How to Level Your 3D Printer Bed – Nozzle Height Calibration

Leveling your printer bed is not a hard task, however, it can sure be a tedium getting it right.

There is every chance that at least ever 3D printer user has run into trouble while trying to calibrate or level their 3D printer bed, to the point of painstaking frustration.

So, that is why we are here, trying to help you out and give you all the answers you need.

The best way to level your bed is to do a test print, preferably a large object, and adjust the corners of the print bed as it extrudes material.

This method is efficient as it is happening in real-time. It does not require any manual moving of the bed or of the print head either. 

It is impossible to get a perfectly leveled bed, however, you can get it as perfect as you need it to be in order to print successfully. Every bed will have a slight high spot, a slight slow spot, and the odd blemish.

Today we will talk through some brilliant ways to level your printer bed so that you can get some quality prints without endless tinkering.

How to Level Your 3D Printer

The easiest answer to leveling your 3D printer bed, once you have gained more experience is to start a print of a large object, so that it goes around the whole bed, then apply a few slicers in the slicer settings.

What you can do by doing this is actually raising or lowering the bed while the skirt is printing to give yourself a better idea of the ideal bed level or calibration.

This is one of the easiest methods. However, the method that is generally used and taught for this is different.

Once you have gained some experience in levelling your printer bed, then this is the best method. If it is your first time though, try out this method below;

  1. Heat up the printer bed and the nozzle.
  2. Auto-home.
  3. Disabled the stepper motors.
  4. Manually move the print head and bed over to one corner of the print bed.
  5. Try to slide a piece of paper underneath.
  6. Lower/ raise the bed corners using wheels, to a point where the nozzle is lightly pressing on the paper.
  7. Ensure that the paper can be wiggled slightly where the nozzle is pressing on the paper.
  8. Repeat this with each corner and the middle of the bed.
  9. Repeat this a second time, for surety.
  10. Done!

Now although this is a pretty easy thing to do, we would like to explain how to level the 3D printer bed in more detail, for absolute clarity.

Leveling your print bed is a simple process which should only take a few minutes to complete. It is vital for getting what you want out of the first layer, and it is also imperative to ensure bed adhesion is good enough that it lasts through the whole print.

Don’t worry though, it does get easier with time.

Preparing

All that you need to level your 3D printer bed, is a normal piece of paper, or a feeler gauge, and some patience.

First, you want to heat up the print bed to 60 °C, and the nozzle to 150 °C. Once you have done this, and the bed and nozzle are heated up, you want to auto-home your print head to it’s base position, X- 0 mm, Y- 0 mm, Z- 0 mm.

Your 3D printer will hit the X, Y, and Z end stops in order to find this location, this is why these end stops must be set up correctly.

After your print head is at the home base, you need t go in to the printer’s interface and hit the ‘Disable Steppers’ option, this is often found under the ‘control’ settings. What this should do is allow you to move the print head into each calibration location for a proper leveling.

Once all of these things are done, you can now start to adjust your bed levels.

Leveling

Before you start manually leveling your printer bed you need to remember to keep safety in your mind at all times.

Your printer bed will be relatively hot, so you should avoid touching it as much as you can, and on that note, definitely avoid touching the nozzle, as this part will be even hotter.

The larger the piece of paper you use, the further away you can be from the nozzle. A sizeable post-it note is a good recommendation for doing this.

To start, you want to move the print head along the X-axis, and move the printer bed along the Y axis, so that the nozzle is at one corner. It is up to you which corner you start with, there is no correct corner to choose first, although we recommend the bottom left corner as it is closest to the home position.

Be sure not to move your hot end or bed too speedily along the axis, as it can create EMI spikes, which may end up resulting in blowing the transistor and capacitors on the control board. Slow and steady wins the race.

You may wish to twist all four wheel bed levelers counter-clockwise, or towards the left in order to lower the bed a little for the next part.

Now, get your paper out, make sure it is thin, do not use a thick piece of card, and slide it under the nozzle.

Now, lower the nozzle to the point where you can still gently slide the paper back and forth with the nozzle still on top if it. You may usually have to lower it down and then slightly raise the bed by turning the wheel clockwise, or toward the right.

Once you can easily wiggle the paper around underneath, this corner has been levelled appropriately. With the paper still under the nozzle, move the print head along the X-axis manually until it is in the next corner.

Following the same process with the lowering and raising of the bed, wiggle the paper. Do this with each corner you do.

When you get to the top right corner you will need to move the print bed along the Y-axis with the paper remaining underneath the nozzle. Level this corner and then repeat the process with the final corner.

Once all four corners have been levelled properly, you should then repeat the whole process again. This will double-check that everything is perfectly aligned.

