Different types of mats

Glass, steel, magnetic, polypropylene...there is a fairly wide range of printing pads on the market. Each type of mat has its advantages and disadvantages, which will mainly be manifested depending on which filament you are going to print with. If you are not sure which pad you should choose, you can read our article How to choose a suitable printing pad, where you will find a list of different types of pads, their properties, and tips for which type of filament will be ideal.

One important property that fundamentally affects printing is whether the substrate is smooth or grainy. This time we focused on the second type - granular or textured surface.

As the name suggests, this is a mat that has a rough surface dotted with small bumps. It could be compared to sandpaper, for example. These pads have become popular among printers. And no wonder. The offer also includes mats that combine both variants - on one side they have a smooth surface, on the other side they have a textured surface. Which can be an interesting solution to the dilemma of which mat to buy.

Advantages of a granular surface

  • easy removal of prints

You have successfully finished printing, you are already thinking about the final surface treatment, from which the last thing separates you - and that is removing the prints from the mat. It sounds simple, but sometimes it's a bit of a pain. If the print adheres too much to the mat, it can be difficult to remove. And if you have to use even more physical force, it can quite easily happen that you damage your print. Pads with a grainy surface offer a clear advantage over smooth pads in terms of print removal. Because the textured surface is not completely smooth, the entire bottom of the first layer of the print is not in contact with the substrate. This will prevent too much adhesion. Therefore, you only need to wait for the mat to cool down, and then the model can be easily removed. It's much harder to remove prints from a hot pad, so we don't recommend it. In the case of magnetic and steel pads, you can help by bending the pad. The print will then bounce slightly off the mat.

  • the pad is not so easily damaged

This advantage is partly related to the already mentioned easy removal of the print from the mat. In the case of granular mats, the use of various helpers for removing prints such as spatulas, which you can use to scratch the mat, is eliminated. Another possible damage to the mat occurs when the printer is set incorrectly and the nozzle leaves scratches on the mat when printing the first layer. In such a case, the damage to granular pads tends to be smaller than that of smooth pads and is not as obvious.

  • prints have a textured bottom layer

For some it can be an advantage, for someone it can be seen as a disadvantage. It depends on what you want the print to be used for and what you prefer more. Anyway, you need to think about it when planning models. And it is also worth noting that the bottom layer looks more uniform thanks to the textured surface and individual "strokes" of the line are not visible on it.

In the image on the left you can compare how the bottom layer looks when using a textured or smooth underlay.

The magic of the PEI surface

Printing with commonly used filaments is a matter of course, but you don't have to worry about filaments with which you had problems with other substrates (for example PP, TPE or ASA / ABS). As we mentioned above, there is no problem with the model sticking to the mat, so applying adhesive preparations would be unnecessary. Be sure to forget about acetone, it could at best leave "maps" on the mat, at worst it could directly damage it. Even washing with water will not be the right way for a PEI pad.

Before you start printing

The printing pad needs to be degreased and an isopropyl alcohol cleaner (or IPA) will help you do that. The procedure is simple: let the pad cool, then apply a small amount of cleaner to a clean paper towel, wipe the surface. Then, if necessary, let the rest of the cleaner that has stuck to the pad evaporate.

An important step before starting the actual printing is to set the first layer correctly. This is because a PEI mat with a textured surface has a different thickness than a smooth mat. If you forget this step, the pad will be damaged. As we mentioned, the damage is not as noticeable as with smooth pads, but it is still pointless to risk it. With a textured mat, you need to set the nozzle slightly lower than with a smooth mat. This is because the filament must adhere even to those parts where there are small depressions. If you set the nozzle too low, it can happen (in addition to damaging the pad) that the first layer will be deformed and the filament will stick to the nozzle. If the line is too high, the filament will not adhere sufficiently, the print will not be stable and you will probably not achieve a successful model. In short, you need to find the middle ground.

If it seems to you that the prints do not stick to the mat as you would imagine, there is a solution. This can happen on petite models or models that don't have a spacious first layer to touch the pad. In this case, it is possible to add a so-called brim to the model.

It is an intermediate layer between the print and the printing pad, which is wider than the print itself. This layer hugs and adheres to the print and thus improves adhesion.

Disadvantage of textured mat

After reading the information about the textured printing pad, you might get the impression that it is perfect. But after all, some disadvantage would be found - we are talking about its price. Compared to a glass mat or a magnetic mat in the basic design, you pay extra for a textured mat with a PEI surface. It is also good to remember that the pads wear out over time, so they need to be changed once in a while. But if you take care of your mat, it will last quite a long time. And investing in it will not be so painful. The truth is, this is an interesting 3D printer accessory that might be worth checking out.