3D Printer Filament Types & Uses 2021
Confused about which 3D printer filament to use for your project? Here’s your foolproof guide to ALL the 3D Printer Filament Types available (and where to use them).
Whether you’re just starting out, or already a professional, there’s always much to learn about the growing 3D printing industry. Currently, we have a broad selection of 3D printer materials and it is definitely expanding with the growing demand for FDM printing.
3D printer filament types can range from the ones typically used in any project like PLA and ABS to specialty filaments used for creative projects. Some can be used for prototyping or producing spare parts and others for medical and industrial use.
If you’re looking into building a 3D printing business, then you definitely need to know all material options for your customers’ designs.
You see, selecting the proper filament to use can make or break the design and quality of your printouts. Not to mention, choosing a filament type to use can impact your project cost. That’s why in this guide, we have listed, sorted, and intricately explained each filament type for you.
Quick Gist of Different 3D Filament Types
What are the different types of filaments and how much are they?
Here’s a quick list of all the 3D filament types available in the market, the cost, and where to best buy them:
|3D Printer Filament Types||Cost||Where to Buy|
|TPU||$44 (1kg)||MatterHackers Pro|
|Metal||$24.95 (1kg)||Gizmo Dorks|
|Biodegradable (bioFila)||$100 (1kg)||3D Jake|
|Glow in the dark||$24.99||Hatchbox|
|Changing color||$25.99||CC3D Store|
|Beer Filament||$39.99 (1kg)||3DFuel|
|Clay||$42.57 (500g)||Treed Filaments|
|Carbon Fiber||$39.99 (500g)||Protopasta|
What is the Strongest 3D filament?
Polycarbonate (PC) is one of the strongest 3D printer filaments according to many reviews and experts. This thermoplastic material can endure high temperatures and fit for printing high-strength components.
What 3D Printer Filament Type is Flexible?
If you’re looking for flexible filament types to use for your projects, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is the most flexible 3D printing material available. TPU is often marketed as semi-flexible, flexible, and ultra-flexible, and you can choose the material you need based on your requirements.
The amount of flexibility is determined through its Shore Hardness, where the smaller the number is, the softer the material is. TPU often ranges from Shore A 60 to 90. In comparison, PLA has a shore hardness of 92A.
What is the lightest 3D printer filament?
Polypropylene (PP) is the lightest 3D printing material available if you’re looking for plastic materials to use for light objects. PP only weighs 0.9 grams per cubic centimeter compared to PC (strongest material) which weighs 1.2 grams per cubic centimeter.
So, what type of filament should you use?
- Color changing
- Beer Filament
- PC / ABS
- Acetal (POM)
What is PLA?
There’s no better way to spell simple 3D printing materials than PLA. Short for Polylactic Acid, PLA is the most common material for desktop 3D printing. In many cases, it is the default choice of enthusiasts and professionals alike.
One of the reasons many find PLA a good filament to start with is that it doesn’t require a lot of fine-tuning in the printer, making it easy to print with. When you’re just a beginner, this is the best filament to experiment with. PLA is also biodegradable and gives a pleasant smell while printing. Applications include 3D models, simple figurines and miniatures, prototypes, containers, toys, and many more.
PLA Filament Properties
- High strength
- Low flexibility
- Medium durability
- Easy to use
- Minimal warping
- Print temperature: 180 – 230°C
What is ABS Filament?
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS is also a common 3D printing material alongside PLA. They almost have the same price, but there are a few distinctions between the two. The most obvious one is that ABS has better mechanical properties, tougher, and has greater impact resistance.
This means they are more durable than PLA and are more wear-resistant. ABS is also better for outdoor applications. One of its drawbacks, however, is that it emits an unpleasant odor when printed. Hence, you would need good ventilation when printing ABS. Applications include cases or project enclosures, toys or action figures, automotive parts, and many more.
ABS Filament Properties
- High strength
- Medium flexibility
- Slightly difficult to print
- Print temperature: 210 – 250°C
- Print bed temperature: 80 – 110°C
- Higher tendencies to warp/shrink
- Soluble in esters, acetone, and esters
- Easy to finish
What is PETG?
PETG is a food-safe 3D printer filament that has a lot to offer for a good cost. PETG has good impact resistance, fatigue resistance, rigid, water-resistant, and semi-rigid. However, it is slightly softer than other materials making it more prone to wear.
PETG is also popular for its good thermal characteristics which makes it efficient to cool without warping. PET, PETT, and PETE are some of the variants of PETG but are not as popular as PETG itself.
