We Are Learning 3D Printing Through Our Personal Experience…
We have told you about the GeckoTek build plate last year as a very promising upcoming product that started as a Kickstarter project. Back then everything sounded almost too good to be true, but along the way things changed and the end product is not as functional and versatile as it was originally promised. Nevertheless back then we’ve ordered a GeckoTek build plate along with a magnetic base for our MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer and we have finally received something. It is the PLA only version, though originally it was promised that the plate should be compatible with both PLA and ABS prints, the end result however is a bit different as there will be two separate versions – one for PLA and one for ABS printing. The model designed for ABS is not yet available, but the PLA version is already shipping and we have received ours and it is start to share some initial impressions.
The product comes well packaged, as already mentioned we have ordered the GeckoTek build plate (we got the PLA version) along with the magnetic plate and the package also contains bolts and nuts along with pink-purple spacers for mounting (?). The spacers are 3D printed, but not that good as apparently they did not use support material when printing them, so the end result is not that great and we did not get to print the 3D model of the spacers ourselves as apparently everyone that ordered a build plate apparently already has a 3D printer and can do that. The instructions for mounting the GeckoTek plate are not very detailed and no photos are provided for easy installation by novice users, but that should not be an issue as the procedure is pretty straight forward and easy. The finish of the special coating of the GeckoTek build plate looks decent enough, but far from perfect and the same goes for the looks of the magnetic build plate that is essentially a big aluminium piece with mounting holes and magnets. The coating of our build plate has some darker spots and fine scratches, and we even noticed a slight press mark apparently left by a hot extruder pressing a bit more on the build plate than it should – it seems the plate has been tested prior to shipping.
We are planning to start testing the GeckoTek build plate in the next few days, so you can expect our initial impressions from using it pretty soon. Unfortunately it has arrived a bit too late and is not what we initially expected it will be and we have already installed a Heated Build Plate to our Replicator 2 3D printer with a great removable build plate system that we use with BuildTak and are very happy with the results (apart from the relatively fast wearing of the BuildTak surface due to the not so easy removal of the printed parts). So if we like the results that GeckoTek provides we might think of a way to make only the build plate usable with our currently installed solution from BC Tech and the magnetic base will not get used. Also if we integrate the GeckoTek build plate to our current workflow we would also need to get one for ABS as well and at a price of $39 USD (for the PLA plate) it is not the most affordable solution, especially if you need to buy two separate plates for ABS and PLA and each of them does not manage to provide you with at least a few hundred prints before wearing off. We may still end up replying on the BuildTak as the best priced and most versatile and durable solution we have found so far, even though it is still not the perfect one we need or at least until we find a better alternative as we continue searching for one. If the GeckoTek build plate ended up what was initially promised it might’ve been a good alternative to BuildTak, but we no longer think so even if the plate we got does ends up working well…
We were looking for a while at alternatives to using various kinds of tapes to cover the build plate of a 3D printer that can provide good adhesion, easy removal and most of all to be more durable, so that we won’t have to replace it often. One such solution that we have found out about is the BuidTak 3D printing surface that is essentially a specially developed thin plastic sheet that you stick on top of your build plate. This 3D printing surface is supposed to provide an optimal printing surface for 3D objects to adhere to for the duration of a print, while allowing for a clean, easy removal of completed builds. It is heat-resistant, so that you should be able to use it for ABS printing as well if you have a 3D printer with a heated build platform and not only PLA.
A single sheet of BuildTak should be more durable than any kind of tape and the price is affordable enough if the surface proves to be durable enough for making a lot of prints before having to replace it. The surface is available in multiple pre-cut sizes including rectangle, square and circle shapes that should fit on most FFF/FDM 3D printers available and if the size you need is not available you can go for a larger one and then cut the extra. We got two sheets with size of 292×165 mm (6.5″ x 11.5″) at $12 USD per sheet, this is the size needed for the build plate of the MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer that use use with just a bit needed to be cut at one of the sides after applying the surface to the build platform.
Sticking the BuildTak 3D printing surface to the build plate of the 3D printer is a bit tricky, it is a lot like when installing a screen protector on a mobile phone or a tablet. You need to be careful and to remove air bubbles while sticking the surface and not trying to remove them after that as it will be very hard or impossible. Our first installation was less than perfect and we’ve had a few air bubbles left, good thing that we have ordered a spare sheet. Do note that after applying the BuildTak you will need to re-level the build plate as the height of the new 3D printing surface is probably going to be a little more than that of the tape that you have used before. Make sure you level the build plate properly by doing a test print, we have found out that printing a SIM card adapter does a great job for testing the proper leveling and is quick to print and uses little filament.
After applying the BuildTak 3D printing surface we have started printing using different filaments. No problems when using PLA – the printed part sticks well and is easy to remove, not that we expected otherwise, so we have moved to other more problematic filaments. Going for ABS on our 3D printer without a heated build platform we have observed the expected warping of the base of the printed part resulting in the object not being able to adhere to the build surface for long. We have then tried Bendlay filament, something that we had trouble printing on our Replicator 2 using the 3M ScotchBlue tape – we had trouble having the material to stick no matter what settings we have tried. With the BuildTak installed however we had no trouble printing using Bendlay filament, it was sticking quite well with very minor warping that we have observed at the very edges of the test prints – something that can easily be overlooked as the prints were fine in general. Next up was the T-glase filament that we also had trouble printing with on the standard blue painters tape, however the situation was not as good as with Bendlay here. It certainly was better than with the painters tape before, but still not good enough adhesion – we may have to play some more to find the best settings for printing T-Glase on the BuildTak.
We are going to continue playing with the BuildTak 3D printing surface printing with different filaments, but so far we are already seeing better results than when using various tapes for covering the build plate. Another good thing that we have also observed when using the BuildTak surface is that the bottom of the 3D printed parts is that it is smoother to the touch and a bit better looking as compared to when using painters tape.
We have written about the GeckoTek 3D Printer Build Plate a while ago as it was an interesting alternative to using various kinds of tapes to cover your 3D printer’s build plate. The project started on Kickstarter, but since we have missed backing it up then we have purchased a kit for our MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer back in November last year hoping to get it in early 2015. It seems that the actual production of the build plates has suffered numerous delays and things have just stated happening in the last few days according to the updates on the Kickstarter project page. Apparently there is no chance to have a single solution that will be suitable for different kinds of 3D printers and with different materials.
Based on the information published in the latest updates apparently the current version is suitable for PLA and non-heated build platform devices, ABS and heated build platforms will probably require a bit different coating and we may actually see these available in the summer this year. GeckoTek may start shipping PLA versions of the build plates to backers that will be using them on devices that use this kind of filament only. Unfortunately this goes only for Kickstarter backers that have priority before customers like us that have purchased a kit from the official product website. What we are not happy with so far regarding the GeckoTek is that they are not sending any news and updates to actual customers that have purchased and paid up front for their product and updates are only published on their Kickstarter page.
At the moment we would not advice anyone to purchase a GeckoTek 3D printer build plate for the moment directly from the official website of the product, better wait until the company actually has fulfilled the Kickstarter orders first and starts shipping actual products to new customers. Meanwhile we are already looking for various alternatives that are already available on the market providing more durable surface for 3D printing on, good adhesion and easy removal of the printed parts. One such alternative that we are already testing is the BuildTak 3D printing surface and you can expect our first impressions from using it very soon.