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Buildtak vs. PEI: Which Surface Should You Choose?

Buildtak vs. PEI: Which Surface Should You Choose? | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

Craig A Fry

/

March 2, 2021

Buildtak and PEI build surfaces have both gained popular reputations in the 3D printing world for their ease of use and adhesive qualities that allow 3D printers to produce quality prints much more easily than with DIY build surfaces. However, they both have many additional pros and cons that can make it difficult to decide which one is best for your specific 3D printing needs.

PEI is a better option than Buildtak for consistently getting high-quality prints with minimal required time and effort.

Even if PEI is the standout choice, it is still important to have a good grasp of the pros and cons of each build surface. Once you have a better understanding of how both PEI and Buildtak sheets work and interact with your print bed and print, you will be able to make a more informed decision regarding which surface will work best for your specific printing needs.

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What is the Difference Between PEI and Buildtak?

PEI and Buildtak sheets share the same purpose – to allow your 3D print to adhere to their surface without any warping or damage. Buildtak is made from plastic while PEI, or polyetherimide, is a special type of thermoplastic. Additionally, Buildtak comes in a variety of sizes to fit a print bed without any additional cutting or pasting, while PEI sheets are meant to be cut and custom fit to a print bed.

Both PEI and Builtak products aim to streamline the 3D printing process so that you can ensure a high-quality print time after time – but they each have a slightly different process of doing it. Listed below is a breakdown of the differences between Buildtak and PEI and the effects each on has on their overall performance.

What are the Benefits of Using Buildtak?

Buildtak build surfaces were specifically designed to eliminate the aggravating problem of printer filament not adhering to the print surface. Buildtak sheets come with a variety of additional benefits that have made them a favorite of 3D printing aficionados. Below is a list of some of the most celebrated benefits of the Buildtak print sheets.

  • It’s Easy to Install onto the Print Bed
  • It’s Compatible with Multiple Filament Materials
  • It’s Available in Multiple Sizes for all Types of Print Beds
  • It’s Easy to Remove and Clean for Repeated Use
  • It Creates a Smooth Print Bottom that Prevents Warping

It’s Easy to Install onto the Print Bed

Buildtak comes with a fully adhesive back, so all you have to do is peel off the adhesive and stick it directly onto your printer bed. This makes it significantly easier to install than many other materials such as painter’s tape or glue, which need to be installed in even sections or layers. Even PEI sheets, which are considered relatively easy to install, require additional steps that are not necessary with the Buildtak sheet.

It’s Compatible with Multiple Filament Materials

Buildtak is particularly popular in the 3D printing world due to its ability to work with a wide variety of filament materials, including:

  • PLA
  • ABS
  • TPE
  • PETG
  • HIPS
  • WoodFill

Using Buildtak as a build surface can save users significant time and energy from having to swap out different build surfaces to ensure compatibility with the filament. It also reduces the likelihood of experiencing difficulty getting the more finicky filaments like PETG to stick to the print bed.

It’s Available in Multiple Sizes for all Types of Print Beds

Buildtak is also a 3D printing crowd favorite due to its many sizing options. Buildtak is available in 13 different sizes, making it able to fit most build surfaces. Other build surface options that only come in one size need to be measured and cut to perfectly fit the print bed, which can be time consuming and result in a botched print if not done precisely. Buildtak takes away the hassle and worry of having to measure and cut the build surface properly.

It’s Easy to Remove and Clean for Repeated Use

While some DIY build surface options may be more cost-effective than Buildtak, they can leave your print bed a sticky mess that won’t be worth the time needed to clean it. Buildtak’s adhesive surface is easy to stick on and remove, and it doesn’t leave any sticky residue on the print bed after removal. Not only does this save cleaning time, but it allows the sheets to be re-used for multiple prints. Reviewers claim they can get anywhere from 50-100 hours of use out of one sheet with proper care and cleaning.

It Creates a Smooth Print Bottom that Prevents Warping

One of the primary reasons that Buildtak was created to allow filament to stick more cleanly and evenly to the printing surface. Buildtak’s surface allows prints to adhere completely, which allows the bottom layer of a print to come off flat and smooth. This helps prevent the print from warping and will eradicate many of the issues it can present once the print has been completed.

What are the Cons of Using Buildtak?

