Finding out that the model you will be 3D printing requires the addition of supports for a successful final product is always a disappointing feeling, as printing supports bring a considerable amount of extra work to both the 3D printing process and the post-processing that comes after.
Fortunately, the advancements in slicer software make support structures more pleasurable to handle with each passing day, as the added customization options and new support-related features make both the printing and the post-processing much more user-friendly.
In today’s article, we will be talking about the tree support feature in Cura, which offers an entirely unique way to customize the standard support structure that we are accustomed to seeing, both in terms of form and functionality, and find out whether it’s a feature that makes support generation a better experience.
So, what are tree supports in Cura?
Tree supports in Cura are support structures that imitate the shape of a tree, starting from a singular point that connects to the build plate and branching out to provide support to the necessary areas of the model, unlike standard support structures that are practically individual columns between the model and the build plate.
Moving forward, we will dive deeper into the purpose of tree supports, discuss the advantages and disadvantages that tree supports bring compared to the standard support structure, go through the process of activating and configuring tree supports, and finally, learn more about when it would be suitable to use tree supports instead of standard supports.
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What Are Tree Supports in Cura?
An increased amount of flexibility when it comes to configuring the support structures is always a welcome addition, as dealing with supports, whether it’s printing them correctly or removing them from the model, is usually a chore.
Support structures in 3D printing, by default, are shaped in the form of columns that cover the areas where supports are required, with each column being connected to the build plate on one end and to the 3D printed model (usually with a small gap, based on the configuration) on the other.
On the other hand, when the tree support feature of Cura is active, the way that the support structures are formed changes completely, where they merge into a single entity in the shape of a tree, as the name of the feature suggests, instead of multiple individual columns.
To further clarify, when we say “tree-shape”, we are referring to the fact that the entire support structure stems from a singular root point that is connected to the build plate and branches out to all the areas of the model that require supports, essentially creating a tree that supports the model.
Finally, one more significant difference to keep in mind between standard and tree support structures is the fact that tree support structures are always hollow, meaning that the support pattern parameter does not affect how they are generated.
On the other hand, the support density parameter still affects the strength of tree supports, despite the fact they technically have no infill, which is also something to consider when performing support configuration.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Cura Tree Supports
Having a good grasp of the pros and cons of switching to the tree support structure in Cura is the first thing you will require if you are planning on utilizing this feature for your prints, as tree supports behave quite differently compared to standard supports.
First off, let’s start with the advantages that utilizing the tree support feature of Cura brings to the table compared to the usage of standard support structures:
- Requires less material and, as a result, less time to print due to the difference in shape
- Easier to remove due to it making less contact with the model
- Produces better-looking overhangs due to the minimized contact area allowing for cleaner removal
- Leaves fewer scars on the surface of the model due to the branches being able to target the exact spots where supports are required
Now, let’s take a look at the disadvantages of using tree supports instead of standard supports, which will also be critical to put into consideration when making a choice between the two options:
- Increases the time required for the slicing process due to the increased complexity of the shape
- Requires frequent interruption of extrusion when printing the smaller branches of the tree
- Does not perform well when supporting flat overhangs due to the number of branches placed not being sufficient
As we can see from the advantages and the disadvantages listed above, the tree support structures behave reasonably differently compared to standard support structures in many areas, making it essential to choose the most optimal option for the success of the 3D printing process.
How to Activate and Configure Tree Supports in Cura?
Activating and configuring tree supports in Cura is just as straightforward as configuring any other print setting in Cura, as it’s located in the same place as the rest of the print settings we frequently configure before starting the printing process.
Below, you can find a step-by-step guide that will allow you to find and activate the tree support feature in Cura:
- Navigate to the Prepare tab located on the top of the Cura window.
- Click the pane located on the right side to bring the Print Settings section up.
- Click the Custom button if it’s available. Else, skip this step.
- Click the icon located next to the search input (three lines), and choose All from the dropdown to make all settings visible.
- Type “support structure” into the search input, and press Enter.
- Click the Support Structure dropdown menu, and choose the Tree option.
Once switch the support structure type to tree from the standard, extra parameters that allow you to configure how the tree supports will be shaped become visible, which you will need to adjust accordingly for your purposes.
Below, we have listed the tree support-specific parameters that you will find in Cura, along with descriptions that clarify their exact purpose:
- Tree Support Branch Angle – Determines the maximum overhang angle the tree support branches can have. Higher values produce more horizontal branches, minimizing scarring, material usage, and print time but reducing reliability due to the chance of the support structure collapsing at larger overhang angles.
- Tree Support Branch Distance – Determines the minimum distance between two adjacent branches of the support structure. Lower values will increase overhang quality and the reliability of the support structure but also increase the time and material it requires to print.
- Tree Support Branch Diameter – Determines the width of the branches. Higher values preserve material by allowing some branches to overlap but take away from the capability of the support structure to navigate to the correct areas of the model.
- Tree Support Branch Diameter Angle – Determines the rate at which the branches get wider from the tip to the base. Higher values will create wider branches, increasing reliability and the amount of required material while decreasing navigational flexibility.
- Tree Support Collision Resolution – Determines the accuracy of the collision avoidance calculations performed during the slicing process. Higher values speed the slicing process up but also potentially cause the supports to become jagged and lose strength as a result.
When to Use Cura Tree Supports?
As the tree support feature in Cura comes with both advantages and disadvantages, activating it in scenarios where it would be most beneficial is a vital part of using the feature correctly, and failing to do so can bring more harm than good to the printing process.
We recommend using Cura tree supports for projects where the model’s visual quality is the top priority, especially when complex overhangs are involved, as tree supports usually do a cleaner job supporting such overhangs, are easier to remove in general, and leave fewer scars on the surface of the model.
Alongside the scenarios we have listed above, tree supports can also be a consideration in cases where you would like to reduce the time and material spent on printing supports as much as possible, as printing tree supports requires less of both.
The tree supports feature in Cura, which essentially is an alternative to the standard support structure, can definitely come in extremely handy in particular cases where the standard support structure falls short and is unable to fulfill its duty.
To quickly recap, tree supports are one of the two different support structures that you can choose in Cura, where the support structure ends up taking the shape of a tree that branches out from a root point on the build plate instead of supporting the model in the form of individual pillars.
Since Cura’s tree supports come with both strengths and weaknesses compared to the standard support structures, correctly deciding whether their usage would be suitable primarily comes down to factors such as the shape of the model you’re printing and the filament you’re using.
Mike started his 3D printing journey with the Anet A8 when it first came out back in 2017, and has been obsessed with 3D printers ever since. Nowadays, he primarily uses his Ender 3 to print functional parts that make his life more convenient whenever possible.