2.1 Leveling the Build Plate
The first step towards ensuring the success of a 3D print is
making certain that the build plate — the surface atop which
the 3D print is printed — is well “trammed” to the extruder
nozzle. Despite the fact that this process is commonly referred
to as “leveling”, you should not use a level as you are not
leveling the plate to the horizon. In actuality, you are making
sure that the top surface of the build plate is parallel to the
plane the extruder nozzle travels in. While machinists call
this “tramming”, in the world of 3D printing this is called
Important If your
printer features auto-leveling or
assisted-leveling, then consult
the directions for your printer
to check whether or not you
should manually level the build
plate. It is strongly advised
that you follow your printer’s
specific directions for initial
setup. Often, printers with these
features arrive already leveled
and merely require some printer
specific “first run” checks.
- Check your printer’s documentation to determine where the
build plate’s leveling adjustments are. Most printers have
either three or four leveling adjustments.
- Once the leveling adjustments are identified, determine how
to adjust them to raise and lower the plate. A common
form of adjustment is a threaded stud with thumbnut. If
you are looking down towards the top of the plate, you
then turn the thumbnut clockwise to raise the plate and
counterclockwise to lower the plate.
- Find a sheet of paper to use as a “feeler gauge”. You
will use this to set a consistently small gap between the
tip of the extruder nozzle and the top of the build plate.
Slicers typically assume this gap to be about 0.1 mm —
approximately the thickness of a sheet of paper. If you have
actual automotive or machinist’s feeler gauges, then use
such a gauge instead.
- If your build plate requires a surface treatment (such as
tape) which is not already applied, then apply it now before
leveling. Some build plates, such as those provided with
ZYYX printers, do not require any treatment. Most build
plates have an aluminum or glass surface that requires a
treatment of Kapton (polyimide) tape for ABS or blue
“painter’s” tape for PLA. Often, these plates come shipped
with tape already applied. Like your filament, the tape
is a “consumable” and will need to be replaced in time.
Note that if your plate requires a treatment but is shipped
without one, then you need to decide with what type of
plastic you will be printing. If you will not be using ABS or
PLA, consult the directions that came with your printer.
To level your build plate for the first time, the procedure is as
follows. Again, note that you should consult the documentation that
accompanied your printer to check for printer-specific instructions,
as the following instructions are generic by necessity:
- Adjust the leveling points in order to lower your build plate
relative to its support mechanism (e.g., support arms). This
does not mean you should lower the entire assembly down
the Z rods. Rather, compress the springs on which the build
plate rides and tighten the thumbnuts, thereby lowering
the plate itself in relation to the arms and other structures
supporting it. This ensures that there is a significant gap
between the nozzle and the build plate’s surface in order to
reduce the risk of damaging either.
- Remove any debris from the tips of the extruder nozzles. If
there is a small bead of plastic, it can be broken off with
- Turn on the printer.
- From the main menu (Section 3.2) of your LCD display,
select the “Utilities” menu (Section 3.7) by pressing the
down key twice and then pressing the center key. The
keypad and the LCD screen are normally located close to
each other somewhere on the front of the printer.
- Within the Utilities menu, press the down key to scroll
downwards until you have selected the “Home Axes” item
(Section 3.7.6). Press the center key to choose the item.
- Having selected “Home Axes”, the printer will move the
extruders to the back, right corner. Then the printer will
raise the build platform twice, slowly the second time.
- Once this homing operation is completed, manually slide
the extruder assembly over the build surface, ensuring that
it does not touch the top of the build surface anywhere. If
it does, then continue to lower the build surface using the
leveling adjustments. If the build surface cannot be lowered
further and the extruder is still hitting it, either the Z
may need to be lowered or a shim should be installed, after
which Steps 5, 6, and 7 should be repeated.
- Before beginning leveling, you need to heat up the build
plate if you will be printing with it heated. As some heated
build surfaces expand a small amount or may even “crown”
upwards in the middle a little when heated, the plate must
be leveled in its operational configuration. From the keypad
press the left key to return to the main menu, then scroll up
using the up key and select the Preheat item by pressing the
center key, Section 3.6. Make sure you are not heating the
extruders by scrolling to their lines and pressing the center
key to toggle the value to “OFF”. Likewise, ensure that
the heating platform reads “ON” before scrolling up to the
first line and pressing the center key to begin preheating.
A monitor screen will appear, similar to the one shown
in Figure 2.1. Wait until the platform reaches its target
temperature, which is usually 100° C for ABS or 50° C for
PLA; the temperatures are displayed in the form current
temperature/target temperature in degrees Celsius. Once
the platform is fully heated, press the left key to return to
the main menu.
Figure 2.1: Monitor Screen
- From the Utilities menu, scroll down until you reach “Level
Build Plate”, then select it using the center key, Section 3.7.5.
- The printer will now home its axes as before, then move the
nozzle to the approximate center of the build plate. Directions
will appear on the LCD screen; press the center key to advance
from screen to screen. The final screen will be the one depicted
in Figure 2.2.
Figure 2.2: Leveling
- To level the build plate, manually move the extruder so that
the nozzle is roughly over one of the adjustment points. Take
care to avoid dragging the nozzle across the build surface,
as that may cause damage. Then, adjust the point so
that there is only a small gap between the tip of the
nozzle and the top of the build surface. Place the piece of
paper between the two as you adjust. You want to be
able to slide the paper back and forth, but with some
- After you are satisfied that this point is adjusted, move the
extruder to the next point to repeat the process. Do not press
the center key yet.
- Once you have finished adjusting all the points, recheck them.
You may also wish to check the center of the build plate. The
plate may crown a little when heated and the long X
rods supporting the extruder can sag a tiny amount.
As such, you may find the gap to be too small at the
center. If so, you may need to fiddle with the adjustment
points until a more uniform gap across the plate is
Note that turning all thumbnuts by an equal amount will raise
or lower the entire plate evenly.
- If you have finished checking and rechecking all your test
points, and you are satisfied that the plate is level, then press
the center key. Now that you have completed leveling, you are
ready to load filament.
Note In general, you do
not need to level your build
plate before every print. As you
continue to use your printer, the
frequency with which you need
to level your plate will diminish.
However, in the first week or so
you may need to level it every
few prints. This is in part due
to your lack of experience, but
may also be the result of your
printer settling in.