While there are many important benefits to using Buildtak, reviewers have reported a few significant drawbacks that added difficulty to their 3D printing experience. Below is a list of some of the most commonly reported disadvantages of Buildtak.

  • Higher Cost Compared to Other Options
  • Prints can Become Stuck to Print Bed
  • Requires Additional Care and Cleaning for Successful Re-Use
  • Print Bed and Nozzle Misalignment can Damage Prints
  • It is Not a Substitute for a Heated Print Bed

Higher Cost Compared to Other Options

Even though Buildtak sheets can be re-used, they still cost a pretty penny compared to other build surfaces on the market. The table below shows the price difference between Buildtak print sheets and other popular build sheets available for purchase.

Buildtak – $47.38 (pack of 3)

CTREE – $12.99 (pack of 3)

Creality – $13.9 (pack of 3)

Elmer’s Glue Stick – $12.54 (6 sticks)

Particularly when held in comparison to DIY build surface options such as glue sticks, the cost of Buildtak sheets can seem excessive. However, they still may be well worth the cost for users who take the time to properly clean and maintain them for multiple uses.

Prints can Become Stuck to the Print Bed

Unfortunately, the creators of Buildtak may have done too well of a job creating an adhesive build surface, as many reviewers report having difficulty removing the print once it’s completed. If a stuck print is removed to hastily or improperly, it can damage both the print and the surface of the Buildtak sheet. This can greatly diminish its adhesive capabilities and prevent users from getting additional printing hours.

Even if a print is not so stuck to the bed that it’s ruined, reviewers complain that it takes a rather painstaking process of removing the completed print very slowly to ensure that there is no damage to it or the build sheet. Most users recommend using a spatula and working each side from the outside in to ensure safe and effective removal.

Print Bed and Nozzle Misalignment Can Damage Prints

With most print bed surfaces, the filament nozzle should be placed very close to the print bed in order to force adhesion. However, if the nozzle is placed too close to a Buildtak surface, the print will adhere too well and cause potential damage. The nozzle can also damage the Buildtak surface if it is too close and can even burn a hole through it.

Requires Additional Care and Cleaning for Successful Re-Use

While Buildtak sheets can be successfully re-used dozens of times, they require additional care and cleaning to maintain their adhesiveness through multiple prints. Reviewers recommend using a steel wire brush if the adhesive begins to weaken, but it must be done gently and carefully. In addition, leftover residue from filament that become stuck to the sheet can take hours to remove, even with the help of isopropyl alcohol.

It is Not a Substitute for a Heated Print Bed

Despite its powerful adhesive capabilities, Buildtak is still not going to provide enough adhesion to negate the use of a heated print bed. This means that warping may still be an issue unless Buildtak is used in conjunction with a heated print bed.

How do I Know if Buildtak is Right for my Printing Needs?

While it’s by no means the perfect solution for a print build surface, the Buildtak surface can offer the most benefits to novice printers who are still learning the ins and outs of 3D printing. Due to its easy installation and removal, it will allow users to be able to shift their focus to other parts of the printing process. Buildtak’s highly adhesive properties will also eradicate the issue of warping, which can be a huge source of frustration for many novice printers.

What are the Benefits of Using PEI?

PEI is one of the most well-known and commonly used 3D printing build sheets for good reason. While it is most renowned for its durability and accessibility, the PEI build sheet also boasts a host of other beneficial qualities as listed below.

  • It’s Easy to Install
  • There’s No Need for Additional Adhesives
  • It’s More Cost-Effective than Buildtak
  • You Can Get Multiple Uses with Little Maintenance
  • It’s Heat Resistant and Works Best with Heated Print Beds

It’s Easy to Install

Just like the Buildtak sheet, most PEI sheets are easy to install and stick firmly to your print bed via their adhesive backing. However, it is important to note that not all PEI sheets come with the backing. If easy adhesion is important to you, make sure you purchase a PEI sheet that comes with the adhesive backing included.

There’s No Need for Additional Adhesives

PEI sheets provide incredible adhesion to prints, eliminating the need to potentially resort to other adhesive aids such as tape or glue. This may be seen as a huge benefit to people who have used DIY solutions in the past or who have struggled to find proper adhesion with other build surfaces. Not having to worry about extra adhesives can save significant time and money in the long run – not to mention quite a bit of frustration!

