So let’s revisit the parts of a 3d printer and learn more about their place in the process.
So the filament is the material that you’ll be using to print . We’ll take a look later at the different types and applications. The words “filament” and “material” can be interchangeable.
The filament is the solid version of whatever material you want to print. It’s rolled around in a coil on a spool, hence “filament spool.” But if you were to straighten it out, it’s just a solid cylinder of a specific diameter.
The filament comes in different outer diameters, either 1.75 or 2.85 (colloquially called 3) mm. Your extruder will determine which diameter filament you need to use.
The filament will automatically unspool and feed into the machine as required. There is a little motor somewhere that drives it and a tube that guides it.
Some machines have two lines of filament, and others have just one.
The filament will feed all the way from the outside of the machine into the extrusion head.
The extrusion head is typically where the motor is housed that feeds the filament.
The brains of the 3d printer will talk to the extrusion head and tell it how much material it needs, how fast, how hot it needs to be, and where the head needs to travel.
The extrusion head determines which diameter filament you can use and what type of material you can print.
The extruder is comprised of a couple of different parts. It also houses the cooling fan and the hot end.
It might seem odd to you. Why would you have a cooling fan for a piece that’s supposed to get really hot?
The cooling fan works to regulate the heat to make sure the extruder doesn’t overheat or suffer temperature changes. Controlling the temperature is critical when it comes to 3d printing.
The hot end is a fun little piece.
The hot end can also be called the extruder tip or nozzle. It can be spelled “hot end”, “hotend”, or “HotEnd”.
It’s a threaded tube with a conical tip. The tip of the hot end has a tiny pinhole that leads to the hollow inside of the tube.
Imagine a hollow bolt with a pointy tip and a tiny hole on the pointy tip. The bolt gets threaded into the extruder assembly. [PAT_WE_MIGHT_WANT_A_PICTURE_HERE_TO_EXPLAIN]
The hot end is arguably the most crucial part of the whole printer despite how tiny it is. It’s impossible to produce a good print with a bad hot end.
The nozzle is the quarterback of the printer. Now let’s look at some of the different offensive formations.
Material Choices for Hot End
A big thing to keep in mind is that the hot end can come in a variety of materials. Out of the box, the nozzle will be brass. Brass is perfectly fine for most applications.
Brass doesn’t melt at the temperature that filaments melt at, and it’s pretty cheap.
It’s also malleable when it’s heated, so be careful. If you heat the nozzle don’t grab it with pliers or Channellock’s.
The other thing about brass is the threads might get crossed or gunked up over time. I’ve had good luck with just running it through a die when the threads were messy.
The key takeaway is that brass is a pretty soft metal. You might be printing with a filament that eats the inside of the brass while you’re printing.
If you have abrasive filaments and you decide to keep a brass tip, you’re going to be wasting money. You should opt for a harder material.
You can swap out the nozzle for hardened steel or stainless steel one. They are worlds stronger, just more expensive.
Instead of brass, you could opt for a copper nozzle instead. It has better heat dissipation but suffers the same issue with softness and the ability to get torn up.
Another alternative that some manufacturers offer is sapphire or ruby-tipped nozzles. This will protect the nozzle from wear.
If you want my honest opinion, I don’t see the point of the jewel-embedded tips. Just stick to hardened steel and you won’t have a problem.
The other thing that’s customizable about the hot end is the diameter of the pinhole. This is actually how the nozzles are specified.
For example, a 0.6mm HotEnd does not have a 0.6mm outer diameter, the pinhole has a diameter of 0.6mm.
The nozzle diameter will determine how small or big the hole is that the filament is being shoved through.
This is the paintbrush you’re using. If you have a tiny paintbrush you can make intricate details, but it will take forever to paint the canvas.
If you have a giant paintbrush, you can’t make a detailed piece, but you’ll be a lot faster.
This is the trade-off between small-diameter and large-diameter nozzles.
The smallest I’ve seen is a 0.25mm nozzle, and the largest is a 2.0mm to give you a perspective of the range.
The final piece of a 3d printer to understand is the build plate. Also called the build tray, print bed, or print plate.
It’s a flat plate that sits at the bottom inside of your print volume. The hot end is pointed at it.
It’s typically made of metal, glass, or engineered plastics.
The printer builds up layer after layer on the build plate. The print bed might heat up to help prints stick to it. It might be flexible to help prints get off of it.
One of the most important things to do is to level the build plate routinely. Having a perfectly leveled build plate will make sure that each print comes out perfect. Now you know the parts of a 3d printer!