Z Banding In 3D Printing: Causes, Fixes & Preventive Measures

Z banding or ridging is the appearance of uniform lines or ridges on the outside of your 3D print. These are normally excessive and beyond what would normally appear in that print.

And, for the many people who 3D print at home, it can appear inexplicably, often without changing any other settings. So, what’s going wrong? 

Z banding in 3D printing is normally a result of Z wobble or print over-extrusion. If you fix either of those two issues, it should fix your Z banding issue. However, you’ll have to troubleshoot and resolve either of those issues to fix the banding. 

What Is Z Banding In 3D Printing?

Z banding is a symptom of one of two primary causes.

The first is Z wobble, where the Z-axis is inconsistent, tilted, or moving. This can be caused by dozens of hardware issues, which can be considerably difficult to troubleshoot. 

At the same time, Z banding can be caused by over-extrusion or inconsistent extrusion. In this case, you might have a partially clogged nozzle, a bad thermistor, heating issues, etc.

So, you should also see symptoms of over or under-extrusion in parts of your print – which makes this issue easier to identify and resolve. 

5 Ways To Fix Z Banding Issue

Z banding issues can occur on any filament 3D printer.

In almost every case, you can troubleshoot and fix the issues using the same processes. However, the exact steps will depend on your printer’s setup. 

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1. Level The Print Bed 

Leveling the print bed should always be the first step in response to Z banding. However, the issue is most likely with the Z-axis and not with the bed.

Still, issues with a loose clip or screw on a corner of the bed could cause the same sort of problems. 

If you have a printer like the Prusa i3 MK3, you can go to the menu, go to “Calibration” and run the calibration. The printer will automatically calibrate and level the bed.

If you have a model without automatic bed leveling, you’ll have to level the bed manually. 

For example, for Ender 3, the process looks more like this: 

  • Go to the “Prepare” menu and select “Auto Home” then “Disable Steppers”. 
  • Manually lower the bed using the leveling wheels under the bed and turn them counterclockwise
  • Position the nozzle over the bottom left adjustment screw and adjust the leveling wheel clockwise until there’s just enough space to slide a piece of paper under with some resistance. 
  • Repeat on all four corners and then repeat again to ensure adjustments haven’t moved the rest of the bed. 
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Releveling the platform is unlikely to solve your Z banding issues unless you have a loose screw or clip. However, it is always a good first place to check, especially if you’ve recently leveled or adjusted the bed. 

2. Troubleshoot Hardware 

The second step to finding and removing ridging issues is to inspect your hardware.

Here, in some cases, the issue can be caused by loose screws or clips. In others, it may mean your stepper motor, or another part is going bad. 

  • Stepper Motor – Use your software to move the nozzle 30mm up and then down 30mm. Place your hand on the stepper motor. If it jolts or moves, a loose motor may be the issue. Here, you should tighten the motor in the bracket. 
  • Lead Screw – Remove the lead screw from the machine and check if it’s bent. If it rolls smoothly on a flat surface, it’s probably fine. If not, you likely want a new one. Use a T-square or a square to verify that the lead screw is straight with the frame. 
  • Rod Coupler – Remove the rod coupler and reattach it. Most attach using two small screws on either end, one to the lead screw and one to the motor. Make sure everything is in tightly. 

Loose rods or screws can cause the Z axis to literally wobble when printing. That can mean you get Z banding. 

In other printer models, like the Elegoo Mars, you’ll also have to look at the center rolling bearings to assess everything that could cause Z banding. 

3. Check The Print Speed 

If you’re printing too fast or faster than your printer can stably maintain, you will see ridging issues. Here, you shouldn’t normally be printing above about 50 m/s.

However, if you want to be sure that print speed isn’t causing the issue, you can do a test run at 30 m/s. If you still have the banding issues, it’s not likely to be a print speed issue. 

4. Adjust Temperature Settings 

Inconsistent extrusion or cooling can cause banding and ridging issues. This is especially true if you’re printing in a very cold location, or the bed temperature fluctuates up and down.

For example, if your bed is intermittently too warm and then cold or normal, the layers in between may ooze out when they don’t cool fast enough. That could cause external ridging. 

Here, you should check the temperature settings in your slicer. You’ll also want to check your thermistor.

