Comparison of 3D Printing Filament Materials

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Comparison of 3D Printing Filament Materials

Introduction 

3D printing filaments are one of the most vital 3D printing components as they completely define how your 3D print is going to look and feel.

Filaments are made of a type of plastic known as thermoplastic that becomes flexible once heated to an appropriate temperature. Because of this elasticity, you can sculpt the material into the desired shape before it cools downs. 

If you are looking to learn which is the best 3D filament material, you are in luck as in this article you will be taken through all the different types of 3D printing filament materials available so you will be in a position to make an informed decision regarding which filament material will best meet your needs. 

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) 3D Filament 

ABS filament is very popular due to its high-impact strength as well as sturdiness. Moreover, not only is this material strong, but also of moderate flexibility hence why it is usually an excellent choice for objects that have a structural function.

Because of this, it is often used on mass-produced consumer and household goods such as bicycle helmets, keyboard keys, and LEGO. 

Prints made using ABS filament usually have high resistance to extreme temperatures as well as high durability.

The biggest downside to ABS is that it tends to warp as it is cooling. This can make it quite challenging to print with ABS unless you have a 3D printer with both a heated bed and an enclosed build volume that maintains a constant warm temperature as its printing.

ABS also produces intense and possibly harmful fumes when it is printing. Therefore, you should always make sure you do the printing in a well-ventilated room.

You can read about the best ABS filaments in my guide here.

Pros 

  • It is relatively lightweight and flexible
  • Very strong and durable
  • Favored by professional and amateur 3D enthusiasts alike
  • One of the cheapest 3D printing filaments on the market   

Cons 

  • It requires high temperatures to reach the melting point 
  • Produces unpleasant fumes, hence should ideally be used in a well-ventilated space
  • It is non-biodegradable as it is petroleum-based

PLA (Polylactic Acid) 3D Printing Filament  

PLA is the most popular filament among both professional and amateurs, and it is a special kind of thermoplastic that has been made from organic materials, that is, sugarcane and cornstarch.

Because of this, PLA is both easier and safer to use since you never need to worry about the production of toxic fumes. Instead, it produces a sweet smell, and the subsequent 3D parts are aesthetically appealing due to a smooth appearance as well as a unique sheen. 

Additionally, PLA is available in numerous styles and colors, and because it is a biodegradable plastic, it is environmentally friendly compared to most 3D printing filament materials.

Outside of 3D printing, it has a broad range of uses, including medical stitching, as well as making surgical implants such as surgically implanted mesh, screws, rods, and pins. 

While for 3D printing, it is perfect for most household items and decorations like miniatures.

PLA is often mixed with other materials to give it a unique finish. So-called exotic filaments are available with mixtures of materials such as copper, steel, cork, and wood, to name just a few. It is also available with unique properties such as glow in the dark or color change with temperature!

You can read about the best PLA filaments in my guide here.

Pros 

  • It is the easiest 3D filament to use. 
  • It comes in glow-in-the-dark and translucent colors 
  • Less susceptible to warping unlike ABS
  • Ideal for beginners 
  • Does not produce harmful fumes

Cons 

  • Less robust compared to ABS
  • Prone to absorbing moisture from the atmosphere

Nylon 3D Printing Filament 

Nylon 3D printing filament material is also known as polyamide, and it is a synthetic polymer which is stronger than both PLA and ABS, while still being affordable. Furthermore, it is wear-resistant, lightweight, less brittle, and flexible in comparison to ABS and PLA. 

There are different types of nylon filament, and your choice depends on your needs and budget, with the main difference being water absorption, tensile strength, and bonding abilities. Nylon filament has a broad range due to its elastic properties, durability, and strength. Because of this, it is ideal for making mechanical components, consumer products, structural parts, machine parts, containers, tools, and a lot more. 

The downside to Nylon is that it requires a high temperature to print with, and it is very prone to absorbing moisture from the atmosphere, making it difficult to print.

Pros 

  • Stronger than PLA and ABS 
  • Excellent flexibility, durability, and strength
  • You can re-melt and re-use this filament without it losing any of its bonding attributes 

Cons 

  • It requires very high melting temperatures 
  • Absorbs water quickly, so should always be stored properly
  • Produces poisonous fumes when heated   

Wood 3D Printing Filament 

If you love being creative with your 3D printing project, then 3D wood filaments are an ideal pick. Wood filaments usually comprise of a combination of recycled wood and PLA filament. Consequently, the printed 3D model smells and resembles wood, and can even be sanded and stained like wood. Some of its applications include making ornate boxes, figurines, chairs and tables, décor as well as any other creative object. 

Pros 

  • It creates different shades of brown surfaces that resemble wood grain
  • Comprises of actual wood fibers 
  • Higher temperatures produce darker shades of brown 
  • Enables you to work on the finished part to obtain your desired finish 

Cons 

  • Weaker and softer in comparison to PLA 
  • Lesser tensile strength and flexibility

PVA 3D Printing Filament 

PVA 3D printing filament is often used as a support material as you print with PLA or ABS, with support materials essential when you are printing 3D objects that have noticeable overhangs. This support is vital because, without it, printing objects would be impossible. 

PVA is a non-toxic and biodegradable material that quickly liquefies in tap water; this means your ugly supports simply dissolve away, leaving your finished print without any blemishes where the supports were attached!

