Having a 3d printer around a house is great and even better when you can get the most use out of it. To do so it is important to know something about all the different filament types, how to print them and the best uses for each of the filament. So, stay with us as we go over all the types of filament and who knows, you might actually learn something new today.
PLA Types of Filaments:
I will cover the PLA types of filament first as it is the #1 choice for most printing projects. PLA is a very common material for 3d printing among hobbyists. It is the cheapest, harmless, recyclable, and it comes in many different colors. PLA also is the easiest filament to work with. It sticks to nearly everything and does not require a headed bed.
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PLA – is a polyester. The most widely used plastic filament material in 3D printing. It comes in many different colors. It is both recyclable and biodegradable in an industrial composter.
PLA is renewable as it is made from corn starch or sugar cane.
Because PLA solidifies at low temperature allows 3d printers with cooling fans do very aggressive maneuvers and build long bridges without the need for support.
The downside of PLA is that it softens at a very low temperature. So if the product is left for some time near a hot surface or inside a car out on hot sun it can potentially turn into a useless blob.
PLA plus is sometimes referred to as PLA pro or Tough PLA. Basically it is the same PLA modified to be a bit tougher without going to a next up more expansive materials. This “plus” can include higher melting point and or impact resistant just to name a few. PLA plus is a few bucks pricier than regular PLA but still is cheaper than most other materials.
Keep in mind that if your are going to print with a PLA plus you may need to adjust your 3d printer profile to suit this particular filament. Always check the spool for a recommended temperature settings and compare that to a regular PLA that you are using. This will give you a good starting point to begin tuning the profile for PLA plus.
HT PLA (High-Temp)
High-Temp or HT PLA is a filament that can be 3d printed as a regular PLA. The main difference is that it allows you to heat treat it. So, print a part, throw it in the oven, and increase the melting point of the part by nearly 3 times from 50 deg. Celsius to about 160 deg. Celsius.
This is great for printing gadgets that will require to be exposed to heat like car accessories or anyplace that is hear heat. This stuff will never melt in the sunlight. Otherwise this is same as regular PLA but about 4 time more expansive.
Silk PLA is a PLA with elastomer mixed in it. Parts printed in Silk PLA are as bright as a brushed metal straight out of the 3d printer. Silk PLA is much more brittle than standard PLA therefore it is great for 3d printing display models.
Silk PLA prints much like regular PLA but with elastomer in mixed it it you should watch out for aggressive retraction setting as this will clog up the nozzle and end up in a jam.
Rainbow PLA is a same Silk PLA described above but instead of being one solid color this filament will have a mixture of colors on a same wire and will change colors every about 200 cm.
To get the maximum effect of a Rainbow PLA in you print it is best to print a very tall model like a vase or if you need an assortment of some sort you can print a bunch of small items.
Color Changing PLA
Color Changing PLA is a very cool filament that changes color when near heat or exposed to sunlight. It is printed as a regular PLA but if overheated it may not change colors anymore.
This is a great choice of filament for jewelry or decorations.
PLA Composites is a PLA filament blend with metal / wood powders and fibers. Any Composites filaments are extremely abrasive and it is highly recommended to replace the stock 0.4 mm brass tip to a 0.5 mm hardened steel hot end nozzle.
Marble PLA is a filament with a finished marble stone look when the part is finished. There a two types of marble PLA.
- One is just a marble colored PLA and nothing more special.
- Two is actually a blend of powder stone with PLA and this one will require a hardened steel nozzle.
Wood PLA is a blend of PLA plastic and a real wood dust. This filament absorbs moisture like a sponge and needs to be kept in a dry box or dehydrator.
The really cool thing about wood PLA is that it 3d printed model can be sanded and stained. Better yet if printed with a larger layer height and not sanded the part may not look so pleasant but when wood stained it will give off an authentic wood feel and the layers look like real wood grains.
Give this one a try for a jewelry box
Glowing PLA is a composite PLA and will need a hardened steel nozzle as it is very abrasive. It is a PLA blend with glowing pigment powder that gives it a glow effect but also makes 3d printed models very rough on finish and very brittle.
When printing glowing PLA it is best to make the walls extra thick to maximize the glow effect and keep a close eye on printer as this filament clogs the nozzle like no other filaments.
Glowing PLA is one of the most difficult filaments to print and it’s best to keep the retraction setting off for this one.
