PEI Print Surface How To - recap

User-Generated tips and tricks for the Rostock Max, Orion, H1.1, or H1 Printers
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PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Sat Jan 24, 2015 10:12 am

Now that the original PEI print bed surface experiments thread is coming up on a year old and has over 666 and 27 pages of replies, it is getting difficult to wade through to figure out how to do it! So this recap post will summarize things based on my experience. This is the way I do it, there are other ways reported in the thread but that's part of why it became difficult to find things there. What I can say is this: this method works, it has been proven for nearly a year by me and many others, and is not overly difficult or expensive to do.

PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS STICKY THREAD FOR CONTINUED DISCUSSION, use the original thread linked above. I will remove superfluous posts from this sticky. If you have something you'd like me to consider adding or modifying in this post, please post it in the original thread, I'll find it.

You can find full resolution versions of the photos here.

Materials
The 0.03" to 0.04" thick PEI sheet in a 12" x 12" square (for a Rostock or Orion) is the best material to use. It is thick enough to last and not so thick as to be overly expensive. It transmits heat well enough too. You can get it from Amazon or McMaster Carr. I've used both (the McMaster PEI is 0.04" and works just fine). Note that the McMaster Carr PEI is glossy on both sides, the Amazon material is glossy on one side and matte on the other (see A Few Notes section below for more info).

EDIT/NOTE: Amazon lists their PEI as "off white" - well it is actually amber, so I suppose that is "off white"! When you are evaluating PEI look for "Ultem 1000" - that is the specific polymer that I know works and is what I linked on Amazon and McMaster's sites.

To adhere the PEI to your borosilicate or aluminum plate, 3M 468MP tape is tried and true. Amazon carries it in all widths of tapes to sheets. They all work and each has its pros and cons for attaching. The narrow tapes (I use 1”) require multiple strips but are easy to apply. Gaps between the tape strips do not matter but do not overlap the strips as that will cause a lump. The sheets go on in one piece and if you are careful, you can get it onto the glass without wrinkles or bubbles.

Image Image

Installation
The #1 requirement is to make sure the surface you are attaching to is absolutely clean. I attach to one side of a borosilicate glass plate. I clean with soap and water and then a final rinse with isopropyl alcohol to remove all traces of grease and moisture. Once clean, do not touch the surface! I'm installing a second piece of PEI on the backside of my build plate. The front side is glossy, this backside will be matte. Note that I drew an alignment arrow with a Sharpie. I always point this at my Z tower so I know my plate will be oriented the same overtime I put it on.

Image

Next apply your tape to the glass. I lay down strips starting at the middle and working out on one side and then the other. The tape has a paper film on one side, leave that attached until all strips are installed. Try to keep the tape smooth and wrinkle free. Do not overlap the edges of the tape as that will create a lump in the PEI. Even a 1/16" (1mm) gap between tape strips is not a problem, the sheet will adhere just fine. Trim the tape about 1/4" past the edge of your plate.

ImageImageImage

Once all the tape is applied, I like to burnish it down with a soft plastic scraper. An old credit card works fine too. The idea is to smooth out as many bubbles as possible. Finally, use a hobby knife to trim the tape as close to the glass edge as you can. This eliminates clumps at the perimeter later when you apply the PEI.

Image

Now you can clean your PEI. Note that the PEI has two different surface finishes. They both work well and give different results. The glossy side leaves a high gloss on the print. The matte side gives a nice matte finish. The matte side is more forgiving, can be sanded to rejuvenate and I prefer it for my prints. I do have one plate of each though. Clean the PEI exactly like you cleaned the glass and make sure it is dry.

You want to do the final assembly in a clean area with no dust or dirt that might contaminate the tape. I use a clean kitchen countertop. You want to do the following step in one smooth and relatively quick motion.

Peal all the paper backings from the tape strips with the plate laying on the table tape side up. Then, position the PEI over the plate/tape in the position you want it. DO NOT LET THE PEI TOUCH THE TAPE YET. Make sure the PEI finish (matte or glossy) you want is facing up. You want to install the PEI starting at and edge and work to the other side. On a circular plate like the Rostock or Orion this is tricky since the edge is curved. But you will figure it out - do a couple of dry runs before installing the tape to practice. Now touch the PEI to the edge tape, I like to leave about 1/8" extend over the edge, and slowly work it to the other edge. I bow the PEI into a curve so it sort of unrolls as you lay it down. You will be installing a square piece of PEI on a round bed, that's fine, we'll trim the sheet later.

