Budget Cleaning & Print Touch-up Tools

Budget Cleaning & Print Touch-up Tools

We all love when a print can be taken off the bed and be ready to use; but sometimes clean up is required.

People often assume that a higher cost printer will automatically result in better final prints, and that isn’t always the case. Here are tools, tips, and tricks we've come across to let you push the limits on the printer you already have.

We will start with some of the basics and through a series of posts work our way to some of the more advanced ones. These are the 3 most common that you'll find next to our printers. They are:

    • Steel Files
    • Sandpaper
    • Nail Clippers

                         Straight edge (top) and round edge (bottom) files

First, the most important tool on the list: Steel Files.

We recommend having 2 types of files in your toolkit: a Flat Edge File and a Round Edge file. These 2 types will cover almost all scenarios that you will encounter. The steel file is a versatile tool we often use to finish the print after it has been completed. There are a few common scenarios where this is needed.

You may have noticed that the first layer of your prints has a bit of excess material. This may be due to poor bed leveling or the bed being too close to the nozzle. Whatever the case, the nozzle is flattening this first print layer and spreading the plastic more than desired.

Notice in this cross section of a PLA bar we printed that the bottom layer swells out past those above.

This can cause great bed adhesion but can skew the dimensions of the first layer preventing and cause it to be sharp. One situation this becomes an issue is when two parts need to mate after printing. Without precision, you’re going to have problems with joining your parts together but a file can help correct for this by removing plastic to ensure a better fit.

The file also does a great job at cleaning up print surfaces, once the print has been completed. It may be rare, but sometimes your print will have slight extrusion bumps making it a touch away from being perfect.

Cross section of a PLA bar.

Pro Tip: Do not file too fast, as the heat will cause the plastic to melt and ruin your print. We find that filing in small multiples (10 strokes or so) works best. It also gives you the opportunity to check that you are filing at the right angle and length, as it is very easy to overfile a part.

Lastly, the file is a great tool to square corners or, in case of the round file, smoothing out holes and curvatures. Although you can get pretty close, it is very difficult to get a perfectly 90 degree corner on a 3D printed part as they will naturally round. This roundness can causes problems when parts are being combined as the round edge may stop a part from fitting correctly. An easy fix to this problem is to use the file to turn your round edge into a square.

Alternatively, the round edge files deal with round parts and can have the same use cases as the flat edged file but for round parts. One common use is to clean out any stringing or support material from the inside of holes.

Before: extrusion bumps (top). After: cleaned part (bottom).
Before: extrusion bumps (top). After: cleaned part (bottom).
Rounded corner (top). Squared corner (bottom)
Rounded corner (top). Squared corner (bottom)
Unfiled hole (left) and filed (right)
Unfiled hole (left) and filed (right)

As great as files are, you’ll notice that using the file leaves marks on the surface of the print. Especially with PLA, you will notice that the lustrous finish is gone leaving a discolored area on your print, which the eye is naturally distracted by. That’s where the lighter comes in; it can easily restore the luster and heal file marks from your print by passing the lighter along the areas the affected areas. Be careful not to hold the part in front of the flame, as it can discolour, melt, or catch on fire. Please exercise caution when using this tool.

Our next tool is very similar to the file but is meant for larger surfaces: Sand Paper.

Sand Paper can be a lot more aggressive than a file so we recommend being more conscious of the effort you’re putting in, and constantly check your sanding progress. If you use coarse sandpaper to aggressively remove material, but sure to use some fine sandpaper afterwards to smooth it out. Sand paper is our go-to method to cleaning up breakoff support material from prints, as it covers a large surface area and saves us time. We also recommend using a sanding block when using sand paper as it’s very difficult to apply equal pressure with your fingers. Do keep in mind that your 3d printed parts only have a thin solid shell so sanding too much will reveal the sparse internals which is usually aesthetically and structurally undesirable.

We know from experience that it can take a little bit of guesswork to find the correct dimensions when creating interlocking parts or trying to get your print to fit with something like a bike bar or desk. You can spend a lot of time by reprinting the same part to get it perfect. Sand paper can be a great tool to make easy geometric adjustments to the part and save you from reprinting.

Part with filed marks (top). Healed part (bottom).
Unsanded part (top). Much better sanded (bottom).

Last but not least, are the handy Nail Clippers.

You may wonder what use nail clippers have as part of your toolbox when you have access to scissors or pliers as your cutting tools? The simple answer: Safety & Simplicity.

Nail Clippers are a safe way to be cutting filament as they give you a small cutting surface while providing a precise and clean cut. This saves you from accidentally cutting wires on a printer with exposed wires (like our Makergear M2).

They are also great for removing material from places that it is hard to get regular pliers into. One case we use them often for is to remove brim/skirt shells that do not easily peel away from the print.

Well that’s it for the basic tools. These were simple, inexpensive methods that can save you from countless reprints and allow for those subtle touch ups that go a long way. Keep a lookout for our next post where we will discuss tools and tricks we use to maintain a healthy bed and nozzle status.

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