layer on Your 3D Prints

Nailing the first layer when beginning your print is something that’s desired by everyone in the field of 3D printing. To get it right, however, requires paying attention to extra detail and being aware of what needs to be sorted out.

This article aims to do exactly that and help you in perfecting the first layer.

Along with cleaning the print surface and being wary of the type of filament you’re using, optimizing the print settings is notably the most essential when it comes to acing the first layer.

These involve higher values of the print and bed temperature, slightly increasing first layer height and width, slower print speed, and an evenly levelled print surface. Moreover, using support items might be worth considering as well.

What follows is a thoroughly written guide in the hope of getting you to perfect your first layer. Hence, continue reading to leave here knowledegably well-equipped.

Why is My First Layer Not Coming Out Perfect?

There are several factors that determine whether your first layer is going to turn out great or not. Truth is, you have to watch out for each of them in one way or the other so nothing bad happens to the foundation of your print.

Before getting into the specific techniques and methods to achieve that perfect first layer, it’s important to know what factors are influencing a good or bad first layer, so we can fix the correct things.

Without any further ado, therefore, let’s get right down to why your first layer is not coming out perfect.

Incorrect Temperature Settings

There’s no doubt that temperature has an important role in 3D printing. It’s to be observed through-and-through, being the foundational factor that it is.

What’s even more complicated is that there are various filaments you can print with and each one has its own set range of ideal temperature. Apart from that, the temperature of the nozzle also has to be calibrated aptly.

Many people sacrifice a perfect first layer by not taking the necessary steps to account for proper temperature, so they aren’t using the best temperature settings.

Not only do you have the printing temperature at the nozzle, we also have to take into account the temperature of the print bed which can require adjustments to get the first layer right.

Bad Printing Speed

Another constituent of an unsightly first layer is speed which definitely has enough significance to pay close attention to it. Even if you have every other factor perfect, a bad printing speed can plague your first layers with ease.

The Nozzle is Too Close to the Bed

This is a very common issue that happens with a lot of people out there. No need to worry though, because there’s a very simple fix for this issue which we’ll get to later.

First, let’s discuss how to determine whether the issue you’re facing is this one or something else.

Luckily, there are genuinely obvious indications that your nozzle is printing too close to the bed. The first one usually, is when you can observe transparent initial outlines on the print bed.

This is followed by an apparent squishing of the filament when the nozzle makes its way back on the print line during the infill process.

Next, you’ll observe that your thermoplastic is becoming susceptible to tear, and subsequently, print removal becomes insanely hard as well.

Besides that, there’s going to be a clicking sound coming from the extruder motor as well. This is a pointer that there’s not enough distance between the printing bed and the nozzle for the filament to be extruded properly.

Incorrect Z-Height Calibration

The Z-height calibration goes a long way in setting your print up for success. However, if the optimization isn’t correct, it can lead to a poorly extruded first layer.

The first case occurs when the first layer is too high for it to adhere appropriately to the bed. Mostly, it’ll detach from the print bed sooner or later, resulting in a failed print and plenty of wasted filament.

On the other hand, when the first player is printed exceedingly low, the hot end of the printer is made to drag over the previous layers.

This delivers a highly unprofessional and unappealing look to your model while increasing the chances of a clogged nozzle drastically. Furthermore, the layers, as you print them, will appear to become crushed.

This happens when the filament extrudes out the sides of the nozzle when the Z-height isn’t properly honed.

Uneven Print Bed

There’s a high chance that the reason your first layer is not sticking properly is because your print surface is imbalanced. This causes the print to turn out satisfactory in some places, but distorted and deformed elsewhere in the print.

Therefore, the surface has to be kept flat to ensure that you get the desired quality of your first layer.

Keep in mind that variations as trivial as 0.1 mm, which is equivalent to the thickness of the hair, matter too when it comes to a levelled bed. This is the importance of maintaining an even bed if you want to get an awesome first layer.

