Maintaining your printer

You've been printing for a while now and everything is going swimmingly, but you probably have questions about what is going to happen down the road, or what to do when the road gets bumpy. Here is an extensive list of questions commonly asked by people who are comfortable using their printers, compiled and answered by Erin Oliver, co-founder of fbrc8, Ultimaker's Official USA Assembly and Support Partner.

Why have my prints stopped adhering to the platform?

If you start to have adhesion problems after your printer has been printing well, but you haven’t removed any parts of the nozzle or made any changes to the leveling, print speed, or material, then it is probably time to clean your glass. If glue has built up on your bed, you can clean it with water, mild dish soap, and a paper towel. If there’s any grease on your glass (such as oil from your hands or the axis rods), you may want to wipe the glass with rubbing alcohol. We recommend cleaning both sides of your glass, according to the How Do I Clean My Glass Plate instructions.

Also, be mindful of your material. If, after a few months you’ve started experimenting with materials other than PLA (like CPE or ABS), you will find that they have different adhesion needs. For example, ABS is particularly prone to warping, causing it to come off the bed. Until you’re familiar with whatever new material you’re working with, keep an eye on the prints. You may also need to make other adjustments such as printing with a brim, or, if you’re working with a high bed temperature material, even enclosing the machine.

When do I need to apply grease?

It’s essential to keep the moving parts of your machine well-lubricated in order to keep it running in good condition. A light machine oil, such as sewing machine oil, is perfect for this. Add a drop or two of oil to each of the four perimeter rods, to the two printhead shafts, and to the two Z-shafts. How often you need to add oil will depend on the heat and humidity in the room, as well as how much you’re running your printer. You can check and see if your rods need lubrication by moving the head by hand to see how well it moves; you can also touch the rods by hand. If they are dry, add a little oil. Move the head by hand to spread the oil around. When you lubricate the Z-shafts, you can use the menu to spread the oil, by going to Maintenance: Advanced:Raise Build Plate. For more information about lubricating your machine, see our fbrc8 guide Greasing and Oiling Your Ultimaker.

The threaded screw between the Z-shafts, known as the Z-screw, should not be lubricated with sewing machine oil. Your printer came with a small packet of green grease called Magnalube G, which is intended for lubricating the Z-screw. If the Z-screw is dry, you can add some green grease to the screw, and spread it in the same way that you spread the oil on the Z-shafts. If there’s visible debris in the Z-shaft, or if the green grease on the screw has become black and thick over time, then the screw may need to be cleaned before more grease is added.


Do I need to do anything else to maintain my printer?

Ultimaker printers is a very accurate, but in order for them to remain so, it’s important to keep them clean. Debris caught in the belts or pulleys, coating the rods, or coating the Z-screw can impede the smooth movement of your machine. In addition, accumulated debris keeps printer parts from being lubricated, and leads to poor print quality. Dirty glass can keep your prints from sticking to the bed well. Other places to be mindful of dust and debris buildup include the linear bearings inside the printhead, the ends of the perimeter rods and printhead shafts, and the tops of the Z-shafts.

If debris appears on your rods or linear bearings, as highlighted in red in the first two photos below, it can be wiped off with a paper towel. Then add a little sewing machine oil as described above. If debris builds up in your Z-screw, as indicated by the red arrows in the third photo, you can clean the screw by wiping it down with a lint free cloth and alcohol to get debris out of the screw threads, and then apply fresh green grease.

lint buildup

Does my Bowden tube last forever?

From time to time, your Bowden tube may need to be cleaned, trimmed, or replaced. It is the first place you should check for signs of trouble if your printer is having problems feeding filament reliably. As one of the soft parts of the printer, the Bowden tube gets more normal wear and tear than many of the other printer parts. Filament will always encounter some amount of friction while passing through the Bowden tube, but it’s important to be aware of the amount of resistance that is normal, and what is abnormal.

If your filament material becomes ground down in the feeder (especially working with ABS), then ground-up debris can travel up the Bowden tube. This can create extra friction between the feeding filament and the tube, making it difficult for the filament to move. Such debris can also get carried all the way to the printhead and burn there. You can clear out debris from the Bowden tube by removing both ends of the tube from the printer, putting a small piece of paper towel in the tube, and pushing the paper towel through by hand with a piece of filament.