Image

Once the PEI is installed, I like to use a soft plastic applicator or credit card to smooth the PEI into the tape to get it to stick well. Be careful not to put too much pressure or you might break the glass. Most likely you will see a lot of little pockets or bubbles under the PEI. Not to worry, they have no effect on the print surface.

Image

I trim the excess PEI on a band saw but you can also score and snap it off in sections with a final sanding to smooth it all out. On the bandsaw, I put blue painters tape on the PEI to prevent scratches.

Image

I cut 1/16" close to the glass with the taped PEI side down.

Image

Once the circle is cut, I sand the PEI edge with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to smooth it out.

Image

Remove the protective tape, clean the surface with isopropyl alcohol and you are ready to print.

ImageImage

A Few Notes
I’ve tested the tape up to 150°C on the hotbed. Please do not try this, I have a special setup and you WILL fry an Onyx at that temp. There was absolutely no problem for the tape adhesion at this temp. So it is more than capable of handling our application.

If you don’t use sharp tools to remove parts, PEI can last basically indefinitely.

I have two plates, one matte and one glossy. I LOVE the matte and it does stick better for persnickety parts. You can sand the matte side lightly with 1500 grit sandpaper to rejuvenate it if necessary. I do this every dozen prints or so, followed with an isopropyl wipe.

The glossy side needs to be clean, you can't sand it or you will lose the gloss. I've found that a clean white t-shirt with isopropyl alcohol works best. I rub the plate vigorously. I've wondered if the burnishing action activates the surface in some way but haven't had time to test this. I have noticed that when when the glossy side acts persnickety, a burnish rub will bring it back.

You can remove the PEI from the 3M tape and reuse the other side. It is very difficult to remove the PEI but if you start at an edge and bend it up, you should be able to remove it. Then clean the tape side and reapply as above.

Removing Parts from the PEI
Firstly, PEI is not a silver bullet. It is just as important to get your Z height dead on and have a well calibrated machine (see the Start Here link in my signature). If anything, too thin of a first layer will bond so well to the PEI that removal will be extremely difficult. Not a good problem. For most parts, I simply grab the part and gently pry it up by applying pressure to one edge immediately after the print is finished. Be careful if the part is still warm and soft. Once you have an edge separated from the PEI, the part will peal/pop off. The trick is to get that first edge lifted. For persnickety parts, let the plate completely cool and pop them off or, if really persnickety, put the plate and part in the freezer. That will ALWAYS work. I'm too impatient for that so I use a can of electronics freeze spray. You don't have to chill the entire part, simply aim at an edge attached to the PEI and squirt.

Do not use sharp tools to remove parts, you can/will gouge the PEI. The divot will forever be seen on the bottom of future parts. I have attempted to fix divots with epoxy and that works pretty well but ultimately fails and needs to be replaced.

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How to fix scratches and divots!

Postby mhackney » Sun Jul 26, 2015 1:33 pm

You've been using PEI for 100s of prints. You love it. Then you get the inevitable divot from removing a part in your haste. Or you scratch the surface with a poorly set Z height. Never fear, a fix is here!

Let me preface this by saying I have probably spent more time trying to figure out how to repair PEI than almost anything else I've done on my printers! Why? Because the fly fishing reels that I print and sell require perfection. The surface finish from the print bed is the most highly visible part of these reels so it has to be perfect.

Image

I've experimented for more than a year. I tried dissolving PEI (I won't explain this as it uses very nasty chemicals), melting PEI, filling with HDPE and other plastics, filling with bondo and other polyesters, epoxy, epoxy with PEI dust and the list goes on and on. But, one technique not only works well and is quite easy, it lasts for a long time (I have repairs over 6 months old that are still holding up). How is this minor miracle accomplished you ask? With Bob Smith Industries Medium Gap Filling Cyanoacrylate! I tried many other varieties and viscosities of CA (aka super glue) but this one is sheer magic. It comes in a purple bottle so get the right stuff:

IMG_4980.JPG


Next, the process...

