Speed Vs Quality: Do Lower Speeds Make Prints Better?


There have been a lot of controversies concerning the best printing speed required to produce the best print quality. How do we figure out the level of speed that we can set that doesn’t let up on quality?

Lower speeds generally make 3D printers better quality when you have not properly optimized your 3D printer. When you have good stability, have taken out slack out of your 3D printer’s parts, a high speed has less effect on print quality. Once optimized, the main thing that holds speed back is flow rates.

By the end of this article, you would be fully aware of the consequences of speed on the quality of your print and also get to make smart choices when deciding on the best approach concerning tweaking your 3D printer speed to produce the best quality.

The general answer for this question is yes, the faster the print speed you use, the lower the quality of the part you are printing. This isn’t so clear cut because there are many factors which affect 3D printing speed, which doens’t necessarily translate into lower quality.

Are you trying to print a functional, load-bearing part? Are you trying to build a beautiful aesthetic piece which you want to be durable? Quality is subjective based on what you are trying to achieve, but this article will attempt to compare the usual quality factors with speed factors.

The Tradeoff Between Speed & Quality

The first thing to note here is just how much does speed affect quality?

The first thing to get straight in this dicussion is, what factors do we mean when we say speed & quality? I’ve looked far and wide to see what other 3D printer hobbyists say and this is what I got.

Speed

  • Printing time

Quality

  • Layer line smoothness
  • Print strength
  • Print durability
  • Looks just like the sliced model
  • Lack of imperfections

The time estimation factors that Cura gives us are as follow:

  • Infill – Main factor
  • Inner Walls – Main factor
  • Outer Walls – Main factor
  • Retractions – Minor
  • Skin – Minor
  • Skirt – Insignificant
  • Travel – Main factor

Speed is down to just how long does the print take to make, but there is more. With speed, the less material we have to extrude, the faster printing times will be, so that closely ties in to printing time overall.

So all the ways we can use to reduce material extruded will cut down on printing time, but these might have a negative effect on print quality, depending on what is done.

If you’re using lower infill settings, is your print strength being reduced? Most likely according to tests that have been run. The less infill you use, the less strength your parts tend to have.

Quality has more intricate factors which can be pretty difficult to test unless you have certain machinery & plenty 3D printed parts at your disposal.

CNC Kitchen have exactly that so they have conducted some experiments on the strength of parts. They concluded many points which you can view for yourself in the video below.

Once you determine what quality factors you care about, we can properly answer the question of speed vs quality and whether slower speeds make print quality better.

Other than this video, we are going to look at what factors influence printing speed, and just what effects they have on the print quality.

  • Printing Speed Setting
  • Nozzle Size
  • Layer Height
  • Number of Walls/Shells
  • Infill
  • Retraction
  • Line/Extrusion Width

We also have to realize that acceleration and jerk settings will make a significant difference in how fast the printer is travelling. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve kept them the same at default values set by my Ender 3 & Cura.

Printing Speed Setting

Printing SpeedPrinting Time
20mm/s1 hour 54 minutes
40mm/s1 hour 5 minutes
60mm/s1 hour 1 minute
80mm/s1 hour 1 minute
100mm/s1 hour 1 minute

I’m sure you notice a pattern here, when we reach 60mm/s it doesn’t make a difference increasing printing speed to 100mm/s. The reason for this is the printer doesn’t have the opportunity to actually reach these higher speeds.

This tends to happen when prints are smaller and don’t require much travel over the printer bed.

To prove this theory, I scaled the Calibration Speeed Tower 300% to see what difference it makes in printing time

Printing SpeedPrinting Time
20mm/s22 hours 30 minutes
40mm/s13 hours 18 minutes
60mm/s10 hours 28 minutes
80mm/s9 hours 9 minutes
100mm/s8 hours 29 minutes

As you can see, when we give a 3D printer the opportunity to reach these higher speeds, printing time reduces drastically.

The thing we want to know is how much of a difference in printing quality are we going to see printing at 100mm/s compared to 40mm/s?

Also, is there going to be much difference between 20mm/s and 40mm/s vs 80mm/s and 100mm/s?

Nozzle Size

This has a direct effect on both printing time and quality of your print. It is a well-known fact that having a bigger nozzle size will increase flow rates, as well as decrease print resolution. Layer height tends to be a certain percentage of your nozzle size, so using a 1mm nozzle is just going to decrease that print quality.

Layer Height

Similar to nozzle size, layer height is essentially what we use to categorize print resolution. You cannot get details as intricate as possible when using a large layer height, and essentially, the larger the layer height the poorer details come out.

Large layer heights are usually used for parts that aren’t meant to look pretty or that people just want to get printed quickly. Prototypes, large parts or low-poly parts are where you will see bigger layer heights, because quality isn’t prioritised with them.

Number of Walls/Shells

This one is quite important in the fact that tests have been run to show this has a huge impact on part strength. Increasing the number of walls or shells reinforces the weaker outside points of a part, resulting in a durable and strong part.

The great thing about doing so is how it doesn’t increase printing time by as much as you would think.