Unclean Print Surface

Another good reason why you’re not seeing the results you want to see is the absence of cleanliness on your print bed. This is common, might we tell you, as the build platform is prone to catching dirt, grease, filament leftovers, and whatnot in the wake of printing.

Even if you get the perfect print settings, level  bed, or layer height calibration, your first layer may not adhere to the print bed because of these impurities on the surface.

Dirty marks such as finger grease, dust, residue from tool usage, and other smudges can accumulate on the print bed in many ways, such as when you’re processing print removal, or an accidental nudge here and there.

A Clogged Extruder or Nozzle

One more advocate of a terrible first layer is a partial or complete blockage in your extruder nozzle. Clogging occurs due to multiple reasons, and one of them being an exceeding amount of dirt and debris getting stuck inside the extruder.

Then, there’s always the case of red-hot thermoplastic being held inside the nozzle for too long, causing a clogged condition.

Furthermore, the filament could cool down and soften up where it isn’t supposed to inside the extruder, leading to an unwanted blockage. You will also need to keep a keen eye out at the tip of the nozzle to see if any filament residue is protruding out the sides.

How to Get the Perfect First Layer

  • Make sure you get a leveled bed surface
  • Flat Print Surface
    Cleaning the Print Surface & Nozzle
  • Implement good first layer settings such as speed and layer height
  • Using the Proper Build Surface
  • Use skirts and rafts to prime the nozzle and add more foundation to the first layer
  • Use the Optimal Temperature Settings
  • Adjust Techniques Depending on Filament Used
  • Use an Adhesive Substance on Your Print Bed
  • Calibrate Your Extruder

Experience and skill – both require you to spend some time and effort if you aim to go big in 3D printing and achieve these two elegant attributes. This is why we’re going to walk you through step by step to educate you the best we can in this regard.

Now that you know what could be the possible reasons for a ruined first layer, let’s get to the part where we solve this odious issue.

Levelling the Print Bed

  • Get an automatic bed-leveling system like a BLTouch
  • Run a test print to make sure your bed is properly leveled beforehand

The first thing you want to do to get a perfect first layer is to look towards leveling your print bed, and making sure it is evenly levelled throughout the surface, not just on the corners.

It’s important to check that the middle of your print bed is levelled and when you put a piece of paper underneath, it has a small gap between the nozzle and build surface.

Most newer-style 3D printers today come with the highly sought-after feature of automatic bed levelling.

In the cases of people who are still using manual bed leveling, you can improve your skills to get a great level bed without the automated system. It can take some time to get used to, but with practice it gets a lot easier.

A perfectly leveled print bed helps out a ton when it comes to getting that perfect first layer. Precision and accuracy is the main factor behind solving this issue, which is why automated bed levelers like the BLTouch work so well.

An evenly levelled, flat-surfaced bed is one of the most crucial things to look out for before you start printing. Looking beyond the first layer, a perfectly levelled bed paves the way for a stunning print.

To start off, you should pre-heat your 3D printer bed and nozzle temperature. This is advised because a cold print bed may quickly change levels and warp after being heated.

Next, you should know that each FDM 3D printer today has at least three or four screws mainly found in the corners of the bed that can be adjusted to level the bed.

The key here is calibrating the bed in such a way that’s evenly balanced across all four corners and finally in the middle too. You can do this using a post-it note or any other index card by sliding it under the tip of the nozzle and just above the print bed.

If you feel minute resistance when you’re dragging the card back and forth, you’re good to go. If not, tighten the screw until you do so. Repeat the process in all four corners to level the bed properly.

The significance of manual bed levelling sparks from the fact that it is also recommended in printers having automatic bed-levelling wizards. This is only to enhance the reliability and efficiency of the first layer and so on.

For a more detailed guide, here is another one of my articles that explain the whole process in detail.

Sometimes leveling while a test print is running is a great idea for getting great leveling, which I’ve heard being called ‘live-levelling’.

