BuildTak, PEI, and Early Adopter Syndrome

I’m guessing most of the members of the Hackaday community are what most people would consider early adopters. Sure, there’s variation among us, but compared to the general population we probably all qualify. I’ve spent many years being an early adopter. I owned a computer, a TiVO, a digital camera, a 3D printer, a drone, and many other gadgets before they became well known. I’ve avoided the self-balancing conveyance craze (I’ll stick with my motorcycle).

Of course, you know if you are an early adopter, you will overpay. New has a premium, after all. But there is another price: you often have the first, but not the optimum. My first digital camera took 3.5 inch floppies. My TiVO has an analog tuner.

I was reminded of this last week. A number of years ago, I built a 3D printer. A lot of printers back then didn’t have heated build plates, so printing ABS required rafts and ABS juice and frustration. I made sure to get a heated bed and, like most people in those days, I had a glass print surface covered in Kapton.

That works pretty well with ABS, but it isn’t perfect. Aqua Net hair spray makes it stick better, but large flat prints still take a little work. With a little practice, it isn’t bad. I eventually switched to an aluminum bed and didn’t have to level the head quite as often, but it didn’t really make things any better, just more repeatable.

The years pass and other gadgets beckon. I use the printer about like I use a drill press. I don’t use it every day, but when you need it it is handy. I have to admit, I’ve been getting partial to PLA since it doesn’t warp. But PLA in the hot Houston sun isn’t always a good mix, so I still print a fair amount of ABS.

The other day I noticed a product called BuildTak. I also heard some people are printing on PEI sheets. I decided to try the BuildTak. Wow! What a difference.

I don’t want to turn this into a review on BuildTak–you can find those all over the Internet. I can’t compare it to PEI or any of the other newer solutions. I will say this: at first I didn’t adjust my first layer parameters–I usually print a little low and over-extruded to smoosh against the Kapton. You have to accept a little bit of a smashed base when you do this, but it helps with warping.

With the BuildTak, the print came out fine, but it was very difficult to remove from the print bed. A little reading (yeah, I don’t read directions so well) showed that the bed is tacky enough that you should not squash the plastic down. For the first time ever, I printed with the first layer high enough up to look like all the other layers and with no over-extrusion. The print popped right off and was perfectly flat.

I was embarrassed to find this isn’t such a new product. It was just new to me — an early adopter. The sheets aren’t cheap, but if you take care of them they appear to last, making this a cheap, easy upgrade. You still need a heated bed for ABS, by the way, so it isn’t a cheap upgrade for a non-heated printer.

But that’s not really my point. Gadgets get better and better, in general. Early adoption is fun, but don’t forget to track the state of the art to see where you can or should make improvements.

By coincidence, we recently talked about a printer that has a build plate that looks like rebranded BuildTak (but I don’t know if it is or just some similar material). Just to give PEI a fair shake, you can see a video about that material below.

Photo credit: [Chris Cecil] Creative Commons 2.0

17 thoughts on “BuildTak, PEI, and Early Adopter Syndrome

    1. Not necessarily… there are many ways to be an early-adopter and still be safe.

      For instance- many technologies start in the business sector and out of my price range but this didnt stop me from getting a cheap HP iPaq (4155?), not because of what it was but because of what i knew it would become. Vastly underpowered device in a niche market that really wasnt what i wanted to use it for- but i was the first person I (or anyone i knew) that could pull a computer out of their pocket and ask the Internet random questions, so long as i had a wifi connection… i was way ahead of the curve, but i was still a very early adopter of mobile computing.

      Plus: many times being an early adopter gets you a more hackable device before they decide to lock the hardware down.

  1. I’ve been using a PEI bed with my Rostock Max V2 and can vouch for it singlehandedly taking my prints from “i guess they’re ok” to “i can actually make something useful with this!”

    no more squashed layers also means no more “post-processing” !

  2. ABS stuck pretty tenaciously to BuildTak for me… almost a little too well. Not a problem for prints in general if you’re super-careful about that first layer height. But skirts were sometimes really hard to peel off, and once you damage the surface with a sharp scraper, you’ve created a scar that nothing can heal.

    1. That’s a big reason why I quit using PEI. Way too scratch-prone. If you make a little mistake while leveling the bed and lightly drag the hot end across the PEI, game over. The nice finish you get from PEI will be forever marred by that little streak on every part that uses that part of the bed.

      I also had a massive number of part failures during cool-down. Printing on PVA glue is nice because as the glass and part contract at different rates, the glue forms a semi-flexible and weak-enough interface between the part that, given a small amount of strain, will fracture and the part breaks free. My experience with PEI was that the part grabbed onto the plastic too well and the parts would develop cracks around corners (and sometimes in random spots elsewhere). They parts would not release from the PEI without letting capillary action suck a bunch of alcohol under the part to free it.

      Some would say “you printed too close to the PEI,” but I played with first layer heights endlessly and the correct height was virtually impossible for me to dial in repeatably. Everything either started lifting after a few dozens layers or would rip itself apart as the PEI and ABS cooled.

  3. PEI is about as plug-and-play as you can get for a vintage printer. I didn’t even glue it to my glass surface, just clamped a 0.3 sheet it under my binder clips, sheet curled downwards to keep it from having a high point, and didn’t have to modify any of my toolchain. Although, I did later cut Brim to half because it was entirely unnecessary to keep PLA down on bare glass.

  4. Been using BuildTak surfaces for years. It worked well on my Makerbot 2 (4th gen) but had issues putting it on a couple of Printrbot Play’s (I have about 6 printers and 3 don’t have heated buildplates).

    The first time I printed it on the Makerbot it took forever just to pry it off. Over time, the surface doesn’t adhere too well. I still prefer a heated glass bed with hair spray.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. I use and really like BuildTak inspite of the price. It is like crazy expensive, especially when you consider what it is. That being said, it is the best solution I’ve found so far. A little hairspray helps a lot to make it easier to get off.

  6. i ended up messing up the middle of my kapton sheet after clearing a jam in my print head. seems i didnt tighten the head down all the way and then when i was recalibrating the head slipped and gouged a nice long gash through my kapton. it was kind of a stupid mistake mostly because i was worried about stripping the threads on the aluminum retention block.

    i was looking at kapton sheets on ebay and most seem like they are just as expensive as these buildtak sheets. so i might give them a go.

  7. ive been printing on PEI for about a year with my taz 5, 2000+ hours later and it still works great, same sheet too. Ive printed nylon, petg, pla, and abs on it with no issues. It is slightly scratched, but its not cut, bubbled, or peeling. I have wet sanded it with 1500 grit twice to keep the surface in good shape. lastly I clean it with acetone every 4-5 prints or right before a 20+ hour print.

  8. i found that petg doesnt like PEI unless i got glue stick down.

    however the other day i decided to sand my PEI sheet down to 250 grit,…WOW everything sticks to it now, with no need for any glue or anything…I still have to sort of have my nozzle a bit close to squish it , but for PLA i dont have to squish at all

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