12 Ways to Fight Warping and Curling

This article was written about printing with the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic and MakerBot Cupcake CNC. Click one of the following links for a similar article on the Fifth Generation MakerBot Replicator, MakerBot Replicator Z18, MakerBot Replicator Mini, MakerBot Replicator 2 or MakerBot Replicator 2X.



As printed plastic parts cool the different areas of the object can cool at different rates. 1  Depending upon the parts being printed, this effect can lead to warping and curling.  Although PLA has a much lower shrinkage factor than ABS, both can warp and curl, potentially ruining a print.  There are some very common ways to deal with this potential problem, the most notable being a heated build platform.  However, sometimes that might not be enough.

1. Use a heated build platform.  A heated build platform helps keep the lowest levels of a print warm as the higher layers are printed.  This allows the overall print to cool more evenly.  A heated build platform, sometimes abbreviated as HBP, helps tremendously with just about any ABS print and large PLA prints.

2. Print with a raft.  Rafts are a printing option in ReplicatorG and Skeinforge.  They’re basically a large flat lattice work of printed material underneath the lower-most layer of your printed object.  They’ll also help reduce warping and curling by allowing your printed object to adhere better to your flat build surface.  Other variations on this are to print with a larger raft and/or a thicker raft comprised of more layers.

3. Calibrate your starting Z height.  A good first layer makes all the difference.  If your starting Z axis height is too high, the extruded filament won’t be able to make a good bond with the platform.  If you think your Z axis starting height is too high, try lowering it by 0.05mm increments until you find a good first layer.

4. Get the right build surface.  Some people have experimented with different surfaces such as steel, titanium, glass, different kinds of plastic, different kinds of tape, and foam board.  However, I find both ABS and PLA seem to stick really well to hot or warm Kapton tape.

5. Clean your build surface.  ABS and PLA stick better to a clean build surface.  Keep it clean of dust, pieces of old prints, and any other debris.

6. Print slower.  Printing slower allows finer detail, better adhesion to the build surface and lower layers, and gives the printed part more time to cool evenly.

7. Print cooler.  Printing at a lower temperature isn’t always an option.  Ideally, you should be printing at the lowest temperature required for extrusion and that allows good interlayer adhesion.  However, trying lower temperatures isn’t for the faint of heart.  Printing at a too low a temperature could cause harm to your extruder motor or extruder.

8. Eliminate drafts or enclose your robot.  Forrest Higgs found that having his 3D printer too close to an open window caused very uneven heating across his build surface.  This in turn caused the side of his prints closest to the window to curl.  Since keeping the window closed wasn’t an option for him, he compensated for the window drafts by adding a heat lamp.  Cupcake and Thing-O-Matic owners might have an easier time of eliminating drafts by simply enclosing two or three of the sides of their robots.  It will also have a fortunate side effect of helping to control fumes.

9. Design with mouse ears.  Zach Smith’s solution was to add little discs to corners of an object to help those corners stick to the platform.  These essentially serve as “mini-rafts” to give those corners more surface area and better adhesion without having to print an entire raft.

10. Design with aprons to hold down corners.  Forrest Higgs suggested adding “aprons” around an object to be printed, while that object was being printed on a raft.  These low thick pieces of plastic help keep the raft flat and help prevent any curling or warping from affecting the desired printed object itself.

11. Design with surrounding thermal walls.  While Forrest Higgs’ apron approach provides a mechanical advantage of essentially holding down corners with a chunk of plastic, Nophead has added thin surrounding walls to his designs to act as baffles to keep warm air around the printed object as it moves around.  He’s postulated that a very thin surrounding wall could have the same beneficial effect as printing inside an enclosed build chamber.  Interestingly, it seems that Nophead suggests that designing objects with more rounded corners might also help avoid curling and warping at those corners.

12. Reduce infill.  When printing a model you can chose to print it hollow, completely solid, or some percentage between zero and 100.  However, as Nophead points out even the plastic inside a model exerts a force on the entire printed object as it cools.  It stands to reason that the more plastic you have, the more those pieces of plastic will pull against themselves and the build surface as they cool.  By reducing infill there will a reduced amount of internal tension as the object cools.  Reducing these internal forces by printing with a lower infill ratio can help reduce curling and warping as well.

13. EDIT:  Sand the Kapton.  Charles Pax has suggested that sanding a Kapton tape build surface will increase the surface area, making it easier for the molten plastic to stick.

14. EDIT:  ABS surface.  Some have suggested essentially painting the build surface with liquid ABS.2  This is has the same effect of laying down a big flat raft.

If you’ve got some suggestions, tips, or tricks that you use to fight warping and curling, please leave a comment below!

