BuildTak Review – The Ideal 3D Printing Surface?
In case you own a FFF 3D printer you undoubtedly already dealt with print adhesion issues. Sometimes it is really difficult to get a 3D print to stick to the build surface, especially when you are dealing with prints that have a large contact patch. The print will start to warp which means that it starts coming loose and may ultimately be knocked off the print bed altogether.
Many high-end 3D printers now use a heated glass plate as build surface which significantly improves adhesion. However, the standard for many 3D printers is still an unheated acrylic print bed covered in painters tape or Kapton tape. And while painters and Kapton tape help with adhesion issues they are far from perfect. Crafty makers and 3D printing enthusiasts have developed a whole host of remedies such as using hair spray or Elmer’s glue to make prints stick.
For ABS filament, a material notoriously difficult to print without a heated print bed, the recommended solution is to use ABS slurry (a mixture of ground-up ABS filament dissolved in acetone) to provide sufficient adhesion.
Needless to say that these fixes are not very practical, sometimes downright messy as they need regular clean-ups and they do not give guaranteed results either.
Introduce BuildTak, the „Ideal 3D Printing Surface“. According the the manufacturer, BuildTak is: a thin, durable plastic sheet that adheres to the print bed of FFF 3D printers. It provides an optimal printing surface for 3D objects to adhere to for the duration of a print, while allowing for a clean, easy removal of completed builds.
Sounds too good to be true? That’s what we thought and hence why we reached out to BuildTak to see if they would provide us some samples for testing. They graciously did, so read on to find out how BuildTak performed in our tests.
Who Is The Ideal Jacobs Company?
Who produces BuildTak you may wonder? BuildTak is developed and marketed by the Ideal Jacobs Company. Now, if you are like me, you’ll never have heard of this company. However, they have been around since 1921, so quite clearly they must be doing something right. The Ideal Jacobs Corporation is a New Jersey based company specialized in a variety of areas such as graphic overlays, custom labels, injection molded panels, gaskets, die and laser cut components as well as rapid prototyping and product marking services.
Interestingly, the idea to develop BuildTak was prompted by the purchase of a 3D printer for internal purposes. The team quickly discovered that making 3D prints stick could be very difficult and set out to leverage its experience in adhesives and substrates to develop an adequate 3D printing surface. After much trial and error a formulation was found that combined optimal 3D print adhesion with easy 3D print removal. BuildTak was born and commercialization started in August 2013.
BuildTak is available in 13 different sizes, so you just pick a size that corresponds to your build platform. In case none of the standard sheets fits your 3D printer, you can buy a slightly larger one and simply cut it to size using a knife and a metal ruler.
I first tried BuildTak on the Ultimaker Original and here the removable print bed comes in very handy: while installing BuildTak is pretty straight forward, having a removable print bed makes it even easier. To install BuildTak, you first wipe down the build plate to make sure its free from dust and debris.
Then you remove the white adhesive liner and position the BuildTak sheet on your build platform. Use a dull edged card, such as a credit card, to smooth the sheet down. This works best if you do it step by step pulling off the adhesive liner as you move along. The trick is to make sure that you don’t trap any air bubbles under the sheet. This is important as good print results are only guaranteed if you have a totally even surface.
As a third and final step, you re-install the build plate and re-level the surface. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get this exactly right! In my experience, BuildTak only works if you get the bed leveling and the distance between the nozzle to the print bed just right. The manufacturer recommends using a distance of 0.1 mm when printing ABS and 0.2 mm for PLA.
Note: in case your printer does not have a removable print bed the installation works just the same. The procedure just becomes a bit trickier and a helping hand is welcome. I installed BuildTak on the Pirx printer, a machine that doesn’t have a removable build plate.
How To 3D Print With BuildTak
Though I have tested BuildTak only with PLA and ABS, the manufacturer claims that you can print a whole host of materials it. They have experimented with different filaments and give the following recommendations (while acknowledging that different printers may require slightly tweaked settings):
- PLA: print at normal PLA settings (do not use a heated bed!)
- ABS: print at normal ABS settings (heated bed at 100°C – 110°C)
- Laybrick: print at normal PLA settings
- LayWood (or similar): print at normal PLA settings
- HIPS: print at normal ABS settings (heated bed at 100°C – 110°C)
- PET+: print at normal PLA settings
Pro Tip: when experimenting with new materials on your BuildTak sheet it is good practice to place the print somewhat off to one corner in order to preserve the middle of the sheet until you got the settings right. If you are experimenting with materials other than ABS and PLA you should be prepared to work through a sheet or two until you got the settings right – so make sure to buy a few more. It pays to note down the ideal nozzle and temperature settings applicable to your machine once you have found them in order to avoid any guess work in the future.
