How to Choose the Right VXL Support Material For Your FFF Project

3. August 2021Dr. Andrei Neboian

French fries simply taste better with ketchup than with chocolate sauce. The same idea applies to support materials in Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printing. Some support-model material combinations work better than others.

The two materials must stick well to each other and be well matched.

Our solvable support material VXL is available to you in 4 different versions. We developed these especially for applications with certain 3D printing materials. With these choices, you’ll find the perfectly matched VXL material for each of your projects.

But before we dive into the details of each type of VXL, let’s answer the following intriguing question:

Why Not Simply Use a Break-Away Material?

Break Away Support Structures (short BASS) are also commonly used as FFF support structures for 3D printed parts. These can be removed after printing manually, e.g., with pliers (or your teeth if you have a good dentist). This is often quick and cost-effective. But there are a few twists.

Imagine a 3D printed part with several hollowed-out areas that need to be supported from the inside. Your 3D printer can fill these hollowed-out areas well with your support material – But after you print, you can barely reach those spaces with your pliers (or teeth). This is not a problem with soluble support materials. Instead, the liquid solvent permeates the entire structure rendering any manual tools unnecessary.

The second reason is related to the surface quality of 3D-printed parts. No matter how much effort you put into removing break-away support structures, there will almost always be some small imperfections. Besides, while breaking away your supports, you may accidentally break away a part of your intricate model too. This happened to me many times.

Clearly, soluble support materials (SSM) are more flexible in application than break-away materials. VXL is soluble support material. You can easily dissolve it in a non-caustic alkaline solution of VXL-EX, similar to your laundry detergent.

For more details, please read this article where I compare break-away supports and 5 other methods for creating support structures in FFF 3D printing. When you use VXL, we recommend paying attention to the following parameters.

3 Parameters That Define a Perfect Match Between VXL and Your Model

1. Printing Temperature of Your Model Material

The printing temperature of your model material should not be too far away from the printing temperature of your support material.

We have tried printing PEEK with PVA as support material. But the printing temperatures of both materials are so far apart that extruded PEEK literally burned through PVA supports. So, naturally, this combination is not recommended. Instead, for PEEK, we recommend using VXL 130 as support material, which has a higher melting point making it suitable for high-temperature materials.

2. Chamber Temperature of Your 3D Printer

If your 3D printer chamber is too warm, your model may deform under its’ own weight during the print process. Think of a pair of plastic sunglasses that buckle in the sun when you leave them in your car under the scorching sun.

To make sure this does not happen to you with VXL, we developed four different versions. Each version has different chemical properties, so you will always find a suitable VXL that’s closely matched to the needs of your 3D printing project!

By the way, the heat deflection temperature (HDT) is the temperature at which a polymer deforms or warps if there is some weight on it. You can find the temperature resistance (HDL) of your material from your model filament datasheet.

3. Dissolution Temperature of Your Support Removal Station

The second important value is the dissolving temperature. This is the temperature at which a material dissolves in the liquid. The higher the dissolving temperature, the faster the support material will dissolve (think of sugar in water).

However, your dissolving temperature must not be too high. Otherwise, your model will deform under the strong heat of the solvent. Therefore, we recommend checking the temperature resistance of the model material before you heat your support removal station.

You can find the temperature resistance (HDL) of your material from your model filament datasheet.

VXL soluble support material comes in four versions: VXL 70, VXL 90, VXL 111, and VXL 130. All of these filaments have low water absorption and a high level of stability when heat is applied. When combined, these properties deliver beautiful printing results.

Summary of the VXL SSM types and recommended materials

VXL variantExamples of recommended printing materials

Learn more about VXL’s material compatibility on our Product Page or in our Help Center.

For Low Temperatures: VXL 70

PETG models printed with VXL 70 soluble support material

VXL 70 is perfectly suitable if you work with the printing surface and printing chamber at low temperatures. It also works, for example, in open printers, making it a good choice for demonstration models made of simple-to-use materials like PETG.

When dissolving VXL 70, you will need a lukewarm bath temperature of 40°C. The low dissolution temperature helps you save on your energy bill. To speed up the process, we recommend that you use a pump or an impeller, which moves the solvent around in your bath. Please have a look at this article where I compare different effective methods to dissolve soluble supports.

We developed VXL 70 as a support material for PETG and TPU filaments. So if you use these model filaments in your 3D printing project, VXL 70 is almost always a suitable choice. We have also had success with other model materials, but you will need to reduce your chamber temperature.

Suitable For Most Materials: VXL 90

ABS models printed with VXL 90 soluble support material

VXL 90 is our all-rounder among the VXL-support materials. It is suitable both for working with PETG and TPU and technical polymers like ABS and ASA. So if you 3D print within the middle-temperature range (below 80°C chamber temperature), you can be sure that VXL 90 will stick well to your model materials and printing surface (such as BuildTak or treated glass surface).

You can dissolve VXL 90 starting at 55°C quickly and completely in your solvent bath. For more insights into how to dissolve soluble supports, refer to this article.

For easy and quick dissolution of VXL, check out our support removal station Vortex EZ.

For Industrial Materials: VXL 111

PA, PC, PA-CF, and TPU models printed with VXL 111 soluble support material

If you work with slightly more demanding printing materials, such as Polyamide (PA/Nylon) or Polystyrene (PS), the good bonding properties of the support material are especially important.  This is because these materials are more likely to warp. The support structures help avoid this process by holding the model down to your print surface.  VXL 111 is optimal for this kind of model materials and works well at printing chamber temperatures of up to 100°C.

On the flipside, VXL 111 needs a higher dissolving temperature, starting at 65°C. However, this is not a problem for most model materials of this class since they are already temperature resistant at this level.

Interested to learn more about how to dissolve your soluble supports? Have a look at this article where I compare 6 dissolution methods.

For Extreme Temperatures: VXL 130

PEEK models printed with VXL 130 soluble support material

Now we arrive at the most demanding requirements in FFF 3D printing. Here, barely any other support material can keep up with VXL.

With a glass transition temperature of 130°C, VXL 130 can also be used in very hot printing chambers of up to 120°C. Therefore, it works really well with the most demanding materials such as PEEK and PSU.

Again, the same rule applies here: The higher the printing chamber temperature, the higher the recommended dissolving temperature. For VXL 130, the solvent temperature needs to be at least 80°C to reach effective dissolution performance. However, this is a problem for materials like PEEK because they survive very high temperatures. I personally use VXL 130 at 85°C to speed up the dissolving process.

If you are interested to learn about different methods to effectively dissolve soluble supports, have a look at my article on this topic.

Where to Go From Here?

Your choice of support materials is not limited by the simple choice between soluble and break-away structures. Also, among VXL soluble support materials, you have a wide variety of materials to choose from, depending on your model material.

Author:Dr. Andrei Neboian

Andrei is the founder and managing director of Xioneer Systems GmbH. He and his team have been developing 3D printing hardware for 10 years. Andrei is a writer, engineer, economist, and 3D printing aficionado.

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