Generating Support Material in 3D Printing

Support Material in 3D Printing

Apex – Generating Support Material

When 3D printing models with overhangs or steep angles, the printer will extrude material under prone areas in order to keep the part from collapsing under gravity. This removable and discarded material is called SUPPORT. This article describes the process for generating support material in 3D printing.

Generating Support Material in 3D Printing Water Soluble 1
Support generated by Apex using the QUICKPRINT MENU.

Generating Support Material in 3D Printing Collapse
If support is not generated for parts that need it, they will collapse during the printing process.

Support is easily removed after printing if the correct settings are used in Apex.Apex is 3D-printing software designed to help you get the most out of your Airwolf 3D printer.You can download it here.

Support material is generated automatically in Apex, as long as the user has specified either TOUCHING BUILDPLATE or EVERYWHERE under the SUPPORT section in the QUICKPRINT menu.

Generating Support Material in 3D Printing Touch Buildplate Everywhere

Generating Support Material in 3D Quick Print Settings
APEX’s QUICKPRINT support settings are a great place to start if you are new to 3D printing.

TOUCHING BUILDPLATE will only place support where the model overhangs on to the build plate. It will not support the model within itself. EVERYWHERE will support the model in all areas. If you are unsure of which type to use, always select EVERYWHERE.

Generating Support Material in 3D Printing Touch Plate

Support Material in 3D Printing Touch Plate Everywhere Diagram
In this side profile diagram of a 3D print, you can see the difference between using TOUCHING BUILDPLATE and EVERYWHERE.

Apex will automatically choose the closest support settings possible in order to achieve good quality and remove easily once the 3d print is complete.

Generating Support Material in 3D Printing Layer View Mode
Always use the LAYER VIEW MODE to view the generated support material before printing.

Generating Support Material in 3D Printing Advanced Flexibility Settings
The ADVANCED SUPPORT SETTINGS in APEX give the user more flexibility when generating support material.

So far we have covered why support material is needed, and how to use the Quickprint menu in APEX to generate easy support for your models. In most cases, APEX does a great job with generating support material in 3D printing, but there are always those instances where support material settings could be tweaked in order to achieve even greater results.

Generating Support Material Automatically in 3D Printing Quickprint
The Quickprint menu in Apex will generate support material automatically and for most models can be removed easily.

In order to change multiple support material settings, you will need to enter the Full Settings in APEX. Go to EXPERT -> FULL SETTINGS. For this first example, we are going to use a Clutch Cover model. The Clutch cover is a great example of where support could be adjusted to make it easier to remove and take less time to print.

Generate Support Material Adjusting in 3D Printing
The clutch cover model shown here is a great example of how adjusting the support material settings could benefit the printed part.

If using just the Quickprint Menu for the Clutch cover, the support material would most likely fill the entire part with support, and it would be difficult to remove after due to the contour on the inner roof of the model. The goal here would be to only put support in the very middle in order to support the top of the part only, as the rest can support itself. There is a way to do this using the Full Settings. You may also want to change the Support Type, as LINES support may be easier to remove from a contoured part.

Diagram Support Material Inside Part in 3D Printing
This diagram show how the Quickprint would generate support material for this part, basically filling the entire inside with support material.

After changing some of the advanced support settings, the part has much less support generated inside, making it cleaner and easier to remove after printing.

In FULL SETTINGS, go to SUPPORT, then click on the … button. This will bring up the advanced SUPPORT MATERIAL SETTINGS. We will cover the main settings that could be tweaked, how they affect the support structure and which settings are usually left alone.

Generate Support Material 3D Printing Expert Configurator
The Expert Configurator for the Advanced Support settings can be opened by clicking the button next to the “Support Type” marked with “…”


The first setting in the EXPERT CONFIG SUPPORT MENU is the STRUCTURE type. This will define the type of support structure APEX creates for the model.

String: String is connected sets of lines with solid interface layers. String Support should be used when the support lines are scattered and are breaking prematurely throughout the print.

Generate Support Material 3D Printing String support Zig Zag
String support connects each line almost in a zig-zag pattern.

Generate Grid Support Material 3D Print
A solid interface will print between the main support structure and the part. This will remove easily with the support structure, and will create a smoother surface.

Grid: Grid should ONLY be used with dissolvable support material, like HydroFill. It will create a very strong grid pattern with solid interface layers.

Generate Grid Support Material 3D Print
Grid support should only be used with HydroFill support material as it is extremely difficult to remove, unless dissolving.

Generate Grid support forHydrofill dissolvable material
Grid should be used with HydroFill dissolvable support material, as this support structure provides the best quality for the part, but is the most difficult to remove with single-nozzle support structure.


