3D Printer Filament Types
Owning a 3D printer unlocks a realm of opportunities, whether it’s producing functional items like prosthetics or enjoying recreational activities like creating tabletop gaming figurines. However, there is one essential element that ties it all together.
The 3D printer filament is an essential component for printing. Although there are numerous options, it is imperative to comprehend the various types of filaments and their suitable applications.
In the following section, we will discuss the commonly used 3D printer filaments, including PLA and PETG, as well as the more robust engineering-grade materials and the exciting filaments that offer creative possibilities. This will also include nylon, polycarbonate, and carbon fiber-reinforced filament.
Types Of 3D Printing Filament
When it comes to consumer 3D printing, PLA is the dominant material. Despite being compared to ABS, which is considered a close contender, PLA remains the most widely used type of 3D printer filament. This is because it has many advantages that make it a popular choice.
PLA has several advantages when it comes to printing. It has a lower printing temperature than ABS and is less prone to warping, so a heated print bed is not always necessary (although it can be helpful).
Additionally, unlike ABS, PLA emits little to no odor during printing, which can produce an unpleasant smell. However, depending on the type of PLA, some users have reported a sweet candy-like aroma.
Furthermore, PLA comes in various colors and styles, making it a popular choice for users. Many specialty filaments use PLA as their base material, such as those with conductive or glow-in-the-dark properties or those infused with wood or metal.
PLA is also considered more environmentally friendly than other 3D printer filaments, as it will biodegrade under certain commercially available conditions. However, it cannot be composted at home, so it is not entirely a “green” material, although it may be a better choice than some others.
When Is It Appropriate To Use PLA 3D Printing Filament?
PLA is a suitable choice for creating cosmetic 3D prints, but not ideal for other purposes. Despite having high tensile strength, it lacks toughness and flexibility, making it prone to becoming brittle and susceptible to cracking in applications that require impact resistance or bending.
Additionally, PLA’s low-temperature printability makes it unsuitable for applications that require heat resistance, as the material will warp when exposed to direct sunlight or in-car conditions due to its low glass transition temperature of 57°C.
Moreover, PLA tends to creep or deform under load at room temperature, making it unsuitable for functional prints that require fasteners or serve a load-bearing purpose. As a result, many 3D printing enthusiasts switch to other materials once they have become proficient with slicer settings and 3D printer tuning using PLA.
PLA Filament Properties
|Difficulty to use||Low|
|Print temperature||180 – 230°C|
|Print bed temperature||
20 – 70°C (not required)
Refer to manufacturer guidelines
|Printing Tips for PLA Filament||Information|
|Extrusion Temperature||Maintain temperature around ±210 ºC for best results. Too high a temperature can cause oozing, while too low a temperature can cause blobs or lack of bed adherence.|
|Bed Adhesion Temperature||PLA has excellent print surface adhesion, but a heated bed can support even temperature stability during the early stages of printing. The optimal bed temperature range is 40-60 ºC.|
|Moisture & Storage||PLA has low hygroscopicity and can be stored ideally in a sealed bag with a desiccant in its original filament box. No specialized storage arrangement is necessary.|
|Drying before Printing||If PLA filament is not appropriately stored, it can be dried in an oven at a maximum temperature of 50 ºC for 6-12 hours.|
|Cooling||Applying cooling during printing is recommended, as PLA has a lower tendency to warp compared to many other filaments.|
|Your First Layers||PLA filament exhibits strong interlayer bonding, with minor layer height changes mainly affecting the model’s visual appearance.|
|Speeds||Modifying printing speeds can reduce job time, albeit at the expense of print quality. With experience, optimal results can be achieved more quickly.|
|Skirt/Brim||While not necessary, adding a brim or skirt during printing can mitigate issues associated with printing large parts.|
Once you become proficient with PLA, PETG should be your next filament. PETG is comparable to the plastic used in water bottles and food containers, with the addition of glycol to enhance its printability. PETG outperforms PLA in many significant aspects. It is slightly more durable, significantly more resistant to heat, exhibits excellent creep resistance, and is a viable option for functional 3D printing.
On the other hand, PETG is marginally more challenging to print with. This is not necessarily a disadvantage. While it is nearly impossible for a well-calibrated printer to produce PLA prints with errors, achieving successful PETG prints requires a better understanding of slicing software and first-layer calibration.
As a result, using PETG is a safe approach to learning these concepts, which are crucial for mastering other technically challenging 3D printing filaments.
PETG is also highly hygroscopic, so it must be dried before printing if you live in a humid climate. While the prints are not susceptible to moisture absorption, a damp filament can cause extrusion and print quality problems.
