Can A 3D Printer Print Glass? What Is It Used For! (Pros / Cons)


3D printing supports a range of materials that satisfy different use cases. The aerospace and automotive industries require durable materials with high chemical, heat, and moisture resistance. This is where a material like polycarbonate which is almost as strong as metal but far much lighter comes in. 

The healthcare industry requires medical implements that can be sterilized in boiling hot baths without disintegrating. This is where reinforced nylon materials with high heat and chemical resistance are used.

The development of newer, stronger materials is possibly the biggest driving force behind the growth of 3D printing. Different materials like metal and composite filaments expand the use case for 3D printing across a diverse range of industries.

Glass filament is one example of composite filament that has been applied in unique ways.

It is possible to 3D print objects using glass as a printing material, but it is not a straightforward process. 3D printing with glass requires specialized equipment and techniques, and is typically not something that can be done with a standard consumer-grade 3D printer.

But what is glass filament and how can it be used?

What Is A Glass Filament?

Glass filament is a plastic filament infused with tiny fragments of glass fibers to mimic the appearance and some of the qualities of glass. Glass filaments are part of a family of filaments known as composites. These are blends that have either PLA or nylon as a primary material to which another material is added.

What Is A Composite?

Composite filaments consist of more than one material. A composite will have a base polymer to which another material like glass, metal, or carbon is added to improve a particular characteristic of the base material. Source

The second material is usually in powder form and constitutes between 30 to 40% of the composite while plastic makes up the difference. The plastic base makes it possible for the added material to print like any other filament. 

PLA is the most commonly used base material for composites, although several other bases and mixes can be used. For instance, you can also get composites that use ABS, nylon, or polycarbonate as a base polymer. You can also find composites that combine polymers like nylon, polycarbonate, and ABS. 

Composites can be used to create stronger, more flexible, more transparent, or any other desired characteristic. Thanks to composites you can have a 3D print that looks and feels like glass, wood, sandstone, marble, and even copper. 

What Is Glass Filament Used For?

Depending on the base polymer used glass filament can produce a stronger print that rivals and replaces a metal print. As it produces a clear finish, glass filament can also be used where a transparent glass-like appearance is desired.

Printing with glass filament has several advantages and disadvantages over conventional polymers like PLA, ABS, or nylon.

Pros Of Glass Filament

Improved Performance

Composites combine the qualities of different polymers and materials to produce a 3D print with improved overall performance. For example, standard PLA is brittle and has poor flexibility. Glass-infused PLA is up to 150% stronger, has twice the flexibility, and is more impact resistant. 

Glass-infused PLA is almost as flexible as nylon and is more durable than ABS. This makes it a suitable replacement for outdoor uses like tools for example.

Nylon is known for being one of the most moisture-absorbent filaments. Adding glass fiber to nylon improves its moisture resistance.

Ease of use

Strong filaments like polycarbonate are notoriously difficult to print. A composite like glass-infused PLA can give you material of comparative strength while being much easier to print with.

Warping

Materials like ABS are prone to warping. Glass-infused composites on the other hand are less prone to warping.

Cons Of Glass Filament

Very Expensive

The main disadvantage of dealing with glass filament is the cost. On average, glass-infused PLA or nylon can cost up to twice as much as standard PLA and nylon.

Can You Print Pure Glass?

Glass is smelted at temperatures of up to 1500°C. The high-temperature printers used to print PEEK, ULTEM and other high-performance plastics reach a maximum of 500°C. 

Thus far, attempts have been made to produce 3D prints using different technologies like deposition without much success. This is mainly due to the high temperatures involved. Melting glass at such high temperatures would require a printer with an incredible tolerance for sustained heat.

What Is Glass Printing Called? (Types Compared)

Glass printing can take one of two forms. Glassware like bottles, displays, or storefronts can be printed on through either screen printing or digital printing. Screen printing is the older of the two processes.

Screen Printing

Of the two glass printing processes, screen printing is the simplest. Screen printing involves the use of stencils and mesh screens. Ink is spread across the screen while the stencil outlines the design on the glass surface. After this, the ink is “fired” to make it adhere to the glass. 

The main advantage of screen printing is that it produces very durable prints. The disadvantage to this method is that screen printing is limited to a maximum of four colors. Each color has to be prepared individually in a long setup process. Overall, screen printing takes more preparation and time compared to digital printing.

Digital Printing

Digital printing can be done through UV or digital ceramic printing. Digital printing has a wider color palette than screen printing. Generally, digital printing is faster, cheaper, and more versatile than screen printing.

On the downside, digital printing is less durable than screen printing, especially for exterior prints.

Is There A Printer That Prints On Glass?

There are three types of printers that print on glass. Screen printers are the most common. UV printers and digital ceramic printers are newer technologies for glass printing. 

Screen printers produce a more durable print and can be applied for both interiors and exteriors. They, however, take the longest. UV and ceramic printers have shorter print times but produce a less durable print.

UV Printers

Digital UV printers use organic inks. The ink is dried or “cured” on the glass surface using ultraviolet light much like how resin is cured in SLA 3D printing. 

Ceramic Printers

Digital ceramic printers produce a more durable print than UV printers. This is because ceramic printers use inks that contain ceramic frit. This is ink that contains glass. The end results when printing with ceramic printers is that the ink fuses into the glass. Digital UV printers lay the ink on top of the glass. 

sherifjallad

I am a very well experienced techie civil engineer who's extensively interested in 3D printing technology and even more captivated by the potential of 3D printing livable structures

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