Top 10 Types of 3D Printer Filaments: That You Should Know
You must have come across 3D printing one way or the other by now. Although it is still a new concept for many, this revolutionary printing technology has opened new doors for many industries. Now it is easier to build parts for medical, automotive and manufacturing purposes.
Besides, you can explore your creativity limits by literally bringing your idea into reality. All you have to do is draw up the 3D image in a software like CAD and set up the FDM machine to begin materializing it. The machine will then create it layer by layer following the software instructions.
If you have been wanting to try out 3D printing, filaments are the first choice you need to make. These are essentially the material that FDM uses to make the print come to life. But the abundance of filaments in the market can easily confuse you.
That is why we are here to discuss the top ten 3D printer filament types to give you an idea of all their strong points and weaknesses.
So let’s begin by deciding the most crucial factors for choosing the filaments.
Top 10 3d Printer Filaments Types
Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-modified
Medium strength, high flexibility, less shrinking, smooth finishing, transparent, durable
Robotics, food packaging, store fixtures, signage, credit cards, jewelry
PETG is an abbreviated form of the long and difficult term - polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified.
This filament is actually a transparent variation of Copolyester which means they are made from polyesters. Like other copolyester products, PETG also retains its key properties like strength and clarity even when reacting to a wide range of chemicals.
It is the best filament for projects where strength is the topmost priority. PETG can fight gallantly against possible disruptive forces like acid, alkaline and water.
Compared to other popular options like PLA and ABS, PETG brings in the best of all worlds by offering less shrinkage, more smooth finishing and greater strength.
PETG is frequently used for robotics, food packaging, store fixtures, signage and credit cards. Besides, you will also see it being used for artistic projects like rings, bracelets and others due to its shiny appearance. Using PETG makes these accessories more reflective in light.
Tips To Use:
PETG happens to have a much higher melting point than other filaments. So remember to set the temperature below 250-degrees Centigrade while working with it. Additionally, the bed temperature needs to be between 70-degrees and 75-degrees. It should be even lower for glass print beds.
Fan for Cooling
The project can suffer from retractions if the filament is too hot. So use a fan on the hot end in the middle of the printing process for fast and effective cooling. This will help the print to get hard faster regardless of its layer adhesion properties.
Take It Slow
Don’t set the retraction speed at a higher level than 40mm per second. The most optimum printing speed for PETG is between the range of 15mm/s to 55mm/s. Going faster than that can cause stringing since the molten filament threads will be present on the finished product.
- Exceptionally high strength and impact resistance.
- Stable even when exposed to many chemicals.
- Transparent and very durable.
- Vulnerable to UV rays.
- Not resistant enough to abrasion.
- Low tolerance toward printing parameters.
High strength, high flexibility, high durability, hygroscopic, impact-resistant, heat resistant, fatigue resistance,
Prosthetics, hinges, connectors, medical equipment, gears, screws, cable ties
As we all know, nylon is popular in multiple industries for its varying properties. In 3D printing too, nylon has made a good name for itself for being tough and flexible at the same time.
Similar to PETG, this synthetic polymer also exhibits impressive strength, durability and ductility. Since it is both durable and flexible, professionals use nylon in prosthetics, hinges, connectors, medical equipment and other functional parts. In mechanical projects, you will find nylon in plastic gears, screws and cable ties.
In the case of printing temperatures, nylon can be a bit tricky. That is because different brands of nylon operate at different temperatures. The overall range can vary between 230-degrees Centigrade and 300-degrees Centigrade.
Because of its moisture-absorbing capabilities, nylon is often used for dyeing projects. You can use it confidently to dye your print in a particular color. Among all its variations, the two most common options used for 3D printing are 645 and 618 filaments.
Store in Dry Place
Being a hygroscopic material, nylon tends to absorb moisture too fast. So remember to store in a dry and cool place which will prevent the formation of any moisture. Otherwise, the end product will come out as rough and foggy, sometimes even with bubbles and holes!
To prevent such unpleasant results, take off the spools after printing and then keep them in an air-tight container where no moisture can enter. Some commercial containers enable such storage while also making the spools available for use through a hole.