In order to get the best bond you need 2 elements: absolute cleanliness and a slightly rough surface. I start by sanding the area of the scratch or divot with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper with water. This is important, don't sand dry or you will never get all of the dust out of the scratch. You can do this with the plate installed on your printer.

Once you've sanded, clean the area with isopropyl alcohol (IPA), the good stuff 100% not the 80% you get at the pharmacy (some pharmacies do carry 90-100% and that is fine). I use a squeeze bottle and flood the sanded area. Clean with a paper towel and repeat 3 times. Now, heat the bed to 50°C and allow it to soak at temperature for 15 minutes to make sure things are good and dry.

Next you apply the BSI medium CA. The idea is to fill the problem area a little proud. I use a straightened out paper clip as an applicator. Put a dab of CA on the tip of the wire and poke it into the scratch or divot. Filet the edges and let it overflow just a bit.

Now the tough part, wait! Seriously, you have to give this plenty of time to fully cure. A good solid 8 hours (overnight).

Once the CA is cured, fold a piece of 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper into thirds. This provides just the right amount of stiffness to sand the high spots without sanding a gouge. Use water and sand gently across the width of the scratch or narrow dimension of the divot. The goal is to knock down the high spot to make it level with the PEI surface. If you go too far or if you didn't put enough CA in the first time, repeat the above steps.

Once the CA is level, switch to 600 or 800 grit and sand GENTLY with water. Finally, clean off with IPA and print!

NOTE: this process is ideal for the matte PEI surface or for those of us who sand their PEI to make it matte. If you want gloss, then you really have to be careful when you sand. And sand from 400 to 1500 grit or so, then polish with a plastic polish and you should be able to restore the gloss.

Cheers,
Michael

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby noishi » Tue Aug 18, 2015 10:47 am

Great method for repairing scratches! Just curious, is there a reason you chose to wait for the CA to cure rather than using a catalyst? "CA Kicker" will dry the adhesive instantly, although in my experience you can get rock/crystal like formation as it cures so fast. Alternatively though, sometimes I've had issues where the CA doesn't cure without it, but more often with odorless or cheap CA than the Bob Smith stuff

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Tue Aug 18, 2015 10:55 am

Yes there is a reason. The catalysts generate a lot more heat and result in pull out on curing and as you observed, a harder product that chips out easily. Slow and steady gets the worm in this case.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby tcat007 » Sat Dec 12, 2015 12:57 pm

Just thought I'd mention .03" PEI plate is back in stock at Amazon. Mine should arrive Monday!

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby e_hutch » Fri Jan 01, 2016 12:41 pm

Just switched to PEI, first print in progress, so far awesome adhesion, thanks for the tutorial!

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Fri Jan 01, 2016 12:50 pm

Great, glad to hear it.

cheers,
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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby U.S. Water Rockets » Fri Jan 01, 2016 3:42 pm

What would happen if I were to just obtain a piece of 1/8" or 1/4" thick PEI and lay it on top of the Onyx or the Glass plate and attach it with the same binder clips? Would that not work? Granted, it costs a bunch more for thicker PEI, but it would be worth it to me because the PEI surface would not be permanent and I could move it between printers, etc.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Fri Jan 01, 2016 3:48 pm

Folks have done that. PEI is an insulator so you would have to wait a long time for the surface to come up to temperature.

I'm still skeptical on the "flatness" of PEI simply clipped to the bed.

If you are moving from Rostock to Rostock what difference would it make - just move the entire glass plate from one machine to another.

With PEI on 1 side, you can also flip the plate around if you want to temporarily print on tape, glue or what ever too.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby bot » Fri Jan 01, 2016 4:26 pm

I'd like to chime in, as I'm one who has used 1/8" without adhesive. There is no noticeable increase in heat-up time. With a sufficient power supply and insulation under the bed, the heat up times are FAR better than a stock rostock max. The flatness of the sheet after being clamped is better than the flatness of the toolpath (on a rostock max). I don't have a surface plate to measure against, but the sheet is as flat as it needs to be. I would say that it is at least as flat, if not flatter, than a thin sheet glued to glass.