  1. Photo courtesy of backpackphotography []
  2. ABS dissolved in acetone or ABS glue []
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20 Comments so far

  • Tony Buser
    June 23, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    And for #5 – Clean the bed with Acetone (nail polish remover), I pour some on a paper towel and then rub it down good to dissolve any ABS buildup, dust, and oils from fingerprints, turn off the HBP and let it cool first.

  • twotimes
    June 24, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I have had problems sanding the kapton, if you keep it really clean, it’ll stick more than enough.

  • Dany Asselin
    September 21, 2011 at 9:20 am

    I had an idea the other day. Why not use a square extruder hole instead of using a standard cylindrical hole? This would eliminate the warping effect and create smooth surfaces. Some one need to test this.

  • Dany Asselin
    September 21, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I mean nozzle not extruder. So an extruder nozzle with a square hole instead of a round one.

  • Chaim Ferencz
    March 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I’m printing on a piece of 1/4″ plywood on top of the heated platform. Then when the raft is done, I pause the machine then I melt the perimeter of the raft to the plywood with a long tipped hot solder iron. That holds the raft solid tight to the plywood hope this helps

  • daniel
    October 19, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Hello, and thanks for all these great tips.
    I will add few tricks that have helped me out while printing with ABS.

    1) Level your HBP, while HOT. This is crucial since the platform will deform under the heat, thus rendering your “cold” calibration useless.

    2) run your HBP hot, for TOM’s Im using 125ºC/130ºC, for Replicators im using 115ºC/120ºC; this has worked for me for raftless printing. Note: this temp will vary greatly with ambient temperature.

    3) Clean your platform with acetone before and after each print. I got a cheap 1€ atomizer for this and some lintless cloth.

  • Kikai labs
    March 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    You can print PLA on a cold platform if you use a good hairdressing spray, the extra strong stuff, on the glass. It also helps on a warm platform and with ABS.

    If you have thin structures or very small layers, print a column next to the object to give it time to cool off.

    And keep glass very clean, with alcohol.

  • J Cube
    April 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    I’m successfully printing ABS on bare glass on a heated bed. No juice, no tape, and don’t even usually clean it. Bed has to be super level, and I printed an adjuster for my z endstop that allows for fine adjustment. I use .2mm height on the first layer (using 0.35mm nozzle and 3mm filament) and a bed temp of 95 C. I get very slight curl on parts over 100x100mm (I’m talking 0.25mm max lift, but I think I can eliminate that if I push the bed temp to 110.

  • jjd
    June 21, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    I used to have problems with warping on relatively small objects using ABS plastic. However, I have solved this problem by using two kinds of hairspray. I coat my perfboard with Aussie brand “instant freeze” max hold hairspray. To do this, I spray a paper towel with the hairspray then wipe it on the perfboard (the first layer of hairspray keeps my painters’ tape from peeling up off the board on larger prints). Next, I apply the blue painters’ tape. I then use Suave brand, max hold hairspray and coat the tape in the same way.

    I have also been printing with a raft. I use Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape, which has green writing on it that may bleed into the plastic when coated with hairspray (thus it is better to use a raft). The Aussie brand hairspray seems to be the stronger of the two.. I have tried the Suave, but it does not hold the tape down on the platform.

    I hope this helps someone.

  • Mac
    August 16, 2013 at 12:47 am

    dusting of hairspray on the build platform helps with general adhesion. I’ve also found that, if I’m printing something with a large surface area, to add tabs to the bottom of the object I’m wanting to print. Sometimes they hold down the print on their own, but sometimes they need a little help. If it doesn’t work perfectly and i see the tabs start to peel early on, I pause the printing process very briefly and use painters tape to hold them down. while everything else prints nice and flat.

  • Tony
    September 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I find that the blue painters tape adheres well to ABS and is very easy to put down and remove and I can buy it almost anywhere. I put it right over the factory installed Kapton tape. When it gets torn up I replace it I run the build plate at 120 C. Thanks for all the good comments.

  • GMAN
    October 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    I use the following techniques with my stock Replicator 2 ( PLA only no heat bed ) printer. I’m typically printing .1 mm layers @ 100% fill.

    My technique for adhesion is a little different than most. I spray a light coat of adhesive spray onto the build platform and put a sheet of 100% Cotton, 32 lb resume paper ( Southworth ) on the platform. The first layer tends to soak into the cotton which is held down by the adhesive spray ( the desired amount of adhesion can be adjusted by the amount of spray used ). The entire print is then easily removed from the build platform. The paper layer can usually be removed with sandpaper or it can be soaked in water to remove. The adhesive spray typically lasts for about a dozen or so changes of paper. I use small amounts of mineral spirits to remove the adhesive coating when it builds up.

    Some other things that appear to reduce curling:

    – Increasing the temperature ( 5 degree increments )
    – Turning off the filament fan
    – A large clear plastic trash bag over the printer kills any drafts while still giving the print head freedom to move.

