3D Printer Bed Leveling (Step-by-Step Guide)

Marcello De Lio

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A level bed on an Ender 3 V2

Achieving consistent great prints requires a good printer, excellent filament, and a level bed.

Bed leveling is crucial to getting a good first layer and setting the foundation for the rest of your print. Whether setting up a new printer or fine-tuning an existing one, here’s a step-by-step manual and automatic 3D printer bed leveling guide.

When to Level Your 3D Printing Bed

Leveling your 3D printer bed is a crucial step to ensure high-quality prints. As a general guideline, you should level your 3D printing bed when assembling a new printer and every 5 to 10 prints.

Here are the situations when you should level your 3D printing bed:

  1. Before First Use: Always level the bed when setting up your 3D printer. It’s crucial to level the bed of a new 3D printer because shipping and assembly can cause misalignment.
  2. After Printer Transport or Movement: Level the build surface if you move your printer to a new location, as even minor shifts can affect the bed’s alignment.
  3. When You Change the Print Bed or Nozzle: Any changes to the print bed surface or nozzle affect the height and level of the printing surface, requiring releveling. Even minor height changes can drastically impact print quality.
  4. Periodically as Routine Maintenance: Regular use of your 3D printer causes the bed to become misaligned. It’s best to relevel the print bed every 5 to 10 prints as part of your routine 3D printer maintenance.
  5. After a Print Failure or Bed Crash: If you experience a print failure that involves the nozzle digging into the bed or a collision, you should relevel the bed as these incidents can throw off the alignment.
  6. When You Notice Poor First Layer Quality: If the first layer of your prints isn’t adhering correctly, is uneven, or shows other signs of poor quality, it’s time to relevel the print surface. Tip: always watch the first layer to ensure the filament adheres to the build platform, creating a solid foundation for your print.
  7. After Long Periods of Inactivity: If your printer has been idle for an extended period, it’s a good practice to check the bed leveling before starting a new print. Your bed may not have moved much, but the small amount of time required to level the bed is worth preventing print failures.

Keeping your bed properly leveled is vital to achieving the best possible print quality and maintaining the longevity of your printer. Regularly checking and adjusting the bed level should be integral to maintaining your 3D printing machine.

A level build plate is essential for producing a consistent first layer and proper bed adhesion.

It’s best practice to watch the first layer whenever you start a new print. Most bed leveling issues are apparent during the first few layers of printing, and catching problems early in the print process can save you from wasting filament on failed prints – not to mention wasting hours of printing time.

Visually, the first layer should have slightly “squished” lines throughout the first layer.

Don’t overthink it.

It’s usually pronounced when there’s an issue with your bed leveling.

Common problems to look out for include:

Manual 3D Printer Bed Leveling

3D Printer bed leveling on an Ender 3 V2

You don’t need an auto bed leveling system (ABL) for your 3D printer bed. Getting a perfectly level build surface is easy to do with manual leveling.

Manually leveling a bed is similar, no matter what model printer you use.

Editor’s Note

Leveling a brand-new 3D printer is tedious and can take up to 30 minutes. Getting high-quality prints is worth the effort. Take your time and do it right. After the initial leveling, you’ll only need to relevel the build plate every 5-10 prints.

Tools Required

3D printer bed leveling aims to ensure a consistent 0.1mm distance from the build plate to the print head. Fortunately, you can achieve a level build surface using paper and a few household items.

Before you get started, there are a few tools you’ll need to get:

  • A piece of paper: We’ll use paper to gauge the distance between the nozzle and the printer bed. Standard printer paper works well, but a Post-It note works.
  • Screwdriver or hex key: If your 3D printer doesn’t have rotating knobs, you’ll need one of these to level the bed.
  • Heat-resistant gloves: For safety when working with a hot nozzle and heated bed.
  • Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and a paper towel: It’s essential to clean the print bed before leveling and printing. The filament doesn’t adhere well to a dirty bed. Find an IPA with more than 70% alcohol.
  • A clean cloth or bass brush: Used to clean the nozzle for proper filament extrusion.

Preparing Your 3D Printer

Before leveling, ensure the nozzle and print bed are clean. Use a paper towel and isopropyl alcohol to clean the print bed and remove filament residues from the nozzle. Use a wire brush or nozzle cleaning kit to clean your 3D printer nozzle’s exterior.

Preparing your printer before leveling is essential, as filament residues can affect the distance between the nozzle and the print bed. You may think you’ve leveled your bed, but once the filament residue heats up, the bed’s alignment is out of wack.

After you’ve cleaned the print bed and nozzle, set the bed and nozzle to the normal operating temperature. This step is a bit controversial, but the bed and nozzle expand slightly when heated. The heat expansion is minor, but we want to level the printer under operating conditions for the best results. For PLA, we recommend setting the extrusion nozzle to 200°C and 60°C for the bed.

Leveling the Print Bed

Close up of manual bed leveling on a an Ender 3 V2 3D printer

Manual 3D printer bed leveling is a tedious and often frustrating experience, even for seasoned makers.

Once you understand the basics, it’s a valuable skill that you’ll often use. 

Leveling a brand-new 3D printer can take up to half an hour. Regularly leveling your printer saves time in the long run and reduces the number of failed prints.

Step 1: Home the Extrusion Nozzle

Set the printer to the home position. The home position brings the extrusion nozzle to the 0,0,0 position. The home position sets the height where your first layer prints.

Step 2: Disable the Stepper Motors

You need to disable the stepper motors to move the print bed freely. With the stepper motors disabled, you can freely move the print head to level all four corners of the build surface.

Editor’s Note

Some 3D printers have an assisted bed leveling function that moves the print head for you. You can use the bed leveling feature instead of disabling the stepper motors if you wish.