In my opinion, there is absolutely no point in adhering a thin sheet to glass. It seems like a pain to deal with. The adhesive sheets are almost the same as the price difference for the thicker sheet. Also, there are advantages to using the thick sheet. If a part becomes really hard to remove, to avoid damaging the part by using a paint scraper or something to chisel at it, you can simply remove the PEI, and flex it slightly to pop the print off. I've never had to to this, but it's nice to have that option if need be.
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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby Windshadow » Fri Jan 01, 2016 4:53 pm

If I do use the tape is there any reason not to use a 12"x12" square of the transfer tape, (TapeCase 468MP 12in X 12in - 6 per pack Adhesive Transfer Tape) at amazon, apply that to the PEI in the same way a vinyl wrap is applied by incremental peel down of the backing paper and then in the same way putting it on the glass plate? if the PEI comes with protective film on both sides that could be left on until the PEI is trimmed to the plate....

Am I missing something important here?

I thought I might try Bot's method first and if it did not work for me (perhaps due to luck of the draw in flatness of the piece I end up with) then try it with the tape...

just thinking single sheets seem to me to make less of a chance of overlapping or too wide gaps with strips of narrow tape

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby Xenocrates » Fri Jan 01, 2016 5:17 pm

I've used PEI with the 12 inch square. I suggest the windex method. I adhered mine to an AL plate that I machined to sufficient flatness (I do have access to surface plates) There are some small bubbles from my application, as I did it without windex, as well as some interesting wrinkles from me leaving the heat gun I use to warm the plate up initially in one spot too long.

I've noticed a few things doing this. With the PEI I purchased, I do get the bubbles coming through slightly. This is mostly not an issue, as I tend towards using rafts anyways (I print a lot of stuff that needs large volumes of support, and don't want the support being really squiggly or anything, which was an issue on glue-stick, and I haven't felt a need to change yet). Then there are my ripples, which are entirely my own fault. Joining the PEI to an AL spreader directly, provided you can machine the AL flat, or purchased sufficiently flat stock seems ideal to me, as I entirely eliminate glass and it's fragility. I also can dispense with that much thickness to gain back the Z-height I lost. I also can just slap a plain glass plate back on, and use other coatings. I have 4 heat spreaders of 2 thicknesses (the place I ordered from shipped the wrong, and then the right thickness, and I bought 1X2 plates in the first place so I could make them as close to perfect as was reasonable, as the 310MM circle won't fit on a 1 foot square quite.) Heating performance is better with a thicker AL plate and no glass. That's about expected. I reduced the total thermal mass, and with the closer coupling between the PEI and the heat spreader, I also get a closer surface temp to measured temp. This is good to me. Admittedly, it does make the temperature slightly less stable if I'm pushing things (there's less thermal mass to damp the oscillations). If the enclosure temp is closer to the set temp, it does much better (it's in an un-heated barn and shop. Ambient is currently ~5C, normal temp is 13-24C. There is enough insulation around the shop that temperature changes are slow, reducing their effect on calibration)
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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Fri Jan 01, 2016 5:28 pm

Bot, I'm going to give it a try. Thanks for pushing the envelope on this.


$60 for a 12x12x1/8 at Amazon. Is there a lower priced source?

.03" 12x12 is $16 and a 6 pack of 12x12 468M tape is $16. That's quite a bit less than $60 and you have 5 sheets of tape to experiment with, use on other printers or sell. I'm still going to try the 1/8" but it is not close in price to a thin sheet with tape.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby Windshadow » Fri Jan 01, 2016 6:02 pm

I know the old skill of scrapping and spotting with Prussian Blue against a surface plate this generates a "frosted" surface that is ideal for the oil film on sliding machine tool parts but I have only done it with cast iron things and I don't know if the very tiny bumps that result would work under a PEI surface... they should I think

I do have a surface plate to use as well as scrapers so I was thinking of the 1/4" Mic 6 cast plate as sold on eBay and improving its flatness as needed but as I said I have only scraped iron and cast steel not Mic 6 nor do I know what flatness tolerance the plates on eBay display

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby bot » Fri Jan 01, 2016 7:15 pm

Right, I forgot that the tape includes multiple sheets. I do agree that you can save some money with the thin sheet, but it seems like an insignificant amount of money to me. Maybe I just don't value money as much as I should.

