3D printers use filament. Most filaments are thermoplastic. This is plastic that can be melted and molded before it solidifies when it cools. This characteristic makes thermoplastics different from thermosetting plastics that burn when heated.
There are over 25 different types of filaments which can be broadly classified into everyday, exotic and expert filaments.
These are the most commonly used. They are cheaper, easier to use and more readily available than filament from the other two categories we’ll explore later. Everyday filaments include PLA, ABS, Nylon, PETG, TPE and PC.
Polylactic Acid (PSA) is the most popular filament. This is because it is the easiest to use. PSA is made from sugar extracted from cornstarch and is the only filament made from renewable material.
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Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a stronger, more durable filament compared to PSA. Technically, ABS is better than PLA but it is harder to use which is why it is a little less popular.
Nylon or Polyamide is the strongest of all the everyday filaments. It is, however, more expensive and requires a higher heating temperature which makes it more difficult to work with.
PETG is a commonly used plastic. Your water bottle or food containers are very likely made from PETG. While strong, it does have a low flexibility and its surfaces scratch easily.
Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are a family of flexible plastics that include TPU and TPC. They are rubber-like so are extremely flexible as their name implies.
Polycarbonate (PC) is one of the strongest filaments. It’s also transparent so it is used for making bulletproof glass and display screens.
Everyday filaments are preferred for their strength, versatility and ease of use. Exotic filaments are less functional and are preferred for how they look or for a unique property. They include wood-filled, metal-filled, glow-in-the-dark, color changing, conductive, magnetic, ceramics and dichromatic filament.
Like wood-filled, metal-filled filament isn’t actually made from metal. They simulate the look and feel of metal by using a plastic based filament infused with metal powder. Metal-filled can be brass, aluminum, stainless steel and other types of metals.
Conductive filament allows you to make something that conducts electricity like a low-voltage electronic circuit for example.
These are ABS or PLA filaments with phosphorescent materials mixed in. This allows your print to glow in the dark.
Magnetic filament is actually ferromagnetic. This means while it can stick to magnets it does not have a magnetic field of its own.
If you want your print to change color based on how hot or cold it is, then this is the filament you use. Color changing filament makes your print change color based on temperature.
This is a two-tone filament that allows you to create a multi-color print that changes color based on your perspective.
Ceramic filaments are non-plastic. They use a mix of polymer and clay to create a ceramic finish. Source
These are more often used by professionals than hobbyists. Some examples of professional filaments include glass, carbon, metal, PVA and ASA.
This is mostly nylon mixed with chopped glass fibers.
Carbon fiber filament is nylon reinforced with carbon. This allows you to create a print that’s both strong and lightweight.
Metal based filament is different from metal-filled in that it allows you to create a full metal part.
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is water soluble. It’s generally used as a support material for printing complex shapes that might not stand on their own.
Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate (ASA) is a more chemical and heat resistant alternative to ABS.
These are the most common materials used for 3D printing. There are others like HIPS, Polypropylene, hemp and even filament made from coffee grounds that are being developed to satisfy the demand for certain properties. Source
You may also want to consider other types of 3d printing that do not involve filaments. For more on this, check out our post ” Comparing 3D Printing Types: Filament VS Powder VS Resin (Pros & Cons)“
Also, find out id you Can Use Weed Eater Line In A 3D Printer as Filament?