Glitter PLA is a blend of PLA and glitter and it is fairly cheap. The glitter is usually not super fine and will require a wide nozzle. It is also on a difficult side to print and this filament stick to hot end and will require extensive cleaning after it is finished with.
To maximize the effect of glitter it is best to print thin walls and thick layer height.
Sparkly PLA is a great alternative to glitter PLA. It can be printed just like a regular PLA. Sparkly PLA or Metallic PLA does not contain glitter but it is shiny do to a manufacturing plastic composite process.
To maximize the effect of shines it is best to print this with thick wall thickness and fine layer height.
Carbon Fiber PLA
Carbon Fiber PLA is a mixture of PLA and tiny carbon fibers for reinforcement. This filament is not much stronger than regular PLA. The advantage of CF PLA is the fibers assist the plastic during the building process and the prints come out looking much much better than the regular PLA. This also helps with dimensional accuracy as well as appearance.
CF PLA is very abrasive and hardened steel nozzle is a must because standard brass nozzle will get destroyed instantly.
It’s important to note that there are different types of carbon fiber PLA.
- ground carbon fibers
- This will not increase any of the mechanical strength in the print but will give it a fine matte finish.
- short chopped carbon fibers
- This will increase strength of the part and will need a hardened steel hot end nozzle.
- long chopped carbon fibers
- This is the toughest but also most brittle and hardened steel hot end nozzle is a must with a wide opening.
High Temp Carbon Fiber PLA
HT-CF-PLA is a blend of high temperature PLA and Carbon Fiber. This is one of the most brittle filament on the list and will require a close attention when printing as it can snap and result in run-out print. It may be a great idea to equip your printer with a filament run-out sensor if it don’t already have one.
Models printed in HT CF PLA come out warped from the printer but amazingly when heat treated in the oven they go back to normal and fiber help to stabilize and reinforce the model and make it easier to heat treat.
Conductive PLA is a very interesting filament. No it will not replace the circuit board or wires but it does allow you to embed LED right in your print with no wires required. It is also great for phone accessories, touch censors, stylus and much more.
Conductive PLA is filled with black carbon. This makes it very brittle, difficult to print because parts like to warp, and even more difficult to clean out the nozzle after swapping to different filament.
For best practices when switching from conductive PLA move on to a black color filament because the black carbon will ruing the next print if printed in light color.
Metal PLA is a 50/50 blend of metal and plastic. This filament can be printed at the lowest temperatures. It is not any stronger than regular PLA and is more brittle. Metal PLA can be buffed and polished for a shiny looks and rusted with vinegar peroxide salt solution for antique look.
For best results when buffing or polishing use high temperature metal PLA and then heat treat it. Also with any metal PLA hardened steel hot end nozzle is a must and it is recommended to use 0.5 mm tip or higher.
It’s good to note that metal is heavy and when buying a spool of 1 kg of filament you will actually get half as much of filament than you would when buying regular PLA. Filaments are sold by weight not length.
Iron PLA is similar to metal PLA and does require a hardened steel nozzle. The unique properties about Iron PLA is that it is magnetic and can be rusted. Iron retains heat longer this makes it one of the lowest temperature printing filament.
Hot end temperature for Iron PLA should be about 180 deg Celsius, retraction low, and keep and eye out on it as it can melt in the heat-break and clog the nozzle.
Stainless Steel PLA
SS PLA is just like other Metal PLA. It is super heavy, requires a hardened hot end nozzle, can be polished to almost a reflective finish and will not rust nor it is magnetic.
Brass PLA is a mix of brass (copper zinc) particles and PLA. Brass is very dense and has a high thermal mass. Models printed in Brass PLA are heavy and look cool.
Bronze PLA is a blend of PLA and Bronze alloy that makes these prints really cool especially when 3d printing “artifacts” because Bronze will oxidize and develop a cool greenish layer that will look like a real artifact or it can be polished if clean bronze look is desired. It is heavy so keep in mind about the length of filament on the spool when making a purchase.
Copper PLA is a blend of copper and PLA. It is very dense and heavy. Copper PLA takes brushing, buffing, and polishing particularly well and if you add a touch of oil or black paint it will look absolutely stunning.
PETG is cheap and easy to print. It is recyclable and you can glue, weld, and machine it. The biggest downside is that PETG Saggs during 3d printing so long bridges and overhangs are nearly impossible and support material is hard to break away.
