If you’re deciding on stepping into the world of 3D printing, there are several things you’ll need to consider before you can start on a new project. The first of which is the type of material you need to use in order to create your component or product. There is a variety of 3D printing materials to choose from. More often than not, thermoplastics is the material of choice. However, this comes in various forms as well, such as resin, powder, and filament. Moreover, researchers are constantly coming up with new materials that you can use in 3D printing.
Of course, choosing the right material is key if you want your component or product to function properly. Our 3D printing materials guide should help you distinguish between each type as well as learn their various properties and their applications. More importantly, it should help you decide which one suits your 3D printing projects.
Types of 3D Printing Materials
ABS is short for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene which is the plastic used to create Legos. This is a low-cost material that’s tough and non-toxic. It is able to retain its color well. In addition, ABS is water and chemical-resistant as well as impact-resistant. Moreover, it creates models with a smoother finish. Plus, it is pretty easy to mold into a shape when exposed to around 220 degrees C (430 F). All of these properties make ABS one of the best 3D printing materials.
However, this material does release an unpleasant smell when you’re printing. 3D printing with ABS also requires a heated bed or heated chamber in order to make the material soft and pliable. This material comes in the form of a filament. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) are the two types of 3D printing that uses ABS.
PEEK is short for polyetheretherketone which is really tough plastic. It is highly resistant to temperature, chemicals, and stress. It’s also flame resistant. PEEK can also be sterilized and can even handle exposure to X-ray and gamma radiation. PEEK 3D printing is typically used in mechanical, thermal, and chemical high strength applications.
The industries that utilize this material are the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries. Among all the 3D printing materials, this is one of the most expensive. It also requires the use of a well-performing high-temperature 3D printer.
PETG is short for polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified. This extreme high strength filament is extra tough and resistant to chemicals, water, acid, and alkalis. It can be printed at lower temperatures and produces a smoother surface finish. It is food safe which makes it an ideal material for making food containers.
In fact, this material is often used to make water bottles. PETG 3D printing is also used in creating mechanical parts and robotics as well as artistic products such as bracelets, rings, and collars due to its high transparency.
PLA is short for polylactic acid which is a polymer plastic. This fully-biodegradable vegetable-based plastic material is often made from sugarcane or cornstarch. When used, the material gives off a pleasantly sweet smell which makes it a better alternative to ABS. It also doesn’t contract as much as ABS does when cooling. Another advantage of using PLA is that it doesn’t require a heated bed. It is low cost and easy to use.
PLA comes in a variety of colors and composites. However, it does have low heat resistance and the filament can become brittle, causing it to break. In addition, this material is not suitable for outdoors. PLA 3D printing is environmentally-friendly and used in creating light prototypes and models.
HIPS is short for High Impact Polystyrene. This material is typically used with ABS as a support material. Compared to ABS, this material is lighter and more dimensionally stable. Like ABS, it is a low-cost material. It is also strong – impact and water-resistant. However, just like the ABS, it requires a heated bed and heated chamber. It also needs a high printing temperature and ventilation while printing.
PVA is short for polyvinyl alcohol which is a polymer that is soft, biodegradable, and very sensitive to moisture. In fact, it will dissolve when exposed to water. It’s for this reason why PVA is a good option when you’re looking for a support structure material for printing very complex shapes. You can pour warm water on the supports to remove them.
Aside from being used as support material, PVA is also utilized to create rapid prototypes that. However, PVA is expensive and requires storage in airtight containers. In addition, it has a tendency to clog the nozzle if it’s left hot when not extruding. Moreover, it emits some very unpleasant chemicals while melting.
Alumide is a combination of two materials – nylon and aluminum particles. It is tough and has great heat resistance. It’s not expensive and water-resistant. Products created using alumide features a metallic-looking surface that is a bit porous. This is one of the materials you can use in SLS 3D printing. Alumide is used for DIY projects, rapid prototyping, and manufacturing.
Nylon is a tough material; it is very resistant to damage. Moreover, it can hold a large amount of weight without breaking. The biggest advantage of nylon is that it is utilized in so many industries which makes it very cheap and resistant to damage by a lot of common chemicals. Plus, it is nontoxic. In addition, it has a good strength to flexibility ratio, low friction, and very little warpage.
However, it does need a high temperature to melt and requires a heated print bed as well as white glue. You can use nylon with FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) or FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) 3D printers.
Resin 3D Printing
Resins, also known as photopolymers, are another material that is commonly used in 3D printing. These 3D printable liquids become solid whenever they are exposed to UV light. Resins are great for producing functional and concept models, particularly if you want to create large parts in a short period of time. There are various types of resin materials that you can choose from.
There are several types of stereolithography (SLA) resins. Standard resins and clear resins are used for concept modeling, rapid prototyping, and creating art models because the material can create products that have fine features and high detail with a smooth surface finish. Plus, standard resins are not expensive.
However, standard resins have low impact strength and tend to be brittle. Clear resins, on the other hand, have mostly the same properties except that they’re transparent. However, this material is typically used to create LEDs housing and for showcasing internal features.
Some SLA resins are used by engineers to create functional prototypes as well as mechanical assemblies. These resins typically have high tensile strength. They’re tough and shatter-resistant. Some have a high wear resistance and are relatively flexible, making them perfect for prototyping consumer products and low-friction moving parts.
Polyjet resins are similar to SLA resins with one exception – these materials can combine different 3D printing materials (up to three of them) to create customized material for a specific part in order to produce a blend of characteristics (i.e. heat resistance, durability, strength) and colors.
Polyjet resins are a good choice for creating colored consumer products that can be used for testing. It can also be used in making jewelry, art products, and medical manufacturing.
Meal filled filaments are made of very fine metal powder infused into a base material like PLA. Doing so results in a metallic finish that looks aesthetically pleasing. It also adds weight. The type of metal that can be used here include copper, bronze, brass, and stainless steel. The amount of metal-infused into the base material will be dependent on the manufacturer.
The metal can be very abrasive which is why printers that use this material need to have a wear-resistant nozzle. In addition, metal filled filaments are quite expensive.
Like the metal filament, this material is not made completely out of wood. Instead, it contains wood particles that have been combined with PLA and a polymer glue. When printed, the finished material has an attractive wood-like finish. The wood particles can be from different types of wood such as bamboo, mahogany, and ebony. Like metal filaments, wood filaments are expensive. This type of material is usually used to create sculptures and wood-like carvings.
Carbon fiber filaments are used to enhance the strength and stiffness of plastics. This material is infused into the base material such as PLA, Nylon, and ABS. Another added benefit to carbon fiber filaments is that they are able to improve dimensional stability. Moreover, the 3D printed parts are more lightweight. However, the infusion of carbon fiber can increase the chances of clogging. In addition, there is increased brittleness and oozing while printing.
Note: This list of what materials are used in 3d printing is not a complete one simply because new ones are developed each year. It’s quite possible that at the time you’re reading this, the materials for 3D printing will include concrete, pasta, and bone – all of which are already being experimented on.
What Material is Used for 3D Printing at Home?
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of 3D printing materials available at the moment. And that number is still climbing. But what do 3D printers use the most and are the easiest to get? It’s a tie between ABS and PLA. ABS is typically used in SLS, SLA, and Polyjet 3D printing while PLA is used in FDM 3D printing. Both materials are not expensive. But for those with low-cost 3D printers, PLA is your best bet. It works well when creating miniatures and general manufacturing, and it doesn’t require a large heater to get the material flowing. But if you prefer using a different type of material for your component or product, you can get 3D printing online.