It’s More Cost-Effective than Buildtak

Although the cost of one PEI sheet is similar to that of a Buildtak sheet, it can be used for many more printing hours. In the 3D printing world, PEI sheets are lauded as being one of the highest-quality printing products for their value. Due to its rising popularity, some 3D printers come with a PEI sheet already included to save on the extra time and money needed to purchase one.

You can get Multiple Uses with Little Maintenance

Not only are PEI build surfaces re-usable, they require very little maintenance in between prints. A quick wipe down with isopropyl alcohol or acetone before and after using the PEI sheet will keep it clean enough for dozens of additional uses.

It’s Heat Resistant and Works Best with Heated Print Beds

One of the most unique qualities about the PEI build surface is its strong resistance to heat. One PEI sheet can withstand temperatures of up to 345°, giving it the power to withstand the high heat cycles of a 3D print bed. This heat resistance also adds to its durability, allowing it to be used for multiple prints in a row without overheating and damaging the print.

What are the Cons of Using PEI?

While PEI is widely considered one of the best build surfaces on the market, it is not without its downsides. Outlined below are a few of the most commonly reported difficulties that reviewers had with the PEI sheet.

  • The Sheets are Soft and can Damage Easily
  • Installation is Tricky Without Adhesive Backing
  • Prints can Become Stuck to Print Bed
  • An Improperly Leveled Print Bed Will Ruin the Print
  • Differences in Sheet Thickness can Cause Issues

The Sheets are Soft and can Damage Easily

Despite its strong resistance to heat, PEI sheet surfaces are much softer compared to many others, leaving them more susceptible to damage on the print bed. A print bed that is not adjusted properly or is not perfectly level can result in scraping that can permanently damage a PEI sheet, so extreme caution must be taken when leveling the print bed prior to printing.

Installation is Tricky Without Adhesive Backing

Not all PEI print sheets come with an adhesive backing included. Some PEI sheets must be laminated and then installed onto the print bed with a tacky tape before use, which adds additional time to the setup process. Some reviewers also reported that the tape bunches easily, making it difficult to smoothly adhere the PEI sheet to the print bed surface.

Prints Can Become Stuck to the Print Bed

Just like the Builtak print sheet, reviewers have reported that PEI sheets’ adhesive properties can be a little too strong. A print that is stuck too tightly to the PEI sheet can be incredibly difficult to remove and can result in damage to both the print and the sheet. This can be especially harmful for the soft PEI sheets and can make them more prone to damage than the Builtak sheets.  

An Improperly Leveled Print Bed Will Ruin the Print

One of the most frustrating issues with the PEI sheet according to reviewers was its inability to produce a quality print unless the print bed is perfectly level. If the print bed and filament nozzle are not aligned just right, the print and the PEI surface will likely come up damaged. It may take many failed attempts and wasted print sheets before the proper calibration is found, which can be a frustrating waste of time and money.

Differences in Sheet Thickness can Cause Issues

Unlike Buildtak sheets, PEI sheets are available in a variety of thicknesses. While this does offer more variety and room for personal preference, it causes some issues as well. While thinner PEI sheets are easier to fit and install onto the print bed, they are also flimsier and much more susceptible to damage. Thicker sheets can withstand more wear and tear, but they are difficult to lay down on the print bed without getting small air bubbles between the sheet and the bed.

How do I Know if PEI is Right for my Printing Needs?

Experienced and frequent 3D printers will find the greatest benefits in the PEI sheet’s affordability and longevity. Proper installation and care of the PEI sheet takes some trial and error that may be overwhelming to new users. However, experienced printers who have already invested the time to find their proper printing setup and preferences should have no trouble integrating these practices into their printing process and will reap the benefits with consistent quality prints.

Why is PEI a Better Build Surface than Buildtak? When it really comes down to it, PEI and Builtak are incredibly similar in their effectiveness when it comes to developing consistent quality prints. However, PEI’s heat resistant surface and ability to eradicate the need for other adhesives give it a slight edge over Buildtak. At the end of the day, your choice for the best build surface for your specific needs will come down to research and extensive trial and error. Nonetheless, both PEI and Buildtak surfaces are excellent starting points to help you find your way to 3D printing success.

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Buildtak vs. PEI: Which Surface Should You Choose?

Craig A Fry

Craig A Fry

Craig has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

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