How do I know when filament is getting old, and what things can I do to correct for it?
I've heard I should store filament in sealed container, preferably with a desiccant.
But let's say I let a spool get a little old on the printer, or I purchased a filament spool that was old or improperly packaged. How would I know? How would this impact prints (what kind of symptoms would I see)? What things could I do (perhaps in the slicer) to correct for this and prolong the life of marginal filament?
And the corollary... in a typical environment, how long can filament be left out without suffering from the exposure?
I'm thinking mainly about PLA, but responses for ABS and other materials are useful, too.
If it's PLA it will snap easily. I had a roll for 3 years open to the air. It snapped like macroni. Nylon will expand and not print well. You'll also hear it popping an hissing.
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The primary issue with long-term exposure of filament to the environment is that it will absorb water moisture from the air. When a filament that has absorbed water is passing though the hot end of a printer, the water will turn to steam and cause problems with extrusion:
- Small bubbles of steam can form, causing extrusion to sputter - you might hear a sizzling noise and have poor consistency.
- Large steam bubbles can cause significant oozing followed by no extrusion.
- Extreme cases can cause mysterious jams that seem to clear themselves (the extruder cannot overcome the steam pressure).
In short, this will cause terrible print quality and failed prints. As the effects are not consistent, there is nothing that can be done by slicer settings to "recalibrate" for filament that has absorbed water.
This can be avoided by storing filament in an air-tight container with desiccant to ensure low humidity. Some people use "dry boxes" that allow the spool to be mounted inside while filament can be passed to the printer, so there is minimal exposure even while the spool is in use.
If you do suspect that your filament has absorbed moisture, you can dry it out, by placing the spool in a warm oven or in a food dehydrator for a few hours. If you weight it before and after, you should find that it weighs several grams less afterwards. WARNING: It is important that the temperature does not soften the plastic at all, or it can become distorted or bind on the spool. Most ovens will peak well above the set temperature as the thermostat cycles. Of course, fully melting a roll of filament could destroy your oven or cause a fire.
It's hard to say how much environmental exposure is too much, as every filament and environment is different. When I started out, I had several spools of PLA that I stored in the open for months. I didn't think I was having any problems, but I was also learning much and improving my printer settings at the same time. After getting PETG, it became unusable with oozing and jams after about two weeks but a few hours in my oven was a miracle cure! I then dried some PLA as well, and I found that print quality did improve, but not amazingly so. I have not used ABS, but in theory it is less hygroscopic than PLA, so it is probably not very sensitive to exposure.
I set up a dry storage box, and I am careful to always store PETG or my "good" PLA when I'm not actively using it. I have a couple rolls of PLA that I don't like as much anyway and generally just use for draft prints, and I don't really worry about it that much.
Note: An object that has been printed will also absorb moisture, but in general this isn't a problem.
So I could run a dehumidifier in the room with the printer and spool, and probably be "good enough" if I always run through an entire spool before opening the next?
@joel a dehumidifier will be a *very* slow way to dry the spool. Putting it an oven at a temperature well below the softening point, e.g. 120 C, will work much faster. I"m not convinced that modern ovens have overshoot of more than a few Kelvins.
@JoelCoehoorn, I suppose if a dehumidifier can maintain low humidity in the room and you go through a spool quickly enough, this could be effective at preventing filament from absorbing moisture. I'd consider the cost and energy use of a dehumidifier, which is probably much more than just using a storage box. If you go through filament extremely fast (i.e., keep the printer running nearly 24/7), you might not even need to bother.
I'm still on my first full spool for my first printer. Right now I only have the one spool (may order some more this weekend), but I've left it on the printer and it's been about three weeks. No sign of any problems yet, but I want to know what to watch for.
Great answer. We've actually made a filament dryer by taking a deep fryer, adding a spindle, and putting a pneumatic fitting in to run feed tubing (4mm OD) to the print head, so the filament is preheated, dried, and never exposed to the general air. You might try this to salvage older filament, but use caution. Don't set the temp to be too close to the glass transition temperature of your filament.
@JoelCoehoorn Sounds just like me when I was first getting started - hope you are having fun! Assuming you've got PLA, it's probably still fine, and if you do use one unsealed spool at a time and go through it within a few months of opening you might never see a problem. It seems most people do collect a handful of open spools with different colors and types, and some of them last much longer. I've got about six open spools, including the first two I started with about 20 months ago, so a storage box has become essential.
Having lots of fun :) My eventual plan is to use gallon-size freezer bags and just keep them in a nearby cabinet that doesn't otherwise seal well.
Freezer bags (with desiccant pellets) should also be a great solution, although you may need to go for a larger size. I tried this first, but my spools were slightly too large for the gallon-size bags I had on hand and I couldn't quite seal them. Rather than buying oversized bags, I went for a box...