How To Remove Supports From 3D Prints (4 Methods)

Most FDM printing requires using supports for any overhang or bridge you print. That often means you’ll use a significant amount of filament just supporting the parts of the model you want to print and when the model is done – you’ll have to remove that. 

And, in many cases, there’s no getting around the fact that you’ll need support for any angles over 45 degrees or if the overhang is more than 5 mm. 

If you get your settings and tools right, it should be relatively easy to remove supports from 3D prints. However, it will always be time-consuming and probably tedious. No one likes the job. But it is necessary and there’s no way to hurry it up with chemical solvents unless you’re printing your supports with a dissolvable material like PVA.  

4 Best Ways To Remove Supports From 3D Prints

The best way to remove supports from 3D prints is to take your time, go slow, and be patient. Removing supports will be a lot of work. 

It may even take as long as the model did to print – depending on overhangs. However, there are no shortcuts and any that you do try may only ruin your model. 

1. Break Supports Off

Breaking supports off is the easiest way to get them off your model. 

If you use an easy-to-remove pattern like tree supports, that should be relatively easy. In fact, many people simply use tweezers or needle-nose pliers to grip supports at the base and break them off. 

If the supports are properly cured, they should simply snap off. 

This normally means that you can just break off your supports. However, the closer you grip them to the base or to the model, the more cleanly they should break off. 

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In addition, if supports are attached to a very thin part of the model, you probably don’t want to provide any twisting or downward force – because it may actually break the model instead. In this case, you’ll want to look at cutters instead. 

2. Clip Supports Off

Small cutters can allow you to smoothly clip supports off at the base. This can be cleaner and faster than using tweezers or needle-nose pliers. 

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However, it may also shatter filament more easily. In addition, you’ll need enough space to insert the cutters – unless you’ve designed the supports with access room. 

Taking time to design some entry points to remove supports is always a good idea. You can often manually add spaces – which will make it easier to get into and remove supports. 

You’ll have to be careful, however, to ensure those spaces don’t damage the structural support being offered. 

Here, needle nose clippers are your best option. You’ll also want options you can resharpen, as 3D print filaments can very quickly dull your cutters. 

3. Use A Knife 

X-acto and similar knives are very useful tools for cutting away small supports. You also use them to remove supports from grooves and insets in your model. 

Here, it may be important to practice and learn to control the knife, so you don’t cut into your model. It’s also important to note that this kind of knife basically uses a small razor blade – it is very sharp and it will cut you.

However, these knives are also ideal for scraping, cutting, and pushing away any leftover filament from your supports. That also makes them a top choice for removing stringing, cleaning up print lines, and even cutting down your print. 

They won’t do everything, though, and if you push too hard, the knife will break. 

4. Sand And Finish 

Once you remove the supports, most people like to soak the model in a solution such as acetone and then sand and finish it. This removes all evidence of the supports. 

However, it may require significant care to avoid removing any details from the model. In addition, chemicals may actually damage the mode depending on what type of filament you’re using. 

Impact Of Filament On Support Removal

There are many different types of filament and some of them are easier to remove than others. 

However, unless you’re using a dual spool and printing filament in a different material than the rest of the model, you should never choose filament for the supports. 

Filament Brittleness Flexibility Support Removal Difficulty 
ABSHigh Low Medium 
PETGLow High Difficult 
PLA Low Medium Medium 
PVA Low Medium Easy 

It’s also important to keep in mind that you can adjust settings to make supports easier to remove for different materials. 

For example, if your PETG is adhering too well to itself, it will be difficult to remove. You can resolve this by increasing cooling

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You can also resolve this by increasing the angle of the new layers, so the supports have less support with the surface of the model. Or, you can increase the distance between the layers – so there’s less contact, to begin with. 

Understanding what you’re printing with can help you to print models with easy-to-remove supports. Or, in the case of PVA, you can simply dissolve your supports in a bowl of water. However, you’ll normally have to have a double reel or extruder to use it. 

Tips For Hard To Remove Supports

If your 3D print supports are difficult to remove, there’s not much you can do. 

Use The Right Tools 

Getting good quality tools is a great first step to removing hard-to-remove supports. That means: 

  • Sharp cutters, sized small enough to get between supports and clip them 
  • A strong pair of tweezers
  • A good knife with extra blades so you can change them out when they start to dull 
  • Small scrapers 

You’ll also want gloves to protect your hands, so you aren’t risking injury using sharp tools. 

If you still can’t get the supports off, you can try: 

  • Use a UV pen to weaken the support
  • Locally apply heat. Keep in mind that this can soften more of the model than you’d like and may cause artifacts or damage the full model, so this isn’t recommended.

If you can’t get the supports off without damaging the model, you’ll have to adjust settings and try again. 

Optimize Settings For Next Time 

Good support density can improve the difficulty of removing those supports. 

  • Reduce the number of supports as much as possible.
  • Create access points by creating gaps in the supports.
  • Reduce the support infill density.
  • Try line or zig-zag support patterns if they offer enough support for your model.
  • Increase the Z and X/Y distance to reduce adhesion to the model.
  • Increase the angle that the supports connect to the model on.
  • Up fan speed and lower the bed temperature to reduce support adhesion to the model.

Each of these steps can make your next print easier. However, they may have other consequences, like making the normal layers of your model less likely to stick together. 

Therefore, you may want to adjust settings to find a middle ground or use custom settings for printing supports. 

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions about removing the supports on your 3D printed models, these answers should help. 

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What support pattern is easiest to remove?

Most people consider tree supports to be the easiest to remove. That’s because these supports connect to the model with a very thin connection point, making them easy to break off. 

The easiest-to-remove support pattern will often depend on what you are printing.

Zig-zag is faster and very simple to remove. Line offers easy-to-remove but strong supports. And, concentric supports offer the easiest-to-remove option for spherical objects – although they’re harder to remove than the other options. 

Should I remove supports before or after curing?

It’s important to do a first cure of your model before removing the supports. Otherwise, you might find that you break or damage the model when removing the supports.

Will that also strengthen the supports? Yes, it will. However, you likely prefer going through more trouble to remove supports now than to printing your model over. 

What is the best support pattern for 3D printing?

There is no best-fit support option. Tree, line, concentric, triangles, grid, and zig-zag all have their place. 

Often, your choice should depend on the model you’re printing. For example, line supports are very easy to remove but don’t offer as much support as zig-zag. If you need a great deal of support, something like triangles is your best option. 

This does mean you’ll have to familiarize yourself with different support options and what they are good for. Once you get the basics down, you’ll have a much easier time with supports. 

Final Thoughts

3D printing overhangs and bridges will always involve using supports. That’s true for any overhang over about 5 mm or at an angle greater than 45 degrees. 

Once you use supports, you’ll have to remove them, and that can be tricky. If you try to go too fast, you can break or damage the model. And if you go slowly, it can be tedious. 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to speed up the process. Learning to use good settings to reduce adhesion will help. 

Otherwise, you’ll have to patiently cut away supports and then sand away their evidence until you have beautiful finished results.

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