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What are the Basic Types of 3D Printer Filaments? The Right Filament for your Project

Easythreed® 250g/Roll 1.75mm PLA 3D Printer Filament

The Right 3D Printer Filament for your Project

Owning a 3D printer opens up a world of possibilities. Whether it’s something functional like prosthetics or something fun like home decor, there’s one thing they all have in common: 3D printer filament.

There is a wide range of 3D printer filament options available to you as the raw material that keeps you printing. But what exactly are the various types of 3D printer filament? Which filament should you use for your project?

We cover all of the common 3D printer filaments, such as PLA and PETG, as well as the tougher engineering-grade materials and the fancy stuff that allows you to get creative (frequently referred to as exotics). There are other materials besides nylon, polycarbonate, carbon fiber reinforced, and polypropylene.

There are also unique blends with properties such as electrical conductivity and luminescence.

With so many options available, it’s easier than ever to create functional, visually appealing, and high-performing prints.

Basic Types of 3D Printer Filaments: 

I. PLA

Polylactic acid (PLA) reigns supreme in the world of consumer 3D printing. Despite being frequently compared to ABS – arguably the next in line to the throne – PLA is by far the most popular 3D printer filament type, and for good reason.

Properties 

Strength: High
Flexibility: Low
Durability: Medium
Difficulty to use: Low
Print temperature: 180 – 230°C
Print bed temperature: 20 – 60°C
Shrinkage/warping: Minimal
Soluble: No
Food safety: Refer to manufacturer guidelines

To begin with, PLA is simple to print with. It prints at a lower temperature than ABS and does not warp as easily, so it does not require a heating bed (although it definitely helps). Another advantage of using PLA is that it does not emit an unpleasant odor during printing (unlike ABS). Although it is generally thought to be an odorless filament, some users have reported smelling sweet candy-like fumes depending on the type of PLA used.

TWO TREES® 4Pcs 200gSpool 1.75mm RedYellowGreenTransparent Color PLA Filament Kit for 3D Printing
TWO TREES® 4Pcs 200g/Spool 1.75mm Red+Yellow+Green+Transparent Color PLA Filament Kit for 3D Printing

Another appealing feature of PLA is its nearly limitless variety of colors and styles. As you’ll see in the exotic sections, many of these specialty filaments, such as those with conductive or glow-in-the-dark properties, are made with PLA as the base material.

PLA is, to a point, more environmentally friendly than many 3D printer filaments. It will biodegrade under certain commercially attainable conditions. You’re not going to be able to compost it at home, which makes us reluctant to tout the material as being “green” in any meaningful way, but you could spin an argument for it being better than some.

Use 

In this case, the better question might be, when shouldn’t I use PLA? Compared to other types of 3D printer filament, PLA is brittle, so avoid using it when making items that might be bent, twisted, or repeatedly dropped, such as phone cases, high-wear toys, or tool handles.

You should also avoid using it with items that need to withstand higher temperatures, as PLA tends to deform around temperatures of 60°C or higher. For all other applications, PLA makes for a good overall choice in 3D printer filament.

Common prints include models, low-wear toys, prototype parts, and containers.

Pros: Easy to a print, wide variety of colors/styles, biodegradable
Cons: Brittle, lackluster mechanical properties

II. ABS 

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is less popular for everyday 3D printing than PLA. ABS, on the other hand, is moderately superior to PLA in terms of material properties, despite being slightly more difficult to print – it is prone to warping without a hot print bed and bed adhesive.

ABS is widely used in injection molding and can be found in a wide range of manufactured household and consumer goods, including LEGO bricks and bicycle helmets.

Properties: 

Strength: High
Flexibility: Medium
Durability: High
Difficulty to use: Medium
Print temperature: 210 – 250°C
Print bed temperature: 80 – 110°C
Shrinkage/warping: Considerable
Soluble: In esters, ketones, and acetone
Food safety: Not food safe

ABS products boast high durability and heat resistance, but 3D printer enthusiasts should be aware of the filament’s high printing temperature, tendency to warp during cooling, and intense, potentially hazardous fumes. Make sure to print in a well-ventilated area and with a heated bed (or with an enclosure).

CCTREE® 1KGRoll 1.75mm Many Colors ABS Filament for CrealiltyTEVOAnet 3D Printer
CCTREE® 1KG/Roll 1.75mm Many Colors ABS Filament for Crealilty/TEVO/Anet 3D Printer

ABS is a tough material that can withstand high stress and temperature. It’s also moderately adaptable, though there are certainly better options further down this list. ABS is a good general-purpose 3D printer filament because of these properties, but it really shines when it comes to items that are frequently handled, dropped, or heated. Phone cases, high-wear toys, tool handles, automotive trim components, and electrical enclosures are all examples.

Pros: High strength, high durability, resistance to high temperatures
Cons: Warps easily, hazardous fumes, requires a high-temperature print nozzle

III. PETG (PET, PETT)

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is one of the most widely used plastics on the planet. It is most commonly associated with water bottles, but it can also be found in clothing fibers and food containers. While “raw” PET is rarely used in 3D printing, its variant PETG is becoming more popular.

Properties: 

Strength: High
Flexibility: Medium
Durability: High
Difficulty to use: Low
Print temperature: 220 – 250°C
Print bed temperature: 50 – 75°C
Shrinkage/warping: Minimal
Soluble: No
Food safety: Refer to manufacturer guidelines

The letter ‘G’ in PETG stands for “glycol.” It is naturally clearer, less brittle, and, most importantly, easier to print with than its base form as a material for 3D printing. As a result, PETG is frequently regarded as a good compromise between ABS and PLA, two other commonly used types of 3D printer filament – it is more flexible and durable than PLA while also being easier to print than ABS.

