Extruder Clicking/Slipping? 8 Common Causes and Their Fixes
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Extruder clicking or slipping in a 3D printer usually signals an overloaded motor. The clicking comes from the stepper motor working harder and compensating by skipping back. A typical 3D printer makes around 50 decibels of sound, akin to a quiet fridge, so unusual noises should be checked.
Clicking and slipping can be due to factors like a nozzle too close to the bed, fast printing at low temperatures, tight extruders, clogged nozzles, or Bowden tube friction. All these scenarios force the extruder motor to do more work than it can, leading to a clicking noise and extrusion problems.
This article goes into the details of why you’re having a clicking or slipping problem in your extruder and, more importantly, how to fix it.
Why Your Extruder Is Clicking/Slipping and How To Fix It
1. Incorrect Distance Between Nozzle And Build Platform
If your nozzle is too close to the print bed, filament flow is obstructed, increasing pressure in the extruder’s stepper motor. This motor, responsible for moving filament to the hot end for melting, strains against blockages and may click from overload.
To check nozzle proximity, observe early print layers. If filament only extrudes once the bed lowers, adjust the nozzle-bed distance.
How To Fix
Level your print bed to ensure an even surface. An uneven bed causes the nozzle to be too close or too far from the surface at different points.
You can level your bed manually or automatically.
For manual leveling, use a piece of A4 paper between the nozzle and bed. Slide it along the bed; if there’s no resistance, the nozzle is too far away. If the paper is stuck, it’s too close. The right distance allows the paper to move with some resistance. Adjust the bed leveling knobs at all four corners and the center of the bed until you achieve an even platform.
For automatic leveling, many FDM printers have a built-in auto bed leveling feature. It uses a Z-probe sensor to measure flatness. If not included, auto-leveling kits like CRTouch or BLTouch are available. Auto leveling doesn’t physically change the bed shape; it adjusts the printing head movements to compensate for unevenness.
Adjusting the Z-offset value is another way to prevent the nozzle from being too close to the bed. This setting alters the bed height above or below its default position. For example, printing on a PEI sheet or using specific filament types may require adjusting the Z-offset. To change it, go to your slicer settings, find the Z-offset parameter, and add around 0.05mm. Run a test print and adjust as needed.
If your print bed remains uneven after leveling, it may be warped. Consider using a glass build plate on top of your existing platform during printing.
Another method of leveling the bed involves replacing the sheet of paper with a feeler gauge, a tool typically used to measure the clearance or gap width between two parts. The benefit here is that the feeler gauge has a set height (for example 0.1 or 0.2 mm), guaranteeing a consistent distance between the nozzle and the bed.
Place the feeler gauge on the bed and lower the nozzle until its hits the gauge; there’s no need to test for friction. Because there’s no need to test for friction like you would with the paper method, the gauge method typically reduces the time it takes to level the bed. It also provides more consistent results across the surface of the bed as long as it isn’t warped.
That said the absence of tactile feedback won’t be to everyone’s taste and like the paper method fine tuning is required by visually accessing the first layer. Of course, getting your hands on a feeler gauge adds extra cost, but the tool is relatively cheap. For example, you can get a feeler gauge for as little as $7 on Amazon.
2. Fast Printing Speed
Printing speed, dictated by printer motor speed, determines nozzle movement speed over the build plate. Faster speeds may yield quicker results but can compromise quality by causing artifacts. High speeds also risk inadequate filament heating, leading to partially melted filament that can clog the nozzle. This blockage strains the extruder, causing it to click from increased effort to extrude filament.
How To Fix
To fix this problem, slow the printing speed to allow the filament to heat up and melt properly.
Generally, 3D printing occurs at 40-100 mm/s, with 60 mm/s being optimal.
To troubleshoot, start at 35 mm/s and increase your print speed in increments of 5 mm/s until print quality is good without extruder clicking.
The type of filament you use will affect your print speed settings. For example:
- ABS and PLA print at a recommended speed of 40 mm/s to 60 mm/s
- PETG prints well at 50 to 60 mm/s
- TPU at 15 mm/s to 30 mm/s
Factors like printer quality also affect speed settings; high-quality printers can handle fast speeds without sacrificing quality, while low-quality printers might struggle.
Consult your printer manual for specific speed ranges. Adjusting print speed is an iterative process requiring experimentation to achieve a consistent filament flow without clicking.
If you’re set on faster print speeds, there are steps you can take to ensure the filament has time to melt properly and avoid extruder clicking.
Bumping up printing temperatures helps. For example, for PLA, you’d want to increase the temperature to around 210°C rather than the typical 200°C recommended for the filament. Doing so melts the filament faster, allowing for better flow without overworking the extruder.