Step 3: Adjust the Distance Between the Nozzle and the Print Bed

Now, you’re ready to begin the bed leveling process. Start by moving the printer nozzle to one corner of the bed. Place a sheet of standard paper (approximately 0.1mm thick) between the nozzle and the bed. The paper acts as a guide to help you find the right nozzle height.

Gently slide the paper beneath the nozzle. If you notice no resistance when moving the paper, the bed is too low in that corner. To correct this, slowly turn the bed leveling knob located beneath that corner, raising the bed gradually. Continue adjusting until the nozzle lightly grips the paper, creating a subtle resistance as you move it. This slight resistance indicates the optimal distance between the nozzle and the bed.

While making these adjustments, it’s crucial to maintain a balance in the tension of the bed springs. Do not loosen the springs entirely; a certain level of tension is necessary to prevent the bed from wobbling or bouncing during printing.

The bed should be firm and stable.

Be cautious not to raise the bed excessively. If the nozzle scrapes against the bed, it indicates that the bed is too high, which can damage the printing surface. In such a scenario, lower the bed slightly until the scraping stops.

After adjusting the first corner, move on to the other corners of the bed, repeating the same process. Remember also to check the center of the bed for levelness. These five points ensure an evenly leveled bed across the printing surface.

Once you have gone through all corners and the center, revisit each point for a final check. Adjusting one area can sometimes affect the leveling of another. Continue checking and adjusting until you achieve consistent resistance with the paper at all points without making adjustments.

Regularly revisiting and adjusting the bed level is critical to maintaining your 3D printer and ensuring the best quality in your printing projects.

Editor’s Note

Tip on Paper Friction: As soon as the nozzle tip touches the paper, you’ve reached the correct friction for bed leveling. If the paper forms waves while you push it through, you’ve raised the bed too high. The goal is to set the same friction in all four corners and the middle of the print bed. You can fine-tune the exact friction range after inspecting your test print.

Step 4: Inspect the First Layer

5 squares printed on an Ender 3 v2 as a test print for bed leveling

After leveling the 3D printer bed, it’s time to print. If you want to confirm that the bed is level, you can begin by printing one of the test prints below.

Choose the size that best fits your 3D printer. After running a test print, examine each square individually.

What if you want to check the level across your entire build surface?

Simply add a cube and set the length and width to the same measurements as your build plate. Then set the height of the cube equal to the layer height. I recommend using a 0.2 mm height for both. The cube prints one layer across the entire build surface so you can check for leveling consistency.

When leveling the print bed, the nozzle should “squish” the extruded plastic onto the printing surface. The extruded filament should spread out slightly as the nozzle moves across the bed.

Use the images below to judge the result of your test print.

Results from a bed leveling test print showing a bed that's too low
Bed Too Low
Results from a bed leveling test print showing a bed that's perfectly leveled
Bed Perfectly Level
Results from a bed leveling test print showing a bed that's too high
Bed Too High

Each square should have a smooth and consistent surface. If you notice lines that don’t touch the print bed or gaps between lines, the distance between the nozzle and the bed is too high. If the distance between the nozzle is too small, you’ll notice the print head pushes the filament in front of it or if the lines appear overly squished.

Adjusting the Nozzle Gap

Close up of the extruder nozzle on an Ender 3 V2 Pro after bed leveling

The gap between the nozzle tip and the print bed is known as the Z Offset (or Z height). Setting the Z Offset is often considered part of the leveling process because it affects the filament extrusion.

Z offset is closely related to bed leveling.

While bed leveling ensures that the print surface is flat and even across its entire area, the Z offset fine-tunes the starting height of the printer’s nozzle relative to this leveled bed, even with a perfectly leveled bed, an incorrect Z offset can lead to poor first-layer quality.

Therefore, you need to calibrate the Z offset for perfect first layers..

There are two ways to set the Z Offset: firmware or slicer settings.

Below is a quick guide for setting the Z offset. I recommend checking out our complete 3D printer Z offset calibration guide for more information.

  1. Level the Bed First: Before adjusting the Z offset, properly level your bed.
  2. Heat the Printer: Warm up your printer to the printing temperature, as materials expand slightly when heated. This ensures the Z offset is calibrated under conditions similar to actual printing.
  3. Start Close to Zero: Begin with the Z offset close to zero, where the nozzle is just above the bed.
  4. Adjust Gradually: Lower the nozzle in small increments towards the bed. Use a piece of paper or a feeler gauge to gauge the distance. The ideal Z offset allows the paper to slide with slight resistance under the nozzle.

After determining the correct height, set the Z offset using your printer’s display, slicer, or Gcode. I recommend updating the Z offset using your 3D printer’s display because you don’t need to update it when you change slicing programs.

Upgrade to an Auto Bed Leveling System

The Cr Touch auto bed leveling running a bed mesh compensation using a 25 point leveling system on Creality CR M4

If you’re a perfectionist or find the process too tedious, consider upgrading to an auto bed leveling system. Most printers will hold their levels for several print cycles, but I’ve yet to see anyone who enjoys leveling the bed.

You can upgrade a budget and entry-level printers with a leveling sensor. The two most popular choices are the BLTouch and CRTouch. You can’t go wrong with either choice, but we like Creality’s CRTouch because its optical sensor provides greater accuracy.

Official Creality CR Touch Auto Leveling Kit
Amazon Creality
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Auto bed leveling systems detect the distance between the nozzle and the print bed. The system automatically adjusts the print head during printing to account for differences in the build surface.

An auto-leveling system provides consistent first layers across the entire print surface.

Some higher-end 3D printers come with an auto bed leveling system. If your printer doesn’t have one built-in, you can upgrade by purchasing a BLTouch auto bed leveling kit.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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