3D printing is no longer limited to hobbyists and domestic use but significantly impacts many industries, resulting in faster growth and better revenues than expected. More and more people are getting interested in 3D printing to explore better possibilities.
Whether you are new to the world of 3D printing and wondering about the materials used in 3D printing or want to try new 3D printing filaments for your manufacturing; in this guide, we will guide you through a wide range of 3D printer materials and how to choose the suitable material based on your requirements.
If you are wondering what material a 3D printer uses, let us tell you that it depends on the machine and the product you want to print. There are as many 3D printer materials as the products that you can produce with 3D printing. Nonetheless, some standard 3D printer filaments are widely used in the industry, and we will talk about those in this guide.
Here are some of the most commonly used 3D printer filament types:
ABS is one of the most common materials in 3D printing. You can find ABS in the form of automobile dashboards, switchgear, toys, pipe fittings, and as the chassis of consumer durables. ABS is popular because of its familiarity, price, and availability. ABS’s unparalleled price-to-performance ratio and good heat resistance make it one of the most common 3D printer filaments for commercial use.
The downsides of ABS include the emission of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) like styrene, which are known to impact health negatively. Moreover, its heat resistance makes it incompatible with cheap PTFE-lined hot ends, and most ABS 3D Printer filaments require nozzle temperatures of around 250°C.
Three of the most common issues with ABS on unenclosed printers are delamination, bed adhesion, and warping. ABS is not a great choice for domestic usage as its tendency to warp makes it challenging to print unless you own a printer with a heated enclosure. However, modern ABS 3D printer materials blend print fine if you keep the build volume enclosed while using a heated bed as a passive heat source.
ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate)
ASA is a better version of ABS, making it a popular choice among manufacturers willing to spend some more for better quality. ASA is a modified version of ABS that is easier to print while exhibiting better UV resistance.
Moreover, as ASA wraps less than ABS, they are the preferred option for larger prints. The best part? Compared to ABS, you get all of these without compromising on great qualities like strength, toughness, and temperature resistance.
You can use ASA 3D printer filament to make functional prints for car interiors and engineering scenarios that need resistance to heat, impact, and wear. Additionally, you can expect higher versatility, durability, and color integrity with ASA despite heavy sunlight exposure.
PLA (Polylactic Acid):
PLA is one of the most common 3D printer filament types as it is effortless to print with and doesn’t require a heated bed. Plus, PLA is biodegradable under some commercially attainable conditions and doesn't wrap as quickly.
The one quality that differentiates PLA from ABS is that the former doesn’t give off an off putting odor during printing.
Some downsides of PLA include less durability and susceptibility to heat. Due to these downsides, you can not use PLA to produce products that need bending, twisting, and frequent dropping. PLA is suitable for single-use food contact. You can find a wide range of colors and composites in PLA.
PETS is made from the same material as plastic water bottles - Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), but some ethylene glycol gets replaced with CHDM (cyclohexanedimethanol), resulting in extra “G” for “glycol-modified.”
This PETS to PETG transformation makes the 3D printer material clearer, less brittle, and easier to use.
PETG is excellent for printing sturdy products with smooth surfaces and lower shrinkage. The best part about PETG is that it is weather-resistant and considered food-safe.
PETG is weather-resistant and used for products exposed to the outer environment. For example - garden appliances. Additionally, read the fine print on any spool you buy before using PLA for food-related stuff.
Some of the downsides of PETG are its stickiness and being more hygroscopic. Though PETG is super sticky, it doesn’t work as an adhesion layer, and its hygroscopic qualities can result in heavy stringing and air-moisture absorption.
In short, PETG is an excellent option if you need all-around, high-strength material with less printing complexity.
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is one of the 3D printer filament types soluble in water, and industry people leverage this quality of PVA to its best. PVA is engineered to be a soluble support material, especially when paired with another 3D printer filament in a dual extrusion 3D printer. The good part about PVA is that it can support more materials than just ABS. One of the most popular uses of PVA includes packaging for dishwasher detergent pods.
The downside of PVA is that you have to be careful with its storage. If it gets in touch with the moisture in the atmosphere, it can damage the filament, resulting in poor printing. You can store PVA in dry boxes and silica pouches to deal with the challenge.
How to Choose the Best 3D Printing Materials?
There are many 3D printer filament types, and no one 3D printer material can match all your printing requirements. Similarly, with the versatility of materials used in 3D printing, not all 3D printers can print in all 3D materials. You must consider a few factors while choosing suitable 3D printer filaments. Here we have made a list of things you should consider when buying 3D printer materials.
The first thing you need to consider while choosing a 3D printer material is to know its application. Ask yourself if you need the same look, feel, and durability level as the end product. Some 3D filaments are suitable for producing the same feel and look as the end product, while others are known for their durability.
Based on your application needs, you need to filter out the 3D printer filament types and finalize the one that matches your requirements the best.
The next thing you should consider while using 3D printer material is its functions. Look for the things like how much stress it can endure, toughness, flame retardancy, impact resistance, material properties, and level of taxing needed for the material to excel. Prioritize the functionalities you are looking for and filter accordingly.
Each 3D printer and material has a different level of capacity to print with a specific range of resolution. Some 3D printers render even the smallest layer with super detail and color combinations, while others may not match the standards.
Last but not least is the certification of 3D printer material. As some 3D printer filament types offer biocompatibility, sterilization capabilities, FDA, flame smoke, toxicity, chemical resistance, and other certifications, you must look for these certificates if needed for your project requirements.
Other than the above-discussed considerations, the diameter is also an essential factor to look for. If you are unsure which diameter to opt for, always go for 1.75mm, as it’s easier to work with. The next thing is to consider the storage of the 3D printer filaments. The plastic can absorb moisture from the air resulting in a poor printing process.
Which 3D Printer Material is the Strongest?
As there is no “one-fits-all” answer to “what material does a 3D printer use?”, there is no fixed answer for which 3D printer material is the strongest. The answer depends on the application of the material and how you apply forces to the model.
If it is a tensile (being pulled) force, then PETG is the strongest. However, if it’s a flexural force (bending the part), ABS is the most robust material, provided its superior elasticity.
Moreover, other settings, such as the number of outer shells, infill percentage, and print orientation, significantly impact the model’s and material’s strength.
There’s no doubt that 3D printing has a significant impact and influence on many industries and can impact in even more and better ways. Like other industries, 3D printing may have some flaws, but they don’t make the industry any less than others. Consider all the different types of 3D printer filaments discussed in the blog post, and keep in mind all the factors you need to consider when selecting a 3D printer material.
Lastly, don’t fall for the trap of cheap 3D printer filaments, as they cost you more in the long run. Cheap 3D printer material contains chemical impurities resulting in unsatisfactory printed parts and clogged-up printer nozzles.