I do order from Amazon, their ultem 1000 12"x12". The sheets I've got have been consistently bowed but lay flat well with binder clips or other methods.
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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby tcat007 » Fri Jan 01, 2016 7:25 pm

mhackney wrote:Bot, I'm going to give it a try. Thanks for pushing the envelope on this.

.03" 12x12 is $16 and a 6 pack of 12x12 468M tape is $16. That's quite a bit less than $60 and you have 5 sheets of tape to experiment with, use on other printers or sell. I'm still going to try the 1/8" but it is not close in price to a thin sheet with tape.

cheers,
Michael


I used these, works very well. The 12x12 is really more like 11.75", and edge on mine was badly chipped, leaving about 11.6 usable in one direction. Not an issue since build area is smaller. Nice to have a bunch of extra sticky sheet for other sticking.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby U.S. Water Rockets » Mon Jan 04, 2016 10:48 pm

Is there a reason everyone is using double sided sticky tape to mount their PEI substrate? I was just wondering why nobody has used a spray adhesive like 3M or Scotch. It seems like it would be a lot easier than the tape.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Mon Jan 04, 2016 10:54 pm

Yes there is. You would have to search the forums and read buy early experiments with a variety of adhesives. None of them work, they all pealed eventually. The 3M tape (it is not standard double sided tape!) works well, affordable and easy to find.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby dunginhawk » Sun Apr 10, 2016 11:23 pm

Michael :) long time no talk haha.. anyway, i am finding more and more (after re ordering this adhesive 5-6 times) that i can not reliably get it off the sheet, or the tape (1") without massive bubbling or globbing. it always happens, without fail.
Is there any tips you use?
I can usually get a sheet to peel ok, but the tape, ALWAYS happens to screw up for me. freeze it? heat it? I love PEI and im about to put some on a 16x16" bed (i cant find a single piece anywhere that big, unless you can help there?) and need to make sure i can get a clean bubble free adhesion.
thanks

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby teoman » Mon Apr 11, 2016 1:55 am

The aliexpress link i gave in the other thread does do custom sizes.

I do not have enough time on my pei to vouch for the quality but it looks good. Search for pei, the contact person had a funny name. Like motzart leo.
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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby enggmaug » Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:36 am

dunginhawk wrote:Michael :) long time no talk haha.. anyway, i am finding more and more (after re ordering this adhesive 5-6 times) that i can not reliably get it off the sheet, or the tape (1") without massive bubbling or globbing. it always happens, without fail.
Is there any tips you use?
I can usually get a sheet to peel ok, but the tape, ALWAYS happens to screw up for me. freeze it? heat it? I love PEI and im about to put some on a 16x16" bed (i cant find a single piece anywhere that big, unless you can help there?) and need to make sure i can get a clean bubble free adhesion.
thanks


I have bought sheets, and it was also very difficult to remove the protective paper without messing with the adhesive layer, as it is very flexible and fragile.
In the end, I cut the sheet in bands, in order to be able to cut off the failed parts, and I applied it like it was tape.
You have to peel it very slowly.

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby Eaglezsoar » Mon Apr 11, 2016 1:05 pm

Thanks for the update, the other one is getting large but still contains valuable info so I hope that you are not thinking about deleting it.
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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby mhackney » Mon Apr 11, 2016 2:45 pm

The only problem I've had with the tape is getting a roll that the side had been smooshed. I use an XActo knife to lift the backing from the tape to get it started. I agree that the sheets are easier to deal with and that's all I use now. It would be nirvana if someone made PEI surfaces with the adhesive pre-applied!

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby dunginhawk » Mon Apr 11, 2016 5:45 pm

i just looked through that entire thread and counldnt find a link to the customer PEI sheet.. any chance you could dig it up for me? my printer bed is too dang big haha

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Re: PEI Print Surface How To - recap

Postby dunginhawk » Mon Apr 11, 2016 5:55 pm



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