Another option is to upgrade to a better extruder, especially if you’re working with larger diameter nozzles and you notice that the motor skips steps and stalls. Many budget printers ship with plastic extruders that aren’t up to the demands of faster print speeds. Opt for an all-metal extruder that can handle higher speeds. Upgrading to a high-flow nozzle can also drastically improve filament flow and reduce extruder clicking.
3. Low Printing Temperature
Low extrusion temperatures can cause incomplete filament melting, leading to lumpy extrusion and resulting in models with blobs and zits. This can clog the nozzle, overwork the extruder, cause it to skip steps, and produce clicking noises.
How To Fix
To fix, increase the extrusion temperature to the level recommended by the filament manufacturer. Note that optimal temperature may vary with printer type and slicer settings. After setting the suggested temperature, adjust as needed for uniform filament flow from the nozzle.
Some filaments, like ABS and exotic materials like Nylon, require higher temperatures than what are called low-temperature filaments like PLA. On paper the differences are all that significant, but under heating a filament is one of the most common causes of clicking and visual artifacts.
The type of filament you use will affect your extrusion temperature settings. For example:
- PLA prints best at a recommend temperature of 190°-200°C.
- ABS’ recommend extrusion temperature is between 210°C and 250°C.
- PETG prints well between 220°C and 250°C.
- TPU thrives at temperatures between 210°C and 230°C.
4. Blocked Nozzle
A clicking extruder in your 3D printer often indicates a blocked nozzle, resulting from pressure build-up inside. This blockage can cause little to no filament release and hinder spool movement.
Common causes of nozzle blockage include:
- Leaving a printer with a heated nozzle idle
- Impurities in the filament
- Dust and debris collecting at the nozzle
- Printing at different temperatures after switching to a new filament
- Not cleaning the nozzle regularly
How To Fix
The best way to prevent a clogged nozzle is frequently using cleaning filament.
If your nozzle is already blocked, try the cold pull method.It involves using a cold filament to pull any stuck material out of the nozzle.
The best filament for unclogging the nozzle is the same exact filament you used during your last printing session.
To perform a cold pull:
- Reverse feed the filament from the printer.
- If your printer has a Bowden tube, disconnect it from the print head.
- Heat the print head to the printing temperature of the last filament you used.
- Insert the cold filament down the print head and apply pressure as the nozzle extrudes material.
- Lower the temperature of the print head to 145°C for nylon, 90°C for PLA, and 110°C for ABS.
- Pull the filament out.
Prevention is, however, the best way to avoid a blocked nozzle. The main aim here is to prevent charred plastic from building up on or inside the nozzle. Avoid setting your printer to high temperatures for prolonged periods of time without extrusion and don’t let your printer sit there for long before and after printing.
You’ll want to keep filament rolls free of dust, debris, and other dirt as these can melt and cause blockages in the filament pathway through the nozzle. Proper storage is key here, but we recommend wiping debris off the filament before feeding it into the hotend as an extra precaution. Similarly, wipe the nozzle clean of any residual filament after each print and purge the nozzle by feeding through a short length of hot filament before starting every print.
5. Friction In The Bowden Tube
Some extruders consist of a Bowden tube, which lets filament pass from the feeder to the hot end. Over time, the tube can accumulate debris from:
- Particles from grinding of a filament due to high tension in the feeder.
- Filaments becoming brittle and breaking inside the tube.
This accumulation can hinder filament movement, causing the stepper motor to struggle and produce clicking sounds.
How To Fix
You can reduce the resistance in the Bowden tube by detaching it from the hot end and clearing it. A quick way of doing this is using a fresh filament or a thin rod, such as a guitar string, to push debris out of the tube.
You can avoid the filament becoming brittle and breaking inside the Bowden tubing by ensuring filament is free of moisture and dry before printing. This is especially important for highly hygroscopic materials, notably PVA and PVOH. To dry filament, you can use a conventional oven, a purpose built filament dryer, or, better yet, by taking precautions to keep your filament dry by storing it properly. Read up on how to dry filament for 3D printing in our dedicated guide.
Occasionally, friction in the tube is caused when the PTFE is damaged, worn, or deformed. A visual check is usually enough to pick up on any issues. In some cases when the damage is limited to where the tube enters the hotend or connects with the extruder, you can get away with cutting the end of the tubing to remove the damaged part. If you are hearing excessive clicking and you’ve tried all the other steps listed in the guide to fix the issue, it’s likely time to replace the tube.
To replace the tube, source a replacement. We recommend Capricorn – the go-to Bowden tubing brand, known for its high quality PTFE tubes that typically last much longer than the stock ones found on many new printers. Release the coupler where the tube connects with the extruder to release the old, damaged tube, then remove it. Cut the new PTFE tube to size. A good tip here is to line it up against the old tube and cut it to the same length. Fit the new tubing in the extruder and hotend, making sure the couplers are properly attached to the tube.
