One of the most infuriating moments in 3D printing is layer shifting, which derails your entire 3D print.
3D printing layer shifting or layer misalignment is a printing issue that affects the visual appearance and dimensional accuracy of a 3D model as single or multiple layers divert horizontally from where you expect them to print.
You encounter layer shifting in your 3D prints for numerous reasons, such as a high printing speed, collisions, or loose belts. In this article, I’ll give you some tips on overcoming layer shifting on your prints and explore the most affected 3D printers.
What is Layer Shifting?
Today, the 3D printers are based on a construction process called additive manufacturing (AM), meaning that 3D printers print objects layer by layer.
These printers deposit the material on the printing bed to create a base layer. After this, the printer builds or adds a layer until the 3D object is complete.
Layer shifting on your 3D prints can completely destroy your printing ideas. The layers don’t align with each other and the entire 3D model looks skewed and misaligned and doesn’t function as expected.
If you identify a stepping effect in your 3D print, your printer is probably printing in the wrong position. Depending on the level of misalignment, in some cases, it is still possible to save the print results.
Anyway, it is important to fix layer shifting because it makes your 3D prints look like a staircase, and it generates more effort in post-processing.
Interestingly, when the layer shifts are very big, it forces your printer to print in thin air, leaving behind a bird’s nest of filament – another mess you need to clear.
Before moving forward, let’s understand why your 3D printer causes layer shifts.
6 Culprits of Layer Shift in 3D Prints
Layer shifting in 3D printing happens for a reason. I’ve listed the most common reasons that are behind this issue and also some recommendations on how to fix them.
1. Fast printing speed
The printing speed has significant impact on the quality of your prints. It is the speed of the extruder-, X-, and Y-axes-motor.
When your printer is printing at a very high speed, it leads to layer shifting.
If you want to move your printers faster than the motor can handle, you’re likely to hear a clicking noise because the motor cannot attain the desired speed.
As a result, the motor skips some of the steps, resulting in misalignment in your 3D prints.
How to Fix
The main goal is to test the speed and find the right balance between the quality and the highest possible speed.
Use these fixes to handle fast printing speed:
- Lower the default print speed by 20% to see if your problem persists. Continue to reduce the speed to a level that your printer’s motor can handle.
- Running a test print helps find a middle ground between mitigating 3D printing layer shifting and reducing your printing speed. You can find speed test models on Thingiverse or if you’re using Cura, you can download the AutoTowers Generator plugin.
2. Electrical or mechanical issues
Any mechanical or electrical issues on your printer can cause visible layer shifting and the “staircase look”.
For instance, many printers have a belt that helps the motor control the position of your printer head. The belt helps your printer head to move and deposit materials on the printing bed.
These belts are made of rubber and are prone to wear and tear. When this belt loses tension, it disrupts the position of your printer head and prevents it from correctly depositing the printing material.
Alternatively, if the same belt is too tight, it causes friction in the bearings, preventing the motor from running altogether.
If you have reduced your printer’s speed but are still facing layer shifts, watch out for electrical and mechanical issues.
How to Fix
If you encounter layer shifting due to loose belts and pulley, use the following fixes:
Tighten the belts by extending the pulley on one side of the belt loop to eliminate any slack. Most machines today have modern pulleys that are easy to adjusts.
Make sure to tighten the screws correctly.
Or try to us some of the belt tensioning tools to “tight” the belts on your printer.
3. Incorrect power mode
Though this might not be true for every printer, certain printers might be a victim of layer shifting if they use the wrong power mode.
A printer’s power mode identifies how much power a printer uses for building innovative 3D models.
Often, when you use your printer for printing large objects, the Stealth mode might cause layer shifting.
Try to switch the power mode if available on your printer. For larger prints, use normal mode, whereas for smaller prints use the Stealth mode.
4. Print bed adhesion issue
Often, a layer shift might happen because of poor print bed adhesion. Improper adhesion forces your print to end with the hot nozzle head pushing the entire 3D print object.
Low bed adhesion occurs when your printing bed has different foreign objects, such as material residue or dust.
How to Fix
Use these steps to overcome the issue of print bed adhesion:
- Clean the print bed
- Re-level the print bed
- Reduce the distance between the print bed and the nozzle
- Reduce the printing speed of the first layer
- Apply adhesives like Blue Tape, hairspray, or glue sticks
When your printer’s nozzle directly interacts with pre-built layers, it causes 3D printing layer shifting.
Typically, when your printer collides with a layer, it bashes the layer out of alignment by moving the deposited material. This movement misaligns the rest of your 3D print.
In most cases, it is a software issue behind the collision. But the previously mentioned print bed adhesion or first-level adhesion are also causes.
How to Fix
Use these steps to avoid collision in your 3D printing:
- Ensure your printing bed is leveled and improve the bed adhesion. This prevents any features from obstructing the nozzle and avoid a collision.
- Try activating the Z hop in your slicer because this instructs your print head to move up to the Z axis, preventing the collision between the nozzle and your 3D print.
6. Cooling issues
Your 3D printer generates too much heat during the printing process.
The motors and main board are the busiest parts in this process. Increased temperature can affect the functionality and quality of the prints.
And as probably expected, cooling issues can not only lower the quality but also have an impact on the durability of your printer.
How to Fix
The mainboard requires enough airflow to pass through it.
A “fan-extension” placed over your mainboard should help you maintain the right temperature.
Most Affected 3D Printers With Layer Shifts
Layser misalignment can oboiusly occur on every printer printing objects by layers.
Due to the technical construction, some printers are more likely to be impacted with it.
Let’s have a look at the 3 most affected printers:
With Ender 3 being a favorite among beginners, knowing the causes of layer shifting in this model is essential to overcome them. Some reasons for layer shifting are:
- The Y-axis level: Misaligned layers can occur if the Y-axis of your printer’s is not level. To check the level of your Y-axis, you can use the layer shifting test as the one on picture above. If the edges of the objects are not smooth, then you know what’s behind.
- X-axis level: In this case is probably the hotend behind, which need to be leveled.
- Built plate: If you’re encountering layer shifts at the same height, the build plate is your culprit. Here again, correct leveling and calibration test should help you solve the incorrect layer printing.
If you are using Prusa MK3, check the belt tension. The recommended value for Prusa MK3 belts is above 255.
Another common reason for 3D printing layer shifting in Prusa MK3 is when some parts of your extruder cable bundles are not according to the 5. E-axis assembly.
So, ensure all cables are arranged properly. Also, to prevent layer shifting, lubricate the bearings to get an uninterrupted and smooth movement.
Ender 5 Plus
Ender 5 plus is another printer where customers deal with layer-shifting issues. One common issue that users report is a loose hot end, which causes shifting from one side to another.
To fix this problem, move your Bowden tube along the X-axis to see if it moves. If the tube doesn’t move, you can tighten it.
Ender 5 plus might witness a layer shift when the wiring from the rear right corner to your extruder hangs up randomly. Use retractor reels and zip-tie them to the wiring to eliminate any layer shift.
The way forward
Today, 3D printing is more than just feeding your printer and implement your printing ideas.
With every printer having its ups and downs, the ability to deal with problems such as layer shifting is essential for quality prints.
Knowing the actual culprit behind your layer shifting helps you search and implement solutions that restore the quality of your prints.
If you know the basic design of your 3D printer, it becomes easy to troubleshoot the layer shifting issue, and you can carry out maintenance activities on your own.