Give Your 3D Prints A Unique Finish
PLA is the most commonly used filament material in 3D printing, due to its ease of use, strength, and non-toxic makeup.
But it can also be blended with other materials to enhance its properties or add completely new properties, making it suitable for an even wider range of applications.
For example materials like wood may be added to give an impressive finish with visible wood grain patterns. Metal can be added to impart strength or for its shiny luster.
In some cases adding these extra materials can lessen some of the good properties that PLA possesses, they may make the filament weaker or harder to print.
In this article, I will highlight what PLA blended filaments are currently available, what applications they are good for, and what you should look out for when choosing which one to try.
Wood particles can be added to PLA filament to give both the appearance and feel of real wood. To see the true benefit, your finished part will need to be sanded and polished to a high gloss finish. This will then reveal the grain of the wood making your 3D printed part look just like it’s made of real wood!
The great thing about printing in PLA/wood blend filament is you can create parts that would actually be far too complicated to carve or machine from real hardwood.
PLA/wood blend also has a satisfying tactile, warm feel that gives a nice solid sound when tapped, just like real wood.
When printing with PLA/wood blend filament you will notice that you get that distinctive wood smell as the filament is heated. It’s quite pleasant!
The downsides of printing in PLA/wood blend are that it loses some of its flexibility and tensile strength compared to pure PLA. This can make it just a little more brittle and so less suitable for bearing high loads. And printing with it is just a little more difficult than with pure PLA as it tends to be a bit picky about what nozzle temperature it requires, too high a temperature can burn the wood part of the filament, whilst too cool and the PLA won’t melt sufficiently.
PLA/wood blends are available with many different types of wood such as birch, pine, and oak. In most cases, the only difference between these different filaments is the appearance, but there are some woods that impart their own unique properties into the filament, such as;
This behaves just like other PLA/wood blend filaments but has the added benefit of the bamboo part of the filament printing lighter or darker in color depending on the nozzle temperature.
This means you can use software such as Simplify3D to vary the nozzle temperature throughout the printing process to create some really cool effects, such as mimicking wood grain or have your own pattern woven throughout the print.
As well as its unique red orange appearance, Cedar wood also has a very pleasant smell which will be imparted on your 3d printed objects. Cedar wood is commonly used in objects to be displayed in the home, where its scent can be enjoyed, or in closets where its odor acts as a deterrent to clothes damaging moths.
Coconut wood is very resistant to moisture and hence PLA/coconut wood filament is one of the only PLA/wood blends that is also moisture resistant. This makes it an excellent choice for and 3D printed objects you’d like to have a wood effect and be able to withstand being outside in the weather.
As Corkwood is so light and low density, using a PLA/cork blend filament gives your 3D printed objects a similar low density making them lighter in weight and softer in feel than plain PLA. Cork burns at a low temperature so you have to be careful not to print at too high a temperature when using PLA/cork blend filament.
Similar to a PLA/Cedar blend. This combination uses ground up pine needles purely for their aromatic quality.
In this category, PLA is blended with a fine metallic powder to give the finished 3D printed parts a look, feel and weight as if they were made from various metals such as copper, stainless steel, or brass.
Just like fully metallic objects the finished parts can be finely polished like stainless steel or tarnished like copper to give whatever unique metallic appearance you require.
PLA/metal blend filament is denser than pure PLA, making your finished objects feel noticeably heavier than normal PLA making them feel just like real metal.
Applications for PLA/metal blends include jewelry, ornaments, statues, and DIY projects.
This can be polished just like solid bronze and will also tarnish just like bronze statues do, making your 3D printed objects look just like real bronze. Check out these cool 3D Printed Bitcoins for an idea of what’s possible with a bit of polishing!
Because Bronze is an alloy of brass and tin it is harder than pure brass. This is good for part strength but will take its toll on your 3D printer nozzle which is most likely made of solid brass.
As bronze, this filament blend will tarnish giving that green verdigris effect just like solid copper.
Although Copper is a good electrical conductor, PLA/Copper blend filament is not. If you need a conductive 3D printed object, you can use a special PLA/Carbon blend conductive filament.
A nice dark golden color, somewhere between copper and bronze, this gives another unique appearance for your 3D Printed objects.
This gives the most ‘metallic-looking print. If you take care to give your finished object a good finish and polish anyone would be hard-pressed to tell it’s not solid steel.
Iron powder mixed with PLA gives not only a unique metallic appearance but also makes your 3D printed objects magnetic! A great idea is to buy some small high strength neodymium magnets and use these to ‘bond’ separate 3d printed objects together rather than using glue.
Exotic PLA Blend Filaments
Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic or CFRP is well known as a material that is used when a high strength to weight ratio is required. In PLA/Carbon Fibre blend filament the strong, rigid, fibers of Carbon impart a higher tensile strength on the finished object just like in CFRP.
Conductive Graphene carbon particles are added to PLA to create a filament that is able to carry a low voltage current with low resistance.
This allows you to create basic electronic circuit boards capable of supplying current to LEDs, motors, or sensors.
Novelty PLA Blend Filaments
This category of filaments are blended with materials that don’t necessarily improve their mechanical properties or appearance but just offer a novelty value, for example, a pleasant odor when being used.
PLA Blends for Odor
This filament combines PLA with a byproduct of brewing beer. This makes the filament give off a very pleasant malty odor when it is melted and from the completed object. Other than the odor the filament is the same as standard pure PLA.
As beer blend filament, objects made with coffee blend filament have a pleasant but mild odor which is most strong when the filament is being melted.
PLA Blends for Appearance
PLA Color Changing
This filament is available in two types that make your 3d printed objects change color depending on either the temperature or amount of UV in its surroundings.
As you can see, there are so many interesting filaments to choose from. If you have a specific application in mind don’t hesitate to pick any of these to add to your repertoire. If you’re not sure which filament to try I suggest getting either a wood or metal blend as these create the most dramatically different finishes for your 3d printed objects.