How you should design for 3D printing with support structures in mind

How you should design for 3D printing with support structures in mind


3D printing is rapidly growing in popularity and changing the way we create objects. It allows us to design and produce complex shapes not possible with traditional manufacturing methods. However, one important consideration when designing for 3D printing is the need for support structures.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating physical objects by layering material, typically plastic or metal. It works by taking a 3D computer model and slicing it into layers, then printing each layer, one on top of the other, until the final object is produced.

Why Support Structures Matter?

When 3D printing objects with overhangs or unsupported areas, the material will sag or droop, resulting in a flawed print. Support structures are temporary structures added to the print to provide additional support for these areas. Without them, you may experience issues such as poor surface finish, warping, or even failure of the print job.

Design Principles for 3D Printing with Support Structures

Understand the Material Properties

Before designing for 3D printing, it is important to understand the material properties of the filament you are using. The ideal printing temperature, cooling rate, and adhesion to the build plate can all affect the need for support structures. For example, materials with high shrinkage or poor adhesion require more support to prevent warping or detachment.

Account for Overhangs and Bridges

Overhangs and bridges refer to features of a design that extend beyond the limit of the support material. For such features, support structure is necessary to keep the object from drooping or sagging during printing. It is important to properly orient and position the model on the build plate so as to minimize the use of support material while maintaining the integrity of the design.

Choose the Right Support Structure

When designing for 3D printing, choosing the right support structure is critical to the success of the print. Different types of support structures such as grid, tree, line, and crosshatch offer varying degrees of support and ease of removal. In addition, some software tools offer the option of automatically generating support structures, saving time and effort.

Types of Support Structures

Grid: offers strong support but can be difficult to remove
Tree: resembles the branches of a tree, easy to remove but less support
Line: thin support material, useful for fine details but can be fragile
Crosshatch: provides medium support and is easy to remove

Automatically Generated Support Structures

Some slicing software tools include automatic support structure generation, which can save time and effort in the design process. These structures can be customized to meet the specific needs of the design, including density, angle, and placement. It is important to review and adjust automatic supports to ensure they meet the needs of the design and printing process.

Software Tools for 3D Printing with Support Structures

Creating 3D models with support structures in mind requires specific software tools that can help designers visualize, prepare, and optimize their models for printing. Here are some of the software tools that are essential for 3D printing with support structures:

CAD Tools

CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software tools are used by designers to create 3D models from scratch or modify existing designs. These tools allow designers to create accurate models of their designs, and they can also help identify areas that will require support structures for printing. Popular CAD tools for 3D printing include Fusion 360, SketchUp, and Tinkercad.

Slicer Software

Slicer software tools are used to prepare 3D models for printing by converting them into machine-readable code. These tools allow designers to optimize models for printing, including adding support structures. Popular slicer software tools for 3D printing include Cura, Simplify3D, and PrusaSlicer.

Support Generation Settings

Slicer software includes support generation settings that allow designers to customize the placement of support structures. These settings include parameters such as support density, support placement angle, and support overhang angle. Effective use of these settings can help reduce the amount of support material used and improve print quality.

Support Removal Strategies

Once a 3D print is complete, support structures must be removed from the model. Slicer software includes support removal strategies that can help minimize damage to the model during this process. These strategies can include using specific cutting tools, sanding, or chemical agents to dissolve support structures.

Mesh Repair Tools

3D models can sometimes include errors or defects that prevent them from being printed correctly. Mesh repair tools are used to clean up and repair these errors, making the models suitable for printing. Examples of mesh repair tools for 3D printing include Meshmixer, Netfabb, and Blender.

Best Practices for 3D Printing with Support Structures

3D printing is an iterative process and refining printing parameters is critical to successful printability and repeatability. Here are some best practices to consider when designing 3D prints with support structures:

Testing and Iteration

Testing your 3D print designs with support structures is essential to ensure that they are stable, aesthetically pleasing, and to guarantee quality outcomes related to shape and dimensions. Iterating your designs is also a crucial step in finding the right combination of settings to avoid overhangs and support structures while achieving good prints. Conducting small-scale trials, choosing the right materials, and adjusting the printer’s speed and calibration can all help achieve optimal outcomes.


Post-processing your 3D prints are essential to smoothen the surfaces, remove support marks, and improve the final appearance of the prints. There are many post-processing techniques available, including sanding, sandblasting, dyeing, polishing, and painting. Power tools can make a world of difference and speed up the process considerably, but you should always ensure your tools are suitable for your print materials to avoid damage or deformity.

Maintenance and Calibration

Maintenance and calibration are critical to prevent jams and ensure that your 3D prints are successful. Regular cleaning of the printer’s print bed, nozzle, and fan can improve adhesion, avoid overheating, and improve the print quality. Checking the printer’s calibration before every use and after each material change helps avoid problems related to extrusion and other mechanical issues.