The trade off between increasing the number of walls and print quality in terms of print strength is a great one. In other words, if print strength is a quality factor you are after, one of the first things you should do is increase the number of walls/shells/perimeters.

A wall line count of 6 rather than 2 from the original Calibration Speed Tower at 300% scale, goes from 8 hours and 29 minutes, up to 10 hours and 15 minutes. However, the material used goes all the way up to 135g, compared to 78g.

Speed Vs Quality - Speed Tower 2 & 6 Walls - 3D Printerly
Left: 2 Walls, Right: 6 Walls

We’ve trippled the amount of walls in this print, but added almost twice the amount of material. The quality difference in terms of strength is extemely significant here so if strength is your goal, it’s a good choice to use.

Infill

Infill is definitely going to increase the amount of material extruded, which can be a huge difference depending on how high your infill percentage is. The difference between an infill percentage of 10% & 100% is extremely significant, especially in bigger parts.

For the 300% scaled tower, having 0 infill gives us a printing time of 4 hours 55 minutes with just 62g used.

Cubic infill pattern:

Infill PercentagePrinting TimeGrams of Material
5%6 hours 4 minutes66g
10%6 hours 55 minutes70g
20%8 hours 29 minutes78g
30%9 hours 44 minutes86g
60%12 hours 59 minutes111g
80%15 hours 13 minutes128g
10018 hours 35 minutes139g
Speed Vs Quality - 5%, 10%, 20% Infill - 3D Printerly
Left: 5% Infill. Middle: 10% Infill. Right: 20% Infill.
Speed Vs Quality - 30% & 60% Infill - 3D Printerly
Left: 30% Infill. Right: 60% Infill
Speed Vs Quality - 80% & 100% Infill - 3D Printerly
Left: 80% Infill. Right: 100% Infill

Infill is also to do with strength settings, but can also have an impact on aesthetics, depending on the thickness of the walls, top & bottom thickness etc, because you can sometimes see the infill pattern through prints.

Retraction

The retraction setting isn’t very significant when it comes to 3D printing time, but it can make a big difference to printing quality. The presence of stringing usually comes about when retraction settings aren’t tuned, or properly on at all.

Retraction is when your extruder pulls back filament within the printing chamber while moving to another area, so filament doesn’t accidentally leak out. When you figure out this setting, it’s a blessing to your print quality and not so much a negative factor on print speeds.

Line/Extrusion Width

When using Cura settings, the difference between printing speeds makes a massive difference in just how long a print will take you. For example, when I slice a speed tower at 100mm/s I get an estimated print time of 1 hour and 1 minute.

On the other hand, a print speed of 20mm/s gives me a time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, which is almost double!

In Cura, they mention how slightly reducing the line width can actually result in better quality prints so how much time does doing this add on to printing time?

With all else equal, decreasing line width to 0.3mm instead of 0.4mm takes printing time from 8 hours and 29 minutes up to 9 hours and 36 minutes.

That is 509 minutes up to 576 minutes which is a 13% increase in printing time. Would this lead to a 13% increase in print quality? Pretty hard to say, considering quality can’t be quantified as easily as printing time.

It’s more so down to your perception with how smooth the layer lines look and how accurate the printed model looks to the sliced file.

Does this mean that speed affects the quality of your print? Yes, depending on what quality you exchange for printing time, but for the most part, a lower speed should end up with better quality prints.

It is also very important to note that printing too slowly, may cause heat to build up on the piece and cause warping of the plastic, this is especially true for PLA materials.

This means that to get the best print quality using the right speed is dependent on three things; the type of material, the kind of 3D printer and the settings of your machine.

Other Factors That Affect Speed Vs Quality

The Type of Material

Materials matter when it comes to determining speed VS quality.

There are various materials called filaments that you can use for printing. Each of these filaments when printed at the same speed can give varied print quality because of the difference in their texture and not because of the speed of your 3D printer.

What this means is that you can still print in high quality at a high speed and this is dependent on the kind of filament you choose. This is however not applicable to all printers.

The FDM for instance has a very hard limit when it comes to printing speed as filaments cannot be fed through the extruder beyond a certain rate.

Also, printing too slowly using a PLA material can cause warping and you definitely do not want that. This goes to show that printing slowly might be favorable on some filaments over some others.

The Kind of 3D Printer

There is need to reiterate that the quality of your print is determined by the speed of your printer but if you must print at a speed that is faster than what is the normal acceptable speed, that would then be determined by your machine’s ability to handle that speed.

For instance, a cheap Chinese printer if set at a higher speed should be expected to have a lot of design deficiencies, slops and maybe backlash.

However, a well-designed delta or coreXY 3D printer with a Bowden setup can give you a faster speed without a decrease in quality if you improve the speed by decreasing the mass of your extruder.

E.g. moving to Bowden from direct drive. The real question however is, how many 3D printers are true to their words of providing a faster printing time without compromising on quality?

There is no doubt that a premium 3D printer has a better potential of faster speeds, as well as higher quality than cheaper 3D printers. Make sure if quality and speed is what you are after, you are getting a solid, reliable machine.

