How to Level Your 3D Printer Bed – Nozzle Height Calibration
Leveling your bed isn’t a hard task at all, having done it many times, but I can definitely say it’s a tedious activity to get right. I’m sure many of you have run into trouble while trying to calibrate or level your 3D printer bed, so this article will try to help you get it right.
The best way how to level your bed is to run a test print of a large object and adjust the corners of your bed as it extrudes material. This method is efficient because it’s happening in real-time and doesn’t require manual moving of the bed or print head.
You can never get a perfectly level bed, but you can get it as perfect as you need it to be to print successfully. Every bed has a slightly high spot, low spot, blemishes and so on.
This article will detail some great ways to level your 3D printer bed so you can get some smooth printing, rather than constantly tinkering with your bed.
How to Level/Calibrate Your 3D Printer Bed
The easy answer here when you get more experience is to start a print of a large object, so it goes around the whole bed and apply a few skirts in your slicer settings. What you can do is actually raise or lower your bed while the skirt is printing to get the ideal bed level or calibration.
It’s the main method I use because it’s easier, but the method that is usually taught is slightly different. Keep this in mind for the near future.\
Once you have experience with leveling your print bed, this is the easiest method, but if you are starting out, I’d recommend the method below.
- Heat up printer bed & nozzle
- Disable stepper motors
- Manually move print head and bed to one corner of print bed
- Try to slide a piece of paper underneath
- Lower or raise bed corners using the wheels, to a point where the nozzle is lightly pressing on the paper
- Make sure the paper can be slightly moved/wiggled with the nozzle on top (gives enough space to extrude)
- Repeat step 7 for each corner and the middle of the bed
- Do a second round of this
- Your printer bed should be fully leveled and calibrated!
Now let me explain the 3D printer bed-leveling process in detail.
Leveling your bed is a pretty simple process which should take you a few minutes to get done. It’s vital for getting that desired first layer, and making sure bed adhesion is good enough to last through the whole print. You’ll get better as time goes on!
Many people have issues of a print losing adhesion as time goes on, which ends up causing the print to get pushed slightly out of place, ruining the print altogether.
All you need to level your 3D printer bed is a normal piece of paper or feeler gauge and a little patience to get it done properly.
The first thing you want to do is heat your print bed up to 60°C and nozzle to 150°C.
Once that’s heated up you want to auto-home your print head to its base position (X – 0mm, Y – 0mm, Z – 0mm).
Your 3D printer will hit the X, Y & Z endstops to find this location, which is why it’s important the endstops are set up correctly.
After your print head is at home base, you want to go into the printer’s interface and hit the ‘Disable Steppers’ option, usually found under ‘Control’ settings. What this does is allow you to move the print head to each calibration location for proper leveling.
You’re now ready to start adjust your bed levels.
The main thing I’ll say before manually leveling your bed is keep safety in your mind at all times. The bed is relatively hot so don’t get too touchy-feely, and the nozzle is definitely something you want to avoid touching.
The larger the piece of paper, the further away you can be from the nozzle. I like to use a post-it note for this process.
Now you want to move the print head along the X axis and printer bed along the Y axis, so that the nozzle is at one corner. I usually start with the bottom left since it’s so close to the home position.
Make sure to never move your hotend or bed too quickly along the axis because it can create EMI spikes which can result in blowing the transistor and capacitors on your control board.
First, I like to twist all four wheel bed-levelers counter-clockwise, or towards the left to lower the bed a little for the next part.
Get your thin piece of paper (not thick card) and slide it underneath the nozzle. Now you need to lower the nozzle to the point where you can still slide the paper back and forth with the nozzle on top of it. So, you’ll have to typically lower it down, then slightly raise the bed by turning the wheel clockwise or towards the right.
Once you can wiggle the paper around, this one corner has been leveled adequately. Now, while the paper is still under the nozzle, move the print head along the X axis manually until it is in the bottom-right corner.
Follow the same process with lowering and raising the bed until you can again, wiggle the paper around.
Now to get to the top-right corner, we’ll need to move the print bed along the Y axis with the paper still underneath. Level this corner, then do the same with the top-left corner, which will take moving the print head along the X axis.
Once you’ve leveled all four corners properly, you should then re-do this process again starting from the bottom left.
‘Perfecting’ the Leveling Stage
The reason we level or calibrate our 3D printer bed twice is because the leveling of one side can alter another side. When we level out twice, it accounts for this change and ensures that your bed is nicely level, ready for a successful first layer.
