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A Detailed Guide to Choosing a Material for 3D Printing

Introduction

At a certain point, everyone who takes up 3D printing starts wondering, “Which material should I opt for? What’s the starting point?” There are dozens of plastic materials for 3D printing available on the market, all of them produced in the shape of a filament, i.e. thread coiled around a spool. This huge variety of materials may confuse an amateur. This article will help every novice 3D printing enthusiast choose the filament that’s right for them. 

 

Diameter

Back when extruders were large and the print speed was low, a manual on how to prepare the plastic for printing would begin like this: "Take some hot-melt adhesive for a glue gun..."

In search for materials suitable for 3D printing, the first enthusiasts caught sight of the 3-mm-diameter rod used to weld plastic. And for a while, this 3-mm diameter remained the standard of amateur 3D printing.

But this very diameter has a disadvantage to it: working with it puts a significant pressure on the extruder, which necessitated the installation of additional reduction gear.

To make equipment as cheap as possible, the filament diameter was significantly reduced to 1.75 mm, the current standard. A small diameter enables it to be pushed with a gear put right on the extruder motor.

Because of its increased rigidity, 3-mm filament is still popular among the manufacturers of top-class 3D printers with Bowden extruders. For example, it is used in the design of Ultimaker printers.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing filament is what you want to use your prints for. The features of your printer are also important, since not every type of plastic is compatible with every printer — apart from the filament diameter, some relevant features are its melting point, rigidity, and the presence (or absence) of heated bed and enclosed chamber.

Now, let’s take a look at what types of filament you can get:

Materials

PLA (Polylactide)

PLA (Polylactide) is a biodegradable plastic based on lactic acid and produced from sugar cane or corn. It can also be produced from other natural substances such as potato starch or cellulose.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 190-230°C
  • Bed temperature — 20-60°C
  • Air cooling — advisable
  • Interlaminar adhesion — good
  • Bed adhesion — good

Technical specifications:

  • Melting point — 175-180°C
  • Softening temperature — 50°C
  • Operating temperature of parts — -20+40°C
  • Rockwell hardness — R70-R90
  • Elongation at break— 3,8%
  • Flexural strength — 55,3 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 57,8 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 3,3 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 2,3 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 60-65°C
  • Density — 1,23-1,25 g/sm³
  • Minimum wall thickness — 1 mm
  • Printing accuracy — ± 0,1%
  • Shrinkage during production — no
  • Water absorption — 0,2-0,4%

This plastic is non-toxic and produced by different manufacturers in a wide range of colors.

PLA is one of the most popular materials for 3D printing. Great for printing at home. This is because of the following characteristics:

Pros:

  • PLA nearly has no shrinkage during printing, ensuring that the size of the model accurately matches that of the print.
  • No heated bed required. Resistant to air exposure and therefore suitable for printing even with a cheapest open-cased printer made in China.
  • Non-toxic. During printing, the smell is pleasant and mild, allowing you to print at home without any fume extractors.
  • Firm, durable and slippery. A wide spectrum of applications.
  • Produced from natural constituents. Can come in contact with food products.
  • Biodegradable. During recycling, items made of this plastic do not harm the environment.

Cons:

  • When exposed to air or UV-light, just like any other natural material, PLA becomes more fragile over time, so it’s unadvisable to use the prints for physical loads, as well as without protective coatings when placed in outdoor conditions.
  • Low softening temperature (50°C). Easily softens and loses its shape when left in a car on a sunny day.
  • Narrow range of operating temperatures (-20 — +40°C).
  • High hardness of the material interferes with its mechanical processing.
  • Because of an increased content of residual monomers, some brands of this plastic are prone to clogging inside the full-metal hot ends.

Proceeding from the pros and cons of this filament, the following applications may be listed:

3D printing of large-sized items.

3D printing of items with precise dimensions.

3D printing of furniture decoration elements.

3D printing of interior decoration elements.

3D printing of items before painting.

Prototyping of casings and mechanical parts.

