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Pillow Fight!

3D Printing Top Layer Problems – Easy Fixes for Pillowing

Picture of Zachary Hay
by Zachary Hay
Jan 6, 2019

3D Printing Top Layer Problems – Easy Fixes for Pillowing

Table of Contents

Though top layer problems in 3D printing aren't much discussed, they can be devastating. Worst still, they strike in the last moments of an otherwise perfect print! Learn how to deal with this problem before its too late!

3D Printing Top Layer Problems What Is Pillowing?

Bad pillowing can cause holes in the top of a print.
Bad pillowing can cause holes in the top of a print. Source: All3DP

You may notice that the top layer of your prints is coming out uneven, rough, and with holes. This obtrusive and undesirable defect is called pillowing, and it only manifests itself at the very end of a print.

It’s primarily caused by improper cooling of the top layers. If they don’t cool well, the layers warp around the infill structure beneath, causing the pillow-shaped pattern. 

Pillowing can affect any filament and any printer but some are far more likely to be affected. When printing with small layer heights, the filament warps more easily, and printers that take in 1.75-mm filament are more susceptible than printers that use 2.85-mm. In addition, softer filaments like TPU are often affected more.

3D Printing Top Layer Problems The Cure

The same model with cooling (left) and without (right).
The same model with cooling (left) and without (right). Source: Hestay

As with most printing problems, there are several ways to fix pillowing. A combination of the following methods is the best way to solve the problem.

  • Increase top layers. Though pillowing is caused by improper cooling, it mainly becomes an issue when the top surface isn’t thick enough. Fortunately, this is easy to fix. Simply increase the top thickness in the slicer, up to six layers or six times the layer height. This should be enough to cover up any pillowing that occurs.
  • Adjust cooling. If pillowing is still occurring, cooling needs to be improved. First, ensure that the cooling fans are on and check that they’re spinning while the top layers are printing. If they are, the fans may not be optimized to cool your prints. They are plenty of mods available online to solve this problem, and a desk fan or something similar may also help.
    • If the fans are not on while printing, turning them on is the first step you should take. Ensure that in the slicer cooling fans are set to on. If your slicers does not have this option, then you will need to manually edit the G-code. Using the command M106, you should be able to turn the cooling fans on.
  • Slow it down. Pillowing can also be reduced by lowering the print temperature, slowing down the print, and increasing the infill percentage. However, these solutions should only be used as a last resort as they can cause other problems.

Pillowing is a very unpleasant defect, but these simple solutions can easily eliminate the problem.

License: The text of "3D Printing Top Layer Problems – Easy Fixes for Pillowing" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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