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Types of Flexible 3D Printing Filament

Introduction 

Flexible filaments are some of the most fun and exciting materials to 3D print with. Flexible filaments allow you to expand your 3D printing capabilities because they are elastic and flexible, as well as extremely adhesive. Therefore, models created using flexible 3D printing filaments are both flexible and durable.

However, there are different types of 3D printing filaments, each with different properties, so it’s essential to choose the right one for your project.

In this article, I will be taking you through all of the different types of flexible 3D printing filaments so you can learn the advantages and disadvantages of each and be sure you’re buying the material that best suits your 3D printing needs. 

Recommended Flexible 3D Printing Filaments

NinjaFlex Flexible Filament 

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This is, without a doubt, one of the most popular flexible 3D printing filaments on the market due to incredible quality. Its product line features TPE and TPU variants, plus its filaments come in a broad range of colors, including Midnight and Sapphire Blue.

Some of the standout features of NinjaFlex include a shore hardness of 85A, great vibration reduction, and a 660% elongation that allows repeated movement as well as impact without cracking or wear. 

NinjaFlex products are considered the most robust flexible 3D filaments on the market, and they are sold in spools of 0.5kg and 0.75kg. They also come in diameters of 3.00mm and 1.75mm as well as two different variants of flexible filaments, which are the semi-flex filament and TPOU filaments.

The TPU type is, however, more popular as it produces excellent results, and it relatively simple to use, whereas the semi-flex version is somewhat rigid compared to TPU. 

Therefore, look no further if you want a flexible filament that allows you to always be more creative. 

SainSmart Flexible TPU 

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SainSmart Flexible TPU is another brand that makes high-quality flexible 3D printing material, and it comes in a broad assortment of colors. Some of the traits of flexible TPU filaments from SainSmart include excellent bed adhesion, compatibility with every FFF printer, not warping on the bed, and easy to print once the settings are correct. 

The 3D printing filaments from this company come in a 1.75mm diameter that is consistent throughout the entire spool’s length and great value for money. Moreover, it is available in spools of 0.25kg and 0.8kg, and if you are just starting out your journey of using flexible 3D filaments, then this brand is the perfect choice for you. 

Taulman3D T-Lyne Flexible Filament 

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Taulman, along with Dupont chemical team up to make this exception 3D printing filament. One of the most exceptional attributes of this filament is that you can soften it by placing it in warm water. Consequently, you can then reshape it to the design you wish and then put it in cold water to restore its hardened state. 

Once the new shape takes shape, you would assume that is how it was initially printed. Due to this unique feature, it is an excellent choice for customizing medical equipment as well as making prosthetics. 

Taulman also makes PCTPE, which is a combination of extremely flexible TPE and Nylon. This blend is usually made because of TPE’s flexible nature, albeit being reasonably fragile. However, the addition of Nylon polycarbonate to this mix makes PCTPE to acquire the smooth texture and robustness of nylon, whereas still having TPE’s flexible attribute.

Because of this blend’s unique nature, this filament is used to make costume parts, prosthetics, phone cases, and much more. 

YOYI Flexible Filament

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The YOYI flex made by YOYI stands out from all others made by this manufacturer, and it no doubt why it is usually considered to be among the best flexible filaments.

This is especially the case since it incorporates an impressive decisional precision of +/- 0.03mm. Moreover, whereas printing this filament can be somewhat tricky, the same also applies to all other flexible filaments. Therefore, to guarantee every print is successful, the printing speed needs to be slow and consistent. Moreover, make sure the printer does not increase its speed based on the type of line, hence ensuring there is little to no retraction. 

Recreus Filaflex TPE 

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If you are looking for a very soft 3D filament, then Filaflex TPE is a great choice. Despite being a very flexible material, it still prints well, but if you are looking to print extremely flexible materials, consider getting a specialist direct-drive extruder that has a low friction PTFE lining and thermal insulator.

The Filaflex TPE filament has an elongation to break of 700% hence making it ideal for creating an item using more stretch. However, an elongation of 600% is often preferred when dealing with TPU and TPE materials to ensure the filament remains functional. Furthermore, you can get Filaflex in spools of 250g and 500g as well as in a broad range of colors. 

What are the Different Types of Flexible Filament?

TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomers) 

TPE is one of the most flexible printer materials, this elasticity is made possible due to the thermoplastic elastomers that make up its structure. Because of its high elasticity, TPE can be molded into different shapes similar to an elastic band, and it feels the closest to rubber. 

The degree of elasticity of TPE is dependent on the grade’s chemical structure as well as its specific makeup. There are several types of TPE with properties dependent on their composition. TPE 3D filaments are available in a wide selection of elasticity, denoted by a rating of shore hardness.

When using TPE 3D printing filament, you need to follow some basic guidelines, including having the bed temperature set to around at 110 degrees Celsius, extruder temperature ranging from about 210 to 260 degrees Celsius and for best results a 3D printer with a direct drive extruder system is a significant benefit.

Furthermore, a cooling fan is recommended, as well as something to help bed adhesion such as a glue stick, hairspray, or painter’s tape, and the print speed needs to be quite slow; between 5 to 30 mm/s. 

TPE flexible printing filament is categorized either according to the Shore hardness value or the chemical structure. The three most common varieties of TPE are:

  • Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) 
  • Thermoplastic polyamide (TPA)
  • Thermoplastic co-polyester (TPC) 

Outside of 3D printing, TPE filaments are used in a broad range of industries and applications, and this includes use in the automotive sector as well as household appliances. These filaments are also used in making smartphone cases, visual products, wearables, and children’s toys.