Additionally, if the first layer is printed too close to the build surface, the material can permanently bond to most 3D printing surfaces.
The sticky, syrupy texture of the molten filament also makes it unsuitable for bridging and steep overhangs. However, this also translates into excellent layer adhesion despite the low printing temperature.
When Is It Appropriate To Use PETG 3D Printing Filament?
PETG is a versatile filament that excels in its flexibility, strength, and ability to withstand high temperatures and impact. As a result, it is an excellent choice for printing functional objects that may be subject to prolonged or sudden stress, such as mechanical and protective components for printers.
PETG Filament Properties
|Difficulty to use||Low|
|Print temperature||220 – 250 °C|
|Print bed temperature||50 – 75 °C|
Refer to manufacturer guidelines
PETG Printing Checklist
|PETG Printing Checklist||Information|
|Extrusion Temperature||Maintain temperature around ±230 ºC for best results. PETG has more elasticity when molten than many other non-flexible filaments.|
|Bed Adhesion Temperature||PETG may have adhesion issues with standard beds, creating improper adhesion and increased warping during the printing process. A heated bed set between 60-80 ºC is recommended to reduce these issues. Using a brim may also help to minimize warping.|
|Moisture & Storage||Although PETG is highly resistant to liquid, it is hygroscopic and must be stored in an airtight, sealed bag to prevent moisture absorption and maintain print quality. Blobbing and oozing during prints is a sign of moisture retention.|
|Drying before Printing||If PETG is not appropriately stored, it should be dried for 6-16 hours at 50 ºC before printing to reduce moisture content, similar to ABS.|
|Cooling||Cooling is not necessary during PETG printing and is only beneficial for small, complex parts.|
|Your First Layers||PETG layer height should match the model’s requirements, but smaller layer heights improve the overall aesthetic quality of the object.|
|Speeds||Optimizing printing speeds can improve surface finish and overall model glossiness. However, as PETG is prone to oozing and stringing, slower speeds may be preferred. Bridging with PETG is complicated and must be considered when choosing a model to print.|
|Skirt / Brim||Not required, but using a brim may aid in reducing warping if the model is not adhering well to the print bed.|
|Support Material||PVA or PETG breakaways are recommended for support.|
|Priming Pillar||Use the priming pillar when printing with breakaway support or dual-color prints.|
When used in injection molding, ABS can be seen in various consumer products such as car dashboards, switchgear, pipe fittings, toys, and the chassis of many durable goods. Due to its widespread usage and affordability, it has become the preferred material for the commercial 3D printing industry. Its excellent price-to-performance ratio and decent heat resistance make it a great choice.
Due to its heat resistance, ABS filament is unsuitable for cheap PTFE-lined hot ends. Most ABS filaments require nozzle temperatures of around 250°C, which make it mandatory to use all-metal hot ends for safe printing.
Additionally, ABS filament produces harmful VOCs such as styrene, which can negatively impact health. To know more about ABS and its comparison to PLA, check out our ABS vs. PLA comparison.
However, printing ABS filament can be challenging due to their tendency to warp. This makes printing difficult unless you use a printer with a heated enclosure, such as the Voron series of DIY 3D printers. Large ABS prints on unenclosed printers pose such problems as delamination, bed adhesion, and warping.
Nonetheless, modern ABS filament blends print fine if you keep the build volume enclosed and use the heated bed as a passive heat source. You can also mitigate these issues by using carbon fiber and glass fiber-enhanced ABS composite filaments.
When Is It Appropriate To Use ABS 3D Printing Filament?
ABS is a robust material that can endure high stress and temperatures. While it has moderate flexibility, other filaments offer better flexibility. Nonetheless, ABS is an excellent option for general-purpose 3D printing due to its overall properties.
However, its exceptional strength and durability make it ideal for producing items frequently exposed to handling, dropping, or heat. Such items include phone cases, toys subject to high wear and tear, tool handles, automotive trim components, and electrical enclosures.
ABS Filament Properties
|Difficulty to use||Medium|
|Print temperature||210 – 250 °C|
|Print bed temperature||80 – 110 °C|
|Soluble in||Esters, ketones, and acetone|
|Food safety||Not food safe|
ABS Printing Checklist
|ABS Printing Checklist||Information|
|Extrusion Temperature||Maintain temperature at ±230 ºC, as ABS requires higher temperatures to be extruded. Note that ABS produces fumes when heated, so printing with a closed enclosure is recommended.|
|Bed Adhesion Temperature||ABS has significant shrinkage when cooled, causing warping in certain areas. A heated bed between 80-90 ºC allows temperature stability to reduce shrinkage. Adding a flex plate allows for easy part removal without damage. Print more significant parts inside an enclosure after proper bed leveling, with skirts and brims as needed.|
|Bed Adhesion Options||Use a heated bed with a BuildTak surface for optimal results.|
|Moisture & Storage||ABS is hygroscopic and must be stored in an airtight container with silica bags to prevent excess moisture. Watch for excess fumes and oozing when printing, as these may indicate moisture issues.|
|Drying before Printing||Although ABS softens at 80 ºC, it should be dried in a 50 ºC oven for 6-16 hours to maintain spool integrity.|
|Cooling||ABS experiences significant shrinkage during cooling and should not be cooled during printing to minimize warping.|
|Your First Layers||Increasing layer height may result in plateauing, requiring consideration for smaller parts.|
|Speeds||Keep printing speeds consistent during printing to improve overall quality.|
|Skirt / Brim||Recommended for both large and small ABS parts.|
|Raft||Recommended for large surface area prints.|
|Support Material||When printing with support, use HIPS due to its similar extrusion temperature. Dissolve HIPS using d-limonene after printing.|
|Priming Pillar||Use when printing with two materials, such as HIPS, as support for ABS or dual-color prints.|
Polyamide (PA), commonly known as Nylon, is a well-known group of synthetic polymers utilized in various industrial applications. Due to its desirable characteristics, it is frequently used as the primary material for powder-fusion 3D printing.
When used as a 3D printing filament, Nylon is an excellent choice for applications where strength, flexibility, and durability are essential factors.
One of the unique features of this 3D printer filament is that it can be dyed either before or post the printing process. However, Nylon, similar to PETG, is hygroscopic, implying that it possesses the ability to absorb moisture.
To ensure high-quality prints, it is essential to preserve the filament in optimal condition by storing it in a cool and dry place that is well-sealed and moisture-free.
Nylon is a prevalent material in the FDM 3D printing realm, and it exists in various blends offering different trade-offs between heat resistance, durability, toughness, and creep resistance.
Creep resistance is crucial since Nylon tends to suffer from heat creep in its natural state. As a result, most engineering applications necessitate using Nylon blended with carbon or glass fiber to enhance tensile strength, temperature tolerance, and creep resistance.
By capitalizing on Nylon’s durability, flexibility, and strength, this 3D printer filament can be utilized to create an array of mechanical parts, functional prototypes, or tools, including gears, hinges, and buckles.
When Is It Appropriate To Use Nylon 3D Printing Filament?
Polyamide (PA) prints serve functional purposes, particularly as mechanical parts like hinges, gears, and levers. Nylon’s strength and durability make it a suitable material for creating customized tools and prototypes that require robust meshing components capable of withstanding friction and impact.
Additionally, the rigidity and flexibility of the material can be tailored to meet specific engineering requirements using different glass fiber and carbon fiber blends.
Nylon Filament Properties
|Difficulty to use||Medium|
|Print temperature||240 – 260 °C|
|Print bed temperature||70 – 100 °C|
|Food safety||Refer to manufacturer guidelines|
Nylon Printing Checklist
|Nylon Printing Checklist||Information|
|Extrusion Temperature||Maintain temperature at ±250 ºC, as Nylon has a high extrusion temperature. Be mindful of this, as high temperature can lead to stringing and oozing, while low temperature causes bed adherence issues.|
|Bed Adhesion Temperature||Nylon does not adhere well with most surfaces, including BuildTak. A heated bed between 90-100 ºC will help prevent warping during printing. Use J8567 stickers to keep the first layer stuck to the build-plate, as warping can cause cracking during printing. Print with an enclosure closed to reduce temperature changes and prevent cracking.|
|Bed Adhesion Options||Use a heated bed or a BuildTak surface with J8567 stickers for optimal results.|
|Moisture & Storage||Store Nylon filament correctly sealed airtight to avoid excessive moisture absorption, leading to rougher texture on printed models, increased oozing, and popping or cracking sounds.|
|Drying before Printing||If Nylon is not stored correctly, dry the filament in an oven between 6-16 hours at 50 ºC to remove excess moisture.|
|Cooling||Nylon does not require cooling to minimize cracking due to shrinkage.|
|Your First Layers||Nylon has no layer height requirements except aesthetics. Increasing the shell layers helps reduce cracking in Nylon parts.|
|Speeds||Slower printing speeds improve interlayer bonding and reduce warping and cracking issues. High-speed printing can lead to print failures.|
|Skirt / Brim||Not required but can reduce issues for larger parts.|
|Support Material||Breakaway support is recommended for use with Nylon filament.|
TPE, TPU, TPC (Flexible)
TPE is a group of plastics that possess rubber-like properties. This type of filament is commonly utilized in scenarios where flexibility is the desired trait. Flexible filaments typically promoted as TPE are obtainable in various degrees of shore hardness, which indicates flexibility.