Print Chamber Enclosure
Nylon tends to get warped on the first layer when the temperature difference between the surrounding environment and the extruded plastic becomes too drastic. Although heated beds can help a little, the best prevention for warping would be a print chamber enclosure.
Rafts and Brims
It might be impossible or too difficult to install an enclosure for your nylon prints. For those situations, go for a raft or brim to introduce multiple loops at the lower layers. This will work on the common problem of first layer adhesion.
- High strength and decent flexibility.
- Use doesn’t cause a pungent smell.
- Impressive resistance against abrasion and UV.
- Good for dyeing printed parts.
- Dry storage necessary due to moisture absorption.
- Can get warped on the first layer.
- Short shelf life of 12 months at most.
High strength, high flexibility, durable, hygroscopic, transparent, heat resistant, requires heated enclosure
CD, DVD, drones, RC cars, sports equipment, water bottles, functional parts
Polycarbonate is a transparent thermoplastic that exhibits high strength and durability. Since it has commendable resistance against heat and impact, PC is a popular choice for printing projects which take place in tough environments.
Its glass transition temperature is 150-degrees in Celsius which is very impressive. This figure means that its structural integrity remains intact until the system reaches that temperature. So if you need a filament that can survive hot environments, PC would be one of the ideal choices.
If your task needs compatibility for lower temperatures, PC can also print in that environment by utilizing certain additives. This filament also has some flexibility which prevents breaking while bending. It is mostly used in CDs, DVDs, sports equipment, water bottles, drones and RC cars.
Like the two types discussed above, PC is also a hygroscopic material. Because of its absorption tendencies, you will need to make arrangements for safe storage and productive printing.
Temperature Consistency is Crucial
Since the material can easily shrink or warp, you must maintain the optimum temperature range throughout the printing task. One way to do this is by incorporating a heated bed which generates about 135-150 degrees in Centigrade. You can also try some adhesives.
If you are finding trouble in finding adhesives or maintaining the heated beds, you can go for enclosures. They can also help you to stabilize the temperatures and enable appropriate layer adhesion.
Pure vs Composite PC
The hot end of your printer needs to be about 295-degrees Centrigrade while working with PC. A composite variation of this filament can deal with lower temperatures but it can also result in mediocre print quality. So we recommend pure PC for the best end results.
- High strength, durability and heat resistance.
- Impressive glass transition temperature.
- Decent flexibility allows bending without breakage.
- Naturally transparent.
- Can warp while printing in lower temperatures.
- Hygroscopic nature absorbs moisture.
- May ooze during the task.
Extremely flexible, low strength, durable, hygroscopic
Non-slip wearables, plastic automotive parts
Thermoplastic Elastomer is considered as the most flexible materials for 3D printing. Its elasticity is similar to that of rubber which makes the resulting prints highly flexible as well.
The best way to describe its consistency would be - a plastic whose flexibility is good but not equal to rubber. So it provides the benefits of both plastic and rubber in a way.
Because of this sweet spot, you can stretch TPE to impressive amounts and then rely on it to go back to its original shape once the stress is removed. You can use it in projects where resistance against vibration or impact is necessary. These filaments are great choices for preparing non-slip pads and mats.
It is also available in two popular variations namely TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) and TPC (Thermoplastic Copolyester).
Flexible filaments like TPE require the printing to go slower for ending up with the best possible print quality. This speed should generally be 30mm/s to 40mm/s. But if your process involves Flexifil, it should be even lower. For even more perfection, don’t hesitate to keep it at 5mm/s.
Direct Drive Extruder
This kind of extruder shrinks the space between the cold end and the hot end. Consequently, the TPE filaments become less prone to jamming. Remember to not incorporate Bowden extruders for TPE printing because it can make the whole process much more challenging.
It will be a bit tricky for you to find the best temperature for your extruder. If it is too hot, the oozing will make the resulting print stringy. Keep adjusting this temperature to land on the perfect one so that its filaments can flow easily through the nozzle.
- Flexible, durable and soft
- Stable in a wide range of temperatures
- Easy to dye and recycle
- Feeding it to extruder is tricky
- Prone to jamming and oozing.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
Impact-resistant, durable, medium strength, decent flexibility
LEGO, bike helmets, musical instruments, home appliances, toys, pipe systems, medical devices
ABS is an abbreviation of the term Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene which definitely rolls off the tongue quite well.