Bowden tube

Wear and tear on your Bowden tube will be impacted by the abrasiveness of the filaments you use, as well as how much retraction is involved when printing with those filaments. By removing both ends of the filament from the printer, you can run a fresh piece of filament through the tube by hand. Check for any point of resistance inside the tube that might indicate damage inside it; if there is a point of particular resistance, you should replace your tube.

The feeder end of your Bowden tube should be widened out to 45 degrees to make feeding easier, as shown in the top part of the photo below. If the feeder end of your Bowden tube looks chewed up, you may need to trim it by a millimeter or two, and then widen it out again with an X-Acto knife. The printhead end of the Bowden tube should remain cut flat across, as shown in the bottom of the photo.

Bowden Tube Comparison

What's the coupler and why should I care?

Your coupler is one of the softest parts of your printer, and susceptible to a lot of wear and tear. The PTFE coupler (on the Ultimaker 2, 2Go, and 2 Extended) has a lifespan of about 500 print hours with PLA. It will last fewer hours with high temperature or with abrasive materials like CPE and ABS. The only way to check on the condition of the coupler is to take the printhead apart.

If you’re having extrusion problems, first check that your printer is clean, well lubricated, and that the Bowden tube is in good condition. If all is well in these areas, then the next thing to check is your PTFE coupler. You can check your number of print hours in the printer’s menu under Maintenance / Advanced / Runtime. The coupler on the Ultimaker 2+ and 2+ Extended machines are made of a tougher material (TFM) that should last longer than 500 hours, but it’s still worth checking print hours if you are experiencing poor print quality.

Over time, couplers can become widened out due to the heat from the nozzle, and the passing of filament through it. A ragged edge may develop, and the hole can become too wide. It may also be discolored. If the coupler widens out or develops a lip, then it should be replaced in order to ensure smooth filament flow. You can find instructions for replacing the coupler in our fbrc8 guide Changing Parts in the Print Head.

Shown below is a photo of two particularly badly damaged couplers alongside a good coupler for comparison:

Coupler Comparrison

Are there other parts that need to be replaced and is reassembling easy?

Some parts, like the Bowden tube and PTFE coupler, need replacing regularly as part of maintaining your machine. Other parts may need to be replaced for other reasons – perhaps to install an upgrade, or to replace something that isn’t working. However, all of the parts of your machine fit together in a very precise way. One of the most common problems we see is that parts have been replaced and installed incorrectly, resulting in filament leaks, poor movement of the printhead, fans blowing air in the wrong direction, or the fan shroud acting as a heat sink and drawing heat away from the nozzle. Small repairs and replacements done incorrectly can keep your printer from functioning as it should, even after brand-new parts have been installed. Detailed instructions are available online for the most common Ultimaker parts that need replacing at our fbrc8 guide Installing Parts.

Here are four of the most common reassembly problems that you should avoid:

Loose nozzle
No gap
Tilted sliding block
Linear bearings

Where can I learn about how to slice different models?

Models of different sizes and shapes will have different optimal print settings. For example, a model with a complicated base layer (for example, with lots of separate pieces or lots of holes) is best printed very slowly on the base layer, and possibly with a brim, depending on the shape. You can set these types of print instructions from within Cura. For more information about the different types of base layers you might see on prints, check out our fbrc8 guide for Bed Adhesion Slicer Settings.

You can learn how all of the different options in Cura work by hovering over each of the menu options and settings with your mouse to see pop-ups that describe what each setting means.

Cura Interface

When you first start printing, you can use the default Fast Print settings in Simple mode. But since the geometry of every print is different, you will eventually find it helpful to learn the Advanced settings in the menu, and make use of the full set of controls — infill percentage, retraction speeds, and so on.  Ultimaker's Cura manual provides detailed instructions for downloading the program, as well as instructions for making all of the adjustments you need for great prints.

What does firmware do and when do I need to update it?

Firmware is the software programmed into your printer’s permanent memory in the main electronics board. The firmware is what tells your printer how to behave; it controls everything from the heating processes to the current of the motors. All Ultimaker printers are loaded with Marlin firmware before they leave our production facilities. However, Ultimaker regularly releases new firmware versions, often providing new features or removing bugs from previous versions. This is why it’s important to not only download new versions of the Cura slicing software to your computer, but also to periodically connect your printer to the computer via USB and use the Machine menu in Cura to install the latest default firmware onto your printer. Whenever you download an updated version of Cura on your computer, it is a good idea to update the firmware on your printer as well.

