Hands on review of BuildTak, a printing surface for FDM 3D printers

BuildTakOne of the perks of this jobs is getting to do reviews. Who doesn’t love trying new products? But using a product under a review format is also very educational, because I get more involved with a product than I normally would, running it through a battery of tests. When Mike Valentine from Ideal Jacobs Corp contacted me about BuildTak I was excited by his comments, “[it’s] an ideal build surface for FDM 3D printers that will replace the need for kapton and masking tape. It’s a durable, heat-resistant material that adheres to the bare build plate and allows for a much easier 3D printing experience. There are many benefits but its major advantage is that builds stick very easily to it while printing and then come off cleanly with minimal prying needed.” Bold claims. So he sent me some so we could all see how it holds up.

Installation was a breeze, and indeed much easier than blue tape or PET film; it’s thicker and more sturdy so bubbles are easy to avoid. So far it’s living up to the claims. The texture is similar to eggshell. I started with PLA on the patent-pending BuildTak and the very first print worked beautifully. It stuck, didn’t curl, and popped off easily and cleanly. The second print was the same, though I pulled it off sooner. In my correspondence with Mike he stated “Its effectiveness is at its highest when you are able to remove the build while hot.” But that was not my experience. Removing prints while still warm required more effort and seemed to have a deteriorating effect because the next prints didn’t stick as well; the filament beaded and got stringy, and eventually there was no adhesion. That was lesson one.

A new sheet was installed. I tried a different PLA. Things were going well, until I had a slice-related failure at the beginning of a print. The layers didn’t raise correctly and got a bit mashed onto the print surface. It didn’t pop off like previous prints. A bit of scraping with a spatula was necessary to remove it and, this too, had a negative effect on the adhesion. Subsequent prints had trouble sticking. That was lesson two.

I was told users have reported getting 300+ hours of printing out of a single sheet. So far, I’m getting over 250 hours less than that. The third sheet was installed. I used an ABS this time and it worked too. In my experience allowing prints to cool for a few minutes under a fan made removal as simple as bumping the bottom to a clean pop off, with no prying necessary. I was starting to see how lots of prints could come off one sheet.

So I decided to try some exotics and end the winning streak. Laywoo-d3 extrudes kind of thick and BuildTak works best with the nozzle very close to it; those two facts didn’t play well together. The print was over-adhered and required aggressive removal. I was smart enough to print on the corner of the sheet this time to not ruin the middle with mistakes. After raising the nozzle the Laywoo-d3 worked well. I moved on to LayBrick. It stuck a bit harder, and left a bit of residue, but LayBrick is known for its rock-hard adhesion.

In summary, BuildTak is a good product worth trying. It’s so much easier to apply than other surfaces and works with several popular materials. To get more life out of a sheet than I did, here are my tips:

  • Get the nozzle close, except with Laywoo-d3 and LayBrick
  • Let prints cool before removal
  • Don’t use any sharp edge on it
  • Practice new materials on corners to preserve the middle

A single sheet of 4.5” x 4.5” (there are bigger sizes) is $3.25 and a five pack is $15.25, so it’s not too expensive to try. It could save you a lot frustration, and that’s priceless.