When and How to Use Support Structures in 3D Printing

    3D PrintersWhen and How to Use Support Structures in 3D Printing


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    Are you struggling with overhangs and complex parts in 3D printing? Support structures can be your saving grace, ensuring part alignment and preventing detachment. This article walks you through the “when” and “how” of support structures – from understanding their types to adding them onto your prints effectively.

    Adventure into an often overlooked but crucial aspect of 3D printing, right here!

    Key Takeaways

    • Support structures in 3D printing are extra structures that provide stability and prevent detachment during the printing process.
    • They are necessary when printing parts with overhangs or complex shapes to prevent misalignment and drooping.
    • Different types of support structures, such as FDM supports, SLA and DLP supports, material jetting supports, SLS supports, and metal 3D printing supports, are used depending on the specific printing technology being utilized.
    • To add support structures, adjust software settings for support generation and consider important design aspects like overhang angles and support placement.

    What are Support Structures in 3D Printing?

    Support structures in 3D printing are additional structures that are created to provide support for overhangs, complex parts, or misalignments during the printing process.

    Definition and purpose

    Support structures in 3D printing are key to making parts right. These work as extra pieces placed under the main model. They stop any part of a print from falling or twisting while a model takes shape, layer by layer.

    Also, they aid with complex parts that have overhangs or hang off the main piece. Once a print finishes, support structures get taken away. With them, you can make more types of things and keep them from breaking while printing.

    When support structures are necessary

    Support structures are necessary in 3D printing when you have parts with overhangs or complex shapes. These structures help prevent misalignment and detachment during the printing process.

    When you print a model layer by layer, sometimes the cooling speed or density may cause unsupported areas to droop or warp. That’s where support structures come in. They provide extra stability for those tricky spots and ensure your prints turn out just right.

    So, if you’re working on a design with challenging angles or curves, make sure to use support structures to keep everything in place.

    Types of Support Structures in 3D Printing

    There are various types of support structures used in 3D printing, depending on the specific printing technology being utilized. These include FDM supports, SLA and DLP supports, material jetting supports, SLS supports, and metal 3D printing supports.

    FDM supports

    FDM supports are commonly used in FDM 3D printing to help create complex parts with overhangs. These supports are like scaffolding that holds up the unsupported areas of a print while it’s being made layer by layer.

    They can be adjusted and customized using slicer software, such as Cura. Once the print is done, the supports need to be removed, which can sometimes be challenging. However, using proper support structures in FDM printing can greatly improve the success rate of your prints and help you tackle tricky features like overhangs and bridges.

    SLA and DLP supports

    SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) 3D printing techniques also require support structures to successfully print models with overhangs or bridges. These supports are added during the slicing process and can be adjusted in the slicer software.

    Cura, a popular slicer software, allows users to easily add supports to their prints. However, removing these support structures can be challenging after printing. Using proper support structures is essential for tackling overhangs and bridges in SLA and DLP 3D printing models.

    Material jetting supports

    Material jetting is a type of 3D printing technique that uses inkjet printheads to deposit droplets of liquid or molten material onto a build platform. When it comes to support structures in material jetting, they are typically made from the same material as the part being printed.

    These supports help to hold up overhanging features and prevent them from collapsing during the printing process.

    One advantage of using material jetting for support structures is that it allows for precise control over their placement and density. This means that you can create supports exactly where they are needed, minimizing waste and reducing post-processing efforts.

    Additionally, because the supports are made from the same material as the part, they can be easily removed through methods like dissolving or melting away the excess material.

    SLS supports

    SLS supports are an essential aspect of 3D printing using the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technique. In SLS printing, support structures are needed to prevent parts from collapsing during the process.

    These supports help in maintaining the shape and stability of complex designs with overhangs and unsupported areas. SLS supports are typically made from the same material as the printed part, which allows for easier removal since they can be melted away or broken off easily.

    By utilizing SLS supports effectively, you can successfully print intricate and challenging models with ease.

    Metal 3D printing supports

    Metal 3D printing supports are crucial for printing complex metal parts with overhangs and unsupported areas. These supports provide stability during the printing process, preventing misalignment and detachment.