Perfecting the Leveling

The reason that we need to level or calibrate our 3D printer bed twice, is to double-check that everything is adequately aligned, as the leveling of one side can affect the other sides.

So, by leveling twice, it can account for this change and ensure that the bed is leveled perfectly, ready for the first successful and perfect level.

Once you have leveled twice, it is a good idea to check the middle of the print bed as well, use the same piece of paper under the nozzle. As long as the bed is not warped, having leveled the corners should mean that the center of the print bed should also provide the same wiggle room that the corners do.

The middle of the printer bed is the absolute most important part for your nozzle to be leveled. Most prints you do will be done in the middle section and so the corners are not as important as the center of the bed, unless you are doing large prints.

What you can do however, is slightly adjust each corner more equally so that the middle is leveled correctly with the paper underneath the nozzle.

This may work for some times, however if your bed experiences more warping, you probably will not get successful initial layers, and this is where the genius of automatic leveling comes in and saves you from frustration.

Automatic VS Manual Leveling

When you are looking at leveling your printer bed, there are two distinct ways that this can be done.

Manually leveling is simply the act of moving the bed by hand, then using the four bed leveling wheels on the underneath, or in some cases, you can also use a screw or wrench mechanism.

Manual leveling tends to be enough for a majority of 3D printer users, as it does not require being done too many times.

You can save the extra time you would spend on doing manual leveling by using automatic leveling, and acquire constantly great first layers.

However, manual leveling means that you will save the extra money you would spend on this, as long as you do not mind using the paper and nozzle method.

If you do, however, intend on 3D printing for years, it will make sense to invest in your journey with an automatic leveling system, as it will make your years of 3D printing smooth sailing.

There are many great options for automatic bed levelers, however, one that is talked up by many 3D printer users is the BLTouch, which makes for a great 3D printer upgrade. 

Even if your bed is warped and is beyond manual leveling, this autoleveler should account for the differences in the bed level across the whole surface, while moving the nozzle up or down slightly and accordingly.

Some of the admirable features of automatic leveling systems like the BLTouch are as follows;


  • Easy application due to small size with only a simple firmware update.
  • Automatically self-tests when you turn on the power.
  • Has an LED blinking light as an alarm to identify problems while in operation or during the self-test.
  • Top-notch precision of a 0.005 mm Standard Deviation in the repeatability.
  • Can also be used on almost any board and works well with any type of bed surface.
  • Comes with a meter extension cable set for the larger printers.

Distance Between Printer Nozzle and Printer Bed

When it comes to 3D printing successfully, there are many factors that you have to tune to get the great results you want.

One of these many factors, is the location of the 3D printer nozzle in relation to the printer bed/ build surface. Hence, why we want optimum nozzle to bed distance.

So, on that note, how far should a 3D printer nozzle be from the print bed?

The 3D printer nozzle should be between 0.06 mm to 0.2 mm from the printer bed, to give it enough room to comfortably extrude the material, which should be about the width of a piece of paper. This distance will also depend on the nozzle diameter and the height of the layers.

If you are printing at 50 microns or a 0.05 mm layer height, then you will need to lower the space from the nozzle to the bed.

The bed should be warm so that when you are leveling and measuring how far from the nozzle is from the bed. This should be done so that your bed can expand ever so slightly when heat is applied, doing so from a cold bed can yield inaccurate results.

You want to ensure that there is proper distance between the tip of the nozzle and the bed, so these are things we need to take into account.

Telling If the Nozzle is Too Close

You may be able to tell that your nozzle is too close to the printer bed when you get tiny extruded lines that scrape the surface of the bed.

This is why it is a good idea to have a few skirts before the print starts. This gives you the opportunity to level the print bed while that is happening.

You may also hear the extruder clicking or slipping, this is something that happens when there is backward pressure or filament through the Bowden tube.

This is when a material cannot fully extrude and the printer has an expected flow rate, then this means that the nozzle is too close to the bed.

You should lower your bed by turning the wheels counterclockwise/ to the left, until the nozzle no longer scrapes at the bed and extrudes on the surface smoothly.

Telling If the Nozzle is Too Far Away

This is pretty easy to tell, easier to notice than the latter. This is because you will see your filament either curling around the nozzle, or not actually being laid.

Either that or the filament simply will not stick down well enough to the bed and will become easily moved.

If this happens then you want to raise the print bed, until there is a suitable distance between the bed and nozzle to firmly touch the bed.

Your filament will not be pleasantly laid on the print bed firmly, it actually needs to have a good amount of contact to stick down to the bed.

