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How can Support Interface layers save you time and money with your 3D Printed parts?

The term interface layer refers to a specific option inside slicing software. The support material is created in a different way to how you may have usually seen it. So what does a 3D printer need in order to produce …

Tom Watkins

June 15, 2020

The term interface layer refers to a specific option inside slicing software. The support material is created in a different way to how you may have usually seen it.

So what does a 3D printer need in order to produce this interface layer? The main criteria is that it has two nozzles. This is due to the interface layer being a different material between the supports and the surface of the part (often PVA).

Whats the difference between “normal” supports and an interface layer?

Lets take the example images below, which show two parts printed with PLA and PVA supports. The use of the PVA supports ensure that there is minimal scarring to the surface. However, PVA does cost more than PLA. Furthermore purchasing PVA with the sole purpose to throw it away can feel counterproductive, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting the most out of it. PVA can be difficult to print with as its hygroscopic- therefore will absorb moisture. Not just this, but it also prints significantly slower than PVA, so adds further time to the print.

PLA with PVA Support Structure
PLA with PVA Support Structure

In comparison the interface layer is the minimal amount of PVA that’s required. The remaining supports are printing with the material inside print core 1 (in this example, PLA).

Lets run through Cura to see how easy it is to include an interface layer. Open up the settings tab, ensure “Expert” mode is selected, and then tick the checkbox for generating support.

cura settings

We are now accessing the controls for the support material, so lets see the difference between the “standard” addition of PVA supports, and the interface layer. The image below shows the results of the PVA supports.

normal PVA supports

However, if we create an interface layer with print core 2 (the PVA) we see very different results. A fine layer of PVA is now printing between the PLA. This not only uses less of the more expensive PVA, but also sees a decrease in print time.

interface layer inside cura

Does it improve parts?

In comparison to printing with the same material for the part and the supports- yes! However, the real benefits are that you’re achieving the best possible part quality while reducing print time, reducing risk and overall cost.

So we decided to put this to the test on our Ultimaker S5. You can see that with this complex model shown below, the PVA supports is allowing for the curvature to be matched cleanly.

interface layer being printed on an ultimaker s5

Removing the support material is easy, as due to the hygroscopic nature of PVA, it is greatly affected by water. Therefore, by washing water over the part the PVA interface layer is softened. The support can then be peeled off with ease.

This leaves us with the resulting part, with all the curvature left with the best possible finish. If you have a part that you’re looking to get printed, or would like to improve your current manufacture then drop us a call on 01926 333 777 or check out our contact us section.

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