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10. 3D Printers – Different kinds of filament

One of the key strengths of FDM is the wide range of available materials. These can range from commodity thermoplastics (such as PLA and ABS) to engineering materials (such as PA, TPU, and PETG) and high-performance thermoplastics (such as PEEK and PEI).

Image 10.1. Thermoplastic materials pyramid available in FDM. As a rule of thumb, the higher a material is the better its mechanical properties [source]

 

The material used will affect the mechanical properties and accuracy of the printed part, but also its price. The most common FDM materials are summarized in the table below.

MaterialCharacteristics
ABSGood strength
Good temperature resistance
More susceptible to warping
PLAExcellent visual quality
Easy to print with
Low impact strength
Nylon (PA)High strength
Excellent wear and chemical resistance
Low humidity resistance
PETGFood Safe *
Good strength
Easy to print with
TPUVery flexible
Difficult to print accurately
PEIExcellent strength to weight
High cost

* the notches at the layer interface are critical points for bacterial growth, so thorough cleaning after every use is needed.

 

 

Image 10.2. PLA filaments [source]

 

What follows is a more in-detail exposition of FDM basic materials:

 

10.1 ABS

ABS is usually picked over PLA when higher temperature resistance and higher toughness is required.

ProsCons
Can be post-processed with acetone vapors for a glossy finishUV sensitive
Can be post-processed with sanding paper and painted with acrylicsOdor when printing
Acetone can also be used as strong gluePotentially high fume emissions
Good abrasion resistance

 

10.2 PLA

PLA is the easiest polymer to print and provides good visual quality. It is very rigid and actually quite strong, but is very brittle.

ProsCons
Biosourced, biodegradableLow humidity resistance
OdorlessCan't be glued easily
Can be post-processed with sanding paper and painted with acrylics
Good UV resistance

 

10.3 Nylon

Nylon possesses great mechanical properties, and in particular, the best impact resistance for a non-flexible filament. Layer adhesion can be an issue, however.

ProsCons
Good chemical resistanceVery low humidity resistance
Potentially high fume emissions

 

10.4 PET

PET is a slightly softer polymer that is well rounded and possesses interesting additional properties with few major drawbacks.

ProsCons
Food safe (FDA approved)
High humidity resistance
High chemical resistance
Recyclable
Good abrasion resitance
Can be post-processes with sanding paper and painted with acrylics
Can be glued

 

10.5 TPU

TPU is mostly used for flexible applications, but its very high impact resistance can open for other applications.

ProsCons
Good abrasion resistanceDifficult to post process
Good resistance to oil and greaseCan't be glued easily

 

10.6 PC

PC is the strongest material of all, and can be an interesting alternative to ABS as the properties are quite similar.

ProsCons
Can be sterilizedUV sensitive
Easy to post-process (sanding)

 

Choosing the right polymer is critical to get the right properties for a 3D printed part, especially if the part has a functional use.

For a detailed article of “the best 3D printing filaments in 2017”, please follow this link: http://my3dmatter.com/what-are-the-best-3d-printing-filaments-in-2017/#more-1077


Other sources:
[1] https://www.3dhubs.com/knowledge-base/introduction-fdm-3d-printing#materials
[2] https://www.3dhubs.com/knowledge-base/fdm-3d-printing-materials-compared