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3D Printing Guide: Supports

I need to add supports to my 3D print; what are they?

While FDM printing has come a long way since its infancy, there is still room for improvement. The nature of 3D printing creates objects by building layers-upon-layers, relying on the underlying layers to support the next. This works well for objects that don’t have overhangs, but for parts that do, you will want to incorporate supports into your print job. Depending on what software you are using, this feature will be an option and added automatically when selected. Supports enable you to 3D print more complex designs, however, they can be difficult to remove and it is recommended to use them sparingly.

Blue 3D printed scuplture with supports

When do I need supports?

While it is always best to not use supports, sometimes it is unavoidable. When 3D printing, you should live by the 45° rule. When an angle is greater than 45°, you will need to incorporate supports for the object. Generally, an angle less than 45° does not require a support. We suggest that you use your own discretion, especially if you are trying to print an intricate design/model.

"Rafts" and "Brims"

Adding bottom supports may be necessary for more complicated prints, and can help adhere your print to the print bed. A 3D printing raft, pictured here, is a thick "base" to your print that gives a robust platform for your print to build off. If you don't think you need the full raft, a brim is a similar support, but is only a single layer think.

3D printed part with raft and supports

Is there a downside to 3D printing with supports?

One limitation to using supports on an intricate 3D print is that you will consume more filament as a result. Any area you add support to can have surface imperfections because the support material is essentially torn away from the print. Removing supports can be time-consuming, difficult to remove from intricate designs and risk breaking your print when detached.

What about dissolvable support material?

Dissolvable supports are a great way to print complex designs without risking damage from support removal. To use dissolvable support material, you must have a printer with two print heads to extrude the main material and the support material at the same time.  The two most common types of dissolvable support material are PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) and HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene).  PVA is a water-soluble filament that works best when printed with PLA. HIPS is dissolved using a Limonene solution and is similar in characteristics to ABS, making it ideal to use for support when printing with ABS filament.

Things to Remember

  1. When an angle is greater than 45°, you will need to incorporate supports for the object.

  2. Supports will allow you to print more intricate designs.

  3. Breakaway supports can impact the appearance of your print and increase filament consumption.

  4. Removing supports can be a time-consuming process.

  5. Dissolvable supports work with dual extruder printers; you will need different dissolvable material for different base print materials.

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