How to Remove Supports From 3D Prints (The Easy Way)

Marcello De Lio

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A 3d printed hulk statue in silver PLA siting on a textured pei spring steel shet bed of an anycubic kobra 2 with organic supports

3D printing enthusiasts, have you ever struggled with removing stubborn support structures from your prints?

Improper support removal ruins hours of printing by damaging your model or marring the underside of your prints. Removing support is tedious and challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. With the proper techniques and tools, you can bid farewell to those pesky supports and unveil a flawless final print every time.

Imagine confidently tackling complex 3D printing projects, knowing you can effortlessly remove stubborn supports and create a pristine model.

This guide walks you through a step-by-step process for mastering the art of support removal. We’ll cover several methods to help you choose the best method for your needs.

How to Remove Supports From 3D Prints

Before we examine the methods for removing supports from 3D prints, it’s important to note that you can apply these methods to FDM (fused deposition modeling) and resin-based prints.

It’s essential to take things slow and use caution to ensure the support removal doesn’t inadvertently damage your model. Patience and a steady hand are your allies in this delicate task.

Moreover, it’s crucial to prioritize safety throughout the entire process.

Some methods we’ll explore may involve sharp tools or chemical solutions. Always wear safety equipment to minimize risk, especially when working with toxic, uncured UV resin.

Method 1: Removing Supports by Hand

Marcello demonstrates Remove Supports From 3D Prints by removing PrusaSlicer’s organic supports by hand from a 3D printed low poly dog in wood filled filament
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Manual support removal is a tried-and-true solution. With the right tools and some precision, you can precisely remove supports from your 3D-printed models.

Marcello demonstrates how to Remove 3D PRINTED SUPPORTS by removing Cura tree supports by hand from a 3D printed low poly dog in wood filled filament
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

The first step is to get the necessary tools. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Flush Cutters or Pliers: Use flush cutters or pliers to remove large support structures and snip little bits close to the model’s surface. I primarily use flush cutters but prefer pliers to remove larger supports.
  • Tweezers: Great for working in tight sections and removing fine bits of support material.
  • Deburring Tool: This tool is used to round sharp edges. It works especially well for removing brims and raft material.

It’s important to be patient and methodical when manually removing supports.

Manually removing 3D printed supports from a silver hulk statue using a blue pair of flush cutters. There is an anycubic Kobra 2 FDM 3d printer in the background sitting on a white table
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Assess your print and identify the points where supports connect to the model. Start with the largest and most accessible supports, using your flush cutters or pliers to cleanly snip them away as close to the model’s surface as possible without damaging your print.

Switch to your precision tools as you work your way to smaller and more intricate support structures. Use tweezers to grip and gently twist away supports. I’ve found that gently twisting and pulling the supports is the most effective removal method.

Take your time and maintain a steady hand to avoid accidentally marring the surface of your print.

Using a pair of pliers to manually remove supports from a 3d printed silver hulk statue. There is an anycubic Kobra 2 FDM 3d printer in the background sitting on a white table
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Some people use a hobby knife to scrape or cut off fine buts, but I find that knives are too large for removing supports from most prints. But it might be worth a try if you want to experiment with different removal methods.

After removing the bulk of the supports, you may notice some small blemishes or imperfections where the supports were attached to your model. A bit of post-processing can help remove the imperfections.

Marring on the bottom of the wing of a red 3d printed pegasis statue after removing support sturctures
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Gently sand these areas with fine-grit sandpaper or a rotary tool with a small sanding bit to smooth out any roughness. You can fill small gaps with Bondo or wood filler. When dry, sand the filled holes to make them flush with the rest of the model.

While manual support removal can be time-consuming, it’s a satisfying process.

With practice and patience, you’ll develop a keen eye for removing supports. Not to mention how satisfying it is to pull off a large chunk of support.

Method 2: Mechanical Tools

A 3d printed low poly dog with Wooden pla and tree supports on the bed of a 3d printer
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

I typically avoid removing supports with mechanical tools because they don’t offer the same level of control and precision as manual support removal. That said, I know several makers who swear by their tools. While not as precise, mechanical tools are generally faster for removing supports.

It’s a big advantage if you’re on a time crunch.

So here’s how you can use mechanical tools to remove supports.

One of the most popular mechanical tools for support removal is a rotary tool, such as a Dremel. Rotary tools offer a wide range of attachments, making it easy to grind, sand, and cut away supports.

A small cutting wheel or sanding bit makes quick work of larger supports, while precision bits allow you to reach into tight spaces and remove smaller remnants of support material.

Another powerful ally in your support removal arsenal is a power drill.

You can attach a small sanding drum or a wire brush to your drip to efficiently sand away support material and smooth out any rough patches left behind. Ensure you use a low-speed setting and a light touch to avoid damaging your print.