What is HydroFill?HydroFill water-soluble support material is the world’s first true water-soluble/washable support material. Manufactured by Airwolf 3D, HydroFill Water-Soluble Support is the only support material that is effective for large ABS, PLA, and nylon parts and dissolves easily in plain room-temperature water. HydroFill is a “green chemistry” solution that is safe for the environment.The best part is that no sodium hydroxide is needed.

support material

Lines: Lines are single-walled lines that break off one at a time. These are not as strong as other support types and work well on tricky prints. Lines also work well for areas that require a lot of support in areas that will be hidden in the finished print. A helmet is a great example of where to use lines. Contoured prints also benefit from Line support, as the contour can make support material with interface layers difficult to remove.

Lines support easiest to remove in 3d print
Lines support generates unconnected lines with no interface layers. This support is the easiest to remove, but creates a poorer quality interface between the part and support structure.

Lines support easiest to remove under the contoured surface 3d print
Helmets are a great type of part for lines support, as you will not be able to see the support area after printing, and the lines will be easier to remove under the contoured surface.

Lines+: Lines+ are a set of two lines with solid interface layers. This is a great choice if you are not sure of what type of support material you should use.

Generate Lines plus support 3d print
Lines+ is a versatile support structure that features “Lines” support with interface layers.


Structure Precision controls whether or not the support is placed in tighter areas. In many cases, you may only need to support larger areas of the print. PRECISE will place support in all of the tighter areas, while DRAFT will only put in in the more “open” areas.

Add Support Material 3D Printing Structure Precision
Structure precision will affect whether support is placed in “tighter” areas of the print or leave it out.


Structure Strength controls how strong the support structures are. A high-strength support structure is more difficult to remove, but is also more reliable throughout the print. A low-strength support structure is much easier to remove but is more prone to falling over or other issues throughout the 3D print.

Added Lines support easiest to remove in 3d prints
Support strength will directly affect how easy support is to remove after printing.


Solid Interface layers are only generated on Lines+, String and Grid. The number of solid interface layers can determine how easy the support structure is to remove. This number must be based on a multiple of the overall layer height. It is not recommended to change this setting, as the default setting in APEX works very well.

Diagram Support Material Part in 3D Printing
This diagram shows the solid interface layers generated in Apex. The benefit to interface layers is that the part quality will be better where it mates to the support material.


This is one of the single most important settings within the EXPERT CONFIG SUPPORT MENU. This angle defines how much support the print will receive, and where APEX will place it. The higher the angle, the less support will be used. A helmet is a great example, as you only want support under the very top of the helmet. If you are unsure of what setting will work best, use the LAYER VIEW MODE to view the single layers within the print job. Look to make sure the model is being supported where it needs to be. 45-50 is usually a great starting point, whereas a helmet might be better off using 55-65.

Printing 3D Support Material Adjusting the OVERHANG ANGLE
Adjusting the OVERHANG ANGLE FOR SUPPORT by increasing the angle removed much of the unnecessary support material. With a contoured print like this, support is not needed everywhere, as it can support itself until the top of the helmet.


The FILL AMOUNT defines the amount of infill structure in the support material. Less material gives weaker support, which is easier to remove. 15-20% is generally preferred.

Printing 3D Support Material FILL AMOUNT
The image on the left shows a FILL AMOUNT of 15%, while the image on the right shows a tighter fill of 20%.


Distance XY sets the distance from the part to the support structure along the X and Y axis. This settings can be useful in eliminating print time and the amount of material used for support, but also can make it much easier to remove the support structure after printing.

Imaging printing a figure holding its arm out. Since the printer has the ability to bridge from a point A to B in shorter distances, support is not needed all the way up under the arm of the figure. The support can be spaced away from the body. The printer will bridge the gap from the part to the support material. Setting the DISTANCE XY to something greater than the default settings can sometimes be helpful. Again, it is important to use the LAYER VIEW MODE to view the individual layers before printing.

Printing 3D Support Material DISTANCE XY
The DISTANCE XY setting will determine the spacing distance in the X and Y axis.

Diagram Support Material Heat Bed in 3D Printing
A figure is a good example of a type of geometry that could benefit from adjusting the DISTANCE XY setting.

The gap between the support material and the part on the vertical, or Z axis is called the DISTANCE Z. Adjusting DISTANCE Z can greatly affect how easily support removes from the part, so it is suggested to leave this setting at default. This setting MUST be a multiple of the LAYER HEIGHT in APEX.

diagram 3d printing Z GAP support structure
This diagram shows the Z GAP between the support structure and the part. This setting will affect how easy it is to remove the support material, in trade for quality on the mating surface of the part.

Using the default support material usually provides a good trade between quality and being easy to remove. Not all default support settings are ideal for every model, so this guide should provide some insight into how the individual support settings affect the print.

Generate Grid support for Hydrofill dissolvable material defaults