Extruder Calibration: 7 Easy Steps to Calibrate Your Extruder

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: September 27, 2021

Calibration is the process of adjusting a system to keep it operating within specification.

Extruder Calibration

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It ensures accuracy and repeatability but also allows for fine-tuning of a system. It also boosts your print quality by helping you avoid both under extrusion and over extrusion.

The entire extruder calibration process refers to the verification that all measurement or control devices are working properly by using testing equipment or comparison with standards that are traceable to national standards.

Having a perfectly calibrated extruder more often can help ensure you get consistent prints from start to finish, particularly as temperature changes affect consistency over time.

You’ll need three things for successful calibration:

In a 3D printer, the process is necessary to ensure that the extruder and hot end are creating the right amount of force for pushing filament through by testing it against a benchmark.

Calibrating your extruder entails adjusting the temperature output of a 3D printer’s extruder. You can do it with almost any kind of filament.

Extruder calibration will provide clear guidelines on how much heat must be generated to melt the correct amount of plastic.

Here are the correct steps to follow, assuming that you’ve already mounted your thermistor (view on Amazon) properly and put it in place.

Step 1: Ready Your Workstation

Make sure you’ve got everything ready. Unscrew extruder from the printer, take off all the bobbin holders and wipe off all old versions of plastic.

Having a properly calibrated extruder may take quite a long time depending on your model, so make yourself comfortable with some nice music to listen to.

– A 3D printer

– A computer with slicer software installed

– Any non-flexible filament

– Non-flexible filament calipers (view on Amazon) (Optional)

Step 2:  Load the Filament

You need to preheat the 3D printer nozzle to the right temperature for the type of filament you will be using. If you have a pre-loaded non-flexible filament, proceed and preheat to the temperature of the installed filament left.

Otherwise, when you preheat the printer, load more filament, as usual, ensuring that you remove any previously used material.

To get your heated bed, take off the ring holding your filament feeder tube & screwdriver or something else that can fit in there to push out the filament let. Push them down so they are almost touching the heating block.

You may need to give a few taps depending on what kind of plastics you’re using, as some might tear apart from pushing too hard during their first run! If you have calibrating calipers, measure the filament diameter.

The mm value should be around 2-4. Calibrating calipers are not required if you have calibration plates.

Step 3: Connect the Computer

Connect the 3D printer to your computer via a USB cable or Wi-Fi connectivity if both machines support it.

After that, open up and install slicer software that will allow you to transfer single-line start G-code commands from your computer to the printer.  A good example for extruder calibration purposes is Simplify3D.

Now find the section of the slicer dedicated to tethered printing. When using Simplify3D, you will find this on the machine control panel window. RAMPS or Atmega-based printers will allow you to use Serial Monitor in their Arduino IDE.

Once you find this, you should now be able to send the command M83 to your printer to enable relative mode on your extruder.

Step 4: Mark The Filament and Begin Extruding

You will be transmitting about 100 mm of filament via the hot end when calibrating the extruder.

First, you need to use the calipers and marker to measure and mark 120 mm to the entrance to your extruder. This measurement will be your reference point during the calibration process.

Now send the G1 E100 F100 to your printer; it slowly runs what the machine interprets as 100 mm extruded filament. The process only takes about a minute.

The short duration helps eliminate filament tension or any pressure in the hot end and eventually avoids muddling.

Step 5: Repeat the Measurement

At this stage, the actual length of filament extruded by the 3D printer should be precisely 100 mm filament.

You have to check this by measuring the extruder to the mark you made in the above step.  Your printer is most likely under extruding if this measurement goes beyond 20 mm. It means that you need to increase your steps mm settings.

If the measurement is below 20 mm, your printer is over extruding, meaning that you will need to turn down your steps mm settings.

Both over extrusion and under extrusion are bad for your printer; you have to fix it as soon as you can. You can also correct over extruding and under extruding instances by adjusting your filament diameter or adjusting the extrusion multiplier value.

Tip: In your extruder calibration project, we recommend using a digital caliper to get the right extrusion width; measure the filament diameter at five different points and determine the average.

The mm value will most likely be less than 1.75. After that, enter the extrusion width set in your slicer.

