There is a lot of confusion about choosing the right FDM material for 3D printing. Every material has a different set of properties which make it suitable for certain applications while unsuitable for others.
For example, concept prototypes are used only for display purpose and not for functional testing so using a material which is simple to print with is the correct choice instead of going for a strong material which is difficult to print with.
The ‘Road to 3D Printing Success’ Series
Manufactur3D brings you the ‘Road to 3D Printing Success’ series, where we focus on helping every 3D printing enthusiast by sharing tips and techniques on how to succeed in 3D printing. By explaining how to work with various filaments, slicers, design software, and 3D printers, we aim to help users to always experience 3D printing success.
Here, through this article, we bring you a short guide to choosing the right FDM 3D printing material for your application based on the properties you demand from the materials.
Ease of Use
If you are a new user then PLA (Polylactic Acid) is the best 3D printing material, world over, to use. It is the easiest material to print with. It does not warp like ABS, require a heated bed like ABS and other similar filaments, or absorb moisture like Nylon. It can print at faster speeds and almost always results in a successful print. It does not require expertise to modify the print settings, and so even new users can start right away.
PLA is a reliable 3D printing material with substantial strength and can be used for basic prototyping needs, concept models and hobby purpose.
Strength & Durability
When you think of strength and durability, the first 3D printing material to pop in your mind is definitely ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). ABS can be used for prototyping where it has to exhibit strength, heat resistance and has to undergo testing for functionality.
ABS is used in industries for a long time in traditional manufacturing processes. As a result, the industries are familiar and feel safer when using ABS for their needs. So, if you are looking for a strong material with better durability than PLA, then ABS is the best material to choose from.
Besides good mechanical properties, ABS also displays high heat resistance and high impact resistance. ABS is also slightly easy to post-process through acetone fumes which gives it an added advantage while printing prototypes which are to be showcased at events and exhibitions.
A new variant of PLA called Tough PLA or PLA+ is also nowadays used for strength applications. But it has a lower heat resistance. Post-processing is possible in terms of sanding, priming, painting, and hydro-dipping.
Nylon is another popular 3D printing material used in such applications. It exhibits a high strength-weight ratio, impact resistance, heat resistance, fatigue resistance, anti-corrosion properties and low friction rates, it is ideal for applications where durability is more important. It is semi-flexible and is easy to post-process.
A lot of industrial applications demand heat resistance properties from materials. Some 3D printing materials showcase high heat resistance and can be used in such applications.
ABS has good heat resistance (up to 85oC) but sometimes it is still not enough for industrial use due to its UV sensitivity. HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) also offers similar heat properties. In such cases, PC (Polycarbonate) can be used. PC shows resistance up to 110oC.
ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate) is another 3D printing material which shows high heat resistance in addition to high UV resistance and high weather resistance. Prolonged UV exposure makes parts yellowish but ASA shows good resistance to that too. But ASA is prone to warping just like ABS.
Other alternatives include Nylon & PP (Polypropylene).
Flexible materials are a rage and people love such filaments but they are equally notorious for having a low success rate. Flexible filaments can either be semi-flexible of rubber-like.
PP (Polypropylene) is a great semi-flexible 3D printing material which exhibits a high fatigue resistance, heat resistance & high water resistance. It is a soft material with great durability. Even after prolonged use, PP maintains its structural integrity.
TPU/TPE is a flexible filament much in use for applications where a high amount of flexibility is required. It is a carefully manufactured filament addressing the need for a flexible filament. Read in detail here (Flexible Filament: The Road to 3D Printing Success)
When a print demands aesthetics over properties then PLA is the first filament which comes to mind. It is the easiest to print with and has fair mechanical properties. PLA prints are almost always perfect and most importantly they can be post-processed to make them aesthetically appealing.
Read the most common post-processing techniques of FDM 3D Printed Parts to know how they can be made visually appealing.
Nylon is slightly difficult to print as compared to PLA but is highly hygroscopic and hence this property helps in proper absorption of primers and paints to make them look appealing.
PP is also translucent and, as one of the most widely used plastics in the world, is the preferred material for many product development applications.
PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate) is not the conventional go-to 3D printing material for making aesthetic products but what makes PETG attractive is its transparency. Products like flower vase, glass, bottles, etc., look classy when printed with PETG.
One of the most important advantages of 3D printing is its ability to create complex forms. In FDM 3D printing, this is enabled by using soluble support structures. Soluble support structures help in easy removal of supports from critical locations which otherwise would be difficult to remove.
Soluble 3D printing materials like PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) used in combination with PLA and HIPS used with ABS to augment the capabilities of FDM 3D printing. PVA is soluble in water while HIPS is soluble in a chemical called as D-Limonene. 3D printers with dual extruders are needed for using two different materials for printing.
Such materials offer greater design freedom and a quality surface finish.
Through the ‘Road to 3D Printing Success’ series, we at Manufactur3D will continue to bring informative articles to help enthusiasts across the world to learn about this amazing technology.
We encourage readers to comment and contact us for any sort of 3D printing query they have and we will try to resolve it for them. We also encourage companies to collaborate with us to create educational content.
About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Read more such informative articles on our 3D Printing Info page.