Flat Print Surface

As described above, you may find that your bed levels out nicely on each corner and even the middle, but you may have uneven surfaces around your build surface.

This occurs when you are using certain bed materials which are prone to warping.

  • Try using a glass build plate as they are great at staying flat over time.

Cleaning the Print Surface & Nozzle

  • Properly clean your print surface with isopropyl alcohol
  • Implement an atomic pull to clear your nozzle of any blockages
  • Use a cleaning needle to dislodge jams in your nozzle

As mentioned before, there’s just no point in optimizing your printer’s settings if the surface you’re going to print on is soiled with dust and grease and your nozzle is clogged.

Therefore, before you get into doing anything, take a good look at the build platform along with the extruder and eliminate anything repulsive.

What you could do better is develop a habit of wiping your print surface frequently. Keep a clean dry cloth nearby your printer at all times and give the platform a solid mop to get rid of dust habitually.

In addition, the proven method of cleaning the surface is by using Isopropyl Alcohol with a paper towel or any other cloth.

This, hence, completely cleanses your platform may it be dirt, grease, dust, filament residue, or anything else not falling in the line with an immaculate print bed.

Some people recommend using 90% IPA whereas lower concentrations may comprise unwanted chemicals and oils that may hinder your conquest for spotlessness.

For those print beds that are removable, you can even get down to business with them in a sink. Feel free to use any regular washing soap combined with lukewarm water to give it a nice scrub.

Lastly, there’s the unnerving filament mess that doesn’t hesitate to build up in the nozzle. If that happens, you’ll notice how bed levelling becomes so tiresome and difficult, making the gap adjustment harder to achieve.

Luckily, you can use the bristles of a brass brush to clean the mess around the nozzle’s tip.

There’s one more thing you can do and that’s heating the nozzle and wiping off any excessive filament. This will ensure that the filament is able to extrude freely and there won’t be any problems with respect to the nozzle.

Use the Proper Build Surface

  • Use a good build surface such as BuildTak, PEI or a magnetic flex buildplate
  • Make sure your build surface isn’t worn out

Many 3D printer users have sworn that after changing to a specific bed surface, their first layers and overall prints have become much better.

One of the better build surfaces that work for most are PEI coated beds. They are more premium than the usual build surfaces out there, but they seem to work a lot better.

It has stopped warping and curling for many 3D printer users, and has allowed for great adhesion throughout the whole printing process.

PEI is popular in Prusa 3D printers and the officials themselves have advised using Acetone on the print surface after it has been more than a hundred hours of printing.

Side by side, it’s been said that PEI gradually loses its adhesive capabilities and could happily use a rigorous wipe of Acetone.

Careful not to mess around with the chemical on the smooth PEI bed before you’ve started printing with PETG.

This is because acetone can easily dissolve the thermoplastic in question and is only recommended after its usage to nudge it off the print surface.

Ensure Optimal First Layer Settings (Increase First Layer Settings – Initial Layer Line Width

  • Increase ‘Initial Layer Line Width’ to up to 200% of your nozzle diameter
  • Have a first layer height of around 75% of the nozzle diameter
  • Decrease first layer speed to around 50% of printing speed or around 20mm/s (default in Cura)
  • Make sure your cooling fan is turned off during the first few layers

The next step goes towards highlighting the essence of settings more related to the core of 3D printing. First layer settings combined with speed constantly play a vital role in getting the first layer to stick.

You cannot hope to start your prints right if these fundamental settings are off.

Even if one of the settings isn’t optimal, it can result in your first layers not coming out that great. As described above, you can follow those steps with trial and error to see how they work out for you.

Firstly, if you have a habit of printing fast, time to switch up the game plan. Printing slow is decisive when it comes to perfecting that first layer. For instance, if First Layer Speed is at 100%, start your print at 50%.

Cura has a default First Layer Speed of 20mm/s which works out very well for a perfect first layer, so double check your settings and make sure it is in that lower range.

