3D Printing Supports Hard To Remove: 4 Best Ways To Do So

If you’re consistently dealing with difficult-to-remove 3D print supports, chances are, the issue is your printer settings. 

Supports will always take some time to remove. However, they should be designed to come off extremely easily – balancing providing enough support to the print with ease of removal after the model is finished. 

In most cases, the easiest way to remove 3D print supports is to use an X-acto knife, pliers, or flush cutters to remove the supports. From there, you can wet sand the model, wash it in isopropyl, and finish it by cleaning it. If that doesn’t work without damaging the model, you’ll have to adjust your printer settings. 

How To Make Supports Easier To Remove

In most cases, the first and most important step to making 3D print supports easier to remove is to adjust your printer settings. 

That means going into your slicer settings and making adjustments to the supports there. 

1. Heat Settings

If your support heat settings are too hot for the material or for the model, the support will fuse too much to the model. This will mean you’ll have difficulty removing the supports. 

Here, you’ll want to adjust your settings to add extra cool time. You might also want to reduce the print temperature or the temperature of the bed. 

It’s always a good idea to check the actual recommendations for your filament and for your printer. 

In addition, high-temperature filaments can make this tricky. Printing at too low of a temperature can result in unstable or weak prints.

Instead, you should either override the fan speed for the first layer above the supports. Cura has a Fan Speed Override specifically for this purpose. 

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Otherwise, you’ll want to switch to a different method of ensuring prints don’t fuse to supports. 

2. Support Distance 

Support distance is one of the most important elements to ensuring your supports don’t fuse to the 3D print. Many slicers also have a significantly large number of settings. 

Here, you actually want a gap or “air” between the support and the model. 

If you’re using Cura, that’s also built into the default settings. Support distance is usually one layer for the bottom support and two layers for the top support. 

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If you have Cura, you’ll have to enable expert mode to see these, where they’re subsets of Support Z Distance.

Other options like Slic3r also have these settings. However, not all slicers do. 

3. Support Patterns 

Different support patterns change the amount of contact with the print and therefore impact the amount of work to remove the prints. 

For example, tree, zigzag, and line supports are considered the easiest to remove. That’s because they offer plenty of support with minimal contact with the model. 

However, not every support pattern will adequately support every type of model. For example, tree supports do not provide enough support to hold up flat overhangs or bridges.              

Here, support density also plays a role. In most cases, you want support placement touching the build plate. 

You’ll also want to reduce the density of the supports as much as possible. For example, on many models, 5-10% is more than enough. 

However, on others, you’ll need more density to support overhangs and bridges.                     

4. Using Tools 

Good tools can make a lot of difference in removing supports. However, they won’t fix issues that are related to settings and may simply result in ugly models that require a lot of finishing to prepare. 

Therefore, if you’re having difficulty removing supports, it’s always recommended that you check settings first. 

  • Tweezers – Good tweezers allow you to grip supports by the base and break them off more easily from the model. Some manufacturers also sell sharp tweezers, which can be used for cutting small supports.
  • Needle nose pliers – Needle nose pliers allow you to grip the base of a support and wriggle it to break it. That can offer a cleaner break. 
  • Flush cutters – Flush cutters make it easy to cut the support away from the model. These are normally similar to wire cutters but are designed to be small and for use on plastics. Many will also have thin or pointed tips, so you can more easily insert them between supports. 
  • X-acto knife – X-acto knives and their equivalents are a great way to cut away supports. However, they are less safe than cutters. Here, you should always aim the blade away from you. In addition, if the support is very thick, you could scratch or damage the model this way. 
  • Heat plate – A heat plate or heat gun allows you to carefully heat the tip of your tools, so you can more easily remove the plastic. However, you don’t want the tool to be too hot. If so, it could actually deform the outside of your model. 
  • Cleaning tools – Cleaning tools, like modeling hooks allow you to scrape away excess plastic or hook behind supports and break them off. However, these tools are more commonly used with resin, which is more brittle. 
  • Deburring tool – These small sharp tools are ideal for removing small remains on your print. 
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A good set of tools gives you the best opportunity to cleanly remove supports from your models. You’ll also want: 

  • Heat bath or heat gun – Have hot water or a heat gun ready to heat up your model, so you can more easily remove stuck supports. Just don’t go too hot, as it can deform the model. 
  • Sandpaper – You’ll almost always have to wet sand the model as part of the cleanup process. 
  • IPA bath – Isopropyl alcohol can help you to dissolve the very outer layers of your print, allowing you to smooth off the final remains of the supports. 

In any case, if the supports are very fused, it’s going to be difficult to get your model to come out looking good. 

5. Chemical Options 

While many people ask about using isopropyl or another chemical to dissolve supports, this isn’t possible without damaging the model. However, you can choose to print the supports and the model in a different material. 

For example, if you print the supports using PVA or a breakaway filament, you can greatly reduce the difficulty of removing prints. However, you’ll have to install a dual nozzle and reel to make this happen. 

3 Easiest Support Patterns To Remove

If your settings are good, choosing the right support pattern for your 3D print model will make a lot of difference in how easy the supports are to remove. 

For example, the following three options are listed from easiest to remove to hardest to remove. 

1. Tree 

The tree supports start out as a single, thick branch on each side of the build. Then, the printer builds out thinner branches to support the model across the rest of the build. 

This is extremely effective at supporting angled overhangs and rounded points. However, it does not support flat overhangs enough.

Still, these supports are extremely easy to remove. In addition, many slicers allow you to select hollow supports, which makes them even easier to remove. 

If you’re using Cura, you can also adjust the number of branches, branch distances, and diameter. 

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2. Zig Zag 

Zig zag supports use a slanted construction to maximize support while minimizing removal time. 

Here, supports use a back-and-forth pattern, reducing the number of connection points with the model. Unlike the tree pattern, these supports are uniform in thickness. 

Like the tree pattern, zig zag patterns are extremely effective at supporting angled overhangs. 

However, they are less good at supporting flat overhangs. Therefore, you should only use them for very shallow flat overhangs. 

3. Line 

Line or linear supports are extremely popular for supports. In fact, these vertical columns are the most popular option in 3D printing because it blends efficacy with an easy-to-remove structure. 

It’s also one of the best options for supporting overhands and bridges. That’s so much true that linear supports are listed as “normal” in Cura settings. 

However, you shouldn’t use these on anything but an overhang or bridge. Why? They can be difficult to remove on many models. 

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions about removing supports from your models, these answers should help. 

How do you dissolve PLA supports?

You don’t. Anything that will dissolve your PLA supports will also dissolve your PLA model. 

Therefore, you should resort to a more manual or mechanical means of removing the supports. In most cases, that means using flush cutters, followed by a bath in IPA, followed by wet sand. 

That will be more than enough to remove all of your supports. 

What is a support blocker?

Cura and some other slicers use “support blockers” or “support erasers” to block supports from being placed in certain areas. 

Here, you can use blockers to prevent supports from being placed on high-detail areas. You might also use them to create space to access the supports so you can remove them more easily. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re having difficulty removing supports from your 3D prints, it’s likely a settings issue. Check support structure, pattern, distance, heat, and other settings.

In some cases, you might just need better tools. However, if you’re printing with a very high-heat material, you might also want to change your fan settings or even switch to dual nozzle printing, so you can use a dissolvable filament for the supports.

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