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