4. Flexible 3D Printer Filament
What are Flexible Filaments?
Flexible filaments such as thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) are flex filaments that are easy to bend and have rubber-like properties. They are highly durable, flexible, and have a high resistance to abrasion and chemicals, making them suitable for automotive applications. You can also use flexible filament for printing spare parts, and medical supplies.
5. Polycarbonate (PC)
What is Polycarbonate Filament?
Polycarbonate filament is considered the strongest filament used for tough applications and engineering uses. This 3D printing material is suitable for high heat environments where fatigue resistance, rigidity, and impact resistance are needed.
6. Nylon 3D Printer Filament
In FDM printing, nylon is a remarkably high strength filament that’s durable and versatile. It also offers high flexibility, great impact resistance, and toughness. Nylon filaments are often used for making functional parts and components because of their high inter-layer adhesion.
However, Nylon filaments are particularly sensitive to moisture which means you may need to constantly dry them or store them properly. You may even use desiccants or dehydrators to dry the filament and achieve good printing results.
7. Metallic 3D Printer Filament
Metallic filaments are generally PLA filaments with the infusion of different metal powders such as bronze, steel, iron, or copper to take the form of these materials. There are no specific percentages of metal infills for metallic filaments as different manufacturers embed different amounts of embeds. As these materials are stronger and tougher than normal filament, you also need a special kind of nozzle to print them with your desktop 3D printer.
8. Biodegradable Filament (BioFila)
BioFila, a biodegradable filament is somewhat a new kid in the block which came out from research on ecological bioplastics. This 3D printing filament is made entirely of renewable materials and is food safe, and dishwasher safe. It’s also heat resistant and prints without odor. If you’re into green 3D printing materials, this can be a great solution. However, BioFila does come with a higher price point and it’s not easy to find a replacement material with equally remarkable properties.
9. Wood 3D Printer Filament
Wood filaments are PLA-based filaments integrated with wood fibers. There are several types of wood-filled filaments in the market such as coconut, birch, timber, cedar, bamboo, and many more. All of which amazingly have the physical attributes of real wood, from texture to smell and feel. This means you can use them for projects where you require wooden components, such as for iconic wild west miniatures. Wood filaments are also cost-effective. However, it does emit an unpleasant smell of burning wood while printing so it’s best to print them in a well-ventilated room.
10. Conductive Filament
For DIY electronic projects and circuits, the conductive filament is one of the best choices. Conductive filaments let electricity pass through them making them suitable for PCBs, 3D printed circuits, and sensors. This filament is also PLA-based and has graphene components or graphitized carbon to make it electrically conductive. The average amount of electrical stresses it can handle varies from 0 to 60 volts at 100 mA or below, but it varies depending on the manufacturer.
Magnetic filaments are unique 3D printing materials that are responsive to a magnetic field and can be attracted to magnets. Some manufacturers also call them ferromagnetic PLA as they have a PLA base and are infused with finely ground iron. They are highly used in mechanical and engineering applications, or as replacement parts and actuators.
Magnetic filaments have fairly good strength and rigidity. When printed, objects may have matte or shiny finishes which depends on the printing temperature.
12. Glow in the Dark Filament
Glow in the dark filament illuminates in the absence of light, brought about by the effects of additives added unto the filament. When printed, these filaments come off with a bright, shiny surface in the dark that makes a difference. Additives used can be strontium illuminate, zinc sulfide, or calcium sulfide depending on the manufacturer. Nevertheless, it works by absorbing UV light re-emitting it as visible light.
Although the base material is usually PLA and ABS, glow-in-the-dark filaments are more difficult to print as they are abrasive and can eat away the nozzle. Hence, this might not be a good way to start your 3D printing journey if you’re a beginner. To 3D print this, you need to upgrade your nozzle.
13. Color Changing Filament
Color-changing filaments are another type of 3D printer filament that may entice you if you’re looking for unusually bright, multicolored spools. They are often called thermochromic filaments that have the ability to change their color based on the temperature.
One example is that a gray color filament can change into a transparent color when the temperature is at 29 degrees celsius and above.
14. Carbon Fiber 3D printer filament
Carbon fiber filament is a composite 3D printing material that’s made by infusing carbon fibers in a base material. The base material can be PLA, ABS, nylon, or PETG. This 3D printer filament type is often used for engineering applications where tough and enhanced mechanical properties are required.
