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3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

Introduction

In this post, we’re going to cover what 3D printing supports are, when they’re required and how they can affect the quality & price of your print. We do all the leg work at our additive manufacturing service and add supports to your models free of charge and remove them as part of our free post-processing service.

3D printing works by depositing material layer by layer, depending on the complexity of the model this will sometimes require support material. This requirement to use support material is completely dependant on the process and in this post we’ll go through different scenarios when they’re used. 

FDM

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) prints each layer by extruding melted filament along a pre-determined path. As the material is deposited, it cools and forms a solid layer. Each layer is slightly offset from the previous, where the model and print at a maximum offset of 45°

However when this overhang angle of 45° is exceeded, 3D printing supports are required to prevent the new layer from sagging. The support material acts as a bed, for the newly deposited layer to rest on creating the desired overhang angle. 

No Supports Applied - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?
No Supports Required
Supports Applied - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?
Supports Required

Different Types

Depending on the machine type (single, dual or material mixing) there are three different support types available these are:

LATTICE

Breakaway Supports - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

These are the most commonly used 3D printing supports, as any machine can print these successfully by tuning its slicer settings. 

TREE

Tree Supports - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

This type of support is used for intricate parts and also parts with a lot of support. This minimises material cost and post-processing. 

DISSOLVABLE

Dissolvable Support Material - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

This type of 3D printing supports is best suited for any detailed prints, as it allows an offset of 0mm between the support and the part creating a smooth surface.

YHT

When applying 3D printing supports to models, consider the three following letters; YHT. Which letters don’t require support? What letters can be printed using bridging techniques? etc.

Y - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?
H - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?
T - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

Negatives of breakaway supports

  • Post-processing always required.
  • Reduced quality on ‘interference’ layers, where the part meets the support.
  • Can be difficult to remove potentially leading to part damage.
  • Additional material required, leading to increased part costs.

Stereolithography (SLA /DLP)

Stereolithography (SLA) or Digital Layer Printing (DLP) require a different type of support, not only has the part got to be able to hold it’s own weight from sinking, but the part must also support itself, resisting the suction forces when carrying out a lift manoeuvre. 

These types of 3D printing supports look like thin ribs, with only small tips interfacing with the model. Typically diameters of 0.3 – 0.4 mm are recommended for SLA / DLP supports, with smaller diameters making for easier clean-up. 

Stereolightography Supports - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

Design Considerations For FDM & SLA

Part orientation is paramount in successfully printing a part. Firstly the part must be bonded well to the build surface; usually, this is done on a flat face to ensure maximum adhesion. Are there any undercuts that require 3D printing supports? How easy are they to remove? It’s bad practice to create parts that are difficult/impossible to clean up. 

Rules of Thumb

  • Part quality & appearance will be heavily affected by support material. Post-processing will be required 90% of the time. 
  • The more complex the part, the more 3D printing supports are required. This can be optimised based on orientation and the required level of accuracy to reduce costs. 
  • Below summarises the main additive manufacturing processes and their individual requirements. 

Support Required

Sometimes

Always Required

Always, but soluable

Never

Never

Always

Want to find out more about 3D Printing? Check out our handy, expert guide here or see our FAQ

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SAM PHOTO - 3D Printing Supports, Why Are They Needed?

Sam Gribben

Managing Director at SGD 3D Limited

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