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What are supports?
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process where material is layered over and over to produce a product. This process has been growing in popularity recently and it gives endless possibilities to what can be created. Fused deposition modelling (FDM) is a method which melts materials and and extrudes them in layers and in a pattern. It is the simplest method of 3D printing and is one of the most popular.
The layers in an FDM print need something to rest on. Supports are often automatically put in when there is an overhang or bridge. This can be illustrated using the letters Y, H and T. Y and T have overhangs, while H has a bridge.
As seen from the picture, H and T have a messy print as there is nothing to support the material being printed. This means the material is being extruded into the air. However, Y comes out perfectly. This is because of the angle of the overhang. The bigger the angle, the less each layer is being supported and thus would fall.
There are 2 different types of supports in FDM printing: linear and tree.
Linear supports come in a few patterns. The most common one is a zig-zag pattern. When printed, they look like long columns under the overhang. They are good for bridges and any sort of steep or flat overhangs due to their strength. However, linear supports are hard to remove. Usually, a needle-nose plier is needed to reach into small spaces to remove the supports. Linear supports may also easily damage the model during post processing. They often also take a lot of time and material to print, thus making it wasteful.
One way to combat damaging the surface is to use soluble supports. Some 3D printers are able to use 2 filaments at once. By using a water-soluble material as your support, you can simply soak the print in water when it is done. This makes removing the supports much easier too.