While it has similar properties to real carbon fiber, it doesn’t mean that it is a fair replacement. Carbon fiber filament does not possess the actual properties of real carbon fiber, but it does present an improved mechanical strength and properties.
15. Beer Filament
Beer Filament, such as the Buzzed is made of brewery by-products to create an environmentally conscious, biodegradable 3D printing plastic material. As they are made from leftovers, beer filament usually has a gold-like color with a natural grain finish. Do note that the color is not consistent for every product you buy as the waste products that are used to make the filament vary from each batch.
16. Clay Filaments
Clay filaments mimic the aesthetics and texture of real clay objects. This type of 3D printer filament is perfect for printed architectural objects and unique displays. Like the other filament types discussed above, clay filaments are also PLA-based and infused with powdered components. For Clay filaments, fine-grained stones are mixed with PLA to obtain their stone-like texture similar to the real stone clay.
Some of the best features of clay filaments are their good printability and heat resistance when compared with ABS. It is also durable and has high impact resistance.
HIPS or High Impact Polystyrene is a dissolvable filament type used as a support structure for 3D printing ABS. HIPS is easily soluble in d-Limonene which can leave no marks when the supports are removed. Another thing to note is that HIPS is made with the same 3D printing properties as ABS which makes it seamless for use for dual extrusions.
HIPS is also lightweight, heat resistant, and impact resistant making it extra suitable as a support material, especially for ABS.
18. PVA or Water Soluble
Polyvinyl Alcohol or PVA is a water-soluble material used as a support structure for multi-extrusion 3D printing. It’s an ideal choice if you want to print complex structures that need support that easily dissolve in water. It can be used to support PLA 3D printing structures, as well as Nylon, CPE, or tough PLA.
19. Cleaning Filament
Cleaning filament is used for running in 3D printers for nozzle cleaning. Cleaning filaments usually look like a repackaged nylon in a small coil of only 0.1 kg weight. Don’t be deceived. Its purpose is to clean clogged nozzles and it usually comes in short lengths, just enough to push out carbonized plastics.
20. Wax Filament
Wax filaments such as the MOLDLAY, are wax-like thermoplastics that are usually used for mold castings. MOLDLAY in particular is a new filament type developed for creating wax-like models. This type of 3D printing material can work for FDM printers, but professional 3D printing may use material jetting to form the models.
Wax filaments feature superb dimensional stability and close to zero warpings. 3D printed objects are stiff at room temperature but they become liquid when heated to 270 degrees celsius. Printing temperatures require up to 170°-180°C and the molds should be baked using an oven at 270°C.
21. Acetal Filament
Acetal or Polyoxymethylene (POM) filament is a thermoplastic used for engineering parts. It has high stiffness, high wear resistance, and low friction making it good for applications requiring tough and resilient parts. The material also possesses good dimensional stability and high impact resistance that is suitable for producing ball bearings, and gear wheels.
22. ASA Filament
Acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) is yet another thermoplastic used for outdoor and engineering applications. It is similar to ABS but has improved properties which makes it more durable, heat resistant, rigid, and strong.
Like ABS, ASA is trickier to print as it is sensitive to heat while printing. But the finished object is tougher than ABS making it suitable for outdoor use. Moreover, ASA does not turn yellow over long exposures outside like ABS would.
23. FPE Filament
Flexible PolyEster (FPE) is a combination of rigid and soft properties that makes it suitable for professional and demanding 3D printing applications. 3D printed parts are strong, flexible, and heat resistant, as well as having high layer-to-layer adhesion. Since FPE is not the easiest to print, they are ideal for industrial use.
24. PP Filament
Polypropylene (PP) filament is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic new in the market. It has a unique combination of flexibility and toughness making it useful for many applications. You can use them for packaging, storage, or labeling equipment, and as food-grade containers, as they are also non-toxic and do not emit odors. Moreover, polypropylene is FDA safe so you can use them to print objects for your aquarium or models for cakes. However, printing them requires a special type of extruder that has brass heads.
25. PC-ABS Filament
Polycarbonate ABS alloy (PC-ABS) is a thermoplastic that combines the heat resistance and strength of polycarbonate and the flexibility of ABS. They are often used in electronics, telecommunications, and automotive applications. The properties which the PC-ABS filament has depends on the ratio between the ABS, PC, and additive blends used in the production.
The 3D printing industry landscape is expanding, which means there surely will be new and improved filaments to sprung up. This also means we’ll be expanding this list every now and then to keep you updated with the latest filament trends and news.
Subscribe for more!
You may also like to read: