In this guide, you will learn how to level any type of 3D printer properly and avoid issues with the first layers and bed adhesion. We will look at how to level 3D printer beds fully manually and how to set the Z-offset for printers with automatic bed leveling. So how do you level the bed of a 3D printer?
As a whole, leveling the bed of a 3D printer is done with a piece of paper that is put between the nozzle of the printer and the print bed. Then the print bed is raised or lowered until the piece of paper can be pulled out under the nozzle with a little bit of resistance.
I will explain the whole process in more detail in the following.
What Do You Need to Level to Level the 3D Printer Bed?
First, let´s take a look at what you need to level any 3D printer:
- A regular piece of paper. The paper is used to measure the distance between the nozzle to the print bed. Use regular paper for this. Don´t use thicker photo paper or cardboard!
- Isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is used to clean the print bed before you start leveling it.
- Some paper towels. Paper towels are only needed for cleaning the print bed before you level it.
It is still recommended to clean the heated bed even if the printer is new. So you will always need all of the materials listed above.
How to Level the Bed of a 3D Printer
Leveling the bed of a 3D printer is pretty straightforward but there are a lot of things that you need to keep in mind while leveling the bed.
I will go over every step of leveling the 3D printer individually while keeping the steps as simple to follow and short as possible.
Step 1: Clean the Bed
The first step is preparing the printer for leveling the bed.
The first thing that we need to do is clean the surface of the heated bed.
This is done by applying some isopropyl alcohol to the build plate and cleaning it with some paper towels.
Make sure that no filament residue is left on the printed bed before you start the leveling process. Leftover filament on the build plate can mess with the leveling results.
Step 2: Home the Printer
Next, we need to home the printer. This can be done through the user interface of the LCD screen of the printer.
This is different for every printer but most printers can be homed under the menu point “Move” or “Control”.
Home all three axes!
Once the printer is homed it’s finally time to level the printer.
Step 3: Level the Print Bed
Leveling the print bed is also done slightly differently depending on your 3D printer.
There are two main ways that printers handle leveling, however.
Manual bed leveling or automatic bed leveling.
Manual bed leveling has you level the print bed completely manually while automatic bed leveling simply lets you adjust the Z-offset and the printer does the rest.
Automatic Bed Leveling
When your printer has automatic bed leveling then all you need to do is select the option “Leveling” on the printer’s LCD screen.
The printer will then perform a homing sequence and then often move in the middle of the print bed.
Once this is done you will see a new menu pop up on the screen that will let you set the Z-offset of the nozzle.
The Z-offset is simply the distance between the print bed and the nozzle.
All you need to do now is put the piece of paper between the nozzle and the print bed. Then move the paper back and forth.
If the paper can move without any resistance then lower the nozzle by decreasing the Z-offset via the printer’s screen.
If the paper is stuck then raise the z-offset.
The z-offset is perfect once the paper can be moved freely but a little bit of resistance is felt.
Finally, hit “accept” or “save” and the z-offset will be safe.
The printer will then perform a series of movements where it will probe the print bed and record how level the print bed is.
The data will be used to generate a so-called “Mesh”. This is a two-dimensional Array of numbers that describes the distance from the Nozzle to the bed of each point measured by the probe.
This is what a generated Mesh looks like:
The Mesh will then be used during printing to slightly adjust the z-height on the run to account for any imperfections in the 3D printer’s bed.
Manually Level the Entire Print Bed
Some older printers still need you to manually level the entire print bed.
This is often a little more work, though.
Find a menu called “leveling” or similar on the printer´s LCD screen and select it.
If you can´t find any menu point like that then disable the stepper motors under the menu point “Move” and then move the print head manually to each corner of the print bed.
Start at one corner of the print bed and put the piece of paper between the nozzle and the print bed.
If the paper can be moved without any resistance then turn the nob on the underside of the print bed to raise the bed slightly.
If the paper is stuck under the nozzle then lower the print bed slightly.
The distance is perfect if the paper can be moved between the nozzle and the print bed with very little force while still having some resistance.
Then either move the print head manually to the next corner or press next on the LCD screen to move it automatically and then repeat the leveling process with the piece of paper.
Do this for each corner of the bed and the middle of the bed. And then repeat the whole process at least one more time to make sure that the whole surface is level.
This whole process can be quite tedious but it is unfortunately necessary.
How Tight Should the Paper Be When Bed Leveling?
It is a little hard to understand for beginners how tight the paper should be under the nozzle.
Generally, the paper should be able to move between the nozzle and the print bed without much force but some resistance should be felt. You should also be able to easily push the paper under the nozzle.
Step 4: Do a Test Print
Finally, we will do a small test print to see how well our print bed is leveled.
You can find a lot of bed leveling test prints on Printables. Simply choose a test print you like and use that.
Start the test print on your printer and wait until it is done.
Then take a look at the results.
If the 3D-printed test part comes apart like this then the nozzle was too far away from the print bed.
Here on the print bed, you can see that the print started out well on the top left corner but on the bottom right the individual filament lines of the FDM printer started to become separate because the print bed was too far away from the nozzle.
If the 3D-printed test piece has grooves on its surface or if it has holes in it then the nozzle is too close to the print bed.
This happens because the filament can´t be extruded out of the nozzle properly because the print bed is too close to the nozzle.
This leads to under extrusion or grooves on the surface of the print, as you can see right here:
And finally, if the printed part is a solid thin piece of plastic with no holes in it or weird patterns then the print bed is leveled perfectly.
As seen here:
How do You Know if the Bed is at the Right Height?
You can only know if the bed is at the right height after it was leveled by starting a test print. Use a test print designed for bed leveling and see if the first layer looks smooth and even. If the test print is a solid smooth piece then the bed is at the right height.
Some printers support so-called “baby stepping” which is an option to set the Z-offset during printing.
So if your printer supports baby stepping then you can start a test print and then adjust the z-offset on the fly.
And once the z-offset is set perfectly you can save the new Z-offset during the printing process as well.
How Do You Know if the Nozzle is too Close to the Bed?
If the nozzle is too close to the print bed then the first layer will either have holes in it or the first layer will have a rough uneven surface or grooves. This is caused by the nozzle either carving through previous layer lines or by under extrusion because the nozzle is too close to the bed.
Here is how the first layer looks when the nozzle is too close to the bed:
Step 5: Adjust when Needed
If the test print looks good then you are good to go but when the test print did not turn out well then you need to do some adjustments.
In that case, you have to repeat steps 2 to 4 until the test print looks good.
Why is Bed Leveling Necessary?
You might be asking yourself why it is necessary to go through all of the hassles of leveling your print bed in the first place. Is bed leveling even necessary?
Bed leveling is necessary because the entire 3D printer is built in a way that assumes that the build surface is level. The nozzle will extrude filament on the build plate from a fixed height. If the bed is not level then the filament will not adhere properly to the surface and the print could fail.
So even though it sometimes is a lot of work to level the print bed of a 3D printer, it is absolutely necessary to level the bed properly.
there are, however, printers that can level the print bed fully automatically without the need to set the z-height or adjust the print bed in any way. The P1P from bambu labs would be one such example.
Should the Bed be Leveled When it is Hot or Cold?
A hotly discussed topic in the 3D printer community is if the bed and the nozzle should be hot or cold when you level the bed. There are many arguments for both cases. So should the bed be leveled when it is hot or cold?
The print bed can be leveled when it is cold or hot. Thermal expansion is not a big deal for most build surfaces so leveling it while it is cold is more than enough and much easier. The print bed can also be leveled at printing temperature if you want to be very precise.
Thermal expansion is not enough on most decently sized 3D printers to make a noticeable difference.
So leveling your build surface while the nozzle and print bed are cold is more than enough and much safer and easier as you are not in danger of burning yourself.
But if you want to be sure that your printer is level even when at printing temperature then leveling the printer at printing temperature is the best option.
If you choose to level your 3D printer hot then heat the printer up to the temperature that it will print in. For example, if you plan on printing mainly PLA on your printer then heat the nozzle to 210°C and the print bed to 60°C.
Do You Have to Level the Bed Every Time?
After all the hassle that you just went through leveling your print bed, you might be wondering now how often you need to actually level your print bed. So do you have to level your print bed every time?
You don´t need to level the print bed of a 3D printer every time before printing something. You only need to level your print bed after moving the printer, after changing the nozzle, and after about 20 to 30 prints.
Leveling the printer after you leveled it before is usually easier as only small adjustments need to be made.
How Does Auto Bed Leveling Work?
A lot of modern 3D printers have auto bed leveling. But, unfortunately, most 3D printers that advertise this feature still need to be adjusted somewhat for the auto leveling to work properly.
There are 3D printers like the P1P from Bambu Labs that has true auto bed leveling that doesn´t require you to do anything.
And then there are other printers like the Ender-5 S1 or the X-Plus 3 from Qidi that require you to set the Z-offset first before they probe the entire build surface for the auto bed leveling.
Auto bed leveling works by utilizing a probe, for example, the BL-Touch or the CR-Touch probe, to probe different points on the build plate. The probe measures the distance from the z-offset to the build plate to create a mesh.
This mesh is then used to adjust the z height of the printer during printing to ensure that the nozzle is always equally far away from the print bed.
Alternatively, the mesh can also be used to mechanically level the print bed to ensure that the nozzle is equally far away from the print bed that way.