  • dwmitch
    November 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    I’ve found a variant on #14. There’s an adhesive spray that’s ABS based. If applied liberally (i.e. it forms pools) it will function both as an adhesive and if you print with a 3 layer raft it will more or less turn the bottom layer into paste.

    This, of course, requires glass or ceramic on the print bed. Something else I’ve had luck with is double sided tape directly on the print bed. Unfortunately unless you can apply it evenly with no gaps or find strips that are only a fraction of a millimeter that can still withstand the heat you’ll need a fairly thick raft to keep it even.

    It also makes the model impossible to remove without breaking when the bed’s cold and difficult to remove when it’s up to temperature, at least in my experience (Loctite adhesive that seems to be the same composition as hot glue sticks, may work better with weaker tape) so that should be a last resort.

  • dwmitch
    November 13, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Correction to my previous post: I meant the spray is acetone based, meaning it breaks down the ABS.

  • Chris
    February 24, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    These are all good suggestions, but there is one other that has worked wonders for me: use Slic3r as the slicing engine (instead of MakerWare) and use its Brim feature to automatically add a 5mm outer frame to every print. This is similar in concept to the helper disk approach, except (1) it surrounds the print, preventing warp along the entire perimeter, not just corners; (2) it always works, whereas helper disks have problems — may not attach to your main print if it is non-manifold or for other, non-obvious reasons; and (3) it is an automatic operation, whereas adding helper disks requires you to manually add, size and place the disks.

    The Brim feature is really fantastic. It should be added to MakerWare.

  • Edword andi
    June 9, 2014 at 3:03 am

    Great tips. For the tape suggestion I have some different views over it. I would like to use only tuftape brand in case of using high quality tapes.

  • Alan
    September 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    My solution to the 3D print warping problem. Heating and cooling of plastic causes it to expand when heated, and contract when cooled. This causes the print to warp. I tried Kapton tape on a glass heated bed. Works a little but still lifts up. Tried hair spray and glue sticks and they also worked somewhat, but the problem persisted. Tried different heated build platform temperatures and problem persisted. So I’m thinking, I have to find a way of attaching the print to the bed where it will not separate, yet can be removed without destroying it.
    I cut out a piece of 3/16 inch aluminum the same size as the glass print bed that came with the printer. I took my belt sander with a very course sanding belt on it and roughed up the surface leaving scratch marks all over the surface. I put this in place of the glass and fired up the heater for the bed, about 110 degrees Celsius. When It got hot, I took a hot melt glue stick and rubbed it around the surface leaving hot melt spread across the surface. I then used a putty knife to smooth out the hot melt leaving a flat surface, then turned off the heat. Now I loaded up my stl and sliced it. By this time the bed had cooled to where the hot melt was stiff. I started my print. The first layer adhered very well to the hot melt, after all they are cousins. As the four inch tall by 4 inch wide coffee mug printed, the bed cooled and the hot melt got hard. The entire cup printed without any warping at all. You could hit it with a hammer and it would not come off. So how did I get it off the hot melt? Well hot melt melts at a much lower temperature than plastic, so I removed it the same way I put it on. Remove the bed plate, with the print still attached, sit it on the range in the kitchen and turn on the burner. ( Make sure the wife don’t catch you, this could be hazardous to your health.) As the plate heats up, the hot melt melts and you can remove the print by turning it while pulling up and holding down the plate with a fork of something. This is a good time to apply more hot melt for your next print. This way you don’t need to use the heated bed at all. The hot extruded filament melts the hot melt easily enough. First cup, I turned over and used a heat gun to melt the hot melt glue that had stuck to the bottom, and scraped it off with the putty knife. Second cup, after heating it with the heat gun, it smoothed out and I decided it would make a good bottom for this cup, so I left it there. This heat gun also works great for the light areas where your support material was removed. Just hit that with hot air and the light color vanishes. The reason for roughing up the bed surface is so the hot melt has something to really adhere to. This crazy idea works for me and I hope it is food for thought for you. I use this on large prints. For small prints the glass bed with blue painters tape works great. You-all have a great day and NEVER GIVE UP.

  • Mark Cummings
    January 20, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    I use spray mount, it works well for standing objects with added base feet
    though would not be good for flat fragile pieces like 2d fractals.

  • David
    February 9, 2015 at 10:17 am

    I tried the “mouse ears” (#12 in list above) and found bthat it helps a great deal. Still, the plastic curled up just enough that the actual corner of the object liften half a millimeter.
    However, I was able to avoid curling entirely as follows:
    – Mouse ears are 2 layers thick
    – When printer starts layer 3 only the actual object gets new layers, use tape to secure the mouse ears to the print bed.


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