With so many different types of materials and methods for 3D printing, it can be hard to know which technology would be most appropriate and what materials are available to help you to accomplish your goals.
Using our guide can help you get a clearer idea of the type of 3D printing service you would like, especially taking your end goals into consideration. Once you've had a look get in touch and let us know what you would like to print or if we can design something for you especially for 3D printing.
(Fused Deposition Modelling)
One of the most popular materials used in extrusion-based 3D printers such as FDM, PLA has very good printability and is generally inexpensive in comparison to other materials.
Although it lacks the mechanical properties of other filaments, with good dimensional accuracy, reasonable strength and many colours available, PLA still has a broad range of applications.
It has been proven as the perfect solution for many first issue rapid prototypes or purely visual prints.
As an added bonus, PLA is also renewable and biodegradable!
Although a very good material for its low cost, there are some negatives. PLA can be brittle so should not be selected where the part will encounter stress or strain. It also has low heat resistance and is not recommended for outdoor use as has low UV resistance.
Some of the most popular uses for PLA include: visual models, popular figures and characters, low-wear toys, non-functional prototype parts and, thanks to its dimensional accuracy, containers.
(Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
ABS was one of the first plastics to be used with industrial 3D printers which utilised extrusion based modelling.
After PLA, It is still one of most popular materials to print with and actually has better mechanical properties than PLA. ABS tends to be found in many manufactured consumer goods.
Known for its toughness and impact resistance, ABS can be used to print durable parts that will allow extra usage and wear. It also has reasonably high temperature resistance . It can endure heat, pressure and stress like no other home 3D printer material, making it a great choice for durable prints.
Like PLA this material also comes in many colours (though not quite as many) and can also be painted with acrylic based paints.
Although this material does have great mechanical properties, its main downfall is that it can contract extensively while cooling which can lead to dimensional inaccuracies with some desktop printers.
Some of the most popular uses for ABS include: cases, high-wear toys, tool handles and electrical enclosures.
PETG is a Glycol Modified version of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), which is commonly used to manufacture water bottles. Thousands of consumer products, foods, and beverages are delivered and packaged within PET.
It is a semi-rigid material with good impact resistance, water resistance and chemical resistance however it has a slightly softer surface which makes it prone to wear and scratches. Basically, PETG combines the good mechanical properties of ABS but with the dimensional accuracy of PLA.
Also, like its base material PET, PETG is recyclable and the most food safe 3D printing material available.
Some of the most popular uses for PETG include: water bottles, cases including snap fitting features, waterproof applications.
Nylon (a.k.a. Polyamide) is a popular material in the plastics industry, known for its toughness and flexibility.
It is a lightweight material that is extremely durable, strong and tough yet flexible as well. It has high chemical resistance and abrasion resistance. Printing a 3D printed spring in Nylon will be able to be compressed all the way down before returning to its original form. As Nylon is a relatively new material for FDM 3D printing, nylon is often a bit more expensive than other filaments.
Printing Nylon using FDM is not necessarily straight forward as it requires extruder temperatures around 250ºC which not all printers support.
The main issue when printing with Nylon and considering it for your application is that it is extremely hygroscopic, this means that it absorbs moisture very easily,. This is especially true for raw nylon filament which can absorb 10% of it's weight in water just from the surrounding environment that it is kept in.
Some of the most popular uses for Nylon are: gears, screws, nuts and bolts, carabiners, clips and hooks.
There are many flexible materials on the market that can be 3D printed. Depending on their chemical composition they can be extremely flexibe like a rubber band or can be semi rigid.
In the real world thermoplastic rubbers (such as TPE and TPU) are used in many industries from automotive to sporting goods, medical devices to footwear even inflatable products. Fun fact: More than 40% of all TPE produced is destined for use somewhere in a vehicle.
TPU (Polyurethane) is one of the most common (and practical) of the mix of felxible filaments. Polyurethane itself is s one of the most versatile polymers and depending on its chemical mix it can be soft and elastic or nearly rigid.
TPU is a flexible PU with good abrasion resistance that is commonly injection moulded or extruded. It has good finishing properties and with post processes can offer air tight solutions using tecchniques like high frequency welding.
Some of the most popular uses for TPU include: water/air seals, footwear soles, handlebar covers, vibration dampeners, RC car tyres and phone cases.
Polypropylene is one of the most common plastics due to its versatility, even though it is lightweight it has high tensile strength, is very flexible and, as it can deform without breaking due to its high fatigue resistance, it is often used for living hinges and fastening features.
The main drawbacks of this material are its high flammability and UV degradation. It is also very hard to bond it to other materials, in both prototype and moulding products.
In terms of FDM printing in this material, this filament is relatively new and the filament is difficult to print which means the cost of producing models with PP rockets. There is also a high chance of deformation on the print. However, using this material for 3D printing can offer the most realistic for many applications, especially living hinges which are difficult to produce otherwise.
Some of the most popular uses for Polypropylene include: Containers, living hinges, straps and leashes.
(Selective Laser Sintering)
(PA11 & PA12)
As mentioned previously, Nylon (a.k.a. Polyamide) is a popular material in the plastics industry: lightweight, tough, durable strong and with good chemical and abrasion resistance and slightly flexible as well.
Printing using SLS technology when printing in Nylon does give a better surface finish, and means that there are no post processing needed in terms of removing supports.
As mentioned, nylon is hygroscopic, however for SLS printed parts this drawback can be used in a positive way to dye the finished part using clothing dyes. This makes prototypes more visually impressive and can hide blemishes.
SLS printers' only printable material polyamide is suitable for functioning, visual prototypes which can be used mechanically and also for pre-production components.