Support removal: Tips, tools and techniques

The final step.

Printing out your 3D model is often times not the end of the creating process. Complex models or overhanging models will most likely have some support material or raft that needs to be removed.

For the perfectionists among you, the point where supports attach to your model may also need a little extra attention with a fine grade sand paper.

Finishing the job properly.

After what may have been hours printing, the last thing you want to do is ruin your print by rushing to rip off the supports. Having the right tools at hand can take the frustration out of removing hard to reach supports or cleaning model surfaces.

The most important thing to remember is to take the extra time to carefully remove any support material. If using sand paper, be sure to work in small increments, lightly rubbing the surface. Working gently to sand edges of your print takes a little extra time, but not as long as re-printing your model. 🙂

 

Tools & techniques: Cutting supports.

This is where having the right tools makes the most difference. Trying to cut off supports or their remains with a blunt knife or a large clunky box cutter is a chore. It makes it difficult to get into small areas to work and often slips, scratching or damaging the model and probably yourself.

I use a set of tools specifically for support removal along with a thumb guard (thimble) for my protection. The angled blades on my cutting tools provide a little extra help getting into tight corners and are sharp and precise.

Tip: I use the thumb guard because I like to cut towards myself and don't want any accidents – safety first! I prefer cutting towards myself as I can control the amount of cutting pressure easier by squeezing my hand than I can pushing away from the model and this helps to avoid any slip ups.

 

Hard to reach support material.

For times when I need to clean out bits of supports from inside models, I find nothing is more helpful than a simple set of long tweezers. What type of tweezers you use depends really on your needs and personal preference.

I like to have quite a wide and flat grip, as I have quite large hands and it makes handling the tweezers easier for me and less likely to slip from my fingers. But wider grips are harder to get into tight areas, so make sure they're long enough to compensate.

Tip: I also prefer metal tweezers over plastic, as sometimes supports need a little persuasion coming off and the extra strength from the metal construction helps get the job done.

 

Sanding.

There's no great science to using a piece of sand paper. Its surface is hard and rough, so rub on something softer and it will wear it down smoothing it out. However, there is (at least I think so) an art to sanding your models.

Unless there's large support material that my cutters can't remove, I always use a fine grade sand paper and work slowly and gently, frequently checking progress. It's a process that takes longer than just getting in there and rubbing away, but it doesn't take as long as reprinting your model if you end go too far. 😉

As I get close to the level I'm looking for, I switch to a super fine, wet/dry sand paper for a super smooth finish.

Tip: I also like to use wet and dry sand paper to remove any banding from the 3D printer's layering process or just to polish up my prints.

 

 A word of warning.

All the techniques listed above require practice, skill, and most of all patience in order to get them right. If you rush to clean up your print, you run the risk of ruining your model, or worse, injuring yourself. Please be careful!

Be sure to be patient and take your time cleaning up and finishing your models to avoid causing any damage to the surface. Practicing these techniques and using your new tools frequently will help you speed up the process in time.

Remember! Concentrate on doing it correctly first, then think about doing it quickly.

Most of all, try to enjoy the learning process as you go. You'll get there in the end either way. 🙂 If you're having trouble getting to grips with anything, ask a question in the comments below or join an online forum. Once you reach out, you'll find there's a large community of ‘makers' ready to lend a hand!

 

Andy

 

Got any clean up or finishing tips of your own? Let us know what works for you in the comments below.