How good are those holographic build plates really?

There is a big hype these days around the new build plates that not only provide a mirror smooth first layer but that also add some nice holographic effects.

The concept of the nice optical effect isn’t new at all.
For many years people used effect films glues onto a glass sheet to give (parts of) their model an outstanding look.
At first it was a thing of patterns, but with surface based holographic effect films some users had a field day.
That China would eventually pick up on it to make a fortune wasn’t s surprise at all.
What is though is that printer manufacturers let this opportunity slip away so easy…

If we trust those sellers and companies producing the many different stickers for our build plates we can get confused quickly…
Superior adhesion for all filaments…
Shortly followed by stating that material XXX is best suited only for certain types of filaments.
Some even state that for example silk filaments or matte filaments should be avoided.
In most online listings though we never really see any limitation, let alone restrictions for use other than a max bed temperature.

If you recently invested in one of those fancy plates and did so to print with nylon or PETG you probably are a happy camper.
The stuff sticks very well out of the box and you probably had to chill the plate a bit to get the print off.
Finally even big square things with sharp corners stick…
But if you tried PLA or ASA first you might be still swearing at your slicer, new plate or whatever to vent your frustration.
Have the bed temp high to help the filament squeeze out and ‘bond’ and all you do it wipe the plate while the plastic build up around the nozzle.
Have it a bit on the cold side and you see how your print just pops off mid print…
What’s the deal here?

Most of these plates comes with a protective sticker.
This not only helps to protect the real thing while put in place - it also leaves a residue behind.
And if you handled the plate with your bare hands after removing the protection you can rest assured that you left prints behind.
Any contamination and PLA and ASA will have a hard time sticking to the plate and even harder staying on it if the base is not large enough in surface area.
Cleaning them with IPA does not help…
Leave a good print and see how hard you have to work with IPA to actually get rid of it.
Soapy water on the other hand has no such issues but can fail with other contaminations.
Windex or any mix of good alcohol and ammonia will do both and in most cases won’t leave anything behind.

One thing to consider, especially for PLA, is that those plates might have to be worn in first!
I do this by printing a single layer with a 0.1 or 0.12 profile.
Bed temp around 45 degrees Celsius, hotend sitting at 208 to 225 depending on the colour and how well it it agrees to not stick to the nozzle instead of the bed.
I also hit the silent button so the plastic has better chance to stay on until the print is completed.
To save some time I crank the extrusion width to 0.75mm.
First time around this print does not really stick too well.
It just slides off once the plate has cooled to around 20 degrees.
Starting the peel while still hot shows the adhesion wouldn’t have been enough for something tall with a small footprint.
Since you can’t print over the entire plate edge to edge you will see a visual difference after this first print.
One that cleaning won’t be able to fully remove - the surface looks a bit dull now.
Second print is with the bed at 52 degrees and it already bond much better.
I usually stop here and continue by trying to place my prints on the plate so all areas get the best possible cover without being excluded or used too often.

The slight haze that can’t be avoided does not seem to have any negative effect on the shine of a print.

Anything to avoid ?

As said, some manufactures mention that silk and matter filaments should not be used, at least not on the first layer.
And while CF or GF filaments do stick well on those sticker plates they also cause quite a bit of wear.
As the holo effect is based on nano sized changes of the surface this wear means the holo effect will wear out sooner rather than later.
Speaking off…

The softer or less resilient a filament is the quicker the holo effect wears off.
For PLA it can be enough to rub your thumb of the surface a few times.
Still looks shiny but the holo is gone.
One should keep that in mind for wear and tear items like phone covers or wallets…

If you use a matte filament you get a bottom surface with a mirror shine.
Quite a nice effect indeed.
So what’s the deal then with those plates?
The silk or matte effect is created by additives.
And they can chemically react with our build plates.
Either causing excessive wear or changing the properties of the material.
Means for decorative purposed those plates are great, otherwise they should be seen as a consumable that wears out faster than other plate materials.
At least in terms of preserving the holo effect.
For those with just a pattern you can get away with the abuse for a bit longer.

For standard PLA, ABS PETG and such they can be a great addition.

What about overall build quality?

So far I have yet to receive a sticker plate from China that has smooth edges.
And they are thinner and more flexible than the Bambu plates.
No big deal in terms of staying on the bed getting them off…
Getting them on before they pop onto the plate though can be frustrating at times.

Most of the plates I got came with one or more tiny dints in the sticker.
Not a big deal if the print does not cover them but not nice if you have something poking out that should be a flat surface.
One arrived with a ‘bubble’ of about 2cm in diameter.
Not too raised but impossible to force out.
The seller eventually replaced it free of charge after I showed how the nozzle started to tear the bubble off.
But I am certain the overall quality for all manufacturers will catch up soon as it is a lucrative market after all.

With great care to not just print in the same spot all the time I got an average of about 8 rolls of PLA per plate until the holo effect started to suffer in some areas.
Not too bad considering I paid an average of just $15AU per plate - including shipping…
And they still work fine for normal prints where the holo won’t matter…
Once they are no good they can be used in other ways…
The milage might vary greatly here depending on what you print, how you treat your plate and what types of filaments you use.
Too bad that so far it seems we can’t just get those stickers at even cheaper rates than a complete plate…
But then again it is a pain to get the sticker and residue off without permanently distorting the plate…
I guess having one of these industrial surface grinder or such with an electromagnetic bed to hold the workpiece would help but I have no access to try…

I have another two plates on order to replace the old ones and to have something when I have a need for a holo surface.
No need to buy them for general use but great as an addition to what you might have already, especially if you find a cheap seller…