Another PET variant is polyethylene coTrimethylene Terephthalate (PETT). This 3D printer filament is popular for its transparency despite being slightly more rigid than PETG.

Artillery® PETG 1.75mm 1KG Plastic Material Multicolor 3D Printing Filament
Artillery® PETG 1.75mm 1KG Plastic Material Multicolor 3D Printer Filament

When using PETG, 3D printer enthusiasts should keep three things in mind:

PETG absorbs moisture from the air because it is hygroscopic. This has a negative impact on the material’s printability, so keep the 3D printer filament in a cool, dry place and, if necessary, dry it before use.

PETG is sticky when printed, making it a poor choice for support structures but excellent for layer adhesion.

PETG scratches more easily than ABS, despite the fact that it is not brittle.

Use: 

PETG is a good all-arounder, but it distinguishes itself from many other types of 3D printer filament due to its flexibility, strength, and resistance to high temperatures and impact. As a result, it is an excellent 3D printer filament for functional objects that may be subjected to sustained or sudden stress, such as mechanical parts, printer parts, and protective components.

Pros: Adaptable, long-lasting, and simple to print
Cons: Susceptible to moisture, surface easily scratches

IV. TPE, TPU, TPC (Flexible)

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), as the name implies, are essentially plastics with rubber-like properties that make them extremely flexible and durable. As a result, TPE is widely used in the manufacture of automotive parts, household appliances, and medical supplies.

Properties: 

Strength: Medium
Flexibility: Very High
Durability: Very High
Difficulty to use: Medium (TPE, TPC); Low(TPU)
Print temperature: 210 – 230°C
Print bed temperature: 30 – 60°C (but not needed)
Shrinkage/warping: Minimal
Soluble: No
Food safety: Not food safe

TPE is actually a broad class of co-polymers (and polymer mixtures), but it is used to label many commercially available types of 3D printer filament. These filaments, which are soft and stretchable, can withstand the physical abuse that neither ABS nor PLA can. Printing, on the other hand, is not always simple because TPE can be difficult to extrude.

TPU 3D Printing Filament 1.75mm 0.8kg 3D Printer Material for 3D Printing 1
TPU 3D Printing Filament 1.75mm 0.8kg 3D Printer Material for 3D Printing

TPU is a type of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPE) that is widely used as a 3D printer filament. TPU is slightly more rigid than generic TPE, making it easier to print. It’s also a little more durable and retains its elasticity better in cold weather.

TPC (thermoplastic copolyester) is a type of TPE that is not as widely used as TPU. TPC is similar to TPE in most ways, but its main advantage is its higher resistance to chemical and UV exposure, as well as heat (up to 150°C).

Use: 

When making objects that will be subjected to a lot of wear, use TPE or TPU. These 3D printer filaments should be adequate if your 3D printed part bends, stretches, or compresses. Toys, phone cases, and wearables are some examples of prints (like wristbands). TPC can be used for similar applications, but it performs particularly well in harsher environments, such as the outdoors.

Pros: Extremely flexible, making it ideal for parts that bend or compress.

Pros: Difficult to print, requires a tight filament path, and prints slowly.

V. Nylon

Nylon, a popular family of synthetic polymers used in a wide range of industrial applications, is a popular material for powder-fusion 3D printing. It excels as a 3D printing filament where strength, flexibility, and durability are important requirements.

Properties: 

Strength: High
Flexibility: High
Durability: High
Difficulty to use: Medium
Print temperature: 240 – 260°C
Print bed temperature: 70 – 100°C
Shrinkage/warping: Considerable
Soluble: No
Food safety: Refer to manufacturer guidelines

Another distinguishing feature of this 3D printer filament is that it can be dyed before or after printing. The disadvantage is that nylon, like PETG, is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture, so remember to store it in a cool, dry place to keep the filament in prime condition and ensure better print quality.

KCAMEL® 1.75mm 1KG White Nylon Filament For 3D Printer
KCAMEL® 1.75mm 1KG White Nylon Filament For 3D Printer

Use: 

This type of 3D printer filament can be used to create tools, functional prototypes, or mechanical parts by leveraging nylon’s strength, flexibility, and durability (like hinges, buckles, or gears).

Pros: High strength, flexibility, and durability.
Cons: Typically expensive, prone to moisture, and necessitates a high nozzle and print bed temperature.

PC (Polycarbonate)

Polycarbonate (PC), in addition to being one of the strongest 3D printer filaments on this list, is also extremely durable and resistant to both physical impact and heat, with a temperature tolerance of up to 110°C. It’s also naturally transparent, which explains why it’s used in products like bulletproof glass, scuba masks, and electronic display screens.

Properties: 

Strength: Very High
Flexibility: Medium
Durability: Very High
Difficulty to use: Medium
Print temperature: 270 – 310°C
Print bed temperature: 90 – 110°C
Shrinkage/warping: Considerable
Soluble: No
Food safety: Not food safe

Despite appearing in similar applications, PC should not be confused with acrylic or plexiglass, which shatter or crack under stress. In contrast to these two materials, PC is moderately flexible (though not as much as nylon), allowing it to bend until it deforms.

Because PC 3D printer filament is hygroscopic, it absorbs water from the air, so keep it in a cool, dry place to ensure better print quality.

Use: 

Because of its physical properties, PC is an ideal 3D printer filament for parts that require strength, toughness, and shape retention in high-temperature environments, such as electrical, mechanical, or automotive components. You can also use its optical clarity for lighting projects, screens, and other transparent applications.

Pros: Extremely strong, heat and physical impact resistant.
Cons: Susceptible to moisture, necessitates extremely high print temperatures

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