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Posted on December 14, 2022

How to Use PEI in 3D Printing: Practical Tips

The majority of novel filament materials used in 3D printing are designed to improve print quality, but there are a few that prioritize performance over appearance. So the question is, what materials does a 3D printer use to print high-quality models?

The majority of novel filament materials used in 3D printing are designed to improve print quality, but there are a few that prioritize performance over appearance. So the question is, what materials does a 3D printer use to print high-quality models? 

During the past few years, high-performance thermoplastics have become more prevalent in 3D printing. This is because 3D printing technology has evolved beyond rapid prototyping to produce high-quality finished products. 

Therefore, 3D printing materials have been getting more and more demanding, and high-performance thermoplastics like PEI have become more prevalent.

There are only a few thermosetting plastics like PEI that offer greater strength and stability than other plastic filaments. However, 3D printer settings must also be adjusted much more rigorously for them.

Here we will describe what a PEI sheet is, how you can use it in 3D printing, and how this upgrade will affect your workflow.

PEI Filament Overview

Amorphous polyetherimide (PEI) is better known as ULTEM, a brand name for polyetherimide. General Electric's Plastics Division marketed the PEI under the name ULTEM in the 1980s, developed by Joseph G. Wirth. 

The PEI build surface is very popular due to its many characteristics and properties that make it ideal for use with 3D printers. As a result of their properties, they are an economical alternative to many metals and are valued by many industries, including aerospace and medicine. 

However, PEI sheets are not considered to be cheap at all. 

In addition to PEEK (polyether ether ketone), PEI is also a member of the PAEK (polyaryletherketone) family of chemicals. The benefits of PAEK plastics include their high tensile strength and durability at high temperatures. 

Chemical attacks cannot damage them, and the materials do not deteriorate in the open air.

The problem with PEI? It is only the PEI itself that becomes a release agent when it is placed between itself and a print. As a result, it will be less able to keep a grip on your print. In fact, glue sticks, hairspray, talcum powder, etc., are all among “release” agents and not adhesives.

Why PEI Sheets Are Worth Trying

The first thing you will likely hear from internet searches is to use painter's tape and glue sticks, but one can only use tapes and glue sticks for so long. 

Because PEI surfaces do not come into contact with water during production and are directly packaged in sealed containers, they have properties that make them different from other materials. Due to these properties, PEI Filament is especially ideal for use in FDM and FFF 3D printers. 

There is excellent adhesion between layers when makers use this material, resulting in greater impact tolerance, stability, durability, and print quality.

PEI implementation requires minimal preparation and is easily installed by applying laminated adhesive over flat-build substrates. In fact, it’s very common to get a borosilicate glass print surface and then layer a PEI surface on top of it simply to facilitate the process.

A bed like this has great long-term potential since it can be used multiple times, after which it can be cleaned with something like isopropyl alcohol in the interim. Moreover, PLA and ABS can be printed directly onto PEI, as well as a wide variety of other materials.

With PEI surfaces, parts are more easily removed when the bed is still warm. However, you shouldn't have trouble removing it if you come back to a long print on a cool bed. The best thing about PEI is that it can be easily cut to size using a hobby knife, which allows it to be used with any 3D printer.

Here below, you can find three more benefits of using PEI sheets for 3D printing.

Photo by Inés Álvarez Fdez on Unsplash

Best Surface for ABS & PLA Prints

Choosing the right surface for printing materials like ABS and PLA 3D models can be challenging at first. However, with the right guidance, the process of 3D printing and answering the “what materials does a 3d printer use?” question can be made much easier.

A flexible and magnetic PEI sheet is the ideal bed surface for PLA 3D printing. In addition to PLA, PEI has proven to be an excellent surface for printing ABS. The reason is simple: these surfaces are easier to remove and stick better than others. 

In fact, PEI is a thermoplastic with a maximum bed temperature of 130°C, making it an ideal material for 3D printer beds due to its high-temperature resistance. It is possible to use a PEI sheet with many types of filaments, including advanced types of filaments and those used in specialized industries.

This build plate has incredible adhesion on its own, and it even releases 3D prints after it cools down. And that’s how you'll get a lovely surface finish at the base of your 3D prints. 

Reasonable Pricing

You're getting a good deal for what you're getting, especially since this is a long-lasting and highly reliable bed surface. Whatever you want to create with 3D printing, whether it is a small object or a larger model, you can do it on this bed surface conveniently, with no adhesive required.

Rigid and Strong

In the same way as PEEK, PEI outperforms most other 3D printing filaments in terms of strength. The tensile strength of PEI is 85 MPa, while Young's modulus is 3.2 GPa. As a point of comparison, a standard nylon filament has a yield strength of 34 MPa and Young’s modulus of 0.6 GPa. 

As a result, PEI has much higher suitability for applications involving heavy loads or prolonged forces.

How to Use PEI in 3D Printing?

The PEI filament is one of the few high-performance filaments available for 3D printing, and there are numerous hobbyists who aren't acquainted with it. 

So Imagine that you just set up your printer or that you just replaced your bed sheet with PEI right before you launch into your first print. How should you proceed first, and what should you keep in mind?

