While new 3D Printers are released every now and them, the printing techniques are still going through iterations perfecting the existing concepts. Every iteration improves on the printing times, but the amount of improvement keeps getting smaller each time.
It’s not because the process has reached its technical limits, but the chemical limits. The problem keeping current printers from going faster is that after melting the filament and extruding it accurately, the printer has to wait for the filament to be cooled down and become a solid again.
Most new printers come with active coolers to try and remedy this, but there’s a limit to how much you can blow air onto an object before it deforms.
When you’ve accepted the fact that 3D printing takes up a lot of time, you can now proceed to the next step and choose the right filament for your printer.
If you are confused by the kinds of filament, read on, and I’ll help you decide which type of filament you should choose.
Types of filaments
Before we dive into the intricacies of the different kinds, let’s explore the three most commonly used kinds of filaments and identify their similarities and unique properties.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is one of the most commonly used filament types used in 3D printing. Mainly preferred because it can be printed at a low temperature without the requirement of a heated bed. It is one of the most environment friendly materials on the market today. Derived from sugarcane and corn, it is biodegradable.
There are some variations of PLA which make is very suitable for decorative purposes, for instance, there is glow-in-the-dark PLA, photochromatic PLA which changes colors when exposed to UV lights, sparky PLA which contains glitter and temperature sensitive PLA which also changes color based on the temperature. Most commonly available in Blue to white PLA among a variety of others.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is one of the first plastics employed in 3D printing. Many years later, thanks to its low cost and sound mechanical properties ABS is still very popular. ABS imbue the printed material with impact resistance and longevity.
LEGO blocks are made from ABS for the same reason. You can also use it to print action figures, cases and enclosures, as well as automotive parts. ABS has little special qualities, but it is available in purple to pink, grey to white and blue to white temperature sensitive shades.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG) is commonly used in the manufacturing of water bottles. It is a semi-rigid material with good water resistance, but can be prone to wear as well. It demonstrates boundless thermal characteristics, allowing the printed plastic to cool down efficiently with very minimal warpage. PETG can be used for waterproof applications, such as planter pots and water bottles among other things.
Difference in Printing
Using these three materials can provide you with very different results, so make sure to identify what properties you’d like in your end product.
Printing with PETG
Printing with PETG can give you a smooth and glossy surface finish. That said, it can produce reedy hairs on the surface from stringing. During the printing process it is mostly odorless and sticks to the bed with insignificant warping.
During printing, you’ll need a part cooling fan to ensure the best results. You can say that PETG has the strength of ABS along with the design qualities of ABS. The major con to PETG is that it is more expensive when compared to the other material.
Printing with PLA
Using PLA for 3D printing is recommended for beginners as it builds your design with good dimensional accuracy. The stiff and good strength leads to long lasting shelf life. The issue is that due to the low heat resistance, it is recommended to keep it and the prints away from the sunlight.
In cases where you need to print a larger item with a flat base, little amount of heat (say 60 degrees) can help. Which is also why it could ooze and may need some cooling. Compared to PETG, it is fairly inexpensive.
Now because PLA flows a bit better than ABS, you can print better detailed designs using it at a much higher speed. PLA is very good for printing sharp corners. Since PLA comes out a bit brittle, you can use a blend to produce the desired result, like PLA & PHA, PLA & Wood, etc.
Printing with ABS
ABS can help you print impact and wear resistant material. As mentioned, LEGO bricks are made using this. You need to make sure that you use it in an open or a well-ventilated area, as it produces a very pungent smell.
Also, it needs a heated bed for printing, so make sure that there are no kids around. ABS itself sticks to the heated bed, but you can avoid this by making an AB slurry and applying it to the bed beforehand. With good heat resistance, it doesn’t ooze much and give you a smoother final product.
Also, you don’t need a part cooling fan during the printing process. You can use a blend of ABS and PLA for dual extrusion prints, since these two don’t stick to each other. Using a combination of two, you can make complex structures with PLA as support, or vice versa.
