Fused filament printing, or FDM printing as it is also called, has a broad range of materials spanning everything from wood, metal to conductive and glow-in-the-dark filament.
With such an array of materials to choose from, it can be difficult, especially for a beginner to choose the right one to work with. In this guide we go over the main filament types you need to know, especially if you are new to 3D FDM printing.
We look at which are the strongest filaments, the hardest to print with as well as what to look for in a filament.
What Filament Should I Print With?
The main traits of a filament are its strength, durability, flexibility, heat, water, chemical and impact resistance. These are the key considerations that determine which filament to print with. ABS, for example, is a commonly used filament because it is strong, durable and has good heat-resistance.
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Depending on the job at hand, these will be the first considerations to make when deciding on what material to use. Some of the more popular filaments that have those characteristics are PLA, ABS, Nylon, PETG, TPE and Polycarbonate.
There are other considerations that come into play when picking what material to print with. These include the printer, the print job or the aim of the project and your skill level.
The Type Of 3D Printer
Not all printers have the same capabilities. Depending on what type of printer you own, it may not be able to print certain types of filament. For example, the harder or tougher the filament, the more likely it is that a cheaper printer may not be able to print it. Source
It’s important to check with the manufacturer to see what types and sizes of filament are compatible with your printer.
The Type Of Print
A print that will be used outside versus a decorative print versus a moving functional part will all have different demands. An outdoor print will need to be waterproof and heat resistant. A decorative print will need to have a high resolution and smooth finish. A functional part that might be used as part of an engine will need to be heat and chemical resistant.
The filament you choose should have the material, physical and performance attributes to satisfy the requirements of the job.
Certain materials like nylon or metal filaments are much harder to print. They require more experience or skill when working with them as they are more demanding. There are beginner level filaments like PLA and ABS that are easier to work with and also produce exceptional results.
What Is The Hardest Filament To Print With?
Although it is one of the harder filaments to use, ABS is often used as an alternative to the more popular PLA. This is primarily because it has much better strength. PLA is an odorless filament produced from plant material like cornstarch. PLA has a low printing temperature which makes it easy to print with.
What Is ABS?
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is not nearly as popular as PLA. It has a higher melting temperature which makes it slightly more difficult to use. For all that however, ABS has better strength, flexibility and is more durable than PLA. ABS melts at between 210 – 250°C.
- High temperature and impact resistance.
- Produces stronger builds compared to PLA.
- More prone to warping.
- Requires a heated print bed and is harder to print with.
What Is PLA?
Polylactic acid (PLA) is the most popular filament for both beginners and professionals. Although not as strong or flexible as ABS and other materials, it is, however, an easy material to print with. PLA melts at between 180 – 230°C.
- Warping is a common issue with filaments like ABS. Warping is when a print starts to distort and peel off the print bed. Unlike ABS, PLA is less likely to warp.
- The popularity of PLA means it is far much easier to get. PLA can be found in many colors, grades and variants like PLA Plus which is stronger than regular PLA.
- Can be used without a heated print bed.
- PLA is not as strong, durable or flexible as ABS.
What Is The Strongest Material For 3D Printing?
Strength is a highly sought after quality in 3D prints that experience mechanical stress. Polycarbonate (PC) is used to make impact resistant items like bulletproof glass and helmet visors because of its high strength capabilities.
PC is a transparent filament which also happens to be one of the strongest. This is why it is used to make things like anti-riot gear and bulletproof glass. PC has a high temperature resistance with a glass transition of 150°C. Also, check out our post on “Can A 3D Printer Print Glass? What Is It Used For! (Pros / Cons)“
While it produces very strong builds, PC is difficult to print with. The most common problems with PC are warping and layer splitting. It’s also a very expensive filament costing almost twice as much as standard PLA and ABS filament.
With 70 percent the impact strength of PC, PETG is a close alternative for projects that require strong builds. PETG is a derivative of the PET used to produce plastic bottles and food packaging. The main advantage of PETG is it is much easier to print as it does not warp as easily as PC.
The main disadvantage is that it is not as strong as PC.
What Size Filament Do I Need For My 3D Printer?
Filament used in 3D printing comes in two diameters. These are the 1.75mm and 2.85mm sizes. A 1.75mm diameter is more common for most printers. There is very little material difference or advantage between the two sizes except that it might be easier to find 1.75mm filament since that is the size most printers use.
You will have an easier time finding 1.75mm filament in different colors and variations. As it is not used as much and because there are not as many 2.85mm printers, your choices will be more limited with 2.85mm filament. Source
Find out more in our article titled “Can You Use 2.85mm Filament In A 1.75mm Printer? Does Filament Size Matter?“