I also recommend using a small piece of Kapton tape at or around your printer’s homing position – so that in case your Z-axis is not perfectly calibrated, your hot-end will at least not destroy the BuildTak sheet when you home it or when you are trying to set your Z-axis.
My Experience In Using BuildTak
To be honest, my first experience with BuildTak was not that great: during my first prints I couldn’t see much in terms of improved adhesion. In hindsight, I realize that I didn’t pay enough attention to getting the distance between the nozzle and the print bed perfectly right. Once I started paying more attention to adjusting this more carefully, the adhesion performance of BuildTak improved instantly.
Based on tests with various materials and settings I find that BuildTak has its strengths and weaknesses. But, as long as you pay heed to the tips described in this article, the material can definitely help to make your 3D prints stick.
The Strengths of BuildTak
The material has great use cases in the following scenarios:
- It helps greatly with adhesion problems. Based on my experience, if you install the sheet properly, level your print bed and adjust the nozzle just to the right height BuildTak is a great help in getting PLA prints right. In cases where you still experience warping, adding a brim to your print generally solves the warping issue. BuildTak also helps with making ABS prints stick but only in combination with a heated print bed.
- If you have a printer with a non-removable print bed. As BuildTak significantly outlasts the cycle time of either Kapton or blue tape, it saves you from having to fiddle with a roll of tape inside the 3D printer on a regular basis. Granted the challenge of removing hard sticking prints still remains.
- It gives your prints a perfectly smooth bottom surface.
The Limitations of BuildTak
BuildTak is not a cure-all for any type of adhesion issues that you come across:
- It is not an alternative to a heated print bed. As my tests with ABS have shown, even BuildTak does not generate enough adhesion to print this material without a heated bed. A quick email exchange with Support confirmed this: BuildTak does not remove warping but it does increase adhesion which can help fight warping that occurs with ABS. Thus, when BuildTak say that BuildTak works with ABS, what they mean is that it works with ABS, provided you have a heated print bed.
- In some cases, BuildTak alone is not enough to make prints stick. Though I haven’t tried this myself yet, other users report that printing nylon (a material that is notoriously difficult to print due to adhesion issues) or t-glase (PETT) does not work unless you apply washable glue stick to the BuildTak sheet. This does of course go somewhat against the concept of BuildTak since it is supposed to help you get rid of all makeshift adhesion aids.
Durability – How Much Printing Can You Expect to Get Out of Your BuildTak Sheet?
While BuildTak is marketed as a durable 3D printing surface, the Ideal Jacobs Corporation does not make any direct claims when it comes to the life span of a BuildTak sheet. Mike Valentine, Vice President of BuildTak explains: „It is difficult to make any statements concerning the longevity of BuildTak because it is affected by too many variables: nozzle height, extrusion temperatures, filament type and the use of a heated print bed all impact its durability“.
Still, to give you some idea, customers have reported more than 250 hours of printing when using PLA and a non-heated print bed and 50-100 hours of printing when using ABS on a heated bed.
Here are a few simple tips that help make sure that your get the most out of your BuildTak sheet:
Firstly, make sure that the printer nozzle is not touching the build plate. While the nozzle needs to be very close to the build plate, you have to make sure it is not in direct contact with it. Here it pays to double check if your print bed is level across the entire surface! On my first try, I adjusted the nozzle too close and while it made the print stick perfectly, it ruined the BuildTak sheet. Upon removal of the model, it left its footprint engraved into the BuildTak sheet rendering that area completely useless.
Secondly, when removing prints, use spatulas or putty knifes with smooth or rounded corners only. BuildTak is made to make your prints stick and typically it does that very well. So, upon completion of a print, it may require a bit of force to remove a model. Now, damaging painter tape when removing a print is not an issue since you likely replace it often anyhow. With BuildTak this becomes a different story, you will want to make sure you don’t scratch the surface since this will reduce its adhesion properties and render the sheet useless over time.
BuildTak – Price
At €12.75 ($15.80) for a single 254 x 254 mm sheet, BuildTak is not cheap. A pack of five would set you back €58.72 ($40.11 for a pack of 3). Clearly, you don’t want to waste this material. At the same time, if you use the sheets properly, you can expect to get quite some hours of printing out of a single sheet. In my opinion, the material is worth its money since it will likely save you quite a bit of frustration.
In case you are having to deal with adhesion issues regularly, I’d definitely recommend that you give BuildTak a try. Though it is not cheap, it can be very effective in making prints stick provided that you follow the basic rules described above.
If you do buy BuildTak, just make sure to approach it with the right expectations: this is not a silver bullet for all 3D printing adhesion issues, it is simply another effective tool to add to your tool set on the way of becoming a 3D printing pro.
Have you used BuildTak before? If so, what’s your experience with it? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. We’ll be testing more filament types on BuildTak in the future. Make sure to check back for updates!