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Methods to Select The Proper Filament For Your 3D Printer

How to Choose The Right Filament For Your 3D Printer

The vast number of uses for 3D printing is overwhelming. These devices have revolutionized the design and manufacture of everything from recreated body parts to firearms, robotics, food, and more. Better still, you can be part of this second industrial revolution.

But, just as there are several types of 3D printers, did you know that there are a variety of printing materials that you can use, each with advantages and disadvantages?

How to choose the right filament for your 3D printer.

What makes a filament safe?

Some filaments for 3D printing have excellent biocompatibility and are great for medical and food applications. Other materials can withstand the elements; rain, chemicals and rapid temperature changes can hardly harm them. There are three main areas that we will examine with each of the filaments we examined.

  • Biocompatibility: Biocompatibility is the way something works with the human body without adverse effects.
  • Printing security: Some filaments release chemicals when printed that are harmful to your health.
  • Chemical resistance: Filaments have different levels of resistance to chemicals, which means that some retain their strength and durability better than others.

Different 3D printing filaments and their safety

By looking at each of these factors, you can determine which filaments are best for which uses, while also making sure that you are always looking after your health when 3D printing.

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PLA

PLA stands for polylactic acid and is possibly the most common filament used for domestic 3D printing. It is available in two stiffness variants, one of which is significantly more unbreakable and flexible than the other. Additionally, PLA is fascinating to make as it is made from a corn by-product rather than oil processing.

  • Biocompatibility: PLA offers excellent biocompatibility and is therefore often used in the medical field.
  • Printing security: PLA is very safe to print as it releases very few chemicals that can harm your body.
  • Chemical resistance: Unfortunately, PLA is not very resistant to certain chemicals, as water damages this material over time.

PLA offers relatively high strength for a filament that is so easy to print with. This makes it one of the first filaments many people work with, while also being a great choice for most home 3D printing projects.

PETG

PETG filament spool

PETG is an adaptation of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with added glycol. PETG offers higher strength than PLA while being somewhat flexible at the same time. PETG is inherently transparent and most of the filaments you can find on the market reflect this.

  • Biocompatibility: PETG offers biocompatibility similar to PLA and is also used in medical and food applications. Most beverage bottles are made from PET.
  • Printing security: Similar to PLA, PETG is very safe to print and requires minimal ventilation for good results.
  • Chemical resistance: PETG is ideal for outdoor use as it has incredible chemical resistance that can beat substances like acetone.

Although PETG is more difficult to print than PLA, it is relatively easy to get started. Of course, printing with an enclosure makes it easier, and you will likely have to change your 3D printing settings pretty drastically to get good results.

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ABS filament spool

ABS stands for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. It’s one of the most popular plastics on the market for 3D printing and manufacturing. Known to be strong and impact resistant, ABS is a great material for parts that are exposed to stress.

  • Biocompatibility: ABS is considered to be biocompatible but is not as popular for food or medical products as PLA, nylon or PETG.
  • Printing security: ABS releases styrene gas when printing. This gas is carcinogenic, so ventilation is critical.
  • Chemical resistance: Similar to PLA and PETG, ABS is resistant to many chemicals, but it completely dissolves in acetone.

ABS is known to be a difficult material to 3D print because of its poor bed adhesion and a tendency to warp. A heated bed and enclosure is required to print ABS, but you also need to make sure your room is ventilated.

nylon

Did you know nylon is a portmanteau from New York and London? It’s true. It is also true that nylon has been around a number of times and has found a variety of uses in both consumer and military applications since it was invented in the 1930s.

  • Biocompatibility: Nylon is used in medical and food applications, is highly biocompatible and ideal for use in the human body.
  • Printing security: Nylon is believed to give off a VOC called caprolactam when printed, which makes an enclosure critical to your health.
  • Chemical resistance: Nylon is very resistant to chemicals, including alcohol and even acids.

3D printing with nylon requires patience and a sure instinct. This material deforms like ABS and is just as ductile as PETG, but the result is a plastic that is much stronger than any of these materials.

Flexible 3D printing filament

flexible 3D printing filament

So far we’ve only looked at filament options that are rigid when printing. However, there are many other types of materials on the market, and flexible 3D printing filaments have become very popular in recent years.

Let’s see how some of these options stack up.

TPU

TPU stands for thermoplastic polyurethane and is a flexible printing material with properties that match rubber. This means that TPU can stretch or bend and bounce back while being great at handling bumps.

  • Biocompatibility: TPU is highly biocompatible and is a material that is used to make synthetic tendons for humans.
  • Printing security: Like PLA, TPU can be printed safely without a case, although there is a little smell.
  • Chemical resistance: TPU has one of the highest chemical resistance levels of any filament on this list.

In addition to being a safe filament for 3D printing, TPU is also very easy to use. Pressure settings similar to PLA can be used for this, but be sure to play with your retraction settings to avoid leakage.

TPE

Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is the final 3D printer filament option we’ll be exploring. This filament has very similar properties to TPU, although TPE is less stiff than TPU and has a different area of ​​application.

  • Biocompatibility: TPE shares the excellent biocompatibility of TPU and offers a filament that can be used with food, beverages and organic bodies.
  • Printing security: TPE is also very safe to print on and does not require a housing.
  • Chemical resistance: Like TPU, TPE offers excellent chemical resistance and is therefore ideal for industrial applications.

TPE is just as easy to print on as TPU, although the lower stiffness means you need to increase the retraction and low print speeds even further. Nevertheless, TPE is a popular material for clothing and shoes.

Related: The Best 3D Printers

Choosing the right filament material for the 3D printer

3D printer measuring filament

Choosing the right material for your next 3D printing project doesn’t have to be a challenge. There are tons of options on the market and you can almost certainly find something that is safe enough for you.

Of course, security isn’t the only consideration you need to consider when looking for filament for 3D printing. You also need to think about material thickness, flexibility, and ease of printing when choosing which materials to work with.

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About the author

Samuel L. Garbett
(22 articles published)

Samuel is a UK-based technology writer with a passion for everything to do with home improvement. As a start-up in the fields of web development and 3D printing as well as many years of writing, Samuel offers a unique insight into the world of technology. Mostly focused on DIY tech projects, he loves nothing more than sharing fun and exciting ideas for you to try out at home. Outside of work, Samuel can usually be found cycling, playing PC video games, or desperately trying to communicate with his pet crab.

More from Samuel L. Garbett

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