Moreover, they find commercial use in making weather seals for doors and windows, medical supplies, footwear soles, and electrical insulation. 

This wide range of applications gives you some idea of how you might like to use them in your 3D printing projects.

Pros of TPE 

  • Excellent shock absorption 
  • Recyclable 
  • Decent electrical properties 
  • Great vibration damping 
  • Soft and flexible
  • Great fatigue resistance 
  • Incredible resistance to weathering and chemicals 
  • Resistance to both high and low temperatures, between -30 to +140 degrees Celsius
  • High impact strength 
  • Excellent abrasion and tear resistance 

Cons of TPE 

  • This material absorbs water from the atmosphere
  • It is relatively hard to print with this 3D filament 
  • TPE can be challenging to print using a Bowden extruder

TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)

This 3D filament is the most commonly used kind of flexible 3D printing material, and it possesses slightly more rigidity compared to some of the other flexible filaments, hence enabling it to extrude with little effort. Some people have success printing TPU with a Bowden extruder.

In terms of material properties, TPU provides you with high durability and reasonable strength, thus making it a reliable printing material. 

To use TPU 3D printing filament, you need to observe a few prerequisites, including the bed temperature being heated to 60 degrees Celsius, extruder temperature ranging between 210 to 230 degrees Celsius, the bed adhesion having a layer of painter’s or Kapton tape. Furthermore, the print speed needs to be kept low, between 5 to 30 mm/s, and the first layers do not need a cooling fan. 

Outside of 3D printing, TPU is used in the making of industrial belts, ski boots as well as shoe insoles, so you are probably quite familiar with its mechanical properties already.

Pros 

  • Great printability 
  • High abrasion resistance 
  • It can be semi-transparent 
  • High elasticity range varying between 600 to 700%
  • Improved chemical resistance to greases and oils

Cons 

  • Stringing can occur at extremely high temperatures
  • It is not resistant to UV light 
  • Its layer adhesion is poor if the temperatures are low

TPC (Thermoplastic co-polyester) 

TPC material is not common among 3D hobbyists, but it is quite a useful material as it has a higher impact resistance compared to TPU and is easier to print than TPE as it isn’t as flexible.

It bonds to itself very readily, which gives it good layer strength and makes it very suitable for applications where it needs to be bonded after assembly. For example, a drive belt.

When using TPC, your settings should include a print speed of 5 to 30 mm/s, a bed temperature of 90 to 110 degrees Celsius as well as extruder temperature of 220 to 260 degrees Celsius.

Pros 

  • It is resistant to extreme temperatures 
  • It is very strong 
  • Excellent chemical resistance 
  • Its elasticity ranges between 350 to 530% 
  • Low density 

Cons 

  • TPC has reduced elongation at the break thus cannot be used for extremely flexible applications

TPA (Thermoplastic polyamide) 

TPA filament is a chemical co-polymer of extremely flexible nylon and TPE. Therefore, the end material has the flexibility of TPE and the smoothness and lustrous texture of nylon. 

The 3D printing settings when using this material include a print speed of between 5 to 30mm/s, bed temperature between 30 to 60 degrees Celsius, as well as an extruder temperature between 220 to 330 degrees Celsius.

TPA 3D printing filament is used in making golf balls, winter sports equipment such as ski equipment as well as medical products, including catheters. 

Pros 

  • Excellent heat resistance 
  • Great printability 
  • Outstanding durability 
  • Incredible flexibility 
  • Good layer adhesion 
  • Very low hygroscopy (doesn’t absorb moisture)

Cons 

  • Low availability

Soft PLA 

The term ‘Soft PLA’ is used to refer to PLA material that has been made to become more flexible while still ensuring the toughness associated with PLA. It is because of this that it is sometimes called “tough rubber” thanks to its exceptional durability and strength.

The print speed of Soft PLA 3D printing filament is similar to that of a typical PLA, but you should use a higher bed temperature of 100 degrees Celsius and slower print speed ranging between 10 to 30 mm/s. Additionally, the extruder system needs to be a direct drive, and the extruder temperature ranges from 220 to 235 degrees Celsius. This 3D printing material is used to make springs, stoppers, and belts. 

Pros 

  • It is very sturdy
  • Exceptional durability 
  • It is biodegradable

Cons 

  • You can experience some difficulties when extruding this filament 

How to Print Flexible Filaments

The most important thing to consider when printing flexible filaments is how the filament is being fed into the extruder. On many 3D printers, the filament is pushed through a tube to the hotend by a rotating friction wheel. This is known as a Bowden tube extruder.

While this works very well for rigid filaments, flexible filaments usually just bend as soon as they meet the resistance of the restriction in the hotend and never make it to the hotend! There are two ways to avoid this problem, either you use a filament that is not flexible enough that it bends. This may mean compromising on the material properties you want. Or, you use a 3D printer that has a direct-drive extruder. This is a filament feed mechanism that pulls the filament directly to the hotend with no intervening step. This is the most reliable method of feeding flexible filaments.

You can read more about direct drive 3D printers here.

Conclusion 

After reading through this article, you now have an idea of the different types of flexible 3D printing filaments. You also are well-informed on the best flexible 3D printer filament brands on the market, and the ease of use of these various brands differs considerably. With this in mind, you are in a much better position to get the right type of filament that best suits your needs.

If you have any questions about flexible filaments, add a comment below or send me a message and I’ll do my best to help!

Dylan

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