3D printing, with its unique way of processing material for manufacturing, has created a multibillion-dollar 3d printing materials industry. 3D printer materials are as diverse as the 3d printing application. So before starting, it’s important to understand what materials are used in 3d printing or, more specifically, what materials you need to do 3d printing.
In general 3d printing is associated with a particular process called Fused deposition modeling or FDM 3D printing which is also known as Fused Filament Fabrication FFF. In this article, we will be discussing only desktop FDM 3d printer materials means all industrial grade, resin, and powered-based materials are excluded.
What is unique about FDM 3d printer materials?
It’s a filament, which is the name given to the material shape in which it’s used by an FDM 3d printer. It’s a thin wire of plastic material that has a standard diameter of 1.75 mm or 2.85 mm. The filament is manufactured using a process called compounding.
First, plastic material pallets are produced and then mixed with additives to get the required 3d printing properties. The mixture is then extruded to produce long filaments that are wound onto 0.5 or 1 kg rolls called spools.
DIY filament-making machines are new in this category and work on the same principle as of 3d printers to melt and extrude reusable plastic material to produce filament.
What materials do 3d printing use?
Plastic, metal, ceramic, and composites can all be processed by 3d printers to print useful products. Most desktop FDM 3d printers are designed and used to print plastic-based 3D printing materials. These materials vary, with each offering unique properties in the final product. It’s a good practice to classify plastic 3D printing materials based on the unique qualities they offer. They are classified as
- Standard Filaments
- Strong and impact resistant Filaments
- Flexible Filaments
- Transparent Filaments
In FDM 3d printing, PLA and PLA Plus are considered to be standard filaments as they are the first choice of every new user. Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a thermoplastic made from organic materials like corn or sugarcane starch. PLA offers little material rigidity and strength, but it’s highly brittle. PLA Plus offers greater material strength than PLA. PLA and PLA Plus are highly and easily affected by external factors like chemicals, heat, and moisture. It’s also biodegradable and odorless before and after printing.
It’s the most widely used 3d printer material as it is easy to print and gives a great surface finish. PLA and PLA Plus both need a nozzle temperature of 190 to 210 ℃ and can be printed with a non-heated bed. Recommended bed temperature is 50 to 60 ℃ for best results. PLA costs less as compared to all other 3d printing materials and is used for visual printing applications and concept models like action figures, toys, and decoration pieces. They can also print scale prototypes of industrial or medical-related products and parts like engine parts, body parts, gears, and architecture models for educational purposes.
There are various types of PLA filament available at the flash forge shop (flashforgeshop.com).
PLA filament option includes
- Standard PLA Filament
- PLA Pro Filament
- PLA MultiColor Filament
- PLA Luminous Filament
- PLA Matt Filament
- PLA Dream Filament
- PLA Silk Filament
- PLA Silk Dual-Color Filament
- PLA Rainbow Filament
- Clear PLA Transparent Filament
- Color PLA Transparent Filament
Stronge and Impact Resistance Filaments
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and Nylon are the two strongest FDM 3d printing materials. ABS is a tough and durable material with the ability to resist external stress. It also has satisfactory impact resistance and can be used in all types of environments. Nylon is also tough but is also a semi-flexible material. It offers great impact resistance, fatigue resistance, heat resistance, and abrasion resistance and can be used to print durable parts.
ABS and nylon both need a high nozzle temperature of 220 to 250 ℃ with the limitation of a heated bed with a 90 to 110 ℃ temperature. To print ABS and nylon, the printer needs to be covered from all ends. ABS produces a pungent smell while printing, whereas nylon needs to be protected against moisture Experience or a perfect setting is needed in 3D printing both ABS and nylon involve heavy wrapping.
ABS and nylon are both heat-resistant materials that can be used in all those applications where the product is subjected to a heated environment. Their excellent mechanical properties make them ideal for printing functional prototypes like fidget spinners, plastic nuts, bolts, plastic gears, and working models like door catches and lego bricks.
There are various color options available for ABS and ABS Pro filament at flash forge shop (flashforgeshop.com).
Color option includes
- Blue ABS Filament
- Green ABS Filament
- Yellow ABS Filament
- Gold ABS Filament
- Grey ABS Filament
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) are flexible filaments manufactured using hard plastic and rubber. The rubber content in hard plastic allows the plastic to be flexed and stretched easily. TPU is a type of TPE and is the most widely available and used flexible filament. TPU is not only flexible but also soft to the touch and has excellent fatigue resistance.
The flexibility of the filament depends on the content of TPE and chemical compounds used for the manufacturing. They are not easy to print as they need a high nozzle temperature of up to 245 ℃ with a heated bed of 50 ℃ minimum. During printing, continuous fan cooling is needed by the part for the best results. Being soft and flexible, these filaments are used to print phone cases, RC car tires, bike handles, Grip sleeves, and various small vibration dampers.
With recent developments in 3D printing materials, almost all FDM 3d printing filaments now offer transparent filaments. These can be used to 3D print a variety of products with a transparent body. ABS, TPU, and PLA all offer a transparent variant, but Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol PETG is specialized in this field.
In 3d printing materials, being transparent does mean being clear. A variety of color options are also available for transparent filaments. Filament with no color and having a clear glass-like look is categorized as clear transparent filament. Transparent PLA with various colors like red, green, and yellow is in great demand. Being a Glycol variant of Polyethylene Terephthalate PET, PETG is the most famous plastic for manufacturing clear plastic bottles. It is the best option for water-resistant, chemical-resistant, rigid, and fatigue-resistant 3d printer material. TPU is famous for printing transparent and flexible products.
Concluding the 3D Printer Materials
3D printer materials need to have some very specific properties as none of the regular manufacturing materials can be used in 3d printing. FDM is the most widely used consumer-end 3d printing method and has the widest range of materials available. Materials can be classified on their unique characteristics like easy to print, strong and impact resistant, flexible, and transparent. PLA is the most used material, with ABS the strongest one. TPU is flexible, and PETG is a clear glossy option available for 3d printing.