From magnetic to soluble to engineering-grade, or anywhere in between. Materials, or filaments, come in various types, all of which can be categorised into one of two primary purposes: Form or Function.
Form refers to aesthetic appearance, given by colour and texture. Function refers to the structural integrity of the printed models, particularly with regards to strength, flexibility, and durability, as well as some other interesting properties like conductivity. Below, we give a quick rundown of the main materials we work with, based on their primary purpose.
Polylactic acid, or PLA, is one of the most popular materials for 3D printing. It’s a strong, yet brittle, material, with low flexibility and medium durability. Aesthetically, it’s a great material to use, especially since it can be infused with many other materials that present different visual properties. We don’t recommend using it for mechanical applications or in instances where it might be bent, twisted, under repeated shock, or exposed to temperatures above 60°C.
Usually consisting of 50% PLA and 50% metal powder, but sometimes going up to 85% metal, these filaments are used for both aesthetic and functional applications. A few varieties include bronze, brass, copper, aluminium, and stainless steel, each of which gets an unique and authentic look after post processing.
Wood-PLA is used for aesthetic and tactile purposes. It is comprised of PLA and wood various wood fibres, including pine, birch, cedar, ebony, bamboo, coconut, cork, and more. Form comes at the cost of function with this material class, as models tend ro be very brittle. However, they are great for creating display items such as figurines and awards, and fantastic for scale models in architecture.
Up to 40% recycled wood fibre.
Magnetic iron is actually a ferromagnet made out of PLA infused with powdered iron. While not having a magnetic field of its own, it will interact with magnets, making it a good material to help inject some creativity into your objects. Apart from adding a bit of magnetism to a project, it can be rusted to add an aesthetic dimension as well.
Filaments in this category have various visual properties and are commonly made from PLA. Some of these change colour when heated up or exposed to UV light, while others start to glow after absorbing a bit of sunlight. Common applications for such materials include: wearables, healthcare, jewellery, toys, figurines, and many more.
Cosmic PLA gives models that extra boost to stand out, both in terms of surface finish, as well as sparkle. It comes in different colours including grey, silver, gold, blue, and red, and it’s perfect for sculptures, figurines, consumer products, jewels, and toys.
BONUS Materials: Architecture
Architecture materials have seen a recent surge in innovation, with new and exciting types of filament coming out every year.
Here we outline a few of the main ones. Composition percentages vary, but they are all created from PLA and different material powders
Engineering-grade PLA with increased heat resistance, strength, and flexibility. It has a smooth surface finish with a semi-matte appearance, and it can thrive in temperatures up to 95°C.
Contains up to 50% recycled material
PETg is a close cousin to PET, the popular plastic used in water bottles. clothing fibres, and food containers. It’s one of the best filaments to use when form and function are both important. With great chemical and UV resistance, it’s strong, relatively flexible, resistant to shock, and can withstand temperatures up to 80°C. This makes it an ideal material for objects exposed to continuous or sudden stress.
PET is 100% made from waste PET plastic bottles.
PETg is made from up to 90% recycled content (food containers and bottles).
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or simply ABS, is what LEGO’s are made from. Commonly found in household and consumer products, ABS is a durable thermoplastic with moderate flexibility, able to withstand stress and high temperatures up to 100°C. Soluble in acetone, esters, and ketones, it’s surfaces can be smoothened, making models waterproof and giving them a shiny appearance.
ASA is very similar to ABS, but with the added benefit of UV resistance. This means that models and objects will not be affected by weather, making them appropriate for extended outdoor use.
Nylon is a synthetic polymer used in numerous industrial applications. Due to its excellent material properties, it is commonly used in numerous industrial applications to create tools, functional prototypes, mechanical components (gears, hinges) and many more. Glass transition temperature for nylon is usually around 65°C.
Thermoplastic elastomers, or TPE, or flexible filaments, are very flexible plastic materials with great durability, some of which are UV and chemical resistant and can withstand exposure to 150°C. They are commonly found in consumer and medical products, as well as in automotive and aerospace parts. When creating objects that will be exposed to a lot of wear and tear, or that will require bending, stretching, or compressing, such as wearables, toys, and cases, flexible filaments are the best option.
Polycarbonate (PC) is one of the strongest 3D printing filaments, with excellent properties for durability and resistance to impact, heat, and chemicals. It’s able to withstand 110°C temperatures, and it can be found in transparent form. It is ideally used in objects required to maintain their properties in harsh environments, making it perfect for applications in electrical, automotive, aerospace, and mechanical components.
Carbon reinforced polymers present the double benefit of lightweight and excellent structural integrity, making it a great material for use for mechanical components exposed to stress and varied environments.
Carbon Fibre – 80% recycled PET + 20% carbon fibre powder
Polyoxymethylene (POM) is an engineering plastic used in moving components or when high precision is required. A strong, rigid, and durable material, with a low friction coefficient, makes it the perfect choice for making gears, bearings, and various other mechanisms.
Polypropylene is a general-purpose plastic developed for optical clarity and mechanical performance. It is a strong material with good flexibility and great chemical resistance, making it suitable for a variety of applications, from household items and containers (dishwasher and microwave safe), to mechanical components such as hinges and snap-fit joints.
Using graphene nanoplates in PLA helps improve dispersion and bonding within the polymer. This significantly enhances dimensional stability, thermal stability, rigidity and impact resistance, making graphene PLA one of the strongest materials available for both hobbyists and industrial users.
PLA infused with conductive carbon particles allows for transfer of electricity and is used for low-voltage electronic circuits. This makes it a perfect material for prototyping and producing low-voltage, customized electronics projects. The best way to use conductive filaments is with a dual-extrusion printer, able to print both the circuits and the isolating board that encapsulates them.
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is a water-soluble material, used in 3D printing for support structures, especially for models with complex geometries and small features.