If you have a printer with a direct drive extruder, the process is a little different. In many cases, the PTFE liner that feeds into the hotend can get damaged, lose its shape as its crushed between the extruder gears, forcing the extruder to work harder to feed filament through. You can pull out the PTFE and reshape it by hand to its original form, but we recommend replacing it entirely to be on the safe side. Cut a fresh tube down to size and position it in the same place as the old liner.
6. Tight Extruder
In the extruder, a small gear and spring move the filament to the print head. Mechanical damage to these parts can cause the extruder motor to click and slip.
The gear’s teeth can wear down over time, preventing them from gripping the filament securely, which causes slipping. As the gear continuously slips, it grinds the filament.
The extruder spring is responsible for creating tension, allowing the gears to grip the filament. If the spring is too tight, the filament won’t move, leading to clicking in the filament feeder.
A tell-tale sign that your idler wheel tension is just right is the presence of small gear tooth marks on the filament’s surface. However, if you observe crushed or deformed filament, it’s an indication that your idler wheel is too tight.
How To Fix
If you think your extruder tension is too high, adjust the idler screw, feed filament, and tighten until it extrudes without deformities. If the gears are worn out, replace them.
For daily use, consider a steel gear, which is less wear-prone.
You may also want to use a dual drive system in your extruder. A one-sided gear system uses a single rotating gear on one side and an idler on the opposite side to push the filament in between them. A dual drive system, with gears on both sides of the filament, offers better grip and less filament grinding than a one-sided system.
7. Faulty Extruder Motor
A poorly calibrated stepper motor, or one not connected to a reliable power source, can result in filament feeding inconsistencies and clicking noises. The extruder is powered by a stepper motor that manages how fast and with what level of force the extruder feeds filament into the hot end. If the motor isn’t providing enough power, then the extruder can struggle to provide enough filament and, therefore, flow to the nozzle, which can result in artifacts and visual blemishes.
How To Fix
Firstly, check the motor’s wiring to ensure no wires are loose or have disconnected. You can do this visually by checking the wires that run into the stepper motor closest to your extruder. Press them back into the port if they are. It’s also worth checking for any visual signs of fraying, and if you find any signs of damaged wires, consider replacing them.
If the wires are in good condition, the stepper motor is likely responsible and will need replacing. Some stepper motors are also prone to overheating, something you can check by carefully touching the motor during a print. When overheating, the motor won’t function to its full capabilities, which results in the extruder not receiving enough power. If this is the case, you’ll want to install a heatsink on the matter to mitigate the build-up of heat and extend the motor’s lifespan.
8. Filament Quality
Poor quality filament can also be responsible for inconsistent extrusion and extruder clicking. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact issue as there are numerous low cost, budget brands out there, issues like a low quality formula, improper bonding, and moisture embedding itself into the filament during the manufacturing process all factor in. Filament that has not been wound on the spool can cause the material to get tangled, which can cause the filament to snap during the printing process or affect the diametric consistency of the filament.
How To Fix
The fix here is simple – invest in higher quality filament from a reputable brand or manufacturer. Paying a little more tends to mitigate many of the issues linked to poor quality filament. Another benefit is that prints tend to come out looking much better with finer details and features thanks to higher quality filament.
Additionally, you’ll want to avoid using old filament that’s been sitting around or filament that hasn’t been stored properly and has absorbed moisture. PLA, for example, is known to turn brittle when exposed to moisture for long periods, if it is dried properly before printing. We highly recommend building or buying a storage solution such as an airtight container to prevent excessive moisture absorption. Your filament will last longer this way and you’ll have a smoother printing experience.
To address the issue of entangled filament, we recommend buying uniformly-wound spools that are subjected to quality control before being shipped out. Opt for manufacturers that provide clear and consistent manufacturing data and ensure filament meets stringent quality standards.
Alternatively, you can manually rewind filament spools to prevent tangling. Precaution is also important, so make sure you keep the spool end tightly wound when it’s not being used so that it doesn’t overlap and get tangled. A solution here is to 3D print a filament clip that attaches to the spool. Simply insert the filament end into the clip when it’s not in use and the clip will keep it wound and tight, avoiding entanglement. Check out our dedicated guide for more details on how to re-wind tangled filament properly.
A clicking/slipping extruder is not only irritating but also slows down your printing project. It’s caused by a blockage in the printer’s system, leaving the motor overloaded.
It can be fixed by not printing so close to the build plate, changing printing temperature and speed, unblocking the nozzle and Bowden tube, and adjusting printing tension. Hopefully, this article will wipe away your clicking/slipping issues once and for all.