Your 3D printer finally came in the mail, and you are ready to get busy, but then you remember that you still need to buy a filament – Ugh! Picking the right materials for your project can be a little stressful, but fear not!
The different types of filaments are simple to understand once you get to know them! For right now, push your 3D printer to the side, and let’s take a peek at the type of filaments you can use in a 3D printer.
You can use any type of filament in a 3D printer as long as your machine comes with a heated bed, an appropriate temperature range, the ability to handle flexible materials, and specific nozzles for certain materials. If your 3D printer does not come with a heated bed, you will only be able to work with PLA filaments.
The different Types of 3D printer filaments
There are several different 3D printer filaments you can choose from, such as PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon, TPE, HIPS, and PVA. Each filament comes with its own set of rules, requirements, and uses.
Here’s a list of the main types of filaments:
1. Polylactic Acid (PLA)
One of the most widely known filaments that are inexpensive with a low melting point. Almost all 3D printers can operate with PLA as it does not require a heated bed. PLA can be used to produce a wide range of items and comes in a variety of colors. Keep in mind that PLA can quickly degrade when exposed to sunlight.
2. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
The toughness and the ability to endure high temperatures have made ABS a popular choice. Keep in mind that ABS requires a high printing temperature and a heated bed to prevent warping. However, if you are able to use it, ABS makes for a great general-purpose filament. It is regularly used to create items like LEGO, automotive parts, and musical instruments – just to name a few.
3. Polyethylene Terephthalate/Glycol (PET/PETG)
Raw PET is used to create plastic bottles and other products that are strong and flexible. The slightly altered version of PET is PETG, which is a filament that is food safe and 100% recyclable. It’s great for making kitchen utensils, Tupperware, and plates. However, PETG can be a tricky material to work with as it gets sticky during printing, and it can absorb moisture, negatively impacting the results.
Due to Nylon’s high melting point, the filament requires a 3D printer that has a temperature range of at least 230°C (446°F) and a heated bed. Suppose your printer can produce the appropriate temperatures; in that case, Nylon is a durable, light, and water-resistant material that can be used to create containers, tools, consumer products, and much more. Nylon comes in a translucent or opaque finish.
5. Flexible Filament (TPE)
TPE is a classification of rubber-like materials that are stretchable and durable filaments that can make weather-resistant products like phone cases, wristbands, and soles of shoes. Since TPE does not necessarily require a 3D printer with a heated bed, most printers should be compatible with the filament. However, using it to print can be a very slow process that produces inconsistent results.
6. Polycarbonate (PC)
Polycarbonate is an ultra-strong 3D printer filament that can withstand severe outside temperatures. Despite its durability, the material can still be bent, and it’s often used for bulletproof windows, automotive components, and safety glasses. Some people choose to avoid PC – at least for food storage and bottles – because it releases bisphenol (BPA), which can be harmful to your health.
7. Soluble Filaments (HIPS and PVA)
HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) and PVA (PolyVinyl Alcohol ) are both soluble filaments primarily used to support other materials while printing intricate designs. When a structure has a lot of overhanging elements, PVA and HIPS can be added to provide stability while the printer finishes the job.
When the product is complete, PVA can be washed away with water, and HIPS will dissolve with limonene. These materials are for more advanced 3D printer enthusiasts and should be researched before use.
The video below explains more about the different types of 3D filaments available in the market:
8. Special Filaments
There are other special filaments with unique qualities such as wood, sandstone, metal, and glow-in-the-dark filaments that exist on the market but you need to make sure your printer is compatible with these materials before making a purchase.
The most used 3D printer filament
The most used 3D printer filament is PLA. The material is affordable, easy to use – great for beginners – and doesn’t require special printing requirements such as high temperatures, a heated bed, or specialized nozzles. PLA is made out of organic materials, usually corn, cassava, or sugarcane, making it biodegradable and safe for anyone. If you are just getting into 3D printing, PLA is a great material to start with and learn the ins and outs of the 3D printing process.
Using old filament in a 3D printer
You can use old filament in a 3D printer to determine its quality without damaging the printer. However, a filament that is not properly stored and sits for a long time tends to absorb moisture which can damage the material’s makeup and result in poor print results.
The best way to prolong the life and maintain the quality of your filaments is to store them in a sealed bag or bin in a dry space. Consider using a dehumidifier to minimize the amount of moisture in the room. With proper storage, filaments can remain usable for many years.
What is the strongest 3D printer filament?
The strongest 3D printer filament is PEEK (polyetheretherketone) which has a tensile strength of over 13,000 psi. But it is very expensive and requires a high-performance printer that most people just don’t have. For this reason, it is mostly for industrial use.
The strongest 3D printer filament that is available for the general user is Polycarbonate (PC). It’s a material that can endure immense pressure and weight. You can use PC filament for heavy-duty products like construction tools, bulletproof glass, and medical applications.
Let’s look at how the tensile strength of Polycarbonate matches up against the other main types of 3D printer filaments:
|Filament Type||Tensile Strength (psi)|
|PETG||~4100 – 8500|
|PEEK||~13000 – 14500|
|TPE||(Depends on the specific TPE)|
*TPE is a classification of a range of rubber-like materials.
Mixing different 3D printer filaments
In theory, you can mix different 3D printer filaments and use them without breaking your machine, but it is not recommended. Mixing filaments changes their chemical makeup and negatively impacts their strength, which can result in a failed or low-quality print.
You may have to play around with different filaments to find a working combination, but it might be more trouble than it’s worth. If you do try mixing filaments, it’s recommended that you use materials made by the same manufacturer.
There are 3D printers with dual extruders that allow you to use two separate filament materials. Printers like these are great when using soluble filaments, like PVA and HIPS, to provide support to the structure being printed. Note that this is different from mixing materials but is a great option for people who need to create products using multiple filaments.
Why Your 3D printer filament keeps breaking
A 3D printer filament that keeps breaking is often due to a tangled spool or a filament that has become weak from improper storage. Pull out the spool of your 3D printer to examine if the filament is twisting or knotting. If everything looks good, take your filament and bend it to see if it easily snaps. If it does, you will know it has lost its integrity and should be replaced.
The video below shows how to create a DIY filament storage box to ensure your materials last as long as possible:
You can use almost any type of filament in a 3D printer if the printer has the specs and features required for certain materials. Most printers that are designed for beginners do not include a heated bed and limit you to printing with PLA.
However, PLA is an outstanding option that is usable for almost any project. For those who have a more advanced 3D printer, the sky’s the limit. You can use a laundry list of materials and produce some unique, specialized products. When buying and using a 3D printer, do your due diligence before making any purchase- they’re not cheap!