When the material is extruded you can test to see how well the adhesion to the bed really is by very lightly brushing over the printed layer.

If you can move the layer with ease, then you know it is not stuck down well, as in turn the bed needs to be raised.

Using a thick layer to start is a great method for accounting for distance from the bed. You can also increase the flow rate for the first layer to add insurance of a decent consistency of material is extruded for a good adhesion to the bed.

Feeder Gauge for Nozzle Height Distance from the Printer Bed

Some people will use a feeler gauge to get an idea on the height and distance from the nozzle to the printer bed.

It is not proposed to use a feeler gauge for leveling your 3D printer through, because these can be rather slippery due to being polished metal.

It can therefore be hard to determine the right level without the dragging feeling you will get with the paper.

Post-it notes are the best option because you can use the adhesive side to easily maneuver the note while it is under the nozzle, around the bed.

Dial Indicator for Leveling the Printer Bed

Using a dial indicator for leveling your printer best is a unique way of doing this. It is implemented by machinist and some 3D printer users to perfectly level the bed.

It is very accurate in its precision and so it is definitely recommended trying.

A dial gauge has a precision level where it displays the distance of how much the device is pushed in. Connect the dial gauge to the print head and move it to each corner using G-code.

Then on the very first corner, set the gauge to 0 and set each following corner to 0 to get a perfectly leveled bed.

What if you just can’t level the bed?

You may reach a point where leveling the bed manually simply does not work anymore. This is often the result of your bed warping too much, or something it can also be due to a damaged surface. There are a few options if this should happen in order to solve this issue.

You could go for an automatic leveler, get a replacement bed, or simply try to fix the issues directly.

One unusual remedy that one user tried was using sticky notes and placing them under the bed to increase the overall bed height. Oddly enough this actually worked, and well enough that they were able to get good quality even prints again.

However, this may not always work out, so one other option is to opt for the BL-Touch we previously mentioned. It could be your savior, however the alternative option is getting a fresh borosilicate glass bed.

Borosilicate glass has many additional qualities that make it a fantastic option for your 3D printer. It has properties that will ensure that the heat is adequately distributed, parts which are easier to separate after cooling, it is also resistant to scratches and thermal shock, as well as reducing possible warping in prints.

Take a look at some of the best Borosilicate glass options for the following printers sold on Amazon.com.

Creality CR-10, CR-10S, CRX, Ultimaker S3, Tevo Tornado –

310 x 310 x 3 mm (thickness)

Creality Ender 3/X, Ender 3 Pro, Ender 5, CR- 20, CR-20 Pro, Geeetech A10

235 x 235 x 4 mm

Monoprice Select Mini V1, V2

130x 160 x 3 mm 

Prusa i3 MK2, MK3, Anet A8

220 x 220 x 4 mm

Monoprice Mini Delta

120 mm (round) 3 mm

Even if you do not need a who replacement you can still use this as an alternative plate switch between finished prints in order to reduce time spend idling.

How often should you level the print bed?

It can be hard to determine when and how often you should level your printer bed, because it depends on a few different factors.

These include how often you use it, and whether or not it has actually become uneven. If you start to notice that there are problems developing with the first player, then this is one of the first things that you should be considering.

It can vary between people, some may level their 3D printer after 10 prints or so, some may have to level theirs every two weeks. You can implement something onto your printer, no not the automatic BLTouch leveler, but it too will help you, so you do not need to level your bed as much.

Under 3D printer beds, you will see springs used to raise or lower the bed, because it is the cheapest option this is often what comes with your 3D printer most of the time. What we are talking about are leveling columns, a great one being the BCZAMD Silicone Leveling Columns.

These have the benefit of requiring a minimal amount of leveling over time, whereas springs will often gradually move out of place, silicone leveling columns will stay fixed in place.

Then you could always mix these columns with something like the BLTouch and you can practically say goodbye to ever having to level your bed again.

Fixing the Issues; Nozzle Digging and Hitting the Print Bed

It can be worrying if you see your nozzle hit or dig straight into the bed surface, these materials are hard and have force behind them. The last thing you want is for this to cause extensive damage and hey-presto you need a new 3D printer, or a huge amount of replacements.

You should check that your build platform is positioned properly. You can do this either by lowering the platform to a point where the nozzle no longer hits or digs into the bed, or by raising the Z-limit switch, so the nozzle cannot go too low.

There is also a small switch on the side of your printer which will stop your print head and nozzle from going too low. To fix this issue, you only have to undo the two T-nuts on the side of this switch and move it up before re-fixing it.

Overall, this should help you fix all of your issues with the level of your 3D printer bed, and now you can get some fantastic first layers all the time, every time.

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