TPE encompasses an extensive variety of filaments, including urethane-based TPU, which tends to be slightly more inflexible to enhance printability. TPC is another TPE variant based on copolyester and offers improved resistance to heat, chemical agents, and UV rays.
The flexible nature of TPE and its various derivatives creates difficulty when printing with these filaments. This challenge is particularly evident when using Bowden extruders since the filament’s inherent lack of rigidity makes it difficult to push the material through the nozzle. Direct drive extruders, which offer a short filament path between the extruder gears and nozzle, are more reliable for printing.
Retractions have also been found to be less reliable with these filaments due to the tendency of the material to compress and elongate. As a result, excessive stringing may occur during printing, necessitating additional expertise to mitigate appropriately.
Experts recommend printing flexible filaments on an unheated bed, preferably with a release agent such as glue or hairspray, to prevent the prints from bonding permanently to the build surface.
When Is It Appropriate To Use TPE/TPU 3D Printing Filament?
Utilize TPE or TPU to produce objects that require high durability. These 3D printer filaments are suitable for 3D printed components that bend, compress, or stretch, such as toys, phone cases, and wearables like wristbands. TPC is an alternative filament that performs well for similar applications, particularly in harsh environments like the outdoors or situations that entail high-temperature exposure, such as in automotive settings.
TPE Filament Properties
|Difficulty to use||Medium (TPE, TPC); Low (TPU)|
|Print temperature||210 – 230 °C|
|Print bed temperature||30 – 60 °C (not necessary)|
|Food safety||Not food safe|
PC is a robust 3D printing filament that is easily available for consumer-level 3D printers. To give you an idea of just how sturdy it is, the material is extensively used in the production of bullet-proof glass and fighter jet canopies. PC can withstand high temperatures of up to 110°C, and some versions even surpass that remarkable figure.
One noteworthy characteristic of PC is its remarkable combination of high tensile strength and exceptional impact resistance, surpassing that of even Nylon. However, these physical properties also make printing PC a challenging endeavor.
Some PC blends require nozzle temperatures of up to 300°C, along with the heated bed maintained at over 100°C.
Furthermore, excessive warping is a well-known issue with PC, and it adheres effectively only to polycarbonate build surfaces or polyimide tape. Nevertheless, analogous to Nylon, PC is available in various blends, enhancing printability.
When Is It Appropriate To Use Polycarbonate 3D Printing Filament?
Given its unique physical properties, the PC is highly suitable for producing 3D-printed parts that require retaining their strength, shape, and toughness in high-temperature settings. This makes it ideal for generating electrical, mechanical, or automotive components. In addition, its optical clarity is also an advantage when it comes to lighting projects, screens, and other applications that call for transparency.
Polycarbonate Filament Properties
|Difficulty to use||Medium|
|Print temperature||270 – 310 °C|
|Print bed temperature||90 – 110 °C|
|Food safety||Not food safe|
|UV Resistance||Very High|
|Creep Resistance||Very High|
ASA is a modified version of ABS which is relatively easier to print and offers enhanced UV resistance. ASA’s tendency to warp less than ABS makes it particularly suitable for producing larger prints. Additionally, most ASA filaments tend to off-gas fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during printing.
ASA filaments achieve all of these desirable properties without compromising on the strength, toughness, or temperature resistance that is comparable to ABS. Given the relatively small price premium commanded by ASA filaments, it is difficult to think of a reason to choose ABS instead.
When Is It Appropriate To Use ASA 3D Printing Filament?
ASA shares similar applications with ABS, but provides more flexibility by retaining color accuracy and durability even under substantial sunlight exposure.
ASA Filament Properties
|Flexibility||Low to Moderate|
|Difficulty to use||Moderate to Difficult|
|Print bed temperature||80-100°C|
|Food safety||Not food safe|
|Color Selection||A wide range of colors is available|
Selecting the right 3D printer filament types project is crucial for achieving optimal results. Consider the requirements of the model, such as layer height and adhesion to the print bed, when choosing a material.
Each filament type has unique characteristics that must be considered, including extrusion temperature, bed adhesion, moisture sensitivity, and cooler requirements. Following the recommended settings and making the necessary adjustments, you can create high-quality prints with various filaments, including PLA, PETG, ABS, Nylon, and more.