    Metal support structures are typically made of the same material as the part itself, ensuring compatibility in terms of cooling speed and density. After printing, removing metal supports can be challenging due to their strength.

    However, advancements in technology have introduced new methods such as water jetting or chemical dissolution for easier support removal. Metal 3D printing supports require careful consideration during design and optimization to ensure successful prints without compromising on structural integrity.

    How to Add Support Structures in 3D Printing

    To add support structures in 3D printing, adjust the software settings to include support generation and consider design aspects for optimal placement.

    Software settings for support generation

    Support structures in 3D printing can be generated using specific software settings. These settings help to create and customize the support structures needed for successful printing. Here are some important software settings for support generation:

    1. Slicer software: Use a slicer software like Cura, which allows users to add supports to their 3D prints.
    2. Support density: Adjust the density of the supports according to the needs of your print. Higher densities provide more stability but may be harder to remove after printing.
    3. Support thickness: Determine the thickness of the support structures. Thicker supports provide more strength and stability, but they may also require more material.
    4. Overhang angle threshold: Set the overhang angle threshold to define when supports should be generated. A lower threshold will generate supports for smaller angles, while a higher threshold will only generate supports for steeper angles.
    5. Support placement options: Choose between automatic or manual support placement options provided by the software. Automatic placement uses algorithms to generate supports, while manual placement allows you to place them in specific areas.
    6. Support interface layers: Enable support interface layers, which add a thin layer between your print and the support structures. This helps improve adhesion and reduces surface imperfections caused by removing the supports.

    Design considerations for adding supports

    When adding support structures to your 3D prints, here are some important design considerations to keep in mind:

    1. Overhang angles: Consider the angle at which an overhang starts and ensure it is within the printable range of your printer. Steeper overhangs may require more extensive support structures.
    2. Support placement: Strategically place supports where they are needed most, typically under overhangs and unsupported areas. Avoid unnecessary supports that may be difficult to remove or leave marks on the finished print.
    3. Support density: Adjust the density of your support structure to balance stability and easy removal. Higher density provides better support but can be harder to remove, while lower density may result in sagging or failed supports.
    4. Support thickness: Determine the appropriate thickness for your support structures based on your specific 3D printing process and material properties.
    5. Part alignment: Ensure proper alignment of your part when adding supports to prevent misalignment issues during printing.

    Best practices for support placement

    • Consider the orientation of your model and identify areas that may require support structures.
    • Assess the overhang angles and determine if supports are necessary for those areas.
    • Place supports strategically to provide adequate support while minimizing their impact on the final print.
    • Avoid placing supports in critical or highly detailed areas of the model.
    • Ensure that support structures do not obstruct important features or details of the print.
    • Use software tools to automatically generate supports or manually adjust them as needed.
    • Take into account the size and thickness of support structures to balance stability and ease of removal.
    • Regularly review and optimize support placement based on previous prints and feedback.

    Removing Support Structures

    The process of removing support structures involves using manual techniques or dissolvable supports, with post-processing considerations in mind.

    Manual removal techniques

    Removing support structures in 3D printing can be done manually using various techniques. Here are some ways to remove supports from your printed models:

    1. Breakaway supports: These are the most common type of support structures used in FDM printing. You can simply snap or cut them off using pliers or a sharp knife. Be cautious not to damage the model while removing the supports.
    2. Sanding: If the supports leave behind rough surfaces or marks on your print, sandpaper can be used to smooth them out. Start with a coarse grit and gradually move to finer grits until you achieve the desired finish.
    3. Flush cutters: Flush cutters with sharp blades can be used to carefully trim away support structures that are close to the surface of the print. Take care not to cut into the model itself.
    4. Needle-nose pliers: Use needle-nose pliers to grab and twist small support pieces, making it easier to remove them from tight spaces or delicate areas of your print.
    5. Heat removal: In some cases, heat can help loosen and remove support structures more easily. You can use a heat gun or carefully apply a flame (such as from a lighter) to soften and remove supports, but be very cautious not to overheat or damage the model.

    Dissolvable supports

    Dissolvable supports are a type of support structure used in 3D printing. These supports are made from a material that can be dissolved, making it easier to remove them after printing.

    They are commonly used when there are complex and intricate parts or overhangs in the design that need support during the printing process. Dissolvable supports work by placing them under the areas that would otherwise collapse without support.

    After the print is complete, you can simply dissolve these supports using a specific solvent or water, leaving behind only your finished object. This makes removing supports much simpler and helps maintain the integrity of your printed model.

    Post-processing considerations

    After your 3D print is complete, there are some things you need to keep in mind during the post-processing stage. One important consideration is the removal of support structures. Support structures can be challenging to remove, especially if they are tightly attached or located in hard-to-reach areas.

    You may need to use manual techniques like cutting or sanding to carefully remove them without damaging your printed part. Another option is using dissolvable supports, which can be dissolved in water or a specific solvent.

    Additionally, you should consider any post-processing steps needed for your specific 3D printing material. This may include sanding, painting, or varnishing to achieve the desired finish and appearance for your printed object.

    Strategies for Minimizing the Use of Support Structures

    Learn how to design self-supporting structures, optimize printing orientation, and utilize additive manufacturing technologies that require minimal supports to reduce the need for support structures in 3D printing.

    Designing self-supporting structures

    In 3D printing, designing self-supporting structures can help reduce the need for additional support structures. Here are some tips to create self-supporting prints:

    1. Incorporate gradual angles: Design your model with gradual angles instead of sharp overhangs. This allows the printer to build up layers without the need for support structures.
    2. Utilize bridging techniques: When designing a bridge or an unsupported span, consider adding support pillars at strategic points to maintain stability and prevent sagging.
    3. Experiment with different orientations: Rotate your model in the slicer software to find the orientation that requires minimum support structures. By changing the printing direction, you can optimize part strength and minimize the need for supports.
    4. Optimize infill patterns: Adjusting the infill pattern of your print can increase its structural integrity, reducing the reliance on external supports.
    5. Use structural features: Incorporate internal lattice or honeycomb structures into your design to provide internal support while minimizing external supports.

    Orientation and printing considerations

    Orientation and printing considerations play a crucial role in 3D printing. Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

    • Consider the overhangs and unsupported areas of your design when choosing the orientation for printing.
    • Printing complex parts vertically can minimize the need for support structures.
    • Angling the part can reduce the surface area that requires supports.
    • Ensure that there is enough space between the model and the build plate to prevent detachment during printing.
    • Proper layer cooling is essential to avoid warping and improve print quality.
    • Adjusting parameters such as print speed, density, and thickness can optimize support structure performance.
    • Utilize lattice structures or infill patterns to enhance stability while reducing material usage.
    • Experiment with different orientations and settings to find the optimal balance between support requirements and print quality.

    Utilizing additive manufacturing technologies that require minimal supports

    Some additive manufacturing technologies are designed to minimize the need for support structures when 3D printing. These technologies use innovative techniques and materials that allow for self-supporting structures, reducing the reliance on additional supports.

    By utilizing these technologies, 3D printing enthusiasts can save time and effort in post-processing by eliminating or minimizing the need for support structure removal. This not only streamlines the printing process but also helps to enhance the overall quality of printed parts.


    In conclusion, support structures are essential in 3D printing for creating complex parts with overhangs and bridges. They provide stability and prevent detachment during the printing process.

    By understanding when to use support structures and how to add and remove them effectively, 3D printing enthusiasts can achieve high-quality prints with minimal post-processing requirements.


    1. When do I need to use support structures in 3D printing?

    Support structures are needed in 3D printing when your design has overhanging or complex features that cannot be printed without additional support.

    2. How do I determine where to place support structures in my 3D print?

    You can use slicing software or the guidelines provided by your printer manufacturer to automatically generate and place support structures where they are needed.

    3. What materials can be used for support structures in 3D printing?

    Support structures can be printed using the same material as the main object or a different material specifically designed for easy removal, such as water-soluble supports.

    4. How do I remove support structures after 3D printing is complete?

    Support structures can be removed by carefully breaking them off, cutting them with a knife, or dissolving them in water (if using soluble supports). It’s important to clean up any remaining residue for a smooth finish.

    Rush Chapman
    ( Founder )

    Hello, my name’s Rush Chapman. I’m a 3D printing enthusiast. I started this site to help people choose 3D printing projects and select the best 3D printer for your needs, whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro!