Whenever you ask someone or search on the web on what surface you want on your 3D printer’s bed you will get heaps and heaps of contradicting answers. Some people swear by masking tape, some people swear by glass. So what’s the answer? Well that’s what I want to explore today: I will be comparing the majority of 3D printing surfaces and seeing which one you should use.
Painters tape (masking tape)
Maybe the number 1 answer you will get when asking what you should use on your printer’s bed. It is said to work with PLA, I have tried ABS although that does not really work so I don’t recommend it. Lets start with the application of the tape: Depending on what width of tape you have application is very tedious as you will have to replace it just about every print, more on that later. You have to take you time in applying the tape so there are no gaps and more importantly no overlaps. The application of the tape can get annoying if you print a lot but it is at least it’s relatively quick to do. So what is adhesion like then with PLA, well it is really good and works well. PLA is quite an easy plastic to print as it does not need a heated bed so it, so it’s not a massive surprise that the tape works well. What about removal of prints then, no point in having good adhesion without being able to remove prints. I found it hard to use a knife on my tape so in most cases just pulled up the tape, although if the part is big it will rip the tape around the model which can be a pain. So in order to combat this you need to pull several pieces of tape up at the same time. The masking tape does leave a texture which you may not want as well. Painter tape is cheap as well.
Yet another favourite of the internet is Kapton tape. Kapton tape is usually used to insulate electronics. However it has found it’s way to be used as a printing surface. Kapton tape is a smooth surface that you can get in really wide rolls which will make application easier. This doesn’t mean it will be easy as you have to be careful to avoid air bubbles. Kapton tape is supposed to work with pretty much most materials including : PLA and ABS. Kapton tape works well with ABS and PLA however your printbed has to be level and the your print-head at the correct height. Otherwise this could affect your print sticking well. One problem with Kapton is the fact it is expensive. A 20cm wide roll of Kapton tape is about £13 which is expensive for tape. You can also buy off-brand Kapton tape which might be labelled as Polyimide Tape, which is cheaper. Opposing to Painters tape Kapton tape lasts longer on for prints as it is stronger, however it is a pain to remove from your printbed when it comes time to do so. One major factor with Kapton tape is that you will need a heated bed for it to work well.
Brown Office tape
One method some people may have not heard of is brown office tape. I tried brown office tape as an alternative to Kapton tape as it is much more easier to source and much cheaper. The application is much the same as painters tape, you just have to be careful of gaps and overhangs. I tried Brown office tape with ABS, for it to stick well I heated my bed to 80*C as that is as hot as my bed will get then I applied a bit of glue from a glue stick. The glue evaporates quickly from the heat leaving a sticky smooth surface to print on. So how does it work? Well if your calibration is good it works surprisingly well and prints stick well to it. Removal is easier as well as you can lift the tape up and as it is wide it will most likely take the model off or you can use your preferred method to take the model off. One thing to mention to to make sure your nozzle is not too low as this could burn the tape around the model meaning it will be harder to remove and that the tape will be ruined meaning that it will need replacing. Brown tape does not last too long either as it is not as durable as Kapton tape.
Glass is also a popular solution to the never ending battle of getting prints to stick. It should work for ABS, PLA and most other materials. It is a bit harder to source than the other methods as you have to get the right size for your printer’s bed. To attach the glass a popular method is to use 4 binder clip. However if your bed acts as either a Y or X axis it can make the glass move under the sudden changes in movement. Like Kapton tape and brown tape the glass gives a smooth surface for prints to adhere to. With good bed levelling and a good first layer height you can get some good adhesion. However you might find yourself having to use other methods to help your prints to stick such as hair spray. One advantage of using glass is that you can have two and you can replace them instantly and print again without having to wait. The glass is cheap as well depending on where you source it from. You could even get it for free in some instances if you’re lucky.
Now we get to the big one : BuildTak. Buildtak is a material designed solely as a 3D printing surface. It is a thin, rigid sheet that sticks to your bed and comes in multiple sizes to fit just about any printer. You can also cut it to make it fit. Application is really easy and simple if you are careful. You need to apply it slowly with a credit card or similar to press it down to avoid air bubbles. Once it is stuck down it sticks to your bed well and will not peel off. One major factor about Buildtak is that you do not want your nozzle too low as that will ruin the Buildtak so take it slow at the start to get used to it. So the big question: How do prints stick? Well as expected from a premium product they stick very well, to the point that I am having issues that my first layer is too high and it first layer looks messy but the print sticks as normal! The adhesion is just phenomenal, it is by far the best adhesion I have tried. what about removal of objects then? Well I use my knife with a flat attachment to scrape under the object which removes it with ease. What about durability: there is no set amounts of prints that Buildtak will last for however if you treat it well it will last a while. I have even heard of techniques of using fine sandpaper to revive Buildtak. One set back that will most likely give you second thoughts about buying Buildtak is the price. I got mine for about £14, which is a lot however the ease of use and if it lasts long will make it worth it.
So in conclusion for beginners to 3D printing I would recommend a form of tape as it is a cheap way of getting prints to stick while you are learning, as you don’t want to waste £14 on Buildtak due to inexperience. However if you are experienced and have just about had it with applying tape then Buildtak is certainly an option you should consider to make your life easier. I personally would avoid glass unless you don’t mind having to use ABS slurry or hair spray, otherwise it can be a pain. As always if you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments below.