If you have been a fan of biking or LEGO kits, you must have come across this term before. ABS is most commonly used to build LEGO bricks and bike helmets.
Nowadays it is also a major material for musical instruments, home appliances, toys, pipe systems, medical devices and many other versatile items.
This popular plastic is yellowish in appearance. Being a polymer of thermoplastic, ABS doesn’t change its chemical properties when you melt it down or cool it. Because of this unique and convenient quality, it is heavily used for 3D printing.
ABS has proved to be quite reliable in terms of durability and strength. It can survive scratches and pressure which keeps it from wearing away too soon. You can process the end product even further with acetone, glue or acrylic paints!
Proper Build Surface
ABS can easily fall victim to warping since the plastic contracts when it cools down to the room temperature from the original extrusion temperature. This can separate the first layer from the bed causing disastrous results.
Relying on a proper build surface can help to avoid such situations if it is heated to 110-degrees Centigrade. This heat will reach through the initial layers, saving them from shrinking down.
If your print is considerably larger than usual, go for an enclosure to prevent warping. It will make sure that the temperature surrounding your print is high enough to prevent separation from the bed.
ABS printing can produce an unpleasant odor all around the machine. The generated fumes are also harmful if somehow ingested by anyone around. So make sure that the printing is taking place in a roomy area with proper ventilation.
Brims and Rafts
This is important for printing thin fragile parts or larger parts. Add a brim or raft to the printing setup so that the parts don’t get separated from bed and thus don’t become warped.
- Durable even in extreme temperatures.
- Ideal for structures that require strength and flexibility.
- Easy processing with acetone or glue.
- Compatible with acrylic paint.
- Prone to warping, curling and split layers.
- Damaged by UV rays.
- Bad odor during printing.
Sweet smell, biodegradable, decent strength, easy to print, poor flexibility, medium durability, low heat resistance
LEGO, automobile bumper, prototypes
PLA or Polylactic Acid is among the most popular names of FDM 3D printing filaments. The main reason behind its popularity is the capability to print at lower temperatures. Because of this feature, you don’t need to worry about using a heated bed for the task anymore.
This material is also an ideal one for beginners at 3D printing since the whole process becomes a lot easier and safer. It doesn’t cost much either which encourages learners or professionals running low on budget to complete a project with minimum expenditure.
You can use PLA to print out a wide range of objects. Some of its most common uses are for decoration where you would need versatile styles and shades. You can use PLA to make toys, fixtures and first-stage prototypes. However, it scores less than ABS in terms of durability, strength and heat resistance.
It does its share of keeping the environment unharmed by being biodegradable and renewable. PLA is made from natural sources like cornstarch which makes it one of the most environment-friendly filaments in the market.
Additionally, instead of any pungent odor, your olfactory senses will be blessed with its sweet smell throughout the printing process.
Fine Tuned Retractions
PLA flows a lot easier than most of its counterparts. While this does make the printing easier, it also leads to oozing of material after the process has ended. One of the most effective ways to fix this is optimizing the retraction settings and choosing the best distance for each print section.
Another way to avoid stringing is to get a part cooling fan for the prints. When the plastic is just extruded, cool it down immediately to a temperature below the glass transition. The most effective balance would be using the fan throughout the print leaving the first two layers alone.
Finding the right temperature for extruders can get a bit tricky since each brand includes their own additives. As a result, the required temperature can be anywhere between 190 to 230 degrees Centigrade.
Printing at the wrong temperature will definitely lead to faulty results like stringing. So remember to carefully check the manufacturer’s guidelines to confirm the most optimum temperature.
- Strong, biodegradable and durable
- Doesn’t need heated beds
- Low heat resistance
- Prone to oozing and breaking
- Damaged by UV rays
Water-soluble, soft, biodegradable, oil-resistant, high strength, low flexibility, prone to clogging, expensive
If you have been looking for materials to make your 3D printing projects more creative, PVA can be an ideal option for supporting the structures.
PVA or Polyvinyl Alcohol is a water-soluble material. By utilizing it for cavities and complex shapes, you can get rid of the unnecessary space which will dissolve in water. The best part is that doing so will leave no mark on the end product. So you can benefit from the flawless prints on interesting structures.
