Sensible 3D printing: The significance of filament runout sensors

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Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printers, more commonly known as filament 3D printers, come in a variety of models at different prices with many different features.

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The function we are going to talk about is the leak sensor. As you can imagine, this sensor will tell the printer when it runs out of filament.

This may not be as important for printers with a smaller footprint. That’s because you are less likely to run out of filament spool with a printer that can’t print anything particularly large.

But what about large printers with large build areas? It’s entirely possible that you want to print something that will require more than one spool of filament.

The filament is usually supplied in 1 kg spools. Yes, there are both smaller and larger coils, but larger coils tend to be unwieldy. Remember that the spool needs to unwind in order to feed the filament. The larger the coil, the greater the pulling force required. The larger the spool, the larger the spool holding device required.

I would like to have one of my printers loaded with ColorFabbs PLA Economy White, which comes in a 2.2 kg spool. It’s handy for some of the bulk prints I do for some of our family projects.

Still, I use a 1kg spool a good 90% of the time. As the attached video shows, a 1kg spool won’t hold enough filament for some prints.

The problem is, many printers don’t know when they’re running out of filament. You just pull in the filament with a gear mechanism. This mechanism does not report any feedback to the printer. It just feeds, melts, and extrudes.

However, some printers have a sensor called a filament lay sensor or a filament break sensor that indicates when a spool is empty or when no filament is being fed. These sensors report to the printer’s internal processor. When a hit is reported, the printer moves the printhead away from the print and lets everything cool down until you replace the filament.

Once you’ve loaded a new spool and fed the filament through the extruder, you can tell the printer to continue. If everything works, the print will pick up exactly where it left off.


Aria the Dragon ran out of white filament so a small silver filament rounded off her wings nicely.

The printer in the attached video is the $ 6,000 Ultimaker S5. However, you don’t need a super expensive printer to have a runout sensor. The Creality Sermoon D1 is a tenth of the price at $ 599, but it is also equipped with a leak sensor. Stay tuned. I will have a full review of the Sermoon D1 soon.

Even if your printer doesn’t have such a sensor, you can often add it. I connect to a $ 8 BIQU sensor that you can add to most printers.

I’m usually pretty good at working with the cutting program to estimate the amount of filament needed for my prints. But I have relied on concentricity sensors, both for large prints and for spools that are just nearing their end, as was the case with my print of Aria the Dragon.

My handy 3D printing advice is simple: if you’re buying a new 3D printer, get one with a filament rotation sensor. If you don’t have one, see if it can be added and invest a few dollars to upgrade your printer. It’s an inexpensive upgrade that can save you time and money.

What’s your favorite feature for 3D printers? Do you have a leak sensor? Do you have a 3D printer? Let’s talk about 3D printing in the comments below.

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