Filament is a common word thrown around in the 3D printing world, but what is it?
Filament what the 3D printing world calls the thread-like material used to create objects with a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer.
Filaments come in a variety of colors and materials, which you can choose to fit many 3D printing needs. Many desktop 3D printers use filaments, rather than other materials, to construct objects. Filaments are heated, then pushed through the printer nozzle, forming each layer of the print.
Although many FDM printers can accommodate various filament types, it is important to consider the type of printer accessible, and its capabilities, before choosing your filament. Doing so will help narrow down the seemingly endless selection of filaments to choose from.
Here are some of the filament materials on the market:
Polylactic Acid (PLA)
PLA is the most popular filament on the market. This biodegradable plastic is more environmentally friendly than the other plastics and degrades into lactic acid.
- Print temperature: 180 - 230°C
- Great for beginners
- Comes in a variety of colors, and translucent or glow in the dark versions
- Example uses: surgical implants, prototyping, packaging, and more
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
ABS is the second most common filament available. This plastic is petroleum-based and a less environmentally friendly plastic option. It is widely available and easy to print with, but consider more eco-friendly options before settling for ABS.
- Print temperature: 210 - 250°C
- tough and impact-resistent
- Widely available, with many color options to choose from
- Example uses: moving parts, protective gear, appliances
Polylvinyl Alcohol (PVA)
PVA is another biodegradable plastic filament option. PVA is made from polyvinyl alcohol and is water soluble. This is a great material to use for support beams in FDM prints that involve branching, hanging, or negative space, as this filament will dissolve away leaving the primary material in place.
- Print temperature: 180 – 230°C
- low flexibility
- Example uses: packaging film, support for overhangs, sport-fishing bait bags, childrens' products
PolyEthylene Terephthalate (PET)
PET is a plastic created from plastic bottles. PET is crystal clear (think of plastic water bottles) and completely recyclable. PET does come in dyed translucent colors in addition to the clear version. This is a great eco-friendly option that can be recycled into new prints.
- Print temperature: 220 - 250°C
- strong with a high vapor barrier
- Example uses: plastic water bottles, protective cases, mechanical parts
PolyEthylene coTrimethylene Terephthalate (PETT)
PETT is a crystal clear plastic that will not decrease in clarity with additional layers. This plastic is 100% recyclable, but not biodegradable. It is used in 2Liter soda bottles because it does not warp or shrink in high temperatures.
- Print temperature: 220 - 250°C
- FDA Approved ; safe for direct food contact
- Example uses: utensils, cups, food containers
Filament isn't only made from plastic. Filaments created out of wood are a mixture of recycling wood and a binding agent. This product looks similar to natural wood and has a grainy texture. You can produce different wood shades by increasing or decreasing the print temperature. Higher temperatures will result in a dark wood color.
- Print Temperature: 195 – 220°C
- Can be cut, sanded, and painted like natural wood
- Not as durable as natural wood
- Example uses: Decor, furniture, structural elements
Sandstone filament is a combination of chalk powder and PLA, which creates a realistic, rock-like output. Adjusting the print temperature will change the surface texture (roughness) of the print.
- Print Temperature: 165 – 210°C
- Rock-like structure
- Can be brittle and fragile
- Example uses: architectural structure, rock replication
Metal filaments are a mixture of metal fragments and PLA. Using metal chips, these filaments achieve a end product that looks and feels like real metal. There are a variety of metal filaments on the market, including bronze, copper, brass, and silver.
- Print Temperature: 195°C – 220°C
- Durable and strong end products
- Example uses: figurines, replicates, metallic structures
Magnetic iron PLA is another form of metallic filament. The metal fragments in this filament are attract other magnetic compounds. With oxidation, the color of end products printed from magnetic iron will change from dark brown to a rusty color over time.
- Print Temperature: 195- 220°C
- Samarium cobalt (SmCo) and neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) hold strongly to objects printed with magnetic iron filaments
- Example uses: structural components, magnetic objects, sensors, field supplies, tracking devices
Conductive PLA is a new filament that opens up opportunities to print low-voltage electric currents. Although costly, this filament can allow to print circuitry directly into an object.
- Print Temperature: 215 – 230°C
- Example uses: Electronics, circuit boards