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The Finishing Touch: Smoothing Out Prints for a Professional Finish

The Finishing Touch: Smoothing Out Prints for a Professional Finish

No matter how well you adjust your resolution and layer height, most prints will have residual markings showing superfine layers. So how does one go about achieving their perfect, shiny, smooth print? It turns out there are a few ways, varying in material and fill.


ABS Prints: 

Materials Needed (suggested):

-Pure acetone

-Fume hood or very well ventilated area

-Something to secure the print with

-protective gear: gloves, goggles

-hot plate and beaker to vaporize acetone


One of the more well-known ABS polishing techniques acetone vaporization. This method works ONLY with ABS plastic, and prints polished with this technique should take care not to cross contaminate with any other kind of print material. 


Using a piece of stainless steel or some kind of wiring, a prepared ABS print can be affixed to the end and dangled above a bubbling beaker of acetone. The steel or whatever you use to hold the ABS print can be heated in order to stick it into the print itself (this will leave a small hole so choose the location wisely). Prepare the acetone vapor by placing less than an inch of pure acetone into the beaker and heating it on a moderate/medium setting, let the acetone bubble but not boil excessively. 


Once ready, suspend the print above the beaker while inspecting the surface. This process is relatively quick but needs to be monitored and adjusted for an even coating. It is possible to polish it too much with this method, so take care to avoid any melting or deformation. Once the print has the desired effect, remove it from the acetone bath and allow it to continue dangling until try, do not touch it yet as it will be sticky. Drying time should not take longer than 10 minutes, and viola! A shiny, polished ABS print. 


Author note: you cannot pour acetone down the drain! Acetone is a very strong solvent and must be disposed of carefully and appropriately. This method of polishing is excellent for people with access to a lab or facility with the ability to dispose of hazardous materials. 


PLA Prints

Materials Needed (suggested):

-Sandpaper, varying range of grits (start with coarser grit and move to finer grits as you progress)

-Polishing compounds

-Sandable high-fill primer spray paints

-XTC-3D Smooth-On 3D Print coating.


If you’ve experienced previous success with sandpapers, using a range of sandpaper grits from coarse to fine can provide an excellent basis for smoothing, and can be used carefully to prep prints for other smoothing techniques. Typically sanding is not enough to achieve the popular glossy look that you may want, which is where additional materials are needed.


Polishing compounds such as jeweler’s rouge from companies such as Enkay can be used as a final step in polishing PLA 3D prints, and when applied gently to a buffing wheel or other mechanism can help transform the piece. 


Author’s Tip: Polishing compounds are intended for use in jewelry and metals, and are therefore excellent for metallic infill 3D prints, resin prints and 3D printed metals. 


If sanding is your go-to, sandable primers sprays or filler paints can be used before and after sanding until the desired result is achieved. Other similar products include XTC-3D Smooth-On 3D Print coating, which has the exact function as its name. XTC-3D can be used for SLA, SLS, PLA, ABS, powder prints and many other materials. 

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