What Causes Wavy Walls (Vertical Ripples) on 3D Printed Models?

We all love it when a 3D printing process goes as smoothly as possible with no issues and produces the model we have envisioned all along, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, with 3D printing being a hobby where troubleshooting is something we regularly have to perform.

While issues related to walls aren’t something that we hear about often, with a large portion of the issues appearing in areas such as the first layer, it doesn’t mean that walls are immune to the issues you can face during the 3D printing process.

Today, the issue we will talk about is the appearance of vertical ripples on the walls of 3D printed models – also known as wavy walls due to their look compared to standard walls that should have a smooth texture.

So, what causes the issue of wavy walls, also known as vertical ripples, on 3D printed models?

  • Vibration in the 3D printer
  • Mechanical and electrical issues with the 3D printer
  • Misconfiguration of jerk and acceleration settings
  • Extrusion being inconsistent
  • Print speed being too high

In the upcoming sections, we will analyze the issue of wavy walls in more detail to find out what actually is causing the problem for you, and find out how to print smooth walls, once again, by fixing the problem of wavy walls.

What Causes Wavy Walls (Vertical Ripples) on 3D Printed Models?

With plenty of potential culprits behind the appearance of wavy walls on 3D printed models, the best way forward is to analyze each of these factors individually in greater detail.

Printer Vibration (Environmental)

One of the most common and unnoticed factors that can cause wavy walls on 3D printers is vibration in the 3D printer due to the environment.

When the 3D printer vibrates during the printing process, the nozzle can’t perform stable movements and ends up wobbling all over the model, which ends up with the walls becoming wavy instead of smooth.

If printer vibration is indeed the issue, you should also observe the effects of ringing all over the model due to the nozzle’s erratic movements.

You can quickly tell if the 3D printer is vibrating by observing the printing process, as the vibration is often pretty apparent.

Mechanical & Electrical Issues Related to 3D Printer

A pretty sizeable topic of its own, mechanical and electrical issues related to the 3D printer can easily be the cause behind the appearance of vertical ripples.

Here are some of the mechanical and electrical issues that can cause the problem of wavy walls:

  • Belts that are too tight or too loose
  • Issues with stepper current
  • Bent lead screws (Z Wobble)
  • Issues with Z-axis couplers
  • Loose grub screws

All of the issues above can contribute to the appearance of wavy walls by introducing a level of instability to the printhead or the build plate, meaning that you would most likely also observe the waviness (ringing) on other parts of the model.

Since there is no easy way of telling what the problem is – going through each factor is the best course of action to find the solution.

Misconfigured Jerk & Acceleration Settings

Often overlooked, misconfiguration of jerk and acceleration settings can also be the reason behind the appearance of wavy walls on your print.

When the jerk and acceleration settings are misconfigured, the sudden directional changes the extruder performs causes vibrations, contributing to the appearance of wavy walls.

In the case of misconfigured jerk and acceleration settings, you are most likely to observe the wavy patterns near the sharp corners of the model, where the extruder needs to perform quick directional changes.

Alongside the wavy walls, you can also observe rough print surfaces, layer skips, the vibration of the printer, and issues with overall print quality when these settings are not optimal.

Inconsistent Extrusion

Alongside causing a wide array of serious issues, the effects of inconsistent extrusion (both under-extrusion and over-extrusion) also extend to the problem of wavy walls on prints.

When the extrusion is inconsistent, whether it’s under-extrusion or over-extrusion, wavy patterns can appear on the walls due to the unevenness of the plastic.

In the case of inconsistent extrusion, you may also face irregularities on the walls alongside the wavy patterns.

If inconsistent extrusion is the problem, you may observe many significant issues ranging from stringing and blobbing (over-extrusion) to holes and gaps (under-extrusion) on the print.

Too High Print Speed

Last but not least, a too high print speed value can be the culprit behind the issue of the wavy walls you’re facing on your 3D printed models.

When the print speed is too high, the sharp movements of the extruder can cause the issue of vertical ripples as the extruder motors can’t control the extruder precisely enough at these speeds.

With a too high print speed, you can also observe issues such as weak layer adhesion, layer shifting, and under-extrusion on your models.

How Can I Make My 3D Printer Walls Smoother (and Eliminate Vertical Ripples)?

Getting your 3D printer to print smoother walls comes primarily down to finding out the reason behind the issue of vertical ripples, as the fix for the problem is usually a simple one.

If you haven’t been able to pinpoint the issue, you can follow the checklist below in order, which should cover the fixes for most factors that can cause vertical ripples:

  1. Move the printer to a surface where it won’t vibrate. The vital things to look out for are the surface being entirely flat and stable (you shouldn’t be able to shake it without effort).
  2. Check the mechanical and electrical parts of the printer. While lead screws and Z-axis couplers are the primary offenders, it doesn’t hurt to check the belts, the grub screws, and the stepper current.
  3. Reduce the jerk and acceleration settings. Lowering these settings in small increments while experimenting with test prints is the best course of action here.
  4. Re-configure the extrusion parameters to make the extrusion consistent. Print temperature, layer height, and line width are the primary parameters to look at, but it doesn’t hurt to go over all the settings that can impact the extrusion quality.
  5. Reduce the print speed. We recommend reducing the print speed in increments of 5 mm/s and experimenting as you go to ensure that you can stay on the highest print speed value possible where there are no issues.

Remember to run a small test print after each step to see whether the problem still exists or not to avoid going to the trouble of fixing things that you may not need to.

Wrapping Up

Seeing the walls of your 3D printed models become wavy can definitely be a pickle of a situation due to the sheer amount of factors that can cause such a problem, but just as with many other issues, it’s not unfixable.

  • Printer vibrating due to environmental factors
  • Electrical and mechanical problems with the 3D printer
  • Issues with jerk & acceleration settings
  • Inconsistent extrusion
  • Using a too high print speed

By going through each of these factors carefully and doing the necessary checks, you will most likely be able to solve your issue of wavy walls and get back to printing smooth walls in no time.

Happy printing!