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Filaments Guide

 

PLA

In 3D printing industry, polylactic acid (PLA) is king. PLA is the most popular 3D printer filament type, and for good reason. It’s easy to print with. PLA has a lower printing temperature, and it doesn’t warp as easily, meaning it doesn’t require a heating bed (although it definitely helps). Another benefit to using PLA is that it doesn’t produce bed smell during printing. It’s generally considered an odorless filament.

 

PLA is biodegradable and more environmentally friendly than most types of 3D printer filament, being made from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugar cane.

 

Difficulty to use: Medium

Print temperature: 180°C – 230°C

Print bed temperature: 20°C – 60°C (but not needed)

Speed: 60-100 mm/s

Shrinkage/warping: Minimal

Soluble: No

 

ABS

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is the second most popular 3D printer filament, after PLA. With respect to its material properties, ABS is actually moderately superior to PLA, despite being slightly more difficult to print with. It’s for this reason that ABS is found in many manufactured household and consumer goods, including LEGO bricks and bicycle helmets.

 

Products made of ABS boast high durability and a capacity to withstand high temperatures, but 3D printer enthusiasts should be mindful of the filament’s high printing temperature, tendency to warp during cooling, and intense fumes. Be sure to print with a heating bed, and in a well-ventilated space. ABS is tough – able to withstand high stress and temperature. It’s also moderately flexible. Together these properties make ABS a good general-purpose 3D printer filament, but where it really shines is with items that are frequently handled, dropped, or heated. Examples include phone cases, high-wear toys, tool handles, automotive trim components, and electrical enclosures.

 

Difficulty to use: Medium

Print temperature: 210°C – 250°C

Speed: 60-100 mm/s

Print bed temperature: 80°C – 110°C

Shrinkage/warping: Considerable

Soluble: In esters, ketones, and acetone

 

PETG

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most commonly used plastic in the world. Best known as the polymer used in water bottles, it is also found in food containers. While “raw” PET is rarely used in 3D printing, its variant PETG is a popular 3D printer filament.

 

The ‘G’ in PETG stands for “glycol-modified”, and the result is a filament which is clearer, less brittle, and most importantly, easier to use than its base form. For this reason, PETG is often considered a good middle ground between ABS and PLA, the two most commonly used types of 3D printer filament, as it is more flexible and durable than PLA and easier to print than ABS.

 

Difficulty to use: Low

Print temperature: 220°C – 250°C

Print bed temperature: 50°C – 75°C

Speed: 60-100 mm/s

Shrinkage/warping: Minimal

Soluble: No

TPU

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is essentially plastic with rubber-like qualities, making it extremely flexible and durable. TPU is commonly found in automotive parts, household appliances, and medical supplies. Soft and stretchable, these filaments can withstand punishment that neither ABS nor PLA can tolerate. On the other hand, printing is not always easy, as TPU can be difficult to extrude.

Use TPU when creating objects that need to take a lot of wear. If your print should bend, stretch, or compress, these are the right 3D printer filaments for the job. Example prints might include toys, phone cases, or wearables (like wristbands).

 

Difficulty to use: Medium

Print temperature: 210°C – 230°C

Print bed temperature: 30°C – 60°C (but not needed)

Speed: 30-40 mm/s

Shrinkage/warping: Minimal

Soluble: No

 

PC

Polycarbonate (PC), in addition to being the strongest 3D printer filament, is extremely durable and resistant to both physical impact and heat, able to withstand temperatures of up to 110°C. It’s also transparent, which explains its use in commercial items such as bullet proof glass, scuba masks, and electronic display screens. PC 3D printer filament is hygroscopic, able to absorb water from the air, so remember to store it in a cool, dry place to ensure better quality prints.

 

Due to its physical properties, PC is an ideal 3D printer filament for parts that need to retain their strength, toughness, and shape in high-temperature environments, such as electrical, mechanical, or automotive components.

 

Difficulty to use: Medium

Print temperature: 250°C – 290°C

Print bed temperature: 90°C – 110°C

Speed: 60-100 mm/s

Shrinkage/warping: Considerable

Soluble: No

 

Wood

 

This filament is not 100% wood but is basically 60 – 70% PLA infused with 30 – 40% of wooden fibers and when printed, looks and feels like wood. Many wood-PLA 3D printer filament blends exist on the market today. These include the more standard wood varieties, such Pine, Birch, Cedar, Ebony, and Willow, but the range also extends itself to less common types, like Bamboo, cherry, Coconut, Cork, and Olive.

As with other types of 3D printer filament, there is a trade-off with using wood. In this case, aesthetic and tactile appeal comes at the cost of reduced flexibility and strength.

Be careful with the temperature at which you print wood, as too much heat can result in an almost burnt or caramelized appearance. On the other hand, the base appearance of your wooden creations can be greatly improved with a little post-print processing!

 

Wood is popular with items that are appreciated less for their functional capabilities, and more for their appearance. Consider using wood 3D printer filament when printing objects that are displayed on a desk, table, or shelf. Examples include bowls, figurines, and awards. One really creative application of wood as a 3D printer filament is in the creation of scale models, such as those used in architecture.

 

Difficulty to use: High

Print temperature: 170°C – 220°C

Print bed temperature: 40°C – 60°C

Speed: 60-100 mm/s

Shrinkage/warping: Minimal

Soluble: No

 

PVA

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is soluble in water, and that’s exactly what commercial applications take advantage of. Popular uses include packaging for dishwasher detergent “pods” or bags full of fishing bait. (Throw the bag in water and watch it dissolve, releasing the bait). The same principal applies in 3D printing, making PVA a great support material when paired with another 3D printer filament in a dual extrusion 3D printer. PVA filament is a great choice as a support material on complex prints with overhangs.

 

Print temperature: 170°C – 200°C

Shrinkage/warping: Minimal

Soluble: Soluble in water

 

HIPS

 

In the commercial world, high impact polystyrene (HIPS) – a copolymer that combines the hardness of polystyrene and the elasticity of rubber – is commonly found in protective packaging and containers, like CD cases.

In the world of 3D printing, HIPS typically plays a different role. 3D printers can’t print onto thin air. Overhangs require some underlying structure, and this is where HIPS really shines. When paired with ABS in a dual extrusion printer, HIPS is an excellent support material. In fact, despite its primary use as a support material, HIPS is a decent 3D printer filament in its own right. It is stronger than both PLA and ABS, warps less than ABS, and can easily be glued, sanded, and painted.

 

Print temperature: 200°C – 230°C

Shrinkage/warping: Minimal

Soluble: Soluble in limonene