3D Printing Guide

How To Smooth 3D Prints: ABS, PLA, & More

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Scott Gabdullin

Updated on June 17, 2024

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3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry, providing an affordable and accessible way to produce complex shapes and designs. However, sometimes 3D printed parts can have a rough surface finish, detracting from the overall appearance. This article will cover the different methods and techniques you can use to smooth 3D prints and achieve a professional-looking finish.

Top 7 Causes For Rough 3D Prints

It is common for 3D prints to come out rough, even for advanced users. Some 3D printing applications do not require a high surface finish, and irregular or porous surfaces may be acceptable. However, taking the necessary steps to smoothing 3D prints for applications requiring high precision and surface finish is essential.

Many factors can contribute to rough surfaces, including the following.

1. Layer Height

The layer height is the thickness of each layer of material deposited by the 3D printer. If the layer height is too high, the layers may not bond together correctly, leaving rough or porous surfaces.

Aside from affecting surface finish, the layer height also plays a critical role in the overall strength of your 3D prints. Optimal layer height settings result in smoother surfaces and ensure that each layer bonds effectively, creating a structurally sound object. Experimenting with different layer heights can help you strike the right balance between surface quality and structural integrity, depending on the specific application of your 3D print.

2. Extruder Temperature

If the extruder’s temperature is too low, the material may not melt completely, leading to rough or porous surfaces. Take note that the extruder temperature is a parameter that demands precise control. Aside from the surface finish, temperature settings have a significant impact on the material’s physical properties. 

Maintaining the correct extruder temperature is vital to achieving the desired material consistency, which, in turn, affects the surface smoothness.

3. Bed Adhesion

Poor bed adhesion can cause the layers to shift or lift during printing, resulting in rough or porous surfaces. Knowing this, you should prepare your 3D print bed before you start any print job. This includes leveling the print bed, cleaning it regularly, and applying adhesion aids if necessary. Different materials may require different bed adhesion methods, so research the best approach for your specific application.

4. Nozzle Diameter

The nozzle’s diameter affects the material’s flow rate and the consistency of the layer thickness. The too-small nozzle can cause clogging or jams, leading to rough or porous surfaces.

Conversely, a nozzle that’s too large can lead to over-extrusion or under-extrusion issues, resulting in poor surface quality. Always ensure that you are using the correct nozzle size for the type of material you are printing with. Too large a nozzle might bring problems with fine details, and too small a nozzle may take more time to print.

5. Printing Speed

Printing can cause the layers to cool too quickly, leading to a rough surface finish. To minimize this, adjust your printing speed. Slower printing allows ample time for the layers to cool evenly, resulting in a smoother finish. 

6. Material Properties

Certain materials, such as ABS, are prone to warping, which can cause rough or porous surfaces. Materials like PLA, on the other hand, are less prone to warping but might exhibit stringing, which can also impact the surface finish. 

As such, you must understand the material’s properties, which can ultimately affect the outcome of your print. Each material has its own optimal printing conditions, so be sure to make the necessary adjustments for each type of filament you use.

7. Lack of Support Structures

Without proper support structures, overhanging or complex parts of the print can sag or collapse, leading to rough or porous surfaces.

3D printers that produce rough or porous surfaces can benefit from proper calibration and maintenance, as well as careful attention to printing parameters such as layer height, extruder temperature, bed adhesion, nozzle diameter, printing speed, and material properties.

Why Smoothing Makes Better Final 3D Prints

Whether using your 3D print for prototyping, product development, or simply as a decorative piece, smoothing its surface can significantly improve the final result.

Smoothing the surface of a 3D print can significantly enhance its overall quality and make it look more professional. A smooth surface finish is visually appealing and gives the print a polished appearance. 

It also has practical benefits, as rough or porous surfaces can negatively impact the print’s strength, durability, and overall functionality. In applications where precision is essential, a smooth surface allows for better fitting and tighter tolerances, making it more reliable. 

Furthermore, a smooth surface provides a better feeling for paint or other coatings to adhere to, which can be important for applications where color or finish is essential. Post-processing techniques such as sanding, polishing, and chemical smoothing are commonly used to enhance the finish of 3D prints.

Examples of Post-Processing Techniques

Sanding is one of the most basic and widely used methods. It helps in removing layer lines, blobs, and other surface imperfections. Meanwhile, polishing requires a bit of skill but can provide a glossy, high-quality finish.

Chemical smoothing is another popular method, especially for ABS prints. This technique involves the use of chemicals, often acetone, to dissolve the surface of the print. This results in a smooth, glossy finish, but it requires careful handling due to the hazardous nature of the chemicals.

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Ways To Remove Excess Material On 3D Prints

Removing excess material is a crucial step in the 3D printing process. It involves cutting away any support structures or extra material used during the printing process to achieve the final desired shape of the 3D print. 

The method used to remove excess material will depend on the material used for the print, as well as the size and complexity of the object.

Let’s review some methods to remove excess material and smooth your 3D print project.

Heat Gun Smoothing

This technique involves using a heat gun to apply gentle heat to the surface of the 3D print. The heat causes the plastic to soften and flow, which can smooth out surface imperfections. 

This method is most commonly used with ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) filament, as it is a thermoplastic that can be reshaped with heat. However, using a low heat setting and moving the heat gun slowly is essential to avoid melting or distorting the print.


  • Simple and affordable
  • Removes warping, curling, and surface defects
  • Used on a variety of materials


  • Causes the material to soften or melt, altering its original shape
  • Creates new surface defects if not used carefully


Chemical smoothing, also known as solvent smoothing, is used to achieve a smooth and polished surface on 3D prints. This method involves immersing the 3D print in a chemical solution, such as acetone or ethyl alcohol, which dissolves the surface layer of the plastic and smoothes out rough or porous areas. The solvent evaporates over time, leaving behind a smooth and polished surface.

You can use chemical smoothing in conjunction with other methods, such as sanding or polishing, for optimal results. 

However, it is crucial to follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines when using chemicals and solvents and to handle the 3D print carefully, as the surface may become brittle and prone to cracking after chemical smoothing.


  • Effective in smoothing out rough surfaces and reducing porosity
  • Used on a variety of materials
  • Simple and affordable


  • Messy and time-consuming to clean up
  • Weakens or damages the material if not used carefully
  • Releases harmful fumes

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin smoothing is a technique that uses a layer of epoxy resin to achieve a smooth, glossy finish on a 3D print. This method can be applied to any type of filament, including ABS, PLA, and resin-based prints, making it a versatile option for surface smoothing. 

The resin is applied to the surface of the 3D print, filling in any gaps and creating a smooth, glossy finish.


  • Fills in gaps, creating a smooth, glossy finish
  • Adds strength and rigidity to the 3D print
  • Used on a variety of materials


  • Messy and time-consuming process
  • Challenging to achieve a consistent, even layer of resin without bubbles or drips
  • Fumes are harmful if inhaled
  • Yellows over time, affecting the appearance of the print


Priming involves applying a primer or filler to the surface of the 3D print to fill in any gaps or imperfections. The primer can then be sanded or polished to achieve a smooth surface. 

This method is suitable for any filament and is especially useful for prints made with brittle or porous materials.


  • Improves adhesion of subsequent coats of paint or resin
  • Helps to achieve a smoother and more even finish
  • Used on a variety of materials


  • Adds an extra step to the smoothing process
  • Messy and time-consuming to apply


Sanding is a straightforward method for smoothing 3D prints. Sanding removes any rough or uneven areas on the surface of the 3D print. 

Start using a low grit sandpaper, such as 120-grit, and work your way up to a higher grit, such as 800-grit. The key to successful sanding is to work slowly and evenly, covering all areas of the print. 

Sand in a circular motion, and use a sanding block to apply even pressure. After sanding, you can use a soft cloth to remove dust or debris from the surface.


  • Simple and affordable
  • Effective in removing surface defects and smoothing rough surfaces
  • Used on a variety of materials


  • Time-consuming, especially if the surface is particularly rough
  • Creates new surface defects if not used carefully
  • Generates harmful dust if inhaled

Utility Knife

You can use a utility knife or box cutter to shave or scrape off any rough spots on the surface of the 3D print. This method is helpful for removing slight imperfections or trimming away any extra material.


  • Simple and affordable
  • Effective in removing minor imperfections and trimming away extra material


  • Limited to smoothing smaller surface areas
  • Creates new surface defects if not used carefully

Rotary Multitool

A rotary multitool, such as a Dremel, is a versatile tool that you can use for sanding, polishing, and cutting. It can be fitted with various attachments, such as sanding discs or polishing pads, making it a valuable tool for smoothing 3D prints. The tool’s variable speed setting allows for precise control, and its compact size makes it easy to use in tight spaces.


  • Versatile tool that you can use for sanding, polishing, and cutting
  • Variable speed setting allows for precise control
  • Compact size makes it easy to use in tight spaces


  • Creates new surface defects if not used carefully
  • Time-consuming, especially if the surface is rough
  • Generates dust that is harmful if inhaled


When deciding how to smooth 3D prints, it’s important to consider a number of key factors to ensure you get the best results. Here’s a list. 

Type of Material (ABS, PLA, etc.)

Different 3D printing materials have different properties and will respond differently to other smoothing methods. It is crucial to consider the filament’s properties and choose a smoothing technique that will not negatively impact its strength, durability, or overall quality.

The most common 3D printing materials – ABS, PLA, and resin, each have their unique characteristics. For example, ABS is soluble in acetone; thus, the chemical smoothing method is particularly effective. On the other hand, PLA is not soluble in most solvents, so mechanical methods like sanding are typically more

Desired Outcome

The final finish you want to achieve will also influence your choice of smoothing method. For example, epoxy resin smoothing may be the best choice if you want a glossy finish. On the other hand, sanding or vapor smoothing might be more appropriate if you are looking for a matte finish.

When considering your desired output, also take into account the level of detail you want to preserve on your print. Some methods, such as sanding, may remove more material than others, potentially reducing the level of detail on your final print.

Level of Expertise in 3D Printing

Different smoothing methods will require different levels of skill and experience. Some methods, like sanding and polishing, are relatively straightforward and can be performed by anyone with a basic level of experience. In contrast, others, like vapor smoothing or epoxy resin smoothing, may require more specialized knowledge and equipment.

Even the most straightforward smoothing methods can become complex if used on intricate or delicate prints. Care should be taken to select a method you are confident and comfortable with executing.


Some smoothing methods can be time-consuming, especially if you are smoothing a large or complex 3D print. If you work to a tight deadline, choose a quicker smoothing method, such as using a heat gun or solvent.

Using a heat gun is a quick and efficient way of smoothing ABS or PLA prints. However, it must be applied carefully and uniformly to avoid warping the print. 

Solvents like acetone or isopropyl alcohol can also be applied quickly, covering the surface of a print in a few swift strokes. These chemicals can smooth surfaces effectively but require careful handling due to their flammable and potentially harmful nature.

3D Printing Equipment

Some smoothing methods require specialized equipment, like a heat gun, vapor chamber, or rotary multitool. Ensure you have access to the necessary equipment before choosing a smoothing technique.

The equipment required will also depend on the scale of your project. If you’re working with larger 3D prints, you may need heavy-duty equipment, like a large sanding machine or an industrial-sized heat gun.

Conversely, you might only need small precision tools for smaller, more intricate prints, such as mini files or a precision rotary multitool.


Some smoothing methods, like solvents, can be hazardous if not handled properly. Ensure you know the safety considerations and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using chemical or hazardous materials.

No matter what method you choose, always work in a well-ventilated area, wear protective gear, such as gloves, goggles and a face mask, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby when working with chemicals or heat-based tools. 

Some chemicals may also require safe disposal methods, so ensure you’re familiar with these, too. For instance, acetone or isopropyl alcohol should be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility. Never pour these chemicals down the drain as they can contaminate water resources. 

Smoothing Recommendations For Every Type of Resin

When selecting a smoothing option, let’s look at some recommendations based on the material and how they respond to different smoothing options. 

How To Smooth ABS

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) filament is a popular material for 3D printing due to its strength, flexibility, and affordability. However, ABS tends to produce rough and porous surfaces, which can impact the overall appearance and functionality of a 3D print. 

Smoothing ABS using solvents like acetone is a relatively straightforward process that can produce smooth and glossy results. 

This method involves immersing the 3D print in acetone for a specified time and then removing it to allow the solvent to evaporate. The acetone dissolves the ABS and smooths the surface as it evaporates.

How To Smooth PLA

Smoothing PLA (Polylactic Acid) filament can be more challenging than ABS, but the results are worth it. Unlike ABS, PLA does not become brittle after filing, making it a more durable option for objects that will experience frequent handling. 

Sanding and polishing are the most common methods for smoothing PLA filaments, and they can be effective in removing rough or porous areas. Choosing the right grit sandpaper or polishing compound is vital to achieve the desired smoothness level.

Some users also employ heat-based smoothing techniques, which you should do as they can deform or soften the material. When smoothing PLA, it is also essential to consider the environment in which the 3D print will be used, as this can affect its durability and longevity.

How To Smooth Nylon

Nylon filament is known for its strength and flexibility, making it a popular choice for functional and load-bearing 3D prints. However, achieving a smooth surface with nylon can be challenging due to its rough texture. 

Sanding and polishing are two methods you can use to improve the surface of nylon 3D prints, but it’s important to note that heat-based smoothing techniques may not be suitable for nylon. This is because nylon has a high melting point, so exposing it to high temperatures can cause it to degrade and weaken.

When working with nylon filament, it’s essential to be mindful of the smoothing technique used and ensure that it suits the material’s properties.

How To Smooth PETG

PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) filament is a popular choice for 3D printing because it has good durability and flexibility, making it well-suited for various applications. 

Regarding smoothing behavior, PETG is similar to ABS and is relatively easy to smooth using solvents. This is because the plastic used in PETG filament is soluble in common solvents like acetone, which can dissolve the surface layer of the plastic and smooth out rough or porous areas.

How To Smooth Resin

Resin-based filaments are a 3D printing material known for producing highly detailed and smooth objects. However, they are also more delicate and require a different approach to smoothing. 

Sanding and polishing are effective methods for smoothing resin-based prints, as they remove any rough or porous areas on the surface. However, heat-based smoothing techniques, such as using a heat gun, should be avoided with resin-based filaments. 

This is because the heat can cause the resin to degrade, resulting in a loss of detail and an overall decrease in the quality of the 3D print. You must also handle resin-based prints carefully, as they can be more brittle and prone to cracking compared to other filaments.

Wrap Up

Achieving a smooth surface on 3D prints is crucial in producing professional-quality results. There are several smoothing techniques to choose from, including sanding, polishing, chemical smoothing, and using tools such as heat guns and rotary multitools. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to carefully consider your specific project needs and goals before choosing a smoothing technique.

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