Wow, disappointing to hear that PVA is such a nightmare to print with. I've been having fantasies of setting up a nice dual extrusion head with PVA support that I could dissolve away and make my life easier... but now I'm second guessing that dream.
A lot of what you describe sound like underextrusion problems... And they remind me of problems we encountered when using the ultra-miserable Ultimaker Black PLA. Have you tried upping Cura's default pre-extrusion so you don't have to do any hand cranking of the extruder? When we set that to pre-extrude 15mm, we got much more consistent starting results. Also, having it print a huge number of skirts/brim (10-20) would also prime the extruder pretty well. Another thing that would help with the first layer was doing micro-adjustments to the bed screws during the first layer of printing, essentially raising the bed up into the nozzle until the layers were forced to stick.
I'd love to get a small amount of PVA to test out. Is there anywhere that you can purchase less than a full roll?
Thanks for sharing your experiences here! I haven't tried PVA yet, but it's on my list :-)
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