Filament Drying

Materials such as PEI and PEEK are sensitive to moisture. Maintaining a moisture-free environment is crucial prior to and during printing. The moisture sensitivity of PEI is even greater than that of PEEK. It is possible to dry filaments before printing by using an air-circulating oven.

Note that PEI requires a drying temperature of 150°C and a drying time of four to six hours. 

Removal Stage

The first thing you need to do is remove any coverings or sheets on your print bed. 

Once your 3D print has been finished, it needs to be removed while it is still at a high temperature. If you remove a print after it has cooled, the glass plate may break since the print shrinks more rapidly than the plate does.

Applying The New Sheet

There are two types of PEI sheets: self-adhesive and non-adhesive. 

In addition, there are two ways to attach the PEI to your print bed. Firstly, you can attach the sheet to the printer by using binder clips. That is, of course, a method makers use for non-adhesive beds.

Alternatively, you can use 3M 468MP Transfer Tape to adhere the PEI to the print bed. If you want to clean the surface between prints, wipe it down with isopropyl alcohol, methyl alcohol, or detergent. 

No matter what type of sheet you select, you may need to trim it so it will match your print bed. This can be done with a knife or other cutting tool, trimming any corners that are sticking out of the plate after adjusting the screws.

Tips: How to Use PEI in 3D Printing

The PEI does not require surface preparation prior to use, making it simple and straightforward to work with. However, there are a few things you need to be aware of before starting your 3D print with PEI surfaces. Here below, you’ll find a collection of expert tips about how to use PEI in 3D printing.

Storage & Room Condition

To get the best results while printing, it is best to keep the printer in a room that does not have a lot of drafts or temperature changes. Additionally, protect your 3D printer from the sun. This room also can’t be where you sleep, either.

Whenever the 3D printer is not in use, PEI should be placed in a bag in a cold, dry, and dark area for the next time it's used.

Cleaning PEI Sheets

When you want to assemble your PEI sheet or replace it, it will likely be covered in fingerprints, grime, oil residue, dirt, or anything else that has come into contact with it. As a result, it needs to be cleaned thoroughly.

It doesn't matter whether you're using a glass plate, PEI sheet, silicone sheet, or anything else; it’s essential to make sure your build surface is clean. What is the fastest and most effective way to do it without causing damage to any of the components?

The first step is to scrub the bed using dish soap. Since grease and oils are hard to remove, let's dissolve them first to ensure they won’t be present.

The next step is to bust out the 90% or high Isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining particles. Please use a dry paper towel rather than a cloth towel or some rag that may contain fabric softener.

Temperature Controls

When printing with PEI, a heated print bed is necessary to avoid any risks of warping. Generally, PEI should be placed on a bed with a temperature of 120 to 160°C. It is recommended that you pre-heat the bed ( and enclosure, too ) before you begin printing. 

If you want to make sure that your print is heated evenly and can be removed easily, consider using a glass bed.

Check Your Printer Settings

A 3D printer's hot end nozzle's heating component has a great deal to do with the quality of your 3D printer. You will probably need a nozzle made of metal that can handle these high temperatures. 

Moreover, your print bed should be capable of reaching temperatures above those offered by an average 3D printer.

As a final step, you must build an enclosure that maintains a temperature above 90 °C in the print chamber. In general, you can't " upgrade " a 3D printer with such a feature since its electrical components must also be temperature-resistant.

BuildTak Filaments & PEI Sheets

The PEI film is an effective upgrade for increasing print bed adhesion.

There are, however, some materials that may have poor adhesion with filaments due to differences in PEI sheets. You should first ensure that your PEI film is actually PEI and that it was manufactured by a reliable company.

BuildTak 3D printing build surfaces are quite popular among 3D printer users, providing a versatile surface that has an easy-peel adhesive back that sticks easily.

In addition to being heat-resistant, our 3D printing surfaces have been engineered to consistently restyle for a variety of filaments, despite repeated printing.

The product is compatible with a wide range of materials (PLA, ABS, TPE, PEEK, HIPS, FRP, etc.), eliminating the need to change surfaces. This build surface is designed and built to be very durable for long-term 3D printing applications.

You can enjoy smooth 3D printing with your FDM 3D printer by getting the BuildTak build surface as tens of thousands of other users have done.

Photo by Tom Claes on Unsplash

Conclusion

PEI possesses exceptional mechanical properties, such as radiation resistance, temperature stability, heat resistance, excellent wear resistance, flame resistance, corrosion resistance, as well as electrical insulation. There are multiple colors to choose from as well!

It is easy to install PEI bed surfaces for people who have finally started using them. You simply need to peel off the sticky backing from the sheet of magnetic steel, attach it to your heated bed, and then place the PEI-surfaced magnetic steel platform over it.

According to the guidelines, using PEI sheets on your print bed eliminates the need to use a raft or brim since parts should adhere directly to the surface.

Overall, PEI makes a good 3D printing surface. The majority of common filaments, such as PLA, ABS, PETG, TPU, and nylon, adhere well to PEI surfaces. Note that the glossy finish of PEI prints is often a result of the material.

It's time to put an end to print and pray. Using our 3D printing solutions, your prints will look great! We offer thin, flexible, long-lasting materials made with bubble-free technology for heat resistance, ensuring full functionality and simplicity.

Contact us if you have more questions about what materials a 3d printer use and how to use PEI in 3d printing.