For best practice design models in a way where it doesn’t have any overhangs nor it would require support material. PETG is an awesome general-purpose filament for functional mechanical prints that have to get some beating.
T-Glaze filament is one of the most transparent filaments around. T-Glaze is a specially formulated blend of PETG to make clear watertight prints. Print this at higher temperature than the regular PETG and it’s designed to go directly on the glass bed to make the bottom layer crystal clear.
For best results, on the first layer turn the fan all the way down or off and turn the multiplier up, slow down speed and lay out thickest lines the nozzle can handle similar to lines of the raft.
Hips (high-impact polystyrene) is one tough material that handles impacts like no other material. It’s fairly inexpensive and often used in multi material printers to make dissolvable supports for abs.
HIPS printing filament it’s super light and it has exceptional layer adhesion to the point of being watertight. Enclosures are recommended since even a minor draft will spoil the print and it only sticks the kapton tape.
Hips handle overhangs really well and because it flexes without creasing it makes a really good choice for living hinges.
ABS is one of the most commonly discussed filaments. There are many products made from ABS like legos. But in 3d printing ABS has issues. It is difficult to print, models warp, wont stick to the print bed, and to top it off it gives off toxic gasses when heated. If you need something printed from ABS consider using it’s alternative ASA.
ASA is basically all the properties of ABS but is 3d printer friendly. It prints easy, models look great, but it is toxic like ABS and will require an enclosure with ventilation when printing.
Purge filament is a special type of filament designed specifically for purging. It melts at 190 and burns at 270 deg Celsius. It is ideal when switching from high temp filament to low temp filament to run purge filament in between. Because when loading low temperature filament high temp. filament that remained in the nozzle can solidify and cause a jam.
Cleaning filament is also a special purpose filament. It is designed in a way to stick to all other materials more than the residue of the all other materials to the hot end nozzle and it pull off any residues as it is dispensed thru the nozzle.
Cleaning filament however can not clear blockages in the nozzle but is great to run after using flexible or sticky filaments.
TPE Flexible Filament
TPE is a thermoplastic elastomer better known as NinjaFlex is one of the most difficult filaments to print because of its properties of stretch and flex that make TPE so amazingly unique.
The challenge with TPE is to maintain the correct pressure in the hot end. Too little pressure and nothing comes out too much pressure and it will windup itself around the drive gears.
It is best to use TPE with the direct drive FDM 3d printer alltho it is possible to print on a bowden tube printer but extremely difficult.
TPU Flexible Filament
TPU is a thermoplastic polyurethane that has unique properties that allow it to spring, flex, and it is also a really tough filament. Because it is soft and flexible makes it very difficult to print with a bowden tube but not impossible.
TPU absorbs moisture like a sponge and will string intensively when moist and the finished product will not appear smooth but rather a bit spongy if filament was not dried.
When printing larger objects with TPU it will warp and curl up on the corners. The best way to fix that I found is a fine layer of glue stick on the print bed where the object will print and when 3d model finished printing. Just wash it with soap and water to get the dried up glue off the model.
TPU is famous for 3d printing phone cases and you can find models for download along with a TPU profile that I use for 3d printing TPU with bowden tube on the download tab above.
Polycarbonate (PC) is the best engineering plastic. It’s got all the strength and qualities for a perfect prototype. Pure PC requires very hot temperatures to print. Hot end nozzle is recommended up to 275 deg Celsius, bed temperature at 110 deg Celsius, and possibly a heated enclosure.
The more common Polycarbonate for 3d printing are alloys. It is a blend of PC and other materials to make the 3d printer more friendly and easier to print.
Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate
Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate – CF-PC is a filament infused with chopped carbon fibers. Similar to a Carbon Fiber PLA, fiber in the semi-flexible polycarbonate help to stabilize the plastic making the final results as stiff as a rock.
Carbon Fibers also help with printing better bridges and overhangs. CF-PC is more manageable to print that PC and is a great choice for engineering prototypes and toys like drones. It is abrasion resistant and handle heat very well.
Nylon is a really common material for high-end professional prototyping. Nylon is a little flexible, extremely tough, handles abrasion very well, and super easy to post process. Nylon requires a heated bed, enclosure, and dry-box.
Hopefully this really long list of different types of filament materials helped you better understand what materials you may need for the upcoming project and what to expect from it.
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