Update Firmware from Cura

Make sure to choose the right version of the firmware for your machine. For example, if you put the Ultimaker 2 firmware on an Ultimaker 2+ machine, then your feeder will run in the wrong direction! If you don’t see your machine listed on the menu in Cura, then choose Add New Machine, and pick your printer from the list. When you update the firmware on your printer, the printer will shut down and restart, just as your phone or computer does during an update. We recommend making sure that you have no filament in your printer during an update, and performing a factory reset, just to make sure your printer is getting a fresh start. For more information on updating the firmware, see our fbrc8 guide How Do I Update Cura Firmware.

Can I use exotic materials?

Physically, your printer can print with any material of the right diameter and good consistency that prints below the printer’s maximum temperature range (260°C for the printhead). However, your results may vary for filaments other than Ultimaker’s officially supported materials. Officially supported materials at this time are PLA, ABS, and CPE. The correct diameter for filament in Ultimaker machines is 2.85mm, with a variance of no more than +/- .05mm.

For example, flexible filaments can sometimes struggle more going through the Bowden tube, due to increased friction. Flexible material isn’t the ideal material for Bowden-fed printers, but with patience, you may be able to get good results. Flexible filaments print best when there is no or little retraction involved.

Abrasive filaments like stainless steel, carbon fiber, or bronze, are going to be tough on your nozzle. While you can use them, using them with your standard brass nozzle will wear the nozzle away over time. Another option would be to print with a steel nozzle tip. As you can see in the photo on the left, the pointed tip of the nozzle on top has been worn away entirely after printing for a long period of time in carbon fiber.

Other exotic filaments may have their own quirks; some may be too large in diameter and struggle to push through the nozzle. While we can’t guarantee the performance of every material out there, using exotic materials within the printers’ heat safety limits will not void your Ultimaker warranty. However, nozzles and couplers are consumables that are not covered under the warranty, so you may want to have some extra on hand when experimenting with new materials.

It’s also important to note that if you are going to change between different materials, then you should flush out all of the previous material before starting your next print. Residual filament of a different printing temperature left in your nozzle could lead to printing difficulties. The method described in Ultimaker's guide Atomic Method For Cleaning Your Nozzle, is a great option for cleaning your nozzle. If you’re printing with higher temperature materials than PLA, then make sure you run the Atomic Method with the higher temperatures listed for ABS, rather than the PLA temperatures.

My print failed and I’ve tried to re-start it. Why isn’t it printing now?

If your printer stopped extruding part way through a print, but the printer continued running and printing in the air (especially for a long period of time), then you might encounter new problems on your next print. For example, if the printhead has been left hot for a long period of time without filament actively moving through it, then you can end up with burnt filament in the nozzle. This is most likely to happen if you run out of filament during a print, your filament snaps, or the material becomes ground down. If the material snaps or runs out, you can use the instructions in our fbrc8 guide My Printer Ran Out of Filament to remove it.

If your filament is ground down, then you will need to release the tension on it in order to remove it. With the Ultimaker 2+ feeder, you can lift the lever on the side of the white feeder box at the back of the printer; with the Ultimaker 2 feeder, you can use a screwdriver to leverage the bearing in the white lever to release the filament as you pull on it. If the filament is ground down, you will need to cut that filament off and restart with a fresh piece. If a large divot of filament is missing, as shown in the photo below, then the feeder won’t be able to grab the material and make it advance past that divot. If this happens then you will be unable to use the Materials/Change Material setting to remove your filament; you’ll have to remove one or both ends of the Bowden tube and remove the filament by hand.

To clean burnt filament from the nozzle, you will need to perform the Atomic Method to clean it (see above). Bear in mind, the Atomic Method is not complete until the filament you pull out during your cold pull is free of any burnt material, and shows no remaining imperfections in the nozzle. You may have to repeat the process a number of times to get your nozzle completely clean.

Filament in shroud

If your print failed because the print came off of the bed and stuck to the nozzle, then the material might have backed up into the fan shroud, as shown in the picture to the left. If this happens, then depending on the severity of the situation you might see a heater error, temp sensor error, or XY error. By removing the fan shroud and using a heat gun, you may be able to get most of the backed-up filament off of the nozzle. However, you may want to contact your reseller or [email protected], so photos can be exchanged and we can find the best way to getting your printer cleaned up and running again.