How To Choose 3D Printing Filament
The future of 3D printing keeps shining brighter due to the continually developing technology aimed at improving efficiency. This literally means business for every 3D printing specialist or anyone aspiring to go into additive manufacturing. However, to be successful, you'll need to be able to make successful prints, and making a successful 3D print requires some effort and learning on your part.
Having a 3D printer is important, knowing how to use it is quite necessary, and knowledge about the business of 3D printing is also very crucial. But to get your desired 3D printed item with the right properties, you need additional knowledge of being able to choose the right 3D printing filament for your project.
There are various factors that can affect your choice of 3D printing filament. This guide covers these factors or considerations in choosing 3D printing filament.
First of all, if you already have a printer, you might want to consider the type of printer you have. No printer will accept just any filament. Each printer has its own specific features which you must consider before choosing a material. Here's what to look out for:
- Size (diameter of filament)
The size of the filament you choose to use must fit with the printer's nozzle. The diameter of the required filament is usually 1.75mm and sometimes 2.85mm.
- The print nozzle
The material the print nozzle is made of influences the type of filament you should opt for. Abrasive material requires a tempered steel nozzle, corrosive materials require stainless steel nozzle, Common materials like nylon, PLA, ABS can be printed with a brass nozzle which happens to be the most common type of nozzle.
- Printer extruder temperature
Different printing filaments have different printing temperature ranges. For example, ABS has a printing temperature range of around 230°C to 260°C, and PLA ranges from 190°C to 230°C. Due to these temperature ranges, it is important to note the maximum extruder temperature of your printer to avoid the mistake of choosing filaments that your printer cannot successfully melt.
- Presence of a heating plate in the printer
Some filaments like ASA and ABS might require a heating plate to prevent the detachment of parts.
- Level of familiarity with the 3D process
Some materials might be too difficult for you to work with as a beginner. Here's a guide to choosing 3D filament based on your 3D printing skill level.
- Beginner level: 3D printing can be quite exciting when you first start. But to familiarize yourself with the whole process, you must start by printing filaments that are easy to use such as PLA and PET-G. The most common is PLA and it is quite inexpensive.
As a beginner, you can easily print PLA with a standard configuration. The vast use of PLA also applies to professionals too, mostly for making prototypes and tools.
PET-G is also fairly easy to print. It is another great choice for those just starting out. With BCN3D's Cura standard configuration, you can get a satisfactory output with PET-G.
- Advanced level: As an advanced user, there are several other filament options available that you should be able to work with. These filaments can print more complex designs. Some of these include ABS, TPU, PA, and PP.
For more advanced users, some filaments that contain glass fiber like PPGF30 or those with carbon fiber like PAHT CF15 might be used from time to time. These materials are difficult to print so only professionals should choose these types of materials.
Lastly, when it comes to filament selection, the most critical consideration is the final application of your print. The type of filament you choose to use is not determined only by the 3D printer's specifications or your skill in 3D printing. It is also determined by the aesthetic, mechanical, and functional requirements of the prints you want to create.
- Aesthetic Features
The aesthetic property refers to the visuals of the printed item; how it looks and feels. You'll have to decide the kind of finish you want. Do you want matte or gloss? How do you want it to feel? Smooth? Questions like these will affect the printing filament you eventually choose. For example, for a sleek and professional look, you might decide to use carbon fiber materials like PAHT CF15.
Several materials are available in the market and there are even a lot of hybrid materials (filaments with additional materials like wood, cork, or cement). These variations when used give a different finish. So, knowing what you want will guide you. The level of detail and surface quality of your project is additional information you need to guide your choice.
- Mechanical Characteristics
Filaments can be rigid and brittle, semi-flexible, elastomeric, or technical. Before selecting your filament, you must first determine what the 3D printed object will be utilized for. For example, Polycarbonate or ABS filaments should be used if you want a sturdy and impact-resistant item. TPU or TPE-based materials, on the other hand, generate easily formed pieces if you desire a flexible or semi-rigid product. For materials that will come in contact with food, choose a PET-based filament, PP, PLA, co-polyester, or nylon-6 materials. However, PLA distorts at around 60-70°C, hence it cannot be used for hot liquids applications including cleaning with a dishwasher. High-temperature PLA or PEI and co-polyester are better suited.
- Environmental Considerations
The environment where printing will take place has an impact on the choice of printing filament. Certain plastics release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during the fusion process, which can be dangerous in a confined environment over time. It is advised that such filaments be printed in an enclosed 3D printer or outdoors.
An example of such filaments is ABS. Check to see if your filament is humidity-sensitive and how it needs to be stored; dry environment or otherwise. Consider its water-resistance as well. Finally, check to see if the filament has an odor. Typical filaments used for items used in a living space are PLA, PHA, or PET.
All the above are considerations that should guide your choice of filament. When you have decided what you want, then you can compare the mechanical, aesthetic, and physical properties of several 3D printing filaments and choose the one that is best suited to your needs.
We have compiled a list of some of the most common 3D printing filaments and their respective properties to further guide your selection process.
- Polylactic Acid (PLA)
- High strength,
- Low flexibility,
- Easy to use,
- Print temperature ranges from 180-230°C,
- It is not soluble,
- Its shrinkage/warping property is minimal.
PLA is commonly used for models and prototyping. PLA can not be used for high-temperature applications as they tend to deform around a minimum temperature of 60°C.
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Easy to print,
- High strength,
- High durability,
- Not soluble,
- Minimal warping/shrinkage,
- Print temperature ranges from 220 - 250°C.
PETG is a variant of PET. This variant is naturally clearer and much easier to print than PET. It is also less brittle. PETG is hygroscopic, hence the need to store in a dry environment. PETG also produces sticky prints that scratch easily
PET and its variants find its application mostly in the production of functional items that can withstand sudden stress such as machine parts.
- Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE)
- Medium strength,
- Very high flexibility,
- Very high durability,
- Ease of use is medium,
- Print temperature is between 210 - 230°C,
- Not soluble,
- Minimal warping/shrinkage.
TPEs and their copolymers (TPU, TPC) are not safe for contact with food. You can use these filaments for items that may take a lot of wear, or for flexible items that can bend, compress or stretch. Examples include children's toys and wristbands.
TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane) is a more rigid and durable choice than TPE and can retain its elasticity property in harsh conditions, specifically cold weather conditions. TPC (Thermoplastic copolyester) on the other hand can withstand relatively higher temperatures up to about 150°C. It also has a high resistance to ultraviolet and chemical exposure making it suitable for harsher conditions applications.
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
- Medium flexibility,
- Slightly difficult to use,
- High strength,
- Considerable warping/shrinkage,
- Highly durable,
- Print temperature of 210 -250°C,
- Soluble in esters, acetone, and ketones,
- Not safe for contact with food.
ABS is commonly used in the production of items that are prone to wear, as well as items for high-temperature application. Some of the most common 3D printed items made using ABS include automotive trim components, high-wear toys, and electrical enclosures.
Note that ABS produces hazardous fumes while printing. Therefore, printing should be done with an enclosed printer or outdoors where it poses no risks.
- Print temperature ranges from 240-260°C,
- Print bed temperature ranges from 70-100°C,
- High strength,
- Fairly difficult to use,
- Not soluble,
- Prone to a considerable amount of warping/shrinkage,
- Nylon can be dyed to your color of choice before or after printing.
Nylon is expensive and hygroscopic; you'll have to store it in a dry place to prevent it from absorbing moisture. Owing to nylon's strength and durability, it is used mostly in making mechanical parts and tools.
We've outlined some of the important factors that will guide your 3D printing filament choice. The printer requirements, your skill as a 3D printing specialist, the properties of the filament and the final application of the product are all important factors to consider in your selection. We have also covered the properties of some of the basic 3D printing filaments to better guide your choice. At the end of the day, the more 3D printing you do, the more clarity you'll get on what filaments suit your purpose more