Materials like these are usually used with FDM machines with multiple extruders. This way, you can combine more than one filament and thus use PVA to fill up the gaps or create advanced structures. The most common filaments used with PVA are nylon and PLA because they need similar conditions to operate properly.
Being a water-soluble filament has its advantages and disadvantages. As you may have guessed, PVA needs to be stored in a dry place to avoid contact with moisture.
If it happens to absorb moisture from the surrounding air, the filament will bubble up during the print and can even crack up the finished product. This is why the spools must be stored in air-tight containers after use.
Drying Up Wet Filaments
If the filament has already absorbed moisture, you will need to dry it out properly before use. You can do so by keeping it in the oven for a few hours at the lowest temperature. For better and more efficient results, invest in a commercial dehydrator.
In order to prevent oozing out of filaments, use an ooze shield for a minimum of two outlines. Doing so will prepare the PVA extruders to start fresh at the beginning of each layer and after each tool change. The shield can take the ooze out from both nozzles and limit their reach.
- Soft and biodegradable
- No enclosure required
- Water-soluble support structure
- Ideal for complex shapes and cavities
- Requires air-tight storage
- Prone to clogging
Dissolves in Limonene, low strength, medium flexibility, lightweight, affordable, non-toxic, recyclable, food-safe, heat-resistant, impact-resistant, highly durable
Toys, appliances, product packaging, support structures
Another popular material for supporting structures is HIPS or High Impact Polystyrene. Like PVA, this one also dissolves easily. But instead of water, HIPS dissolves in a solvent of Limonene which is prevalent in the skin of citrus fruits.
This synthetic polymer exhibits impressive ranges of strength and durability. On one hand, pure polystyrene gives it hardness and on the other hand, polybutadiene rubber provides elasticity. So you get the best of both worlds! Besides, you can recycle it and there is no toxic properties in this filament.
You can incorporate in projects where you need to print out complex 3D shapes which will require some further touchups like glue or paint. Use HIPS to make the necessary spaces where those elements will be applied later. In addition to this, there are many other ways to get creative with HIPS.
It is mostly used for making toys, appliances and product packaging. HIPS is also known as Bextrene in the commercial space.
Kapton Tape or PET Sheets
To enhance the adhesion of HIPS filaments, place Kapton tape on the heated bed. Remember that this tape is 0.1mm in thickness. For the beds made out of glass, you can use PET sheets for the same purpose. They improve the adhesive quality while also providing a smooth finish.
HIPS requires high ambient temperature to work properly. Another reason behind keeping the heat up is to avoid rapid contractions. To preserve such a high temperature, we recommend using an enclosure to enable the heat of bed spread across the space.
Layer Bond Adjustments
The layers of HIPS need to be carefully supervised for preventing cracks and splits between them. Each layer needs to stick well to the previous layer. Some common ways to make sure of this are increasing extruder temperature and reducing layer heights.
- Dissolves in Limonene.
- Equally strong, flexible and durable.
- Resists heat and impact both well.
- Non-toxic, recyclable and food-safe.
- Lightweight and affordable.
- High printing temperature.
- Needs ventilation and heated bed.
Medium strength, decent flexibility, pleasant aroma, affordable, prone to stringing
While figurine toys are very expensive in stores, you can make your own version of it at home with this wood filament! It will save you a ton of money while delivering some fun times.
Since 2012, the wood filament is being used for 3D printing. It is made from PLA and a wide range of wooden fibers like birch, tinder, bamboo, cedar, coconut, etc.
Usually, the wood content covers only 30% of the filament while the rest is PLA. Even then, the end product does generate a pleasant wooden texture with an equally pleasing aroma. This is how you get to see so many intricately detailed wooden showpieces in gift shops that smell and feel like real wood.
Remember to use wood filaments for 3D printing in a spacious room. Such filaments can burn up which will produce a heavy smoky smell all around. Having proper ventilation in the room will stop it from getting into your system. The best idea would be to leave that room until the print is done.