After leveling twice, it’s a good idea to also check the middle of the print bed with the same piece of paper under the nozzle. Leveling the corners, as long as your bed isn’t warped should mean the middle should give the same wiggle room for the paper.
I have a pretty popular article about Fixing a Warped 3D Printer Bed, so definitely check that out if you experience this.
The middle of your bed is the most important part for you to have leveled for your nozzle. Most prints you do are going to be using the middle section, so the corners aren’t as important unless you are doing large prints.
What you can do is slightly adjust each corner equally so that the middle is leveled correctly with the paper underneath the nozzle. This might work for some time, but if your bed experiences more warping, you probably won’t get successful first layers.
This is where a beautiful thing called automatic leveling can come in to save the day.
Should I Do Manual or Automatic Leveling?
When it comes to leveling there are two distinct ways that it can be done. Manual leveling is simply moving the bed by hand, using the four bed leveling wheels underneath, or in some cases, using some type of screw or wrench mechanism.
Manual leveling is usually enough for most 3D printer users because it doesn’t need to be done too many times. You should choose whichever one you value more.
Either you value saving that extra time from automatic leveling and getting consistently great first layers, or you want to save that extra money and don’t mind doing the paper under the nozzle method.
If you plan on 3D printing for years to come, it makes sense to invest in your journey, to make it a smoother one.
Many people, after a while opt-in for automatic bed leveling because it’s just so much easier.
The best option for an automatic bed leveler is the BLTouch (Amazon), which is a staple upgrade in the 3D printing community. The quality and design of this auto-leveler is excellent and really makes a difference in the printing process.
Even if your bed is warped and normal manual leveling just doesn’t do the trick, the BLTouch accounts for the differences in bed level across the surface, and moves the nozzle slightly up or down accordingly.
Features of the BLTouch are:
- It’s easily applied because it’s so small, simple and just needs a simple firmware update
- Does a self-test when your turn the power on
- Has an LED blinking light as an alarm to identify problems in operation or on the self-test
- Top-notch precision of a 0.005mm Standard Deviation in repeatability
- Can be used on almost any board and works with any type of bed surface
- Comes with a 1-meter extension cable set for larger printers
Get your BLTouch from Amazon today.
How Far Should Your 3D Printer Nozzle be From the Bed?
When it comes to 3D printing successfully, there are many factors that you have to tune to get some good results.
One of those factors is your 3D printer nozzle location relative to your printer bed or build surface, so we want the optimum nozzle bed distance. I wondered to myself, just how far should a 3D printer nozzle be from the print bed?
Your 3D printer nozzle leveling gap should be between 0.06 – 0.2mm from your printer bed to give it enough space to comfortably extrude material, which is about the width of a piece of paper. This distance also does depend on your nozzle diameter and layer height.
If you are printing at 50 microns or a 0.05mm layer height, you’ll need to lower the space from the nozzle to the bed.
Your bed should be warm when you are leveling and measuring just how far the nozzle is from the bed. The reason for this is that your bed can slightly expand when heat is applied, so doing it from a cold bed can give inaccurate results.
We want a proper distance between the tip of the nozzle and the bed, so we have to take these things into account.
How to Know if Your Nozzle is Too Close to the Bed
You know your nozzle is too close to the bed when you get those thinly extruded lines which scrape the bed surface. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a few skirts before your actual print starts.
It gives you the opportunity to actually level your print bed while that’s happening.
You might also hear your extruder clicking or slipping, which is what happens when there is a backward pressure of filament through the Bowden tube. When material can’t fully extrude and your printer has an expected flow rate, then you know your nozzle is too close to the bed.
Lower your bed by turning the wheels counter-clockwise, or towards the left until the nozzle isn’t scraping the bed and extrudes on the build surface smoothly.
How to Know if Your Nozzle is Too High from the Bed
This one is pretty easy to tell. You’ll see your filament either curling around the nozzle and not actually being laid, or your filament just won’t stick down well enough to the bed and be easily moved.
If this is happening, you just want to raise up your print bed until there is a good enough distance between the bed and nozzle to firmly touch the bed.
Your filament won’t pleasantly be laid on the print bed firmly, it has to actually have a good amount of contact to stick to the bed. When the material is extruded, you can test how well the adhesion to the bed is by very lightly brushing over the printed layer.
If you can easily move the layer, you know it isn’t stuck down well, so the bed needs to be raised.
Using a thicker first layer usually is a good method for accounting for distance away from the bed. Also increasing flow rate for the first layer to ensure a nice amount of material is extruded for nice adhesion to the bed.
Feeler Gauge for Nozzle Height Distance from Bed
Some people use either a feeler gauge to get the height and distance from the nozzle to your bed.
