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Getting the Correct 3D Printer Nozzle Temperature For PLA: A Beginner's Guide

By Mitch

November 10th, 2023


An illustration of a question mark being 3D printed
Which temperature is right for PLA? (Image: Alamy)

A bit of a departure here from our usual topics and one that isn't necessarily something you need to worry about with the expert printing services that we provide. However, it's interesting to be aware of the different factors that need to be considered in order to create the perfect print.


Obviously, different 3D printing materials will need different printer settings and temperatures. The main consideration here being the workable temperature of the particular material that is being used for printing. Tis temperature can also be referred to as the Glass Transition Temperature (GTT). Take a look at our other articles "FDM 3D Printing Materials Part 1: PLA" and "FDM 3D Printing Materials: A Comparison" for a bit more insight into this.


So, let's look at what we need to consider when adjusting the temperatures for PLA.


Getting the Right Nozzle Temperature


As we know, PLA (Polylactic Acid) is the most commonly used filament in 3D printing. As with any filament, there are certain temperatures at which it will work best (the GTT) and this is determined by the temperature of the printer’s nozzle. Getting this temperature right is the key to using PLA properly.


The temperature of the nozzle is set to reach the ideal GTT for PLA for it to be used in 3D printing. This will have an advised upper and lower limit which are usually set by the filament manufacturer. These are fairly universal but can vary across different brands and types of PLA. As we’ve already said, getting this temperature right is the key to your PLA printing properly and therefore producing quality and accurate 3D prints.


There are though other factors that can cause the nozzle temperature to vary outside of that which you've set.

Factors Affecting Nozzle Temperature for PLA


A diagram comparing two boats 3D printed with moist and  dry filament
Humidity and moisture can cause stringing issues

In a perfect world you should be able to set the temperature of your printer’s nozzle at the start of your print and that will be that. Unfortunately, as we know, the world of 3D printing is seldom perfect straight away! This means that we should be aware of certain considerations when thinking about the nozzle temperature for PLA.


Ambient Temperature

The ambient temperature is that of the surroundings where your 3D printer is housed and operating. This could be a garage, workshop or indeed any room in your house. The temperature of that particular workspace is unlikely to remain at a constant throughout the cycle of your print and It's also very unlikely that this workspace will be anywhere near around the 200°C mark where your printer nozzle is going to be as this would be impossible for a human to work in! So, the ambient temperature and any fluctuation in that may have a detrimental affect on your nozzle temperature.


Another factor in the ambience of your printer’s surroundings would be any draught or gust of cold air caused by say a door opening and closing or any sudden drop in temperature during an overnight print for instance. This would be where a printer enclosure or a fully enclosed printer may be useful to avoid such temperature fluctuations.


Humidity

Humidity links us back somewhat to the ambient temperature issue and is again down to the surroundings in which your printer is working. Any excess in humidity can cause an increase in the nozzle temperature and also be detrimental on the PLA filament itself.

Layer Height

This now leads us into the realms of print quality now and how the nozzle temperature itself will have an affect on the printing of your 3D object. The layer height you set for your printer will set the quality of the print; smaller heights will give better quality and higher layers will give less. The layer height will also control how much filament is extruded per layer and therefore, a higher layer will allow the extruded filament slightly more time to cool. The nozzle temperature may then need to be set slightly higher to ensure that the filament maintains the right working temperature for the extra time it will take to print each layer.


Printing Speed

Again, this follows on from the layer height consideration and will mean a difference in time that the working temperature of the PLA is maintained. Therefore, a similar adjustment needs to be considered based on faster or slower print speeds.

Recommended Nozzle Temperature for PLA

We’ve discussed the factors that can affect the nozzle temperature when printing with PLA but haven’t yet looked at what the ideal or standard temperature setting should be.


As mentioned, different PLA manufacturers will give different advisory nozzle temperatures for their particular PLA so it's always best to follow what it says on the box or filament spool. Let’s though look at what we mean by a standard nozzle temperature for PLA and why this may vary.


Firstly, PLA by nature has a GTT which is set at reasonably low temperatures. This is why it's such a popular and easy to work with filament choice for most users. Typically though, PLA will require a nozzle temperature of between 180-220°C but as we know, this can vary between both filament types and indeed different 3D printers. Often, getting the right temperature for the PLA you are using will come down to your own experience and some degree of trial and error. You may start working at the higher end of this range but find that you get better results by reducing the temperature to nearer the 200°C mark. This may well be determined by some or all of the factors we’ve already discussed.


To get an idea of what we’re talking about with regards to the advice of different filament brands, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular and see what variations we’re looking at.


