Tag Archives: Research Paper

3D Printing: Sub-Volume Segmenting & (Non-)Planar Slicing


In order to take advantage of 4- and 5-axis non-planar FDM1) printing (e.g. tilted, conic, cylindrical, spherical) the model may be segmented and then dedicate slicing methods can be assigned to such sub-volumes.

A few basic examples combining planar and non-planar slicing methods on sub-volume segmented models illustrating the possibilities printing without support structures:

  1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

T-Model: 2 Segments: Z-planar & Conic

Utilizing novel conic slicing as introduced by ZHAW researchers in 2020/2021:

T-model segmented into 2 sub-volumes, sliced z-planar and conic (outside-cone mode)

Conic slices can be printed with 4-axis Rotating Tilted Nozzle (RTN) although printing the Z-planar sliced part might not give goods surface results but rather using a 5-axis Penta Axis (PAX) printhead to cover both cases easily.

T-Model: 3 Segments: Z-planar & 2x Tilted

Using non-rotating but tilted sliced (like used with belt-printers) but in two distinct directions:

T-model segmented into 2 sub-volumes, sliced z-planar and twice tilted in opposite directions

Tilted slices can be printed with 4-axis Rotating Tilted Nozzle (RTN) but the first Z-planar part, as mentioned above, might not provide sufficient surface quality, whereas a 5-axis Penta Axis (PAX) printhead can print both segments easily.

T-Model: 3 Segments: Z-planar & 2x X-planar

A more classic planar approach but with different planes as reference, first Z-planar then twice X-planar in different directions:

T-model segmented into 3 sub-volumes, sliced z-planar and twice x-planar

X-planar printing requires either 5-axis Penta Axis (PAX) printhead or the ability to tilt the bed.

Overhang In/Out: 2 Segments: 2x Conic

Lower part is sliced with conic slicing with inside-cone mode to print in-going overhang, whereas the upper part is sliced with outside-cone mode to cover the out-going overhang:

Overhang in/out model segmented into 2 sub-volumes: lower part is sliced conic (inside-cone mode) and upper part conic (outside-cone mode)

This model covers the classic case of 4-axis Rotating Tilted Nozzle (RTN) application: rotating 45° tilted nozzle printing in two different modes (outside-cone and inside-cone); a 5-axis Penta Axis (PAX) printhead also can print such.

Overhang Out No 5: 2 Segments: Z-planar & Conic

Another overhang piece, stretching out into one direction; the lower part Z-planar, and the overhang conic (outside-cone mode) with an offset to align better with the lower segment:

Overhang Out No 5 model segmented into 2 sub-volumes: z-planar at the bottom and overhang segment conic (outside-cone mode)

Overhang Out No 5: 3 Segments: 2x Z-planar & Conic

Perhaps a more realistic approach using the conic part as a “balcony” just for the overhang part sufficiently thick to carry next segment and switching back to Z-planar:

Overhang Out No 5 model segmented into 3 sub-volumes: z-planar first, then conic (outside-cone) building a thin “balcony” as support for the z-planar part on top again

Early tests have shown the thickness of the conic overhang “balcony” depends on the actual length of the in-air overhang, where print speed, part-cooling capacity and extrusion consistency determine the geometrical accuracy.


Unlike with ordinary Z-planar slicing, it may be suitable to dedicate a particular slicing method and orientation for sub-volumes in order to take advantage of the possibilities like avoiding support structure, particular strength properties or surface quality.

This of course opens a wide-range of possibilities and complexity therefore:

  • where to segment
  • which slicing method to use
  • in which orientation the slicing is performed

but I think it’s worth it, in particular when a piece is printed more than once like with small series manufacturing / production.

The examples have been produced with various slicers and combined with a new application coordinating the segmenting and dedicated slicing methods, which currently (2021/04) is in development; it also involves a new file-format describing the segmenting and its slicing settings. The segment positioning was done manually as a start, but I expect with more experience and research some cases can be detected automatically.

Sub-volume segmenting is just one approach to take advantage of 5-axis FDM printing, another is continuous slicing along the form.


See Also

PS: All animations I combined in a short 3min video: Mixing Planar & Non-Planar Slicing Methods for 3D Printing Overhangs without Support Structure (YouTube)

3D Printing: Non-Planar Slicing with Planar Slicer


  • 2021/04/09: spherical slicing redone, slightly better than before
  • 2021/04/03: cylindrical & spherical slices added
  • 2021/03/26: refocusing to non-planar slicing with planar slicing
  • 2021/03/14: starting write-up with basic illustrations


After discovering the 4-axis Rotating Tilted Nozzle (RTN) and its prototype of RotBot as developed by ZHAW and their conic slicing method, it became clear to me a 5-axis 3D printer with variable tilting nozzle is the way to go as it is a superset of 4-axis and 3-axis 3D printing.

With that in mind, I realized there was time to explore non-planar slicing with planar slicers in more details.

Slicing Methods

Let’s provide an overview of various slicing methods:

Horizontal Slices

Vertical slicing creates horizontal slices, the traditional aka planar slicing method, so issues and limitations are well known:

  • simple to slice
  • only challenge is to create support structure for overhangs to ensure all printed layers have layers beneath
  • no collision detection needed, as all already printed layers are beneath

Tilted Slices

Tilted slices are kind of new(er) and became known with belt printers, usually 45° tilted:

Transformation is [ x, y, z – y ]

  • simple to slice
  • belt-printer: no collision detection is needed
  • can print 90° overhangs in one direction only

There are patches for Cura available to slice for belt printer, additional the experimental Slicer4RTN also provides tilted slicing.

Conical Slices

New slicing method as introduced by ZHAW researchers and announced in 2021/01 utilizing planar slicer:

  • requires a center of the conic layers
  • can print 90° overhangs, two distinct modes: inside out (outside cone), or outside in (inside cone) depending on direction to a central slicing cone center
  • requires rotating and tilted nozzle aka Rotating Tilted Nozzle (RTN)
  • angle of conic slicing can be changed from 45° to 20° and models become printable with vertical nozzle with reduced print quality

Transformation is [ x, y, z + sqrt(x2 + y2) ]

I implemented a conic slicer named Slicer4RTN in 2021/03. There are more complex conic transformations possible, e.g. map the x/y angle via atan(y/x) but just adding sqrt(x2 + y2) to z does achieve a conic slice.

Cylindrical Slices

Early tests using planar slicers to slice also cylindrical, like this:

Transformation is [ atan(y/x), z, sqrt(x2 + y2) ]

It can be printed on a fixed vertical rod, with a rotating and tilting nozzle, or horizontal rotating rod (like a lathe) and vertical nozzle then:

I came up with this way by myself based on the study on conic(al) slicing but I was made aware researchers Coupek, Friedrich, Battran, Riedel back in 2018 published a paper on this method already.

(Hemi-)Spherical Slices

Early tests using planar slicers to slice also spherical, like this:

Transformation is [ sqrt(x2 + y2 + z2), atan(y/x), atan(z/sqrt(x2 + y2)) ]

It can be printed with a 5-axis like PAX printhead, it’s main advantage is to getting close to print continuous overhangs of any angle.

I suspect at least one more suitable and simpler sphere transformation, as soon I came up with such I add it on this blog-post.


It is possible to slice non-planar with planar slicers by mapping to and from the space of the slicing you like to have; yet in the slicing procedure some margins are introduced which need to be compensated – the planar slicer needs to work reliable, Slic3r 1.2.9 and CuraEngine 4.4.1 / cura-slicer perform reliable, whereas PrusaSlicer 2.1.1 makes assumptions of the printability and exits when no printable G-code can be produced, not recommended for this case therefore.

The simpler the transformation forward and backward, the more precise G-code can be obtained, e.g. tilted and conic slices provide precise G-code, whereas cylindrical and spherical slices are harder to tune with the planar slicer.