Step 6: Calculate The Correct Steps mm Value

To accurately tune your extruder, you will need to determine your printer’s current, correct and incorrect steps mm value.

Begin by sending M503 to the printer to allow a string of values to display on the monitor. Once you do this, locate the echo: M92 and then determine the e-value (often available at the end of this line). The result here is your current steps mm value.

Once you get the current step mm, proceed to determine the physical steps mm value. To do this, you will first need to determine how much filament you extruded earlier.

You can do this by getting the distance from the mark of the filament to the extruder, then subtracting the resultant value from 120.

Then, determine the number of steps the extruder made to extrude the filament. You can do this by multiplying the steps mm value by the length you should have extruded, in your case, 100 mm.

You now use these values to get the physical and current steps mm. It is as simple as dividing the values by the length extruded.

After doing that, you only need to set this as your printer’s steps mm value, and you are good to go.

Step 7: Set Your New Steps Millimeter Value

Egin the process by sending command M92 command M92 E###.#; replace the hashes (#) with the steps mm value you got from the step above). Then, send command M500 to save the data on your printer’s memory.

You can check if the e-value matches your new steps mm value by turning your printer on and off simultaneously and sending the command 503. Suppose it doesn’t repeat the first part of this step.

You can also repeat steps one to 4 if you want to check if the extruder is properly calibrated.

Tips for Calibrating your Extruder

The above physical steps will give you a fully calibrated extruder. However, there are a few tips that can make it a lot easier and properly calibrated extruder. See below;

1. Calibrate Regularly

Extruder calibration is primarily meant to ensure your printer is pushing the precise amount of filament via the hot end when printing. So you have to ensure this happens with regular extruder calibrations.

Too much filament causes over extrusion which may result in stringing, bulbs, and droopy details. Extreme over extrusion may also lead to clogging and filament jams.

On the other hand, too little filament will introduce gaps between layers. The gap between the bottom and top layer may be widened due to missing layers. Adhesion may also subject your prints to layer delamination and warping.

2. Check Your Extruder Calibration at Different Temperatures

As things get hotter, they expand, and if you Calibrate your extruder based on a specific temperature, then as the temperature changes, so will the extruder calibration.

For instance, if you Calibrate your extruder in 20C/70F weather with a 5-degree centigrade drop in temperature, it would still be calibrated at .2mm.

Still, if the temperature changes by 7-8 degrees, then that calibration may change significantly. You might have to re-do the process, making extruder calibration for a specific sized object become Calibrated much too thin or Calibrated much too thick.

3. Ensure That You Use at Least 4 (Preferably 5) Different Angles When Calibrating

It is good practice to do 25 steps mm value, so if you want .2 steps mm value, then go with 2.5 steps mm – 2.7 steps mm, etc. (you do not want to be going around in .1mm increments because it is too small of a change.)

Example steps mm: 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, 3.0, 3.1

There are seven extruder calibration points, so if you ended up making five extruder calibrations, that would give you 35 calibration points which should ensure that your calibrated extruder gives out the same amount of filament at all calibration heights and angles (each time).

You could have calibrations in 1mm steps. Still, we do not recommend this as you may get more variations since 1mm can be considered rather small, and very hard to notice significant differences like 0.1mm change.

You should take the calibration point at a height you will most likely be printing your models at (i.e., print points 1-4 at the layer height of 0mm, 5-7 at 10mm).

If possible, try to gather up some small prints, but they still take longer than 10 minutes to print. This way, when you calibrate an extruder, it is calibrated for long prints.

During this time, the extruder may be subject to changes in temperature or humidity which can affect the extruder calibration.

The more extruder calibration points you have with varying temperatures and calibrated at different heights, the longer the prints will ensure that your calibration does not change over time.

Bottom Line

Extruder calibration is an essential process to do for your 3D printer. It enables your printer to extrude an accurate amount of filament, translating to more accurate dimensions and better finish on your printer parts.

If you are a newbie and the above process seems a bit difficult, you can always check for e calibration steps or different materials on the internet that provide more simplified tools like extruder calculator; just be sure to know what you are doing.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.