Everything You Need to Know About 3D Printing Materials

3D printing materials are used to create objects that behave much like real-world materials, from the way light interacts with their surfaces to the nuances of color, texture, transparency, and reflectivity. Textures are simply images that are used to apply skin to 3D objects, and any common JPEG or PNG can serve as a texture. However, most artists create their own textures or use high-quality images found online. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a low-cost material, ideal for printing strong and durable parts that can withstand high temperatures. Flexible filaments, commonly referred to as TPE or TPU, are known for their elasticity, which allows the material to stretch and bend easily.

PLA (polylactic acid) is the reference material for most users due to its ease of use, dimensional accuracy, and low cost. HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) is a lightweight material that is most commonly used as a soluble support structure for ABS models. PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) and PETG filaments are known for their ease of printing, smooth surface finish, and water resistance. Nylon is a hard, semi-flexible material that offers high impact and abrasion resistance, making it an ideal choice for printing durable parts.

Carbon fiber filaments contain short fibers that are infused into a PLA or ABS base material to help increase strength and stiffness. ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate) is a common alternative to ABS and is ideal for outdoor applications due to its high resistance to UV rays, temperature, and impacts. Polypropylene is ideal for high cycle and low strength applications due to its fatigue resistance, semi-flexible, and lightweight characteristics. The wood filaments combine a PLA base material with cork, wood powder or other derivatives, giving the models a real wood look and feel. PLA is very versatile and made from renewable sources such as sugar cane, which helps keep the price low. It is a very tolerant material with a low