I wouldn’t recommend using a feeler gauge for leveling your 3D printer because they are quite slippery since they are polished metal. It’s hard to determine the right level without the dragging feeling that you get with the paper.
Post-it notes seems like the ideal option because you can use the adhesive side to easily maneuver the note while under the nozzle and around the bed.
Dial Indicator for Bed Leveling
This is a unique way that machinist and other 3D printer users implement to get a perfectly leveled bed. The precision with this method is pretty accurate so I do recommend giving it a go.
A dial gauge has a precision level where it will display the distance of how much the device is pushed in. You connect the dial gauge to your print head and move it to each corner using G-code. Then on the first corner, set the gauge to 0 and set each following corner to 0 to get a perfectly leveled bed.
What If You Just Can’t Level the Bed Anymore?
There can come a time where leveling the bed manually just doesn’t do the trick anymore. It is usually down to your bed warping too much or even a damaged surface. You have a few options in this case to solve this problem.
You can either go for automatic bed leveling, get a replacement bed surface or try to fix the issue directly.
One 3D printer user actually uses sticky notes and places a number of them underneath the bed surface to increase the bed height. Surprisingly enough, it actually worked to level out the bed so this is a great cheap fix to get smooth prints again.
This might not always work out, so going for the BL-Touch (Amazon) could be your savior or getting a fresh borosilicate glass bed.
Borosilicate glass has many qualities that make it a great option for your 3D printer. It has properties which ensure that heat is properly distributed, parts are easier to separate after cooled, it’s resistant to scratches and thermal shock, and reduces warping in prints.
Borosilicate glass for the following printers (Amazon links):
- Creality CR-10, CR-10S, CRX, Ultimaker S3, Tevo Tornado – 310 x 310 x 3mm (thickness)
- Creality Ender 3/X,Ender 3 Pro, Ender 5, CR- 20, CR-20 Pro, Geeetech A10 – 235 x 235 x 4mm
- Monoprice Select Mini V1, V2 – 130 x 160 x 3mm
- Prusa i3 MK2, MK3, Anet A8 – 220 x 220 x 4mm
- Monoprice Mini Delta – 120mm round x 3mm
Even if you don’t need a whole replacement, you can use it as an alternative plate switch in between finished prints to reduce your idle time.
How Often Should You Level Your Print Bed?
It’s hard to determine how often you should level your printer bed because it depends on how often you use it and whether it actually becomes uneven. If you start to notice first layer problems this is one of the first things you should be doing.
I’d say I had to re-level my 3D printer bed after around 10 or so prints. Some people say they level their bed every two weeks or so. There is something you can actually implement on your 3D printer so you don’t have to level your bed as regularly, and no, it’s not a BL-Touch!
Underneath 3D printer beds, you’ll usually see springs used to raise or lower the bed because it’s the cheaper option and what comes with your 3D printer most of the time.
Something you definitely want to be implementing on your 3D printer bed is BCZAMD Silicone Leveling Columns (Amazon).
When people find out about these beauties, they snatch them up pretty quickly!
They have the benefit of requiring minimal amount of leveling over time. Springs tend to gradually move out of place, while silicone leveling columns stay fixed in place.
If you mix these silicone columns with the BLTouch, you’ll practically never have to level your bed again.
When you look at the reviews on Amazon, you see just how happy people are with this product and how it reduces the need to level a 3D printer bed.
Fixing Issues With Your Nozzle Digging/Hitting the Bed Surface
It can be quite worrying seeing your nozzle hit or dig straight into your bed surface because these are very hard materials with force behind it.
What you want to do is make sure your build platform is properly positioned. This can be done in one of two ways, either lowering your printing platform to a point where the nozzle no longer digs into the bed, or by raising your Z limit switch so your nozzle can’t actually go too low.
The thing that stops your print head and nozzle from going too low is this small switch on the side of your printer.
You simply have to undo the two T-nuts on the side of this switch and move it up then refix it. The video below shows an illustration at 0:30. You might want to mute the video because the music (couldn’t find another video) isn’t that great!
Does Your 3D Printer Need to Be on a Level Surface?
No, a 3D printer doesn’t need to be on a level surface and could even 3D print sideways or even upside down. You want to have the 3D printer on a stable surface so it reduces wobble and vibration which can decrease print quality. When moving your 3D printer, it can change the leveling so remember to re-level the bed.
The video below is a 3D printer that is printing sideways.
Hopefully you are now equipped to properly level your printer’s bed and get some nice first layers from now on.