The video above shows some pretty insane 3D printing speeds, probably the fastest you’ve ever seen!

Print profiles

This is a very useful tool you can use for slicing in 3D printing.

A print profile is basically a batch of settings that you save for the particular type of print you are going for. It is in this print profile that you can get to tweak the speed of the various filaments you choose to print.

This means you can have a specific print profile for every that every filament you use.

An example is, you can save a print profile for working with a TPU by tweaking or modifying printing temperature or speeds or any other parameter that you deem necessary to tweak. A print profile choice is based on the material and what works well with it.

You can have as much as 5 to 6 different print profiles that you can use on a regular basis and even have the different setups saved.

Why Printing Speed Affects Quality

While the concept of 3D printing is revolutionary and a lot of people are beginning to delve into this part of the industry, the slow speed required in printing materials still poses a problem for a lot of people.

This is especially true for manufacturers who have a large amount of products to be printed.

Manufacturers would rather have their products massed produced in a factory than spend all that time waiting for a 3D printer to produce a high quality print.

What some other 3D printing enthusiasts do however, is find a way to manipulate the speed of their machine and this lessens quality. It is quite understandable why a lot of them get impatient and try to do this.

On one hand, they do not understand how the speed of a printer should affect quality.

If you use top-notch filaments and have your printer set to give the best quality, how then does something as mundane as the printing speed of a printer affect the outcome of the whole printing process? Here’s why;

There has been a recent surge in the availability of 3D printers. Everyone who seems to be interested in this industry, can get better access to a 3D printer.

There are 3D desktop printers available everywhere and it is very easy and quite reasonably affordable to get your hands on one. The reason a 3D printer is affordable today, is one of the major reasons why fast speed affects print quality.

Following the sudden trend in 3D printing, manufacturers understood the impact price would have on the demand of 3D printers and decided to make it affordable for anyone interested.

What they did while building the regular 3D printer was to purchase cheap parts, parts that were especially flexible and light. They did this in a bid to make 3D printers more affordable.

What this means is that if printing is accelerated, there would be some sort of movement in the printer because of the cheap parts.

These movements create significant vibrations which in turn causes poor print quality or even damages the whole print all together.

Do not mistake these cheap parts for substandard parts. Manufacturers only use more affordable options to make the 3D printer easily available and affordable for anyone interested in getting one.

Does this mean that a more expensive machine, with more expensive parts can print fine quality print at an accelerated speed without compromising on quality?

Does controlling unwanted vibrations result in better print quality? To these questions, we can safely answer yes. The development of 3D printers have focused on getting people into the field.

When manufacturers really focus on printing speed, without prioritising ease of use and cheaper prices, 3D printers can print extremely fast. As technology progresses, we can only expect 3D printers to print faster, while keeping a high level of quality.

The Future of 3D Printing and Its Impact on Speed

The world is beginning to embrace this phenomenon and as such, scientists and engineers are willing to go the extra lengths to find ways of achieving the best print quality in the shortest time.

There have been varied inventions of algorithms and of 3D machines that have managed to find some sort of solution to this problem. Although these solutions are not yet widely embraced they seemed to have proven effectiveness on the speed of 3D printing.

Software Algorithm

There have been algorithms created to upgrade a 3D printer’s firmware, enabling an accelerated speed. E.g. the filtered B spline algorithm is said to make use the model of the printer’s dynamic to control the printer.

This particular algorithm is said to help prevent unwanted vibrations hence giving the printer the ability to print at a higher rate, mitigating unnecessary vibrations and thus producing a better print quality.

This algorithm was developed at the University of Michigan’s smart and sustainable automation lab and is said to be embraced by a lot of individuals.

Bigger, Better More Expensive Printers

The MIT laboratory for manufacturing and productivity recently built a printer that is said to be 10 times faster than the traditional desktop printer models and 3 times faster than a $100,000 industrial scale system.

With this printer, the MIT team printed a helical bevel gear in 10 minutes and also printed the frame of a pair of glasses in about 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

These algorithms and bigger printers prove that the future of 3D printing is giving room for the possibility of accelerated speed printing giving optimum print quality. There is a lot more innovations.

According to fastcompany.com, Icon, the winners of fast company’s 2020 world changing idea awards has built a very large 3D printer that is capable of printing the walls of a house in 24 hours.

Another story which originates in Mexico had 50 families move into the world’s first 3D printed community. The future of 3D printing is definitely accelerated speed, bigger printers and the possibility of using 3D printers to print just about anything.

Conclusion

Print speed is ultimately a balance between varied factors, all of which are just as crucial as the others. You need the right filament that can flow and set at high speeds and you also need a machine that is mechanically designed to print at higher speeds if you must print at a higher speed.

The general rule of thumb however in achieving the best quality print as of now, is that the lower the speed, the better the quality.

Whether or not you decide to find a machine that promises you a faster print time, speed cannot be tweaked past a certain mm/s for every machine. What this means is that irrespective of any machine or filament you choose, the slower the speed of the 3D printer, the better the quality.

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