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ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a shockproof filament very commonly used for industrial purposes and in 3D printing. Since items made of ABS are quite durable, the material is often used to print functional objects with practical applications.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 210-245°C
  • Bed temperature — 90-120°C
  • Air cooling — inadvisable
  • Interlaminar adhesion — medium
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 175-210°C
  • Softening temperature — 100°C
  • Operating temperature — -40+80°C
  • Rockwell hardness — R105-R110
  • Elongation at break — 6%
  • Flexural strength — 41 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 22 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 1,6 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 2,1 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 105°C
  • Density — 1,1 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 1%
  • Shrinkage during production — up to 0,8%
  • Water absorption — 0,45%

Produced by various manufacturers in a wide range of color shades. Some manufacturers produce it without spools to cut the costs.

Due to the low costs of production materials, ABS is one of the most affordable plastics.

Pros:

  • A good combination of durability and elasticity makes it quite useful in production of mechanical parts designed to have a longer operating cycle.  
  • Due to the fact that ABS withstands higher temperatures, items produced from this plastic can be used for technical purposes.
  • Easy mechanical processing, combined with chemical surface smoothing achieved with the use of cheap solvents such as Acetone, allows making decorative items and body-frames with high-quality surfaces.

Cons:

  • This material can’t withstand exposure to UV-light and turns yellow in the sunlight, limiting the outdoor use of unpainted prints.
  • ABS fears drafts that might occur during printing, thus limiting the applications of cheap open-cased printers.
  • Because of a relatively high shrinkage, the material is prone to layer delamination and requires a heat bed, without it the first layer of the print can get stuck to the bed.
  • An unpleasant odor might occur during printing, so it’s advisable to use a ventilated room or equip the printer with a special system of exhaust ventilation with an outward outlet from the apartment.

These characteristics allow for the following applications of the material:

Printing of decorative items with subsequent processing.

Printing of mechanical items.

Small-volume printing of body frames and various components.

Printing of items designed for a long operating cycle, provided there is no exposure to direct sunlight.

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HIPS (high-impact polystyrene)

HIPS (high-impact polystyrene) is a relatively soft plastic designed specifically to be used in combination with ABS to create support for dual-extrusion 3D printing. Such use is facilitated by the following features of the material: the same extrusion temperature as that of ABS, low chance of sintering with ABS, and the fact that HIPS can be dissolved without affecting ABS (D-Limonene).

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 210-245°C
  • Bed temperature — 90-120°C
  • Air cooling — inadvisable
  • Interlaminar adhesion — medium
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 175-210°C
  • Softening temperature — 97°C
  • Operating temperature of parts — -40+70°C
  • Rockwell hardness — L79
  • Elongation at break — 64%
  • Flexural strength — 37,6 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 16,4 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 0,93 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 1,35 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 55°C
  • Density — 1,05 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 0,5%
  • Shrinkage during production — 0,4%
  • Water absorption — 1%

Moreover, the characteristics of this plastic make it suitable for DIY purposes. Today, it is produced by various manufacturers in a wide range of colors — which is, however, not as wide as that of PLA or ABS.

Pros:

  • A lower shrinkage as compared to ABS makes it suitable for very accurate printing.
  • A lower density as compared to PLA makes it suitable for printing items designed to have a more lightweight structure.
  • The softness of the surface allows for easy mechanical processing.
  • Allows for production of details with mat surface, which makes them look more neat and aesthetic.
  • Softening temperature is pretty much the same as that of ABS, making it usable in outdoor conditions.

Cons:

  • Just as ABS, material requires a heat bed and is subject to layer delamination (however, to a lower degree).
  • Lower flexural strength as compared to ABS and, consequently, more fragile prints.
  • Low resistance to UV-light limits the use of items in the sunlight.

All that said, this plastic type is suitable for the production of furniture and interior decorations.

The main application is printing of supports for ABS.

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PETG

PETG (polyethylenterephthalat glycol) is, in contrast to ABS and some other materials, a relatively new plastic type that has already gained popularity among those into 3D printing. The material is highly shockproof, and its layers are so tightly positioned together that it doesn’t break down so easily.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 215-245°C
  • Bed temperature — 20-80°C
  • Air cooling — 20%
  • Interlaminar adhesion — very high
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 222-225°C
  • Softening temperature — 80°C
  • Operating temperature — -40+70°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R106
  • Elongation at break — 50%
  • Flexural strength— 76,1 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 36,5 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 2,6 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 1,12 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 80°C
  • Density — 1,3 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 0,1%
  • Shrinkage during production — no
  • Water absorption — 0,12%

In terms of the color range, PETG is a match to ABS.

Pros:

  • There’s no odor during printing, so it’s possible to print at home without using fume extractors.
  • The absence of shrinkage ensures a high dimension accuracy.
  • The improved interlaminar shear strength ensures a high degree of durability for thick-walled prints.
  • Thanks to the material’s resistance to UV-light, printed items can be used outdoors.
  • A wide range of operating temperatures.
  • No enclosed chamber required for printing.
  • Since it’s flexible and impact-resistant, PETG is suitable for printing gear wheels, sleeves and other mechanical components.
  • Non-toxic and therefore suitable for printing food-grade items.

Cons:

  • High fluidity requires a thorough calibration of retraction settings.
  • It doesn’t take long for high printing temperatures to disable the fluoroplastic insert of the hotend, which will make you think of switching to a full-metal thermal barrier.  
  • Lower durability and softening temperature compared to ABS.

Said features account for the following applications of this plastic:

Printing of cookie cutters.

Printing of kinematic pairs that are not heavily loaded.

Printing of decorative elements for furniture and interiors.

Souvenir printing.

Printing of items used in outdoor conditions.

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SBS

SBS (styrene–butadiene–styrene) is another relatively new player on the market of 3D printing materials. It’s characterized by low toxicity and shrinkage as well as high durability. Its principal advantage is transparency. Items printed with the use of this plastic and processed with a solvent acquire the transparency of painted glass.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 220-240°C
  • Bed temperature — 70-90°C
  • Air cooling — 20%
  • Interlaminar adhesion — low
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 190-210°C
  • Softening temperature — 76°C
  • Operating temperature — -80+65°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R118
  • Elongation at break — 250%
  • Flexural strength— 36 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 34 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 1,35 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 1,45 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 95°C
  • Density — 1,01 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 0,4%
  • Shrinkage during item production — 0,2
  • Water absorption — 0,07%

The number of manufacturers on the market is limited. But the range of colors is fascinating.

Pros:

  • Relatively low shrinkage makes open-cased printers more relevant.
  • Good bed adhesion.
  • Food-grade.
  • Impact resistance.
  • Because of the wide variety of available colors, this material is suitable for creating unique decoration items.
  • Post-processing transparency. Can be used in lamps.
  • A wide range of operating temperatures, frost resistance.
  • Chemical and mechanical secondary processing is easy.

Cons:

  • Low interlaminar adhesion requires nozzles with large diameter orifices or, alternatively, you’ll have to print using 100% fill.
  • Relatively high printing temperature, as it is for PETG.

Applications:

Decoration elements.

Lamp components.

Unique design solutions, frost-resistant items.

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Flex

Flex (polyurethane) is a soft rubber-like material. Used when you need finished prints to be flexible and elastic.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 220-240°C
  • Bed temperature — 90-110°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion — good
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 200-210°C
  • Softening temperature— 110°C
  • Operating temperature — -100+100°C
  • Shore hardness — D40
  • Elongation at break — 600%
  • Flexural strength— 5,3 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 17,5 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 0,06 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 0,07 HPa
  • Density — 1,1 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 1%
  • Shrinkage during production — 0,35-0,8%
  • Water absorption — 0,04%

Some manufacturers produce the material in different varieties, with different degrees of rigidity. Few manufacturers produce colored flex, so the color range is narrow, with white, black and gray as the standard colors.

The material has a rather limited amount of applications.

Pros:

  • Flexibility is the main reason why the material is used.
  • Resistant to oil and petrol. Can come into contact with these substances.
  • A wide range of operating temperatures. Can be used to create parts of mechanical articles in conditions of higher temperatures.

Cons:

  • The complexity of printing. Modifying the extruder to be able to print with flexible materials is often required.
  • Printing with retraction isn’t always possible — retracting may cause your print to underextrude. 

Prime applications:

Gaskets and belts for engineering articles.

Shoe soles and footwear.

Any item that needs a high flexibility.

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Nylon

Nylon, a synthetic polyamide material, is characterized by a very good wear resistance, hence the main application: friction parts of kinematic pairs (gear wheels, sleeves, etc.).

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 235-260°C
  • Bed temperature — 100-120°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Coat adhesion — high
  • Bed adhesion — low

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 215-220°C
  • Softening temperature— 120°C
  • Operating temperature — -30+120°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R70-R90
  • Elongation at break — 300% phosphorescent
  • Flexural strength— 70 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 66-83 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 2,7 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 2,6 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 50-70°C
  • Density — 1,13 g/sm³
  • Minimum wall thickness — 1 mm
  • Printing accuracy — ± 3%
  • Shrinkage during production — 1%
  • Water absorption — 3,1%

Since the material is mostly used for technical purposes, the standard colors are white and, less commonly, black.

Because of its high heat tolerance, good gliding features and resistance to wear and tear, nylon is an indispensable material for various gear wheels and construction components. This is offset, however, by a high shrinkage, the necessity for an enclosed build chamber and the inability to print large items.

Pros:

  • Durability.
  • Elasticity.
  • Good glide.
  • Thermal resistance.
  • Chemical resistance.

Cons:

  • The complexity of printing.
  • High shrinkage. The modeling stage requires necessary size adjustment based on the degree of shrinkage.

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PC

PC (polycarbonate) is one of the strongest materials on this list. Resistant to physical and thermal action. Resistant to heat of 110°C . Transparent.

Industrial applications include the production of bulletproof glass and diving masks as well as greenhouses glazing. Rarely used for home 3D printing because of its high hygroscopicity, required printing temperature and shrinkage.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 270-310°C
  • Bed temperature — 90-110°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlaminar adhesion — high
  • Bed adhesion — low

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 300°C
  • Softening temperature— 127°C
  • Operating temperature — -40+120°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — D82
  • Elongation at break — 4,8%
  • Flexural strength— 89 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 57 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 1,95 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 1,8 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 161°C
  • Density — 1,2 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 6%
  • Shrinkage during production — 3
  • Water absorption — 0,2%

Used for printing engineering parts that demand high durability or are used in high-temperature environment.

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Wood

Wood or Woodfill is a type of PLA with an added mixture of tiny wood particles (sawdust). Therefore, items printed with this filament acquire a wooden texture.

Used for decorative purposes. Can be used for printing items intended for display shelves or tables: cups, figurines, souvenirs, etc. Can also be used for printing scale or architectural models.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 190-230°C
  • Bed temperature — 20-60°C
  • Air cooling — advisable
  • Interlaminar adhesion — medium
  • Bed adhesion — good

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the degree of wood fiber filling

Practically identical to regular PLA in its characteristics. However, the more wood fiber is mixed into the material, the less durable and elastic prints turn out to be.

By changing the temperature of the extruder, shades and texture of the item can be changed.

Pros:

  • Easy printing.
  • Appearance and texture are as similar to that of wood as possible.
  • Very pleasant by touch.

Cons:

  • Printing with the use of narrow nozzles is impossible (due to clogging  that may occur).
  • A little higher degree of abrasiveness.
  • Decreased item durability as compared to regular PLA.

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Metal

Metal, bronzefill, etc. is a material similar to the previous one, except that it contains particles of bronze, copper, brass or aluminum, and may use either PLA or ABS as a base plastic material. The percentage of metallic powder added to the material is normally up to 50%, but there are some filaments with this number up to 85%.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the base material, metal and the degree of filling. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the base material, metal and the degree of filling. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

The characteristics of finished items depend on the specific combination of plastic and metal that was employed as a base in the production of the filament.

This material is mainly used for printing decorative items. Some minor post-processing may allow for additional enhancement of metallic properties of this plastic.

Two things are to be taken into account when printing with this plastic. Firstly, this material is abrasive and therefore wears down standard brass nozzles fairly quick, so it’s better to replace them with nozzles made of stainless steel. Secondly, this plastic has high density — a spool of the same weight has a way less filament compared to classic materials.

Pros:

  • Metallic glow of finished prints.
  • Post-processing will allow the material to adopt a texture of a molded item.

Cons:

  • Due to an increased abrasiveness, it’s advisable to use nozzles made of stainless steel for printing.

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bioFila

bioFila (biodegradable): the main advantage of this filament is neither durability nor unique physical characteristics, but its eco-friendliness.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the manufacturer.

In the mass production of prototypes, large amounts of plastic are wasted on defective items that will be gotten rid of. The use of this plastic allows for lowering ecological damage in such cases.

Use this plastic when no special durability or flexibility is required for finished items, but a large series of prototypes is to be printed.

Pros:

  • Eco-friendliness.
  • Easy printing.

Cons:

  • Low durability.

As mentioned previously, PLA is a biodegradable plastic. Apart from this, the following brands exist: twoBEars’ bioFila and Biome3D by Biome Bioplastics.

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Conductive

Conductive is a plastic material suitable for printing conductive components of electrical lines.

The material is based on either PLA or ABS, which have conductive particles added to their composition. Consequently, the characteristics of this plastic depend on the source material. The resistance is normally rather high and amounts for hundreds of ohms per 1 sentimeter.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the base material, filler and the degree of filling. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the base material, filler and the degree of filling. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Can be used to print small items that don't require high-ampere currents or those whose high resistance can be offset by a large area of printed conductor. An ideal choice for learning guides.

Pros:

  • Conductivity.
  • If you use a dual-extrusion printer, you can print conductors right inside the finished prints.

Cons:

  • Low conductivity: in order for a small current to be carried through an item, large-diameter conductors need to be printed.

The potential of this material will be fully unleashed if you use a dual-extrusion 3D printer. By filling one extruder with regular plastic and the other with conductive plastic, you can create a component with electric conductors inside of it.

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Glow-in-the-Dark

Glow-in-the-Dark (phosphorescent plastic) is another type of decorative filament, based on PLA, ABS or PETG. This material contains a pigment capable of accumulating luminous energy and emitting it in the dark. The characteristics of this filament depend on the base material.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the base material. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the base material. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Highly suitable for printing decorative items and toys, which are supposed to have a short-lasting and pale glow.

Pros:

  • Glows in the dark.

Cons:

  • Depend on the base material.

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Magnetic

Magnetic filament is based on the same PLA or ABS, but it uses a ferromagnetic substance as an admixture. That way, the filament acquires the capability of being attracted to magnets.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the base material, magnetic admixture and the degree of filling. Also vary depending on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the base material, magnet admixture and the degree of filling. Also vary depending on the manufacturer.

This plastic is characterized by its high density, which is the same for metal-filled filaments, and by high abrasiveness. For using this material, it's advisable to substitute brass nozzles with those of stainless steel. Its magnetic properties are low, so it's more applicable for printing decorative items.

Pros:

  • Capable of interacting with magnets.

Cons:

  • Poor interaction with magnets
  • Because of its high abrasiveness, nozzles of stainless steel are more suitable for printing.

For household printing, 3D printing of models.

 

Color-Changing

Color-Changing filament is another composite of PLA and ABS, this particular type is capable of changing color depending on the temperature.

Used to print decorative items.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the base material. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the base material. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Pros:

  • Ability to change color when exposed to a temperature change.

Cons:

  • Depend on the base plastic.

For household printing, 3D printing of models.

 

Ceramo

Ceramo, ceramic is a material that imitates ceramic items. It’s firm and durable, but fragile.

In terms of tactile sensations, finished prints are practically indistinguishable from real ceramics. Mechanical processing of such items is easy.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 230-250°C
  • Bed temperature — 90-110°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion — excellent
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 215-220°C
  • Softening temperature— 110°C
  • Operating temperature — -30+102°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R70-R90
  • Flexural modulus — 3,5 HPa
  • Density — 1,11 g/sm³
  • Minimum wall thickness — 1 mm
  • Shrinkage during production — 0,5-1,2%
  • Water absorption — 0,17%

The filament thread is very fragile and therefore needs a careful installation into the printer. It's advisable to increase the wall thickness of so that they don't get completely thinned down during post-processing.

Pros:

  • The texture of finished items resembles that of ceramics.
  • Sand-papering finished prints is easy.
  • Possesses heat resistance high enough to respond well to boiling water and is normally safe (depends on the particular brand — read the manufacturer’s instructions), so it can come into contact with food and be used to produce food-grade tableware.

Cons:

  • Fragile, unadvisable for use in printers where the filament-feeding path is curved sizeably.

 

Mainly used for printing decorative items that need ceramic texture and appearance.

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Carbon Fiber

Carbon Fiber is an engineering material designed to handle heavy loads. The base material is nylon with added carbon fibers. May also be made using PLA, ABS, PETG and PC. Characteristics depend on those of the base material.

Printing parameters:

  • Depend on the base material and the degree of carbon fiber filling. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Technical specifications:

  • Depend on the base material and the degree of carbon fiber filling. Vary significantly depending on the manufacturer.

Carbon fibers give this plastic increased durability, but they also possess high abrasiveness. Using brass nozzle is highly unadvisable. According to users’ feedback, this filament can widen a 0,3-mm nozzle to 0,5 mm in just half an hour. That’s why nozzles of stainless steel or those with ruby tips are used for printing instead. The filament is used for printing items designed for heavy mechanical loads.

Pros:

  • Highly durable and elastic.
  • Can be used for printing light and durable items.
  • No high extent of filling required.

Cons:

  • High abrasiveness, requires nozzles of stainless steel or those with ruby tips.
  • The complexity of printing (depending on the base material).
  • Cost (somewhere in between regular home plastics and heat-resistant engineering materials).

Suitable for printing prototypes and fully functioning models.

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PC / ABS

PC / ABS (polycarbonate + acrylonitrilebutadiene styrene): as mentioned previously, polycarbonate is a material that is highly durable but it’s quite difficult to print with. To make the process easier, a mixture of PC and ABC is used.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 250-260°C
  • Bed temperature — 120-130°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion — good
  • Bed adhesion — bad

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 230-240°C
  • Softening temperature— 135°C
  • Operating temperature — -30+120°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R116
  • Elongation at break — 10%
  • Flexural strength— 80 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 55 MPa
  • Flexural modulus — 2,3 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 105°C
  • Density — 1,11 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 1,5%
  • Shrinkage during production — 0,7%
  • Water absorption — 0,3%

This plastic type is characterized by high impact resistance even at low temperatures, thermal resistance, high rigidity and good workability.

This makes the material suitable for making durable engineering articles and decorative prints.

Pros:

  • Impact resistance.
  • Thermal resistance.
  • Rigidity.
  • Easy post-processing.

Cons:

  • The difficulty of printing.

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Wax (MOLDLAY)

Wax (MOLDLAY) (injection molding wax) is used to create burnout models for injection molding. The model is filled with plaster and subsequently burned/melted out of it, resulting in a metal injection molding form.

The material is characterized by a low melting point and a small ash content.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 90-110°C
  • Bed temperature — 40-60°C
  • Air cooling — 0-100%
  • Interlayer adhesion — good
  • Bed adhesion — good

Technical specifications

  • Dropping point — 95°C
  • Ash content — 0,01%
  • Density — 0,98 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 1%
  • Shrinkage during production — 0,5-0,8%
  • Water absorption — no

Items printed with the use of wax can be processed with a burner as well as smoothed with a solvent, and they respond well to mechanical processing, reducing the amount of necessary post-processing of the finished metal mold.

Widely used in the jewelry industry and in the production of metallic prototypes.

Pros:

  • High printing accuracy.
  • Easy printing.
  • Low ash content.

Cons:

  • Specificity of applications.

Manufacturing, jewelry, medicine, prosthetics.

 

ASA

ASA (acrylonitrile-styrene-acrylate) is a weatherproof plastic similar to ABS but more resistant to UV-light. Doesn’t turn yellow in outdoor conditions.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 220-270°C
  • Bed temperature — 90-110°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion — medium
  • Bed adhesion — medium

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 215-220°C
  • Softening temperature— 100°C
  • Operating temperature — -40+90°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R112
  • Elongation at break — 15%
  • Flexural strength— 76.1 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 36.5 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 1.12 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 1.35 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 50-70°C
  • Density — 1,08 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 3%
  • Shrinkage during production — 1%
  • Water absorption — 3%

Used for printing parts that come into contact with the atmosphere, such as external car components.

Sockets for outdoor placement.

Sports equipment. In general, the material is used for printing items that are to withstand all possible weather conditions.

Pros:

  • Its resistance to ultraviolet radiation makes it great for printing items designed for exposure to direct sunlight.
  • A good combination of durability and elasticity makes it suitable for printing mechanical components with a longer life cycle.
  • A wide range of operating temperatures allows to create parts for technical purposes.
  • Easy mechanical processing, combined with the chemical smoothing of surfaces with the use of cheap solvents such as acetone, makes the material suitable for printing decorative items and casings with high-quality surfaces.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t respond well to drafts that might occur during printing, limiting applications of cheap open-cased printers.
  • Because of a relatively high shrinkage, the material is prone to layer delamination and requires a heat bed, without it the first layer of the print can get stuck to the bed.        
  •  You may sense an unpleasant odor during printing, so it’s advisable to use a ventilated room or equip the printer with a special system of exhaust ventilation with an outward outlet from the apartment.

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PP

PP (polypropylene) is a highly common material used in the production of packages, tableware, syringes, pipes, etc. The advantages of this material are its non-toxicity, high chemical resistance and resistance to dampness and wear.

Despite all its advantages, this material is rarely used in 3D printing. All because of its high shrinkage and difficulty of use.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 220-250°C
  • Bed temperature — 100-120°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion - medium
  • Bed adhesion - low

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 160-170°C
  • Softening temperature— 95°C
  • Operating temperature — 0+80°C
  • Shore hardness — D67
  • Elongation at break — 200%
  • Flexural strength— 40 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 30 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 1,7 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 1,5 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 10-20°C
  • Density — 0,92 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 5%
  • Shrinkage during production — 2,4%
  • Water absorption — 0,03%

Can be used for printing items that need chemical resistance or food-grade ones. It's unadvisable to use this material in freezing conditions.

Pros:

  • Its chemical inertness makes it great for printing food-grade and medical items.
  • High durability makes it suitable for making prints designed for construction loads.

Cons:

  • The complexity of printing requires a thermal camera.
  • High shrinkage.
  • Low resistance to sub-zero temperatures.

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POM

POM (polyoxymethylene) is an engineering plastic with physical and mechanical characteristics superior to that of nylon.

Very difficult to use for printing, requires controlling not only the nozzle temperature, but also the temperature inside the build chamber .

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 220-250°C
  • Bed temperature — 110-130°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion — medium
  • Bed adhesion — low

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 175-180°C
  • Softening temperature— 135°C
  • Operating temperature — -50+100°C
  • Shore hardness — D82
  • Elongation at break — 40%
  • Flexural strength— 95 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 60 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 2 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 2,6 HPa
  • Density — 1,39 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 4%
  • Shrinkage during production — 2%
  • Water absorption — 0,8%

The material is characterized by low friction and is therefore highly suitable for printing gear wheels and bearing components.

The filament is frost resistant, but high shrinkage offsets all its advantages. Selecting a glue for good bed adhesion is a difficult task.

Pros:

  • High durability allows for printing mechanically complex items.
  • Good glide allows for use in kinematic pairs.
  • Frost resistance allows for printing in sub-zero temperatures.

Cons:

  • Very high shrinkage requiring a thermal camera for printing.
  • Low bed adhesion.
  • The difficulty of printing.

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PMMA

PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate, more commonly known as plexiglass) is a durable material resistant to dampness and sunlight exposure. Transparent.

Items made of this plastic possess high elasticity and are easily glued. In traditional 3D printing, the FDM technique is rarely used.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature — 245-255°C
  • Bed temperature — 100-120°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 160°C
  • Softening temperature— 105°C
  • Operating temperature — -60+100°C
  • Rockwell hardness  — R70-R90
  • Elongation at break — 4%
  • Flexural strength— 90 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 70 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 3 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 2,1 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 50-70°C
  • Density — 1,19 g/sm³
  • Printing accuracy — ± 1%
  • Shrinkage during production — 0,4%
  • Water absorption — 0,2%

Pros:

  • Transparency
  • Resistance to UV-light
  • Easy gluing
  • Easy post-processing.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t respond well to storage in the form of spools, since constant mechanical tension results in a gradual decay;
  • To avoid the bubbling, printing resolution must be very high, pretty much impossibly high for home desktop printers;
  • Quick hardening requires a thermal camera and high print speed;
  • High print speed lowers the resolution, thus making the bubbling problem worse.

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Cleaning

Cleaning: unlike the rest of the materials on this list, cleaning filament is used for cleaning 3D printers, not for printing. It's used for removing any unwanted material that might be present in the hotend as a result of the previous printing session.

It's a good habit to use cleaning filament after changing the material or its color.

The material is quite easy to handle: all you need to do is turn on the printer, heat the hotend up to the point of reaching the operating temperature, feed some cleaning filament manually, cool the hotend a bit, and remove the filament. One cleaning session requires 10 sm of plastic or even less.

Operating temperature depends on the filament used for printing before and on the filament you intend to use in the future. The cleaning filament steadily operates in a temperature range from 150 to 280°C.

Pros:

  • Cleans the extruder.

Cons:

  • There are no other effective applications.

 

PEEK

PEEK (polyetheretherketone) is a modern semi-crystalline material providing a unique combination of mechanical, chemical and heat resistance. Its refractoriness makes it incompatible with most home desktop 3D printers.

Highly durable and heat-resistant plastic. Requires a thermal camera to be used for printing. Practically not used in home printing because of its high requirements for the temperatures of both the nozzle and the bed.

Printing parameters:

  • Extrusion temperature  — 360-410°C
  • Bed temperature — 120-180°C
  • Air cooling — unadvisable
  • Interlayer adhesion — good
  • Bed adhesion — bad

Technical specifications

  • Melting point — 343°C
  • Softening temperature— 152°C
  • Operating temperature — -196+150°C
  • Shore hardness — D85
  • Elongation at break — 45%
  • Flexural strength— 165 MPa
  • Tensile strength — 100 MPa
  • Elastic modulus — 2,3 HPa
  • Flexural modulus — 4,1 HPa
  • Glass transition temperature — 143°C
  • Density — 1,3 g/sm³
  • Minimum wall thickness — 1 mm
  • Printing accuracy — ± 3%
  • Shrinkage during production — 1%
  • Water absorption — 0,4%

Used to print functioning prototypes of items designed for heavy physical and mechanical loads and high temperatures.

Chemically inert - insoluble in oils and fuels and therefore suitable for printing crucial car components.

Pros:

  • High durability allows for printing mechanically complex items.
  • Wear resistance allows for use in kinematic pairs.
  • Very high thermal resistance for a plastic material.
  • Chemical resistance.

Cons:

  • Very high printing temperature.
  • Your printer must have a thermal camera to use this.
  • High cost.

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Conclusion

This is by no means a full list of 3D printing materials. There are many other exotic types of plastic with their own specific applications. You can order any of the abovementioned 3D printing materials, as well as practically any existent material from Top 3D Shop. Contact us, and our consultants will help you choose a material that meets your particular needs.

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