Because PVA filament is a support material, it’s really only used with printers featuring dual extruders.

Outside of 3D Printing, there are many uses of the PVA, including use as a personal hygiene product, a thickener in paper adhesives, freshwater fishing products, and a mold-release agent. 

Pros 

  • It is soluble in water – perfect for support material
  • Safe for food as well as low flexibility 
  • Biodegradable and non-toxic 

Cons 

  • Harder to source in comparison to other materials 
  • It easily absorbs water  
  • More expensive than other 3D filaments 

PET 3D Printing Filament 

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is also another common 3D filament, and it is used in making plastic bottles. This filament is not only harmless and stable but also 100% recyclable and does not emit any harmful or unpleasant odors. While in its raw condition, this filament is crystal clear and has no color, but upon exposure to either heat or cold, it quickly transforms into a non-transparent state. 

The advanced version of the PET filament is known as PETG, and because the FDA approves this filament, it is used in making food products such as plates and cups. Additionally, it is used to make several kitchen utensils as well as food containers. 

Pros 

  • Printing this 3D filament is easy 
  • It is sturdy and shockproof  
  • It is flexible compared to PLA and ABS 
  • Does not shrink, warp, degrade in water and absorb the atmosphere’s moisture 

Cons 

  • Working with this material is not easy especially if you are a beginner 

PETG 3D Printing Filament 

PETG 3D printing filament is a slight modification of the PET filament, with the distinguishing feature in this being the presence of “glycol-modified.” This addition makes this filament much more robust than the PET and prints without producing any odor. Therefore, it is often used in instances where the PET filament becomes fragile and hazy due to overheating. 

The unique features of glycol that make the PETG 3D printing filament much more advanced include no warping, robust while still not brittle as well as low shrinkage. PETG filament is used to make mechanical parts and protective components such as cell phone cases due to its sturdy nature. Likewise, it can be used to make plates, cups as well as food and water containers. 

PETG is rapidly taking over from ABS as the go-to filament for structural parts as it has similar mechanical properties but is much easier to print with.

Pros 

  • It is not fragile hence not susceptible to warping 
  • It is flexible, robust and recyclable  
  • Does not absorb moisture from the atmosphere 
  • Does not shrink, so can be printed on glass without the use of glues 

Cons 

  • It needs the fine-tuning of the nozzle and bed temperature 
  • Possess inferior bridging attributes compared to ABS

Metal 3D Printing Filament    

Metal blend filament stands out because of its unique and exceptional finishes of the 3D printed parts. It is usually a combination of PLA and a proportion of fine metallic powders. Consequently, the 3D printed parts resemble and feel as if they have been made out of pure metal, with the most popular choices being stainless steel, copper, bronze, brass, and aluminum.

If you are looking to add more creativity to a project, then you should consider using this filament. With it, you can weather, tarnish, or polished a finished object to make it look more genuine, and despite not being 100% 3D metal parts, they undoubtedly look like they are 100% metallic. The metal 3D printing filament is used to make jewelry items, hardware products, artifact replicas, statues, and many more. 

Pros 

  • Very durable 
  • Minimal shrinkage as it cools 
  • It has a distinct metal finish and appearance   

Cons 

  • Can wear brass nozzles
  • The nozzle temperatures require fine-tuning 

Conductive PLA 3D Printing Filament

If you are looking to broaden your 3D printing horizons, the conductive PLA 3D printing filament is an excellent choice. Included in this 3D printing material is conductive carbon particulate, which allows it to print low-voltage electrical circuits to power things such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and sensors. 

When you combine this filament with a dual-extrusion 3D printer and PLA filament, you can create simple circuit boards straight from your 3D printer’s bed! You also have the option of conductive ABS if you prefer this over conductive PLA to make open-source electronics, sensors, LEDs, circuits as well as several low-voltage projects. 

Pros 

  • It permits low-voltage electronic circuits 
  • Using a heated bed is not necessary, although this yields better results 

Cons 

  • Not durable and not very flexible
  • It tends to shrink when cooled 
  • Repeatedly bending it might cause it to break 
  • This filament is expensive 

Carbon Fiber 3D Printer Filament 

This is another remarkable 3D filament which consists of small carbon fiber strands that result in a material with superb mechanical strength and structure. It comes with a superior and stable adhesion layer, plus it has similar properties to the standard PLA, albeit it being considerably firmer. Additionally, it provides you with added dimensional stability, thereby meaning you get warp-free printing. 

However, this 3D filament has its fair share of drawbacks, and one of those is that because of its abrasive nature, printer nozzles wear out faster, especially if they are made out of brass. This 3D filament is usually used in the production of sturdy and high-quality objects such as mechanical parts, protective casings, among many other very durable materials. 

Pros 

  • Strong and very long-lasting
  • It prints remarkably well 
  • Little shrinkage and warping during the process of cooling 
  • A heated bed is not necessary 

Cons 

  • It causes too much wear on the printer nozzles, especially brass 
  • This material contains abrasive strands

Conclusion 

Hopefully, this article has given you some inspiration to try out some new materials! Whether you’re after a specific mechanical property or a unique appearance and feel, there is bound to be a filament out there that suits your project.

-Dylan

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