Afterwards, there is also the fan speed settings that you need to know about. Even though the cooling process during printing is truly pivotal for successful prints, for the first few layers, you’re going to have to lay off the fan.

We recommend turning it off for the first layer especially so the print settles in nicely and adheres better to the warm surface. Feel free to use the fan from the second layer onwards.

The ‘Initial Layer Line Width’ setting has worked for many people to prop up their first layer to the point where adhesion improves significantly.

This also complements the first layer height setting, which can be increased to improve your first layer.

Implement Skirts, Brims & Rafts

One method you could use to fine-tune your first layer without the added hassle is by using skirts, brims & rafts – all being support items in 3D printing. Let us introduce you to both of these awesome features.

Skirts are supposed to be printed around the print, in a way that it surrounds the model you’re making. These play the purpose of preparing the nozzle so it delivers its absolute best when it matters the most and that is when it’s working on your print.

You can have those small temporary blockages in your nozzle that get dislodged after some extruding, so you would rather that happens away from your actual print, which is what the skirt does.

Therefore, when the extruder gets primed beforehand, your chances of getting a brilliant first layer skyrocket.

Next in line are brims, which are similar to skirts but they actually touch the external walls of your 3D prints. They work by giving your first layer and 3D print a good foundation underneath.

They use a little more filament than a skirt, but work really well to improve your first layer.

Then last but not least, we have rafts. Rafts are a solid base upon which your model is to be printed on. These take away the burden of flawless bed-levelling, and covering up any room for error.

The first layer adheres to the raft better and this support item is removed from the print after you’re done. Keep in mind that printing rafts requires the most extra material and may demand a bunch of effort for detaching it, depending on your settings.

You can dial in your raft settings to not use too much filament and to be easy to detatch at the end of a print.

Use the Optimal Temperature Settings

  • Use a temperature tower to calibrate temperature settings

Your temperature settings need to be set correctly for a perfect first layer. It can take some basic trial and error to get the temperature settings optimal, but this is very worthwhile for your 3D printer quality.

The best way to dial in your temperature settings is to use a temperature calibration tower which you can find on Thingiverse.

The first thing to do is try temperatures within the range that is set by the filament manufacturer. You’ll usually find this range on a label on the filament packaging or on the roll of filament itself.

There are a plethora of 3D printing filaments out there, each distinct with their own properties. Not every thermoplastic is the same, and neither the way they’re dealt with.

Even filament from the same brand and same color may have different optimal temperatures because of the small differences in the manufacturing.

Some filament may ask a higher amount of temperatures such as ABS and Nylon, while filaments like PLA feel happy in settling for less.

Moreover, given the varying nature of thermoplastics, PETG and TPE stick so well that you mostly need a releasing agent for print removal.

On the other hand, for irritatingly stubborn filaments, items such as glue sticks, hairsprays can help fruitfully in adhesion.

Adjust Techniques Depending on Filament Used

As previously mentioned, different filament reacts differently to changes in temperature and even adhesion to build surfaces. It is said that you want to avoid printing directly onto the build plate with certain filament such as PETG & TPE.

They have a tendency to stick a little too good to print surfaces, to a point where it can almost create a permanant bond.

One video by the 3D Printing Nerd shows how the glass bed on his $38,000 3D printer actually broke because of a PETG 3D print sticking to the bed.

To combat this, you can use substances on your print bed to create an extra surface between the bed and material such as a glue stick, hairspray or specialized 3D printer adhesives.

Use an Adhesive Substance on Your Print Bed

  • A thin layer of glue stick is a common method used by many 3D printer users
  • Blue painter’s tape stuck on the build surface is another method
  • You can use hairspray to help first layer adhesion

Calibrate Your Extruder

Calibrating your extruder is a step missed out by many 3D printer users which negatively affects their first layers. Make sure your extruder is calibrated as best as it can be. It usually results in better first layers and better overall print quality.

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