Wayne Huthmaker, a manufacturing engineer with a background in machine design, was frustrated by the print surface supplied with his new 3D printer. The first layer of his print jobs weren't adhering very well and when adhesion was adequate, it was difficult to remove the printed object. He tried ABS goop, hairspray, perforated PCB board, blue painter's tape, Kapton tape and PET tape with varying degrees of success, but still wasn't satisfied. Thus was born the PRINTinZ flexible printer plate.
A PRINTinZ plate is not designed to replace a printer's platform, but to instead rest on top of it, similar to the way many users place a borosilicate glass sheet on their print bed. It can be attached to the platform with 3D printable clips or paper binder clamps, but the clamps shouldn't be too tight or they could slightly flex the PRINTinZ plate (the same thing can happen with a PCB perf board or even glass). Once the plate is fastened, its surface should be wiped clean with isopropyl alcohol to remove any skin oils or other residue that might interfere with adhesion.
"My customers report as good or better adhesion than PET tape, but at lower temperatures," says Huthmaker.
Once a print job is finished, the PRINTinZ plate can be detached and flexed a little in one direction or the other to make object removal easier.
While primarily intended for use with PLA, it will also work with ABS. However, it does not conduct 100 percent of the build platform's heat. This isn't generally a problem, because the PRINTinZ's improved adhesion means a first layer that typically sticks best at 100°C will stick to a PRINTinZ plate at 70°C. Higher temperatures might accidentally cause ABS to adhere too well.
The plate can be sanded with 220 or finer grit to guaranty complete material residue removal or just to give it a smoother finish than it comes with from the factory. It will make no difference in its adhesion performance.
PRINTinZ plates can be machined to alter their XY dimensions, but they are also offered in the following sizes: 12" x 12", 140mm x 140mm, 200mm x 200mm, 229mm x 257mm (Ultimaker 2), 8" x 10" and 11.2" x 6" (MakerBot Replicator 2).
Huthmaker goes out of his way to point out that his plate is not a replacement for proper nozzle height calibration, nor is it a solution to ABS warping. It is possible that if the temperature is high enough, a first layer of ABS could stick so well that it will eventually flex the plate itself, resulting in something that looks like base curling. As with any other print surface, separation between layers becomes more likely with increased object height, unless the entire build envelope is enclosed in a heated (or heat trapping) environment.
"I've tried to be very transparent about what this product can and can't do. There are limits with any kind of flexible surface since, at some point, the warping of ABS will overpower the plate and whatever is securing it to the machine," notes Huthmaker.
While PRINTinZ plates aren't a magic solution for ABS warping, they can improve first layer adhesion and object removal. Plus, they provide a way to avoid the hassle of tape, hairspray or goop.