Everything You Need To Know About Using 3D Pen Filament! (Simple Guide)


Compared to a desktop 3D printer, 3D pens are cheap, safe to use and don’t have the steep learning curve. 

3D pens work like a traditional desktop printer. Filament is loaded into the pen where it is melted and extruded to print a 3D shape that hardens as it cools. 

Some common questions people have, however, is what type of filament is used with a 3D pen? Does it use the same filament as a desktop printer or is there filament specially made for 3D pens?

In this comprehensive guide, we share everything you need to know about filament used for 3D pens. We also look at what surfaces a 3D pen can print on, and what safety precautions you should take when using a 3D pen. At the end of the guide we look at what the lifespan of a 3D pen is. 

Which Filament Is Used In A 3D Pen?

Most 3D pens on the market are designed to print with PLA. There are certain models that have extrusion temperatures high enough to accommodate other filament types such as PETG wood or HIPS. Typically, however, PLA and ABS are the most supported filaments.

Polylactic acid

Polylactic acid (PLA) is by far the most used 3D printing material. It has a relatively low printing temperature which makes it much easier to handle than alternatives like ABS. Aside from that, the biggest standout characteristic of PLA and part of the reason why it is so popular, is its composition.

PLA is made from organic material. The base ingredient to PLA is cornstarch or other glucose rich plant. This is why PLA sometimes gives off a slight sweet odor as it burns. What you are smelling is a sugar extract!

As PLA is plant-based it is more easily biodegradable. This does not mean you can throw it in with your compost however. PLA is still plastic and takes decades to break down. 

PLA Features

Melting temperature: 180 – 230 Degrees Celsius

Heat resistance: Up to 65 Degrees Celsius

Flexibility: Low

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)

ABS is the second most popular filament which most 3D pens will support. ABS excels over PLA in terms of strength, durability and flexibility. 

The downside to printing with ABS is the heavy odor it emits. This can be overpowering with a 3D pen since a pen is handheld. This brings the fumes much closer compared to printing with a desktop printer. Source 

ABS Features

Melting temperature: 210 – 250 Degrees Celsius

Heat resistance: Up to 85 Degrees Celsius

Flexibility: Medium

Can You Use Any Filament In A 3D Pen?

Desktop 3D printers offer a wider range of materials to print from. This is primarily because the extruder in a 3D printer has the higher temperature tolerance required by materials like carbon fiber for example. 3D pens are smaller handheld devices. This limits their temperature tolerance and consequently, the range of materials they can print with. 

Certain filaments like nylon or polycarbonate have a melting temperature that is too high. Either that or they are far too abrasive for the nozzle of a 3D pen. These two factors restrict the range of materials you can use with a 3D pen to a handful of filaments.

What Is The Best Plastic/Filament For A 3D Pen?

PLA is easy to use and melts without producing an overpowering odor. This makes it suitable for both adults and children to use. In contrast, ABS produces stronger prints but it however emits strong fumes which makes it unsuited for use at close quarters.

In most cases, PLA is a much better option especially for pens that might be used by children. Professionals might get better value out of ABS, however since it has better strength. This might be the case if you are using a 3D pen to repair prints from a 3D printer.

3D pens can be particularly useful as part of your toolkit if you frequently need to fill in gaps or holes in prints with surface flaws on them. Source

Are 3D Pen Fumes Toxic?

Both PLA and ABS filaments emit toxic fumes when they are extruded. This can be either through a desktop printer or 3D pen. The fumes emitted from 3D printing contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that are harmful when inhaled.

A 3D pen melts a significantly lower volume of material than a desktop printer. This means you are exposed to less toxic material than you would be when printing with a 3D pen. With that said, you are in closer proximity since the pen is handheld. 

How To Print Safely With A 3D Pen

PLA is a safer filament to print with. ABS emits styrene, which according to the United States Department of Labor, will cause drowsiness, headaches and other health effects from prolonged exposure. Source

You should also look to print in a well ventilated room. Printing in a closed off room concentrates the fumes and has a higher potential of harmful exposure. 

Do You Need Special Paper For A 3D Pen?

3D pens can be used on a variety of surfaces. They have been successfully used on surfaces including glass, paper, wood and even fabric. As 3D pens extrude plastic, they do however, display a higher adherence (stickiness) when printing on plastic. This is partly what makes them an effective tool for repairing 3D printed items from desktop printers.

Do 3D Pens And Printers Use The Same Filament?

3D printers use either 1.75 or 2.85 millimeter filament. 3D pens use a 1.75 millimeter filament used in a 3D printer. This means that provided the 3D pen can print the filament type (PLA or ABS for example), the same filament from the 3D printer can be used in a 3D pen.

It’s important to remember, however, that 3D pens have a far more limited range of filaments they can print. Trying to print the same metal filament from your 3D printer with a 3D pen will highly likely not work due to the high melting temperature of metal.

For more on this, check out our post ” Can You Use 2.85mm Filament In A 1.75mm Printer? Does Filament Size Matter?

How Long Do 3D Pens Last?

3D pens have a lifespan of between 12 to 18 years. A 3D printer has a shorter lifespan typically running for between 5 to 10 years. The critical difference between them is that a 3D printer has more moving parts which experience more wear and tear than a 3D pen.

A 3D printer does a lot more work than a 3D pen. It can create larger prints and a greater number of prints as well so it should come as no surprise that it has a shorter lifespan.

For more on 3d pens you can check out our post ” What Can You Use A 3D Pen For? Uses Beyond Just 3D Printing!

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

Recent Posts