Blog - Tree Support - What It Is & How To Use It

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Tree Support - What It Is & How To Use It

The 3D printing community has grown both from technological innovation and from its commitment to open-source and free software. Ultimaker’s Cura software is one such example of excellent free slicing software that many 3D printing enthusiasts utilize. Though Cura has many great aspects, one unique feature that deserves special attention is tree supports.

Before we go into what tree supports are, let’s talk about supports in general. Supports in 3D printing are essentially additional sacrificial structures that are meant to support certain elements of the model. As layers build upon one another, they need to have something beneath them, especially if some feature of a model has an inclination of more than 50 or 60 degrees.

Unlike regular supports, a tree support mimics the structure of a tree and encloses the print around its “trunk” with “branches”. The main benefit of using tree supports is that they don’t touch the print in as many places as regular supports, so your final print will come out much cleaner.

Read on to find out additional reasons to use tree supports, which kinds of models are the best candidates, and finally, the optimal settings for your tree supports.

In Cura 4.9, tree supports are no longer experimental, but they’re not the default (“Normal”) setting, either. You can enable them next to “Support Structure” under the Support settings group with Advanced or higher settings displayed. Afterwards, you’ll be presented with some additional control options.

There are many benefits to using tree supports over standard supports or even custom supports. Here are a few of the major reasons to try out tree supports.

Cleaner Surface Finishes

This is perhaps the biggest benefit of using tree supports. In some cases, design features are such that, if traditional supports were used, they would need to stand on the outward-facing surfaces of the model. This is where tree supports have a distinct advantage.

The “trunk” of a tree support doesn’t touch the model, and since the branches come out from the main structure, they’re placed only where they are needed. In other words, the model itself has no artifacts left behind due to the use of supports. This is particularly useful in the case of organic shapes such as humans and animals.

Less Material & Printing Time

Tree supports are designed in such a way that they use less material than standard supports. That’s because the entire tree can be printed with a low infill density, or even hollow.

If you need a strong base (for example, to support the weight of the model), you could print the trunk with a denser infill at the bottom and with little to no infill as the supports branch out. This not only saves you material but also printing time.

While tree supports take longer to be calculated during slicing, they make up for this in printing time. Given their compact design, the printer has less “travel” movements, which means shorter printing times.

Easy Support Removal

Tree supports touch the model at fewer contact points; they don’t have “rooves” that support the entire model from beneath. This means, when you’re removing a tree support from a model, it’s very easy to separate.

You also don’t have to worry about the support structure fusing with the model itself, as can be the case with traditional supports. And if you print it with different densities, the tree and branches can break away in chunks.

Any Downsides?

With all these benefits, you might ask if there are any downsides. Well, the only one we know of is that, as we mentioned, your slicing time will be increased. But that seems like a compromise for the time you’ll save on printing!

It’s also possible that Cura will generate a non-ideal structure depending on your model or printing setup, but this is more likely to be personal preference rather than a functional problem.

Having discussed what tree supports are and their benefits when it comes to 3D printing, the question remains: Which types of models should you use tree supports for, and is every model suitable for tree supports?

What to Consider

Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule here. The best way to assess if a model is suitable for tree support or not is to thoroughly examine and consider its overhangs. If you carefully evaluate their positions, relative geometry, and overall structures, you can usually determine whether or not it makes sense to use tree supports.

Another factor to consider is if your model has complicated or intricate features that need support. More often than not, it’s challenging to support these structures without damaging them during support removal. Tree supports are more adaptable and a better choice for these types of models, especially ones with organic shapes.

Example Model

To illustrate this process, let’s take a look at the model shown above. Note that the chin, nose, and hair create overhangs, and there’s a steep angle at the bottom.

If we were to use regular supports, the model would be left with small marks on all these surfaces. Furthermore, regular supports would require a significant amount of material and would be quite tedious to break away, risking damaging the finer details in the process.

Using tree supports would greatly improve the final output since the entire support structure comes away as a solid piece leaving virtually no marks.


4 months ago
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