You can use acetone to dissolve ABS but for PLA you’ll need Sodium Hydroxide. It is a very dangerous substance so handle it carefully.
Which Printer Filament Is Best?
It is hard to crown any one kind the best to use for 3D printing. We’ve already discussed that each of these kinds serve a different purpose. Let’s recap:
- Where PETG produces glossy and products with smooth finish, you can make your own custom water bottles and what not,
- ABS can provide with strong and sturdy final products, print the LEGO bricks missing from your set to complete your masterpiece.
- PLA is the simplest one to use as you don’t really have to mess with the settings on the printer much and get started with your project right away.
You may come across posts claiming that PETG or ABS might be taking over PLA, PLA has one major advantage over the rest. It doesn’t produce any toxic fumes while printing. Many people have referred to the smell to being similar to that of waffles.
For others, you simply can’t have them in the middle of your office or house where they can intoxicate the air. That said, a new variant of ABS has been developed which reduces the toxic impact on the environment while providing with the highest quality extrusion possible.
In the end, it all boils down to your project and what properties would you like in the printed product.
Till now, we’ve been discussing the filament types by referring to them by their chemical composition. When going out to purchase a filament for your printer, you might end up confused with all the brand names.
Let’s take a look at some popular brands for each type.
- HobbyKing PETG
- ColorFabb PETG
- Hatchbox PETG
- E3D Spoolworks Edge
- eSun PETG
- CCTREE® 1.75mm 1KG/Roll PETG Filament for Creality CR-10/CR10S/Ender 3/Tevo/ANET 3D Printer
- TronHoo® 1Kg PETG Filament 1.75mm Black/White/Transparent/Silver/Orange for 3D Printer
- TWO TREES® 1.75mm 1KG Black/Orange/Green/White/Transparent Light Penetration PETG 3D Printer Filament
- Filamentum PLA
- Polymaker PLA, PolyMax, PolyPlus
- eSun PLA
- Hatchbox PLA
- ColorFabb PLA/PHA
- Creality 3D® White/Black/Yellow/Blue/Red 1KG 1.75mm PLA Filament For 3D Printer
- CCTREE® 1.75mm 1KG/Roll 3D Printer ST-PLA Filament For Ender-3 Pro/Ender-3 V2/Sidewinder 3D Printer
- TWO TREES® White/Red/Orange/Black/Yellow/Gray/Blue/Green 1.75mm 1KG/Roll PLA Filament for 3D Pritner
- eSun ABS, ABS+
- Hatchbox ABS
- HobbyKing ABS
- FormFutura ABS pro, EasyFil ABS, TitanX
- eSun ABS, ABS+
- Anet® 1KG 1.75mm ABS Filament For Reprap Prusa 3D Printer
- CCTREE® 1KG/Roll 1.75mm Many Colors ABS Filament for Crealilty/TEVO/Anet 3D Printer
Other common 3D filaments
It’s not that these three are the only type of 3D printer filaments on the market. There are more than 16 different kinds. Let’s take a look at some of them.
PVA: This non-toxic and environment friendly material is easily dissolved in water under normal temperature. It is used in the production of feminine hygiene products, paper adhesives and children’s play putty, among other things.
Nylon: It is a very lightweight yet strong and flexible material, which produces durable and wear resistant final products. It is used in the production of containers, tools, dynamic loads, bearings and gears as well as toys.
HIPS: It is a biodegradable material with amazing 3D support at a surprisingly low cost. It is used for printing parts of costumes, printing figurines and product prototyping.
Wood: It is a very versatile 3D printing material. Features real wood-like scent, is very durable and contains actual wood fibers. It is used for the printing of jewelry boxes, chairs boxes and figurines.
Sandstone: Giving the printed material with a feeling unlike plastic, sandstone allows for easy coloring and grinding of the final product. Doesn’t require a heated bed. Used for development of architecture models and landscape designs.
Metal: Very durable, metal warps minimally during cooling down. Used in the production of jewelry, statues and home décor material.
Amphora: It has very high toughness and high strength. Produces little to no odor during printing. Used for making desktop items and mechanical parts.