Usually, the nozzles are 0.35 to 0.4 mm in size. The presence of wood particles in this filament will make it harder to pass through these nozzles. So you must get larger ones sized at a minimum measure of 0.5mm to prevent clogging.
Remove Filament From Head
This is very important for 3D printing in wood. Whenever you decide to take a break from the printing or when you are done with the process, never leave the filament on printer head.
Remember to remove it every single time so that the residue doesn’t melt into sticky buildup inside the head.
- Doesn’t need heated beds or enclosures
- Pleasant aesthetics and smell
- Can result in stringing
- Using small nozzles may cause clogging
Metal (stainless steel, brass, copper or bronze)
Medium strength, rigid, high durability, heavyweight, expensive, brittle
Jewelry, figurines, showpieces
The metal 3D printing filaments are basically PLA with metallic fillings inside. These fillings are usually metal powders like stainless steel, brass, copper and bronze. Their proportion present in the filament differs among the various brands.
Regardless of the ratio, the products made from these filaments tend to be much heavier than the typical plastic alternatives.
However, keep in mind that the metal powder will not provide the product with truly metallic properties. So printing out with stainless steel filaments will still be a PLA product.
They are also quite abrasive in nature which can damage the usual nozzles made of brass. So you need to get a wear-resistant nozzle to use with the metal filaments. Be sure to pick filaments that don’t just look metallic but actually have the metal infusion within them.
Not for functional Parts
As we mentioned before, metal filaments do not give the printed item truly metallic properties. That is why you cannot depend on them to build functional parts since the end products are actually quite brittle.
Instead, rely on this filament for making decorative purposes like interior showpieces, figurines and jewelry.
Oil for Better Flow
Being a composite filament made of metal powder and PLA, it can be hard for these threads to flow through the extruder and nozzles. To make it more flawless, use vegetable oil lightly on the filament surface. You can apply a little to the nozzles as well with a towel, especially when it is still hot.
Since metal filaments can cause nozzles to wear away, it is wiser to keep replacement nozzles nearby. In addition to getting a wear-resistant nozzle, you can also prevent the erosion by limiting extrusion and cross-section. A larger nozzle may also help.
- No need for high-temperature extruders
- Good rigidity and decent durability
- Variety of materials and effects
- Pleasant aesthetics
- Nozzle needs to be wear-resistant
- Poor bridging and brittle results
- Expensive process
How To Choose The Filament
Build features like strength, flexibility and durability are where the types differ the most. Figure out if you need a flexible structure for easy manipulation or a rigid one that stays un-flinched no matter what. The plastic options offer higher flexibility whereas products made out of filaments like metal cannot be altered.
Moisture absorption is a crucial factor in choosing the filament for 3D printing. The hygroscopic threads absorb water and similar solvents easily which is why you need to store them in airtight containers. Some filaments even dissolve in water which makes them ideal for supporting structures.
This is a pretty arbitrary factor considering high or low speed does not determine the quality of any filament. The best printing speed depends entirely on your projects and their requirements. However, remember to keep the printer’s speed below 150mm/s at all times to prevent disastrous results.
Aesthetic and Aroma
If looks matter a lot to you, resort to filaments that exude beauty. For instance, the wood filaments will provide you the texture and smell of real woods without the stress of carving them into intricate details. Metallic filaments also help in creating jewelry and decor items by providing aesthetic pleasure.
Some filaments can be dyed in any color you prefer. So you have a lot of room to play with looks when it comes to 3D filaments.
Depending on your budget constraints, many filament options are available in today’s market. There are affordable ones like PLA, ABS, HIPS and wood which come at below fifty bucks per kg.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are more expensive ones like nylon, PC, PVA and metal which may cost almost double.
3D printing can be a ton of fun if you know which filament to work with. From the comprehensive discussions of each type above, you may have already found out the ideal filaments for your project!
You don’t have to restrict the choice to just one - explore the most interesting options in your eyes. This will open up more room for creativity on your part.
Along with these ten 3D printer filament types, there are many more variations in the market for you to choose from. Some popular options among them are conductive, magnetic, glow in the dark, WAX, ASA and carbon fiber.
All of them come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks. However, we would suggest investing in enclosures and heating beds no matter which type you end up choosing. Staying prepared for any ill-fated occurrence would be the wiser decision!