"Creality Sent me a Bowl!" and Other Bed Leveling Woes

Bed leveling is the learning curve. Just work through it.

Why is this so important?

Because without a level bed, your not going to print anything. A level bed is quite literally a foundational 3D printing skill. Without a good, evenly leveled (or trammed) bed, you'll face one of two insurmountable problems. Either the filament will not adhere to the bed, and you will lose adhesion during the print; or you will cause a nozzle clog due to built up pressure in the nozzle and make the part near-impossible to remove. Both of these are nonstarters.

It's really way more forgiving than it seems though. Just remember that perfect is always unobtainable, and "good enough" is good enough. Filament adhesion without print artifacts or print surface damage is an acceptable endpoint. For now at least.

Manually leveling a 3D printer bed.

I am confident that you've heard of the "paper method". For good reason too, as it's the easiest and most intuitive way to go about this. To recap.

Compress all bed leveling springs about halfway. This is to minimize the chance of a nozzle impact on the bed, since that can lead to damage to the heatbreak. Tighten each corner only approximately 1 to 1.5 turns at a time to prevent warping the aluminum hotbed.

Home all axis of the printer. This is generally found under "motion" on the LCD screen.

From here, you can disable all motors with "disable steppers" and physically move the hotend to all four corners and center. At each corner, pass the paper under the nozzle and adjust until the nozzle lightly scratches the paper. You'll need to find your own "sweet spot", but as long as the distance from the nozzle to the bed is roughly equal in all four corners your doing good. My "sweet spot" is when I can pull and get the slight scratch, but pushing causes the paper to buckle.

Once you have leveled all 4 corners, check the center. If the center is not leveled aswell, start again. You will need to repeat the corner leveling 3-4 times because each time you adjust your level on one side, it will change the level of the other side. This feels tedious because it is, but once you get really good at it you can have a bed leveling in under 2 minutes.

Leveling Procedure

  1. Compress all springs approximately halfway to minimize risk of nozzle impact.
  2. Home all axis. With Fayette County Additive firmware, this is found under "Motion" on the LCD.
  3. Disable all stepper motors. On Fayette County Additve firmware, this is titled "Disable steppers" and found almost directly below "Home all axis"
  4. Manually move the nozzle directly over each leveling spring in a clockwise (or counterclockwise, just stay consistent) motion. Level as you go.
  5. Using a sheet of A2 printer paper, release tension on the springs until you can feel a light scratch from the nozzle. Find your sweet spot.
  6. Repeat all 4 corners 3-4 times or until all corners and also the center have the same distance from the bed. (I.E the "scratch" should feel the same.
  7. Perform LiveZ adjust or Auto Bed Leveling if your printer's firmware supports it.

I've leveled all 4 corners like 20 times now! The center is still too high/low!

The goal should be to make the corners the same distance from the nozzle, and given a completely flat surface, it should be impossible for the center to not be there too.

The important part of that sentance was "given a completely flat surface".

While it is the literal foundation of a print, making and shipping completely flat build plates is difficult. This means that they can be prohibitively expensive for manufacturers on consumer-level machines. Now, I'm not saying that's acceptable and I don't want to defend companies with little-to-no quality assurance who are shipping out defective products. But thats why it happens. And it happens alot.

There are a handful of ways to counter this, and the clear winner is to buy a new (and flat) aluminum hotbed. But that can be pricey with a replacement bed and heater to match costing anywhere between 50-100 dollars. No matter how you look at it, that is the definitive solution to the warped bed woes. There is no shortage of free or near-free resolutions though.

These include….

  • "Shimming" the bed with aluminum foil or speed tape
  • A high-quality glass build plate
  • Auto Bed Leveling systems

These all work, however without using an aftermarket truly flat plate, or without using a automated bed leveling system, your bed will suffer from cool spots. These are variations in temperature on the build plate that can cause warping or adhesion loss, disproportionately affecting small prints.

Auto Bed Leveling Systems

Auto Bed Leveling systems are any software or hardware able to accurately compensate for imperfections in level. Some machines ship with them stock, and there are many different methods of auto bed leveling with some fairly novel.

Unfortunately many of them require either special hardware or special software which is definitely not the easiest modification if you need to go it alone. There are two main methods to go about this, if you would like to add ABL to a prexisitng machine. Manual Mesh Leveling, which requires custom firmware but does not require extra hardware, or a "BLTouch" style ABL which requires custom firmware and the probe itself to be installed. If you would like to install BLTouch ABL aftermarket, there are plenty of great online tutorial like this one from Teaching Tech on Youtube. The alterative option is to use a manual mesh leveling system, which is all "ones and zeroes" and completely free. It entails using the nozzle as a probe, and the firmware creates a mesh which automatically compensates for any imperfections in the first layer. Many aftermarket firmwares for machines include manual mesh leveling, including all Fayette County Additive and Raleigh MFG. firmwares.

Making it perfect

When you finally have the bed level, adjust your Z-offset (also referred to as LiveZ Adjust) under "tuning" to really perfect that first layer squish.

Do this at the beginning of your print, during the skirt of brim. Remember that when you change the offset, positive changes move the nozzle farther from the bed (resulting in less squish), while negative changes push the nozzle closer to the bed (resulting in more squish). Once you find that perfect offset, either import it into the firmware's "EEPROM" (which is the firmware's memory), or upload it into your slicer profiles, so that it seamlessly loads into future prints.

How often should I level the bed?

Don't level your bed unless it has gone out of level. Some materials will require you to relevel the bed (PLA vs ABS vs PETG), or if your first layer declines in quality. But at the first sign of trouble, one you ensure all point still produce thay satisfying "Scratch" against the paper, you can normally resolve the issue by repeated your mesh level or by tuning your Z offset.

The bed naturally coming out of level happens with sliver stock springs, since they handle being under load very poorly. If you replace the siler stock springs with load-bearing springs or silicone offsets, it isnnt unreasonable to go months and months before leveling. They are a great upgrade for improving your overall workflow and quality of life.

Raleigh MFG. and Fayette County Additive's leveling kit

The following is complete and blatant self-promotion, since we think we're pretty awesome. Since warped hotbeds are such a widespread issue with low-cost 3D printers, and since bed leveling has such a massive learning curve and a frustration point for so many users Raleigh MFG has teamed up with us offer a bed leveling kit completely free of charge to anyone needing one. You may benefit from one if your struggling with a warped hotbed that falls out of level and have a 3D printer supported in our expanding firmware library.

The kit includes 4 Load-Bearing Springs and 4 M3 Nylon Lock Nuts (compatible with Ender or CR Series 3D printers). These used together, accompanied by firmware which supports manual mesh leveling, should spell a future without frequently releveling the bed with firware that is able to accurately compensate for a warped. Offered free, shipped free, no questions asked. Pick one up if you need it here.