Since it’s emergence in the 1980s, 3D printing has grown from an industrial technology that was the domain of million dollar companies to a desktop technology that we can use in the comforts of our home and office. Together, there has been a lot of advances in materials engineering. Traditionally, desktop 3D printing was restricted to ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) but now there are more than 12 different types of materials you can use and explore at home.
Polylactic acid is a versatile and low-cost 3D printing material. Due to its accuracy and ease of use, it is the widely accepted standard for 3D printing materials.
3D prints made with PLA are rigid and strong. PLA has been used to fabricate everything from decorative items to functional products for use in form and fit testing applications.
PLA is a bio-degradable polymer created from processing plant parts. It is considered more “Earth- friendly” than any other 3D Printing material.
PLA is available in about 60 different colors.
PET (PolyEthylene Terephthalate)
PET is one of the most commonly used plastics worldwide. It is a strong and tough material that can withstand higher temperatures than other 3D printing materials.
PET is available in a range of colors with varying translucency. Its glossiness and translucency can be manipulated to produce 3D prints with finish similar to glass.
PET is ideal for end-use and functional products including moving parts. It is one of the safest filaments to use for children’s toys and any part that would need to be in contact with food or drink (ensure your extruder is food-safe too).
Dissolvable Filaments (HIPS and PVA)
HIPS and PVA are two different types of dissolvable filaments commonly used to 3D print support structures. Using dissolvable filaments makes removal of support structures easy and less time consuming. Using dissolvable filaments also helps to create intricate shapes which would otherwise be impossible.
HIPS is best used with ABS while PVA is best used with PLA and other materials. HIPS dissolved in Limonene while PVA dissolves in cold water.
Wood-infused PLA Materials give a warm and tactile finish similar to that of wood. It is also one of the easiest 3D printing material to work with - no need for any specialised extruders and heated build platforms.
The final product can be sanded and stained just like normal wood. If your final product is to be made with wood, use these filaments to test the final feel of your products.
Carbon-Fibre infused filaments
Carbon-Fibre infused PLA filaments are comprised of approximately 20% chopped Carbon Fibre filaments infused with either Polylactic Acid (PLA) or PolyEthylene Terephthalate (PET) filaments. Carbon-Fibre Filaments are more rigid than conventional PLA and PET. Yet, it is easy to print with standard PLA settings. The matte-black of Carbon-Fibre infused PLA filaments gives a nice finish that helps to mask layer lines.
Carbon-Fibre infused PLA filaments are ideal for end-use products such as drones and RC cars.
Metal-infused PLA filaments are comprised of approximately 20% metal shavings infused with PLA filaments. Metal-infused PLA filaments cool and solidify very quickly which allows for faster printing speeds. This also allows the printing of designs that may not be possible with other filaments.
Models printed with metal-infused PLA filaments can be sanded to obtain a finish similar to metal.
Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) Flexible filaments
TPE is an exciting filament that allows you to print soft and flexible products with a finish similar to that of rubber. TPE is also resistant to UV and certain common chemicals.
TPE is ideal for projects that require flexibility and elasticity. TPE filaments are good for many wearable electronics applications. In addition, it can also be used to create shoes, handlebar grips and even tires for RC cars. With the right settings, TPE prints are watertight which is great for floatation devices.