It may be a good idea to use a digital thermometer in the bed during the print to ensure that the temperature is not going up and down. Here, ideal bed temperature settings will heavily depend on what filament you’re printing with, so check the manufacturer’s recommendations for what you’re printing. 

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5. Inspect And Clean The Nozzle 

A partially clogged or worn nozzle could cause inconsistent extrusion, which may result in ridging.

Here, the same issue may also be caused if you’ve switched to a smaller nozzle and your extrusion settings are too wide for the nozzle, e.g. you downsized to a 0.01 nozzle and you’re still printing in 0.02. 

Here you should take the nozzle off, clean it, and inspect it. If you see damage, clogs, or burnt plastic, try to remove or repair that or replace the nozzle.

You’ll also want to check the slicer to ensure that the print width is the same as the nozzle. If you still have issues, you can always replace the nozzle. 

Tips To Avoid Z Banding In The Future

Z banding is most often a hardware issue. However, it may also be a software issue.

In each case, you can prevent ridging issues from occurring by performing regular maintenance on your 3D printer. 

Regular Maintenance 

Regular maintenance normally means regularly checking to ensure that parts are tight, calibrated, and as they should be. This may mean inspecting your 3D printer to ensure nothing has come loose.

Many 3D print manufacturers also recommend occasionally lubricating the Z-axis lead screws. Here, you’ll normally use a small amount of white lithium grease about once or twice a year. 

Cleaning The Nozzle 

Most 3D print manufacturers recommend cleaning the print head and nozzle every 100-200 print hours. In addition, you should pay attention to the nozzle when removing prints.

If you see residue or debris, it’s a good sign to take the nozzle off and clean it. You should also inspect the nozzle and consider cleaning it when you switch spools. 

In most cases, you should wipe the nozzle down with a damp cloth or an alcohol cloth while it’s still warm.

You can also use a wire brush or a small needle to remove any built-up residue while the nozzle is hot. However, you should be careful to ensure you don’t burn yourself. 

Getting Slicer Settings Right 

If you adjust the layer height settings in your slicer, it could cause banding. For this reason, it’s always important to double-check settings after updating them.

If you’re using settings that your printer can’t do, the stepper motor and the lead screw won’t line up. This results in banding. 

Here, different printers perform best using different settings. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to reference your manual to see what you can do.

If you have the popular Prusa i3, the brand also offers an online calculator which you can use to fully customize your settings. 

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Calibrate PID 

If you’re using Marlin or similar firmware, you have PID tuning built-in.

Here, you should check it and calibrate it to see if PID is causing Z banding. The PID adjusts how your printer handles temperature adjustments across the hot end and the bed.

Both of these adjustments will depend on which printer you have and if you have PID tuning built-in or not.  

Most Affected Printers With Z Wobble

While any filament printer can be affected by Z wobble, two of the most common models are the most reported as having issues. That’s because more beginners have them rather than because of any defects in the printers.

However, each can have its own reasons for Z wobble. 

Ender 3 (Pro/V2)

The Ender 3 is prone to irregular extrusion issues because of clogging or how the Bowden tube is installed.

Here, you can remove the coupling on either side of the Bowden tube and clean the tube. Then, reattach the tube, ensuring that the couplings are tight.

If there’s filament blocking the Bowden tube, it will cause banding or extrusion issues. 

Prusa i3

The Prusa i3 sometimes ships with slightly bent lead screws. This means that you may want to check the screw immediately upon installation.

In addition, because the screw is fixed to the X-axis at the top, any alignment issues will automatically transfer from the X-axis to the Z-axis and vice versa.

It’s important to get the bottom coupler alignment as precise as possible. Here, you may also be able to reduce the Z-axis wobble by using stabilizers. However, you shouldn’t need them. 

Finally, the Prusa i3 uses “bang bang” bed heating, where it heats the bed and then shuts the heater off. When the temperature drops too much, it reheats the bed again.

This can cause ridging issues if your printer is in a cold room and the temperature of the bed drops very quickly. 

Final Thoughts

Z banding is a very common issue for filament printers. However, it isn’t always caused by Z wobble. Instead, bed temperature and even layer height can both cause the same issues. Still, you can almost always start out by troubleshooting hardware to ensure everything is straight and firmly in place. You should also check settings, bed temperature, and that your nozzles are clean. 

Good luck fixing the issue.

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