Having a level print bed is the first step for obtaining a successful print. There are two commonly used methods for manually leveling that we will examine: 3 point method, and the 4 point method. Some printing software out on the market also provide an auto-leveling or auto-calibration. For the manual methods you will need a piece of paper or a business card. And for those who want to forgo bed-leveling all together, we will also explore how a print feature called a raft that allows you to skip the leveling process altogether.
There are a number of points you can adjust on your build platform, and it varies based on the brand of printer. For instance if you have a MakerBot you will have the ability to adjust 4 spring loaded screws at each corner. But if you have a Solidoodle, there are 3 screws that you can use to adjust the build plate. Or if you have a RepRap, there are only have 2 screws that can be adjusted, but you also have the capability to change the orientation of the X Carriage. So the number of things that can be adjusted will vary, but generally leveling can be accomplished by adjusting the screws on the build plate or the carriage system.
3 Point Leveling
Just as any two points in an arbitrary space make a line, 3 points in space make a plane. So it follows that if your nozzle is the same distance from the bed at three different points, then it will be level across the entire bed.
Your nozzle does not have to be heated for this process, however we recommend to make sure that there is no residual filament left at the end of the extruder. Also, if you have the ability to heat your print bed, is is beneficial to heat up your print bed to account for any thermal expansion, but be careful not to touch the platform. We don’t want anyone burning themselves. For the next steps we will assume we are using a business card, however a piece of paper will work just as well.
First pick a point starting point, generally the top of build plate in the center (point 1). Then set the Z height to 0 mm. Take the business card and slide it under nozzle. The card should experience a slight resistance from the nozzle. If the nozzle does provide any resistance, or if you are unable to push the card or paper underneath the extruder, lift up the extruder
Congratulations, your build plate is now level! You may need to adjust the Z end-stop height before you begin your print (since we just made sure that it is the same height from the print bed at all points, but not necessarily the correct height). A quick way to check the levelness is to go ahead and start a print with a skirt and to look and see that the skirt stays consistent all the way around. If the skirt looks good you can continue your print. If not, cancel the print and adjust the bed again until you get a consistent loop.and adjust the z stop screw. Keep adjusting until you find the point of light resistance sliding the card underneath the extruder.
Next, lift up the nozzle and move it to a corner on the opposite end of the build plate (point 2 or 3). Set the z height back to 0 and slide the business card underneath the nozzle. If the card isn’t experience the same level of resistance as it did at point 1, adjust the level of build plate with screws. After obtaining the same amount of resistance as point one you can move onto point 3 and repeat the process.
4 Point Leveling
For those who want to be sure that their bed is thoroughly leveled, they can utilize the 4 point leveling method. It is very similar to the 3 Point Method, except that you start at a corner and proceed to check the nozzle height at all 4 corners. We recommend this procedure if you plan on printing an object that will be taking up almost all of your print bed and want to be certain.
Some new printers and Hosting Suites now offer auto-leveling and calibration that accounts for the slope of the print bed relative to your nozzle. The UP Plus 2 and new PrintrBot’s provide auto calibration. Hosting Suites such as Repetier 0.91 and Mattercontrol also provide an autocalibration that take around 2-3 minutes.
For those who want to skip leveling completely, you can use a raft. A raft is essentially a printed platform that your printer then uses as the base for your part. After the first few layers of the raft will level out and then provide an even printing surface. Also, it creates a stronger foundation because your part will be bonded to base made of the same material instead of the build platform.
And there you have it. By making sure your print bed is leveled, you have taken the first steps in securing a successful print. To take the next step, see our article on how to print the first layer.
Happy printing everyone,
The team at 3D ProtoTech