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Feb 11

Optimizing Part Orientation for Surface Finish, Strength, & Build Time


Build optimization is often dependent on a part’s function (conceptual model, functional prototype, manufacturing tool or end-use part). Based on the part’s function, the user must select the appropriate orientation to balance or optimize surface finish, strength or build time of the part.  This principle applies to many Additive Manufacturing solutions, including the FDM and Polyjet technology.

Orientation Options

Surface Finish

Part orientation impacts surface finish due to the process of slicing and printing the part in increments in the Z direction. Orienting the part so that curved or angled surfaces are built parallel to the Z axis will result in smoother surfaces.

A curved surface will have a poorer surface finish and have visible stepping on the surface (left); positioning the curved surface parallel with the Z axis will prevent stepping from occurring on the surface of the part (right).


Proper orientation of a part can dramatically increase feature strength. Small features can become stronger by simply rotating the part. Generally, orientating a feature parallel with the build layer maximizes feature strength. The tabs on the enclosure above are orientated so the horizontal slice curves are parallel with the XY plane.  This maximizes feature strength and prevents the tab from shearing under an applied force.

By selecting this orientation, the builder ensures that the snap tabs retain functionality by orienting these features in the xy-plane.


Part orientation can affect support material usage and the build speed of the part. Rotating a part to a different orientation can decrease the support usage and build time of a part.

Orientation impacts build time and material consumption (left); proper orientation can reduce both (right).

In general, orientating to minimize total Z height and support material will maximize the build throughput. However, it is recommended to orient the part for surface finish or strength, since orientations optimized for build speed may negatively impact both strength and surface finish.

In any case, it is important to consider the desired qualities you wish your 3D Printed part to have when selecting print orientation. Depending on part geometries, some parts may have optimal strength, aesthetics, and build speed from a single orientation. However, when this is not the case, part orientation plays a critical role in determining the outcome of your 3D printing project.

For over 20 years, Cimetrix Solutions has been Canada's leader in all things additive manufacturing. Partnered with some of the nation's most forward-thinking groups, Cimetrix brings unparalleled years of experience and knowledge for a vast variety of 3D Printing applications. For more on who we are, our services, and how we can help make your project become a reality, please visit us at www.cimetrixsolutions.com

- Brendan Lewis, Senior Applications Specialist