Even though we classify 3D printing as a hobby, most 3D printing enthusiasts know that it’s slightly different than a standard hobby due to the amount of problem-solving and troubleshooting required to achieve a successful 3D print at times, as the complexity of the process makes it easy to overlook things.
As a result, always being prepared to face a potential problem during the 3D printing process, whether it’s something that reduces the quality of your print, or causes the print to fail completely, is an excellent attitude to have on your 3D printing journey, especially considering that solving each issue will take your 3D printing knowledge a step further.
In today’s article, our topic will be the issue of layer shifting, particularly when it occurs on the 3D printed models that you have manufactured with the Ender 3, which we can quickly describe as a problem that causes some layers of the 3D printed model to end up at unintended positions on the X and Y axes, essentially creating a 3D printed model that is misaligned.
So, what can cause the issue of layer shifting on your Ender 3?
Below, you can find the most common reasons that can cause the issue of layer shifting on your Ender 3:
- Loose belt tensions & timing pulleys
- Usage of an overly high print speed value
- Stability problems regarding the build plate
- Stability problems regarding the 3D printer itself
- Stepper driver malfunctioning
- Overly tightened eccentric nuts
Next up, we will be taking a deeper look at the factors that can cause the layer shifting issue on the Ender 3, discuss the potential solutions that can be applied to resolve this problem as efficiently as possible, and finally, go through the signs that indicate your 3D printed models may be suffering from the layer shifting problem.
What Can Cause Layer Shift on the Ender 3 (Pro/V2)?
Since there are many distinct factors that can cause the layer shifting issue to appear on your 3D printed models, finding the actual culprit that’s causing the problem in your case is usually a challenging journey that takes some time and effort.
Below, we have listed the most common culprits behind the occurrence of the Ender 3 layer shifting issue, along with explanations that describe how these culprits can contribute to the problem:
- The belt tensions and the timing pulleys are loose. As the timing pulleys transfer the motion of the stepper motor to the belts and the belts forward this motion to the axes, both of these components must be correctly tightened for the actual movement of the axes to match the calculated amount without any losses.
- The print speed value is higher than optimal. Printing with a print speed value higher than optimal can create a scenario where the stepper motors of your Ender 3 cannot generate the expected amount of movement reliably, which will lead to an inconsistency between the calculated movement and the actual movement of the axes.
- The build plate does not stay stable during the 3D printing process. In cases where the build plate is not tightly attached to the 3D printer, the movement that takes place during the 3D printing process can cause the position of the build plate to shift by making it vibrate and shake, creating an inconsistency between the actual and the calculated positions of the axes as a result.
- The Ender 3 does not stay stable during the 3D printing process. It’s possible for your Ender 3 to be placed in a way that prevents it from being completely stable, such as utilizing a lightweight table that is prone to shaking as a result of the movement generated by the 3D printer, which can create inconsistencies in the positioning of the axes.
- The stepper drivers are not functioning as intended. As the stepper drivers are fully responsible for the movement of the axes, an issue related to them, whether it’s incorrect wiring, misconfigured voltage reference value, or even a simple of case of overheating, can cause them to send faulty signals to the stepper motors, and prevent the stepper motors from moving in line with the calculations of the 3D printer.
- The eccentric nuts are tightened more than optimal. The tightness of the eccentric nuts determines how tightly the rollers of axes become attached to the rails that they move on, with too much tightness potentially limiting the movement of the rollers and causing the motion generated by the stepper motors to be lost as a result.
How to Fix the Ender 3 (Pro/V2) Layer Shift Problem?
Due to the many potential factors involved in the occurrence of the layer shifting problem, there is no single fix that can resolve the issue in any scenario, which makes it necessary to go through all the potential solutions that correspond to the common culprits.
Below, you can find the solutions that correspond to the issues we have talked about, which should help you fix your Ender 3’s layer shifting issue:
- Tighten the belt tensions. To correctly tighten the belts, you will need to start by loosening the nuts on the belt tensioner to release the tension completely and follow up by pulling the belt in a way that gives it the correct amount of tension before tightening the belt tensioner nuts. When the belt tension is optimal, they should still have some pull but snap back to their original position as soon as you let them go.
- Tighten the timing pulleys. The timing pulleys, which are attached to the stepper motors, should have grub screws that allow you to modify the tightness, which you can turn with the hex key that ships with your Ender 3. When tightening the timing pulleys, the aim should be to ensure that it’s rotating in line with the stepper motor without any loss of movement.
- Utilize a lower print speed value. While our primary recommendation would be to utilize the print speed value that the manufacturer of the filament you’re using recommends, starting with a value of 50 mm/s should ensure that you don’t face any issues related to layer shifting, which you can further optimize by testing down the road.
- Stabilize the build plate. Stabilizing the build plate is as straightforward as tightly attaching it to the print bed, which can often be achieved with the help of some paper clips. In an ideal scenario, the build plate should never move independently.
- Stabilize the Ender 3. When it comes to stabilizing your Ender 3, our primary recommendation would be to set it up on a table that is not prone to shaking. Adding vibration dampers between the table and the Ender 3 and putting some extra weight on the table (if any free space is available) will also be helpful.
- Diagnose the stepper drivers for any potential issues. While diagnosing the stepper drivers can be technically complex, the main factors that should be pretty straightforward to look out for are the correctness of the wiring, the temperature of the stepper drivers as they operate, and the VREF values.
- Loosen the eccentric nuts to a suitable level of tightness. You will find the eccentric nuts behind the rollers that belong to each axis, which you can turn with the wrench that ships with your Ender 3. As eccentric nuts operate differently than regular nuts, where each 360-degree turn puts them in the same position, as opposed to standard nuts, where they would be considerably tightened or loosened based on the direction, applying minor rotations and observing the results is recommended.
How Can You Identify the Ender 3 (Pro/V2) Layer Shift Issue?
More often than not, the issue of layer shifting is glaringly apparent due to the considerable effect it has on how your 3D printed model appears from the outside, meaning that you will usually instantly know that something is wrong if layer shifting is taking place.
If the models that you have printed with your Ender 3 are suffering from the layer shifting issue, the most obvious sign that you will notice is some of the layers not being aligned correctly relative to the others, where they will be sticking out from one side while being pushed inside from the other.
When the layer shifting is much more severe, it’s also possible to observe a scenario where an entire portion of the model is printed off-center, such as the second half of the layers being positioned in a way that essentially causes them to have a different center point than the initial half.
An example of such a scenario would be a cube looking like stairs instead, where the second half of the model essentially becomes an overhang due to the shifting of the layers.
As layer shifting is a severe issue that is fully capable of causing your 3D printed models to become entirely unusable, and also a complex one due to the many factors that can be involved in its occurrence, some patience will definitely come in handy when resolving this issue to ensure that it does not repeat later on.
To quickly recap, the Ender 3 layer shifting issue can be a product of a wide variety of issues, ranging from mechanical problems, such as loose belt tensions, loose pulleys, tight eccentric nuts, and instability in the build plate, or even the 3D printer itself, to electrical issues regarding the stepper drivers, and even problems in software configuration, such as the usage of a high print speed value.
Since it can be quite easy to get lost in the solution process with so many potential culprits involved, our primary recommendation would be to ensure that you have correctly applied the solution that corresponds to each particular problem, as overlooking a minor detail and writing a potential culprit off, as a result, can quickly turn the solution process into a mess.
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.