PLA Brand

Suggested Nozzle Temperature (°C)

Overture

190-200

E-Sun

210-230

Sunlu

210-235

Hatchbox

180-210

Polymaker

190-230


As you can see from this small cross-section of PLA filament brands, the suggested working temperatures for the printer nozzle vary by quite a bit. This will mostly be down to how the particular manufacturer produces their PLA and whether its referred to as PLA+ or silk for instance. You’ll also notice that some of the upper temperatures are higher than what we’ve referred to as “standard” and this again will be down to the particular manufacturing process and any additives that have been introduced to the basic PLA formula.

How to Adjust Nozzle Temperature for PLA

So, we’ve looked at the importance of the correct nozzle temperature when working with PLA, the factors that can affect this and the variations in manufacturers’ suggested nozzle temperatures. Obviously then the next stage is to look at how we go about adjusting and setting the nozzle temperature for your 3D printer.


You will probably have noticed that your printer has a “preheat” setting for both PLA and ABS as these are the two most commonly used filaments. These settings are there so that you can load a new spool of filament and prepare your printer ready for printing. Typically, the preheat setting for PLA will raise the nozzle temperature to 200°C which is sufficient for you to load the filament. However, this may not then necessarily be the temperature at which you’re actually going to print. This will be set during the “slicing” process for the specific model you’re going to print so you’ll need to do this in whichever slicing software you generally use.

The most common slicing program is Cura so let’s briefly go through the steps you need to take to set the right nozzle temperature.



A laptop with a 3D model design on the screen
Cura is the go-to slicing program for most users


Open Cura

Using Cura, start the software and upload the model file you plan to print.


Set the Printer model and filament type

Ensure you’ve set the printer to your exact model or the closest that Cura has in its list. This will make the settings much easier and give you a print file which is compatible with your printer. Use the same process for the filament type and brand if available.


Set the nozzle temperature

In the printer settings menu, set the nozzle temperature to the required figure based on the filament brand recommendations. Note however that this setting can have variations relating to the initial layer, end temperature and pause break temperature but for this example, we’ll just set the overall printing temperature.


Make any other adjustments

Carry out any other changes or adjustments relating to your model as required.


Complete the slicing process

Once you have everything as you need it to print your model, slice it and save your slice file.

You should then have a G-code file which incorporates the settings that you’ve applied in Cura. This will then determine the nozzle temperature for your printer and should maintain that for the duration of the print.


As we’ve already discussed, there are some tips and measures that you can take to ensure that this temperature is maintained as much as possible throughout the course of the print. Its therefore worth referring back to these at this point and making sure you’re doing everything you can to maintain a consistent nozzle temperature,

The Importance of Maintaining Proper Nozzle Temperature

We’ve now looked at different nozzle temperatures and how these can vary according to brands and types of PLA. We’ve also covered different factors that can adversely affect the nozzle temperature, shown you steps to take to try and alleviate these and also how to set the nozzle temperature in Cura. Let’s now finally look at why maintaining the correct nozzle temperature is important when printing with PLA or indeed any type of filament.


Improved Print Quality

The most important thing that we’re all looking for in our 3D prints is how well they actually turn out and the quality of the surface, structure and texture of the print. The nozzle temperature plays a major part in the quality of your prints for the reasons that we’ve already discussed so things like layer height and printing speed will come into play. Hopefully then if you’re using the correct nozzle temperature for your PLA your print quality will be greatly improved.


Avoiding Extruder Clogging


An illustration comparing partial and fully clogged 3D printing nozzles
Nozzle clogging can be a big issue in FDM 3D printing

Nozzle and extruder clogging can be frustrating and will ultimately cause the failure of your print. Avoiding this issue will be assisted by the correct nozzle temperature as we’ve already covered.


One thing we haven’t yet considered though is the issue of under or over extrusion. Extrusion issues are generally caused by a number of factors and can usually be rectified by adjusting the E-steps in your printer’s settings. There are online tutorials to guide you through setting the E-steps but we will also be covering this in future articles.


Under extrusion is when not enough filament is being sent through the nozzle and over extrusion is obviously the opposite. These extrusion issues can also be as a result of incorrect nozzle temperatures which will either melt the filament too little or too much. Too little and the PLA won’t be at the correct GTT so won’t extrude properly and too much will result in more filament than is needed through the nozzle.



Conclusion


We’ve looked at many factors that will affect the maintenance of a constant nozzle temperature for PLA and how to set the correct temperature for your printer, We’ve also seen that the suggested working temperature for PLA has a fairly wide range and can vary between different brands and types.

Other considerations have been the ambience of your working area, humidity, layer height and printing speed; all of which are things that will affect the quality of your printed item. Nozzle and extruder clogging are also things to be aware of as is the potential for damage to your printer’s nozzle.

All in all then there are a lot of things that can be affected by the temperature of your printer nozzle when printing with PLA and external factors that can adversely affect the temperature as well. The answer therefore lies in first using and setting the right temperature for the PLA you’re using, avoiding external factors that may affect that temperature and some degree of trial and error to get the results you want.


Hopefully then your print quality while using PLA will greatly improve and you’ll consistently produce high quality 3D prints.


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