Which Filaments to Choose For 3D printing?
Once you start 3d printing, you have to choose an ideal 3d printing filament that suits your requirements. There are many filaments available, and choosing the right one has to be an informed choice.
You might have to consider a few factors before choosing a filament, such as, what should be the strength of your printed part? What kind of precision and accuracy are you looking for? How flexible your part needs to be? Etc. So following is a list of some popular 3d printing filaments that will help you determine the right choice for your 3d printing project.
With its high impact resistance and toughness, ABS is one of the most popular 3d printing filaments. It's strong, and a bit flexible and can be easily extruded.
- Lightweight and durable
- Cheap cost
- Preferred among professionals and newbies alike
- Unpleasant fumes
- Non-biodegradable because of being petroleum-based
- Warps easily
- Requires high temperature to melt
ABS is most used in making toys, moving parts, and electronic parts. It is also used in bicycle helmets, automotive components, wedding rings, phone cases, car phone mounts, etc.
PLA is highly used in consumer-grade 3d printing products. It is also one of the most popular 3d printing filaments in general. It is available in different colors. It is also biodegradable and doesn’t warp easily.
- Easily printable
- Comes in translucent and glow in the dark colors
- Produces a good, candy-like smell
- Can jam or clog the printer nozzle at times
PLA is often used in prototype parts, medical implants, food containers, low wear toys, etc.
PETT (PETG, PET)
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a very common plastic-type. It is often used in food containers and plastic bottles. For 3d printing, PETG is used, which is a variant of PET. The 'G' here stands for 'glycol-modified.' This modification makes the filament easier to print and less brittle.
- High flexibility and strength
- High resistance to impact and temperature
- Easy to print
- Hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air, so proper storage is required)
- The surface can be easily scratched
PET is often used in phone cases, electronics, mechanical components, jewelry, protective components, etc.
Polyvinyl alcohol is biodegradable and non-toxic. Not only is PVA easy to print, but also it acts as a good support material for different overhangs while 3d printing.
- Non-toxic and biodegradable
- Easy to print
- High cost compared to other materials
- Not easily available
- Hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air)
PVA is often used in packaging films, paper adhesive thickeners, and children's’ toys.
Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are plastics but have rubber-like quality. This renders them durable and flexible. TPE can withstand physical stress to a high degree as it is stretchable and soft. TPE objects can withstand a considerable amount of wear and can be used in environments where a high degree of bending, compression, and stretching is required.
- High flexibility
- Can sustain bending and compression
- Slow print speed
- Not easy to print
Nylon is already used in many industrial components and is one of the most used filaments for 3d printing. When considering strength, durability, and flexibility, Nylon comes forth as the most logical choice for 3d printing.
Nylon is also unique because you can dye it before or after printing. If you want to create functional prototypes, tools, gears, buckles, hinges, etc., then Nylon is a good option owing to its strength and durability.
- Flexibility, durability, and strength
- Can be used after remelting
- Less brittle than ABS and PLA
- Can emit toxic fumes when heated
- Requires high print bed temperature
Wood filaments are, in reality, PLA infused with wood fiber. This combination allows you to print objects that look and feel like wood. The wood that is used with PLA can be willow, ebony, pine, birch, etc. Although you can make aesthetically superior parts with wood filaments, strength and flexibility will be lower than in other materials. While using wood, you’ll have to be cautious with the temperature because too much can damage or burn the material. Also, there’s a chance that wood filament can cause wear to your printer’s nozzle.
You can use wood with objects that are meant for good appearance as opposed to performing complex functions. Decoration items that are to be displayed on tables, shelves, or desks can be printed using wood filament. You can also create scale models using this filament.
- Aesthetically superior. Best suited for models.
- You can cut and paint models.
- Weaker in strength
- Less flexibility
- Can cause wear and tear to the nozzle
Metal filaments can offer a great way to create models that have a luster and are bulky. Metals filaments are made from a combination of ABS/PLA and metal powder. The weight and look of the final model are just like pure metal because metal blends are denser than PLA and ABS.
In terms of commercial availability, you can use filaments that are made using brass, aluminum, copper, bronze, and stainless steel. Like wood filament, metal powder grains are abrasive and can affect the life of your nozzle. You can use metal filaments if you are looking for a mix of visual appeal and functionality. Tools, toys, models, and finishing components can be manufactured using metal filament.
- Visual appeal, metallic look, and finish
- Little shrinkage and warping during cooling
- Abrasive to nozzle
- Not easy to print
Conductive filaments are unique in the sense that they can conduct electricity. Conductive filaments are PLA and ABS materials with added conductive carbon particulates. These filaments are great for small scale electronic projects. The filament can be used in digital keyboards, circuit boards, gaming controllers, etc.
- Doesn't require a heated bed
- Suitable for electronics projects
- Warps/shrinks during cooling
- Not flexible
- Not durable
Carbon fibers filaments are formed by reinforcing ABS, PLA, etc. with carbon fiber. The final product is rigid, stiff, and is relatively lightweight. Carbon fiber materials are widely used in structural applications, but printing such materials frequently can cause the wearing of your printer's nozzle.
Because of less density and better structural strength, many mechanical components can be printed using carbon fiber filaments.
- Improved structural properties
- Minimal shrinkage during cooling
- It causes wear and tear on the printer's nozzle.
When powdered iron is mixed with PLA or ABS, the resulting product is a magnetic filament. The material is ferromagnetic and is attracted to objects with a magnetic field. The material also has a gunmetal finish. You can print tools and toys with this material.
- Aesthetically appealing
- Strong and durable
- Can stick to magnets
- Requires very specific post-processing
- Needs a heated bed
The vast majority of materials being used in the industry consist of plastic. Among the few non-plastic options that are available, clay is very popular. The clay filaments are typically made of clay and copper. The filament is very brittle and is often used for faux-pottery. Products that are required to have a handmade earthenware look can be printed using this material.
- Properties similar to clay
- Can be fired in a kiln
- Parts can shrink/warp during cooling
HIPS (high impact polystyrene), combines the elasticity of rubber with the hardness of polystyrene. It is a copolymer and is often used to manufacture protective packaging. HIPS materials are commonly used to print 'supports' during printing 3d models. Supports are used to hold overhang materials.
- Stronger than PLA/ABS
- Less shrinkage/warping than ABS
- Can be painted easily
- Can be only used with ABS
- Has adhesion and curling issues
ASA or acrylonitrile styrene acrylate is considered as a weather-resistant material. The ASA filaments are easy to print and are relatively rigid and strong. A significant benefit is that ASA can resist exposure to chemicals and heat. Unlike ABS, models printed from ASA don't denature and turn yellow upon exposure to heat and sunlight.
- Warps less as compared to ABS
- Suitable for making automotive parts
- Can crack during printing
Polypropylene (PP) has a broad range of applications because of its many favorable properties. The material is resistant to chemicals and is also lightweight, flexible, and tough. Textiles, engineering plastics, and food packaging industries often use this material.
When it comes to 3d printing, PP is not a very user-friendly material. It can warp a bit too much and lackluster layer adhesion. These are the reasons that PP is not in the league of ABS and PLA despite having one of the best chemical and structural properties. Generally, PP is suitable for materials that need to be printed with a lightweight but need to have considerable strength as well.
- High strength and durability
- Resistant to chemicals
- Poor layer adhesion
- Not easy to print
- Can warp considerably
Wax material is used in investment casting. Wax filaments allow you to create parts that resemble metals like tin, brass, etc. Wax materials are softer than the majority of other filaments. However, you need to modify your extruder a bit. The print bed might need to be layered with an adhesive as well.
- Allows you to make molds from your printer
- Limited applications
- Modification required to your printer for using it
Acetal is also known as POM (polyoxymethylene) and is often used in plastic parts that require high precision. Acetal is also used in zippers, bearings, gears, and camera focusing mechanisms. Because of its strength and rigidity, Acetal is highly preferred for these applications. It also makes for a good 3d printing material owing to its low coefficient of friction. Acetal can be used in moving parts where toughness and low friction are a requirement.
- High strength and rigidity
- Resistant to chemicals and heat
- Best suited for functional applications
- High print bed temperature required
- First layer adhesion is not easy.