Editor’s Tip

3D printing filaments like PLA have a low melting point. You must be especially careful when using mechanical tools as the heat from the friction of the tools will melt your print if you’re not careful.

Here are some tips to prevent heat from ruining your print:

  • Use a slow-speed setting.
  • Keep the tool moving, and don’t sit in one spot for too long.
  • Take breaks from sanding and grinding to allow the surface of your print to cool and prevent heat build-up.

Take safety precautions when using mechanical tools to remove supports. Always wear protective eyewear and a dust mask to shield yourself from debris and fine particles.

Ensure your workspace is well-ventilated, as using mechanical tools on your 3D prints produces dust and fumes.

It is essential to exercise caution and control while using mechanical tools.

Start with a low-speed setting and gradually increase it as required. Keep a firm grip on the tool and the printed object to maintain stability. Apply gentle pressure and let the tool do the work, avoiding excessive force that could damage your print.

Like removing supports manually, take your time and work methodically. Begin with the most accessible supports and gradually progress to more intricate areas of your print. Pause periodically to assess your progress and adjust your technique or tool selection.

Method 3: Chemicals

Two 3d printed pegasus statues with different types of supports. The model on the left used traditional 3D printed support structures while the one on the right uses Cura’s tree supports
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Depending on your filament material, solvents like acetone and isopropyl alcohol can dissolve certain types of support material, leaving your print smooth and support-free.

Before we dive into the process, it’s crucial to note that not all 3D printing materials are compatible with chemical support removal.

Acetone, for example, is highly effective on ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic. It quickly dissolves ABS supports, making it popular for those working with this material.

However, acetone isn’t as effective on other plastics like PLA (Polylactic Acid) or PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-modified). It doesn’t do much for support removal and can damage or degrade your print’s surface.

Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) is a milder solvent that can be used on a wider range of materials. It’s particularly effective on PLA and PETG supports, gently dissolving them without harming the integrity of your print.

IPA takes much longer than acetone to remove 3D-printed supports.

When using solvents to remove 3D print supports, it’s essential to work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves and eyewear to protect your skin and eyes. Pour your chosen solvent into a container large enough to submerge your print, and gently lower the model into the liquid.

Tip: Don’t fill the container to the top. You need to leave space for the liquid to rise when the print is submerged.

Let your print soak in the solvent for a few minutes to dissolve the supports. Keep a close eye on your print, as too much exposure can degrade your print surface.

After soaking, gently scrub away any remaining support material using a soft-bristled brush or a toothbrush. The solvent softens the supports, making it easy to remove your hands.

After removing the supports, rinse your 3D object thoroughly with water to remove residual chemicals.

For more delicate or intricate prints, you can apply the solvent directly to the supports using a cotton swab or a small brush. This targeted approach allows for more precise control and reduces the risk of damaging the print surface.

Method 4: Soluble Supports

Tree supports printed used during a print for a bust of the statue of david with white pla
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

If you want to avoid problems with removing supports, you can use soluble supports in your 3D printing.

Soluble support materials, such as PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) and HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene), dissolve in water or mild solvents. Soluble supports make it effortless to remove 3D print supports without the need for manual labor or the risk of damaging your delicate models.

The downside is that you can only use soluble supports with a multi-color printer or a 3D printer with multiple extruders.

That’s because you need to use two filaments when working with soluble supports: one filament for your model and one material for your supports.

PVA is the primary soluble support on the market. The water-soluble filament material works well for PLA, PETG, and ABS. Once your print is complete, simply submerge it in water to dissolve the supports.

HIPS is commonly used with ABS or ASA. It dissolves in d-limonene, a citrus-based solvent. HIPS shares similar printing characteristics to ABS, making it easier to manage on single extruder setups. After printing, place your model in a limonene bath and let the HIPS supports dissolve.

Note: D-limonene is a harsh chemical. Only use d-limonene in a glass container and wear gloves to avoid skin contact.

One of the greatest advantages of soluble supports is their ability to handle even the most complex and intricate geometries. Since the supports are designed to dissolve, you can print models with steep overhangs, delicate details, and intricate internal structures without worrying about the challenges of manual support removal.

You can use soluble supports on single extruders with multi-color functionality, such as the Bambu Labs AMS unit. However, printing with soluble supports works best on multi-extruder printers because you can set different print settings for the build material and soluble support.

Here’s how to use soluble supports:

  • Load your chosen build material into one extruder and the soluble support material into the other.
  • Set the appropriate settings for your support material and build material. Pay careful attention to the print temperature, print speed, and retraction.
  • After printing, place your model in the appropriate solvent (water for PVA, d-limonene for HIPS). Let the model soak until the supports fully dissolve.
  • After dissolving the supports, remove your model from the solvent and rinse it thoroughly.

Soluble supports require a bit more setup and materials than traditional support structures. They are also more expensive than standard filament spools. However, the time and effort saved during post-processing make them an invaluable tool for any 3D printing enthusiast looking to streamline their support removal process.

Method 5: Full Contact Support

Full contact supports are the best way to get 3D-printed models with impeccably smooth undersides and easy support removal. This technique is only possible on multiple extruder printers using two different filament materials that don’t bond.

The most popular combination is PLA and PETG. You’ll use one material for the model and the other for the supports. Because the materials don’t bond together, you can build full-contact supports that are easy to remove.

The benefit of full-contact supports is that they give your prints extremely smooth undersides without the marring of traditional support structures. The supports separate cleanly from your model, leaving a remarkably smooth underside on your PLA print.

Post Processing to Remove Marring

Using a deburring tool to remove the edges around a wooden 3d print where the brim was removed
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Unless you’re using full-contact supports, the undersides of your print will have some blemishes. Post-processing can remove these unsightly marks and make your print look smooth.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to removing blemishes caused by 3D-printed supports:

  1. Deburring: Use deburring tools, hobby knives, scalpels, or side cutters to trim imperfections. Be careful not to cut too deep, or you’ll risk damaging your 3D-printed model. Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes, as small plastic bits can fly off the print.
  2. Sanding: Start with low-grit sandpaper, around 150 or 220 grit. Gently sand the affected areas in a circular motion. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, which can scratch or break your print. Gradually work your way up to higher-grit sandpaper, such as 400 or 600 grit, until the surface is smooth to the touch. For hard-to-reach areas or intricate details, you can use a rotary tool with a small sanding bit or small files.
  3. Filling: After sanding your print, you can use filler material to fill small gaps. Bondo is my filler of choice, but you can also use wood filler. After the filling dries, sand the filler material using a medium-grit 400 to 600 sandpaper for a smooth finish.
  4. Painting: Painting is the best way to get a smooth print. It helps remove blemishes and hides the layer lines from the additive manufacturing process. Start by applying an even coat of filler primer specifically designed to create a smooth finish. Then, paint the model with your paints of choice. Note: Filler primer removes small details in your prints. If your model has fine details, consider using a regular primer instead.

Remember to take your time and be patient during the post-processing stage. These steps will give your 3D print a professional, high-quality finish.

Most importantly, have fun.

Post-processing is one of the joys of 3D printing. It’s where you work your creativity to transform a rough print into a finished product.

Slicer Settings to Make Support Removal Easier

Screenshot of a model of a dog in cura slicing software with slicing settings that make support removal easier
(Photo by Marcello/3D Print Mentor)

Unless you use soluble or full-contact supports, support removal is tedious. Fortunately, several slicer settings make it easier and minimize the marring on the underside of your prints.

  1. Support Density: Reducing your supports’ density makes them easier to break apart and remove without affecting print quality. I typically use a low support density of 10% for most of my prints but sometimes go as low as 5%. As an added benefit, lower densities print faster and use less material.
  2. Support Interface: A support interface creates a denser connection where the support structure attaches to your model. Disabling the support interface reduces the strength of your support but makes it easier to remove and reduces the impact on your model.
  3. Support Z Distance: The Z distance determines the gap between the support’s top and the model’s bottom. Increasing this value slightly increases the gap and makes support removal easier. Be cautious not to set the Z distance too high, as a high setting makes it difficult for your print to adhere to the support.
  4. Support XY Distance: Similar to the Z distance, the XY distance setting controls the horizontal gap between the support and the model’s vertical walls. The gap prevents your supports from bonding to the sides of your model. Increasing the XY distance reduces the contact area, making removing the support structures easier. Just be mindful not to overdo it, as too much distance creates unstable support.
  5. Support Pattern: You can choose several infill patterns that impact supports’ strength, printing speed, and removability. Experimenting with different patterns can help you find one that provides adequate support while being easy to remove. I typically use the lines or zig-zag supports as they print fast and are easy to remove.
  6. Support Angle: Adjusting the minimum support angle reduces the amount of support material generated. The support angle determines the minimum overhang angle where supports are generated. Increasing the angle threshold reduces the amount of generated supports, reducing the overall support volume. Don’t increase the angle too high, or you’ll risk having unsupported overhangs. I find 60° works well on most FDM 3D printers, while some of the best 3D printers can handle minimum overhangs of up to 70°.
  7. Tree Supports: Cura’s tree supports, called Orgaic Supports in PrusaSlicer, offer a unique tree-like structure. They’re excellent for supporting intricate models like D&D Miniatures. Tree supports are hollow and are the easiest supports to remove.

Remember, the optimal settings vary depending on your specific 3D printer, material, and model complexity. Don’t be afraid to experiment and iterate until you find the perfect combination that works for you.

By fine-tuning these slicer settings, you’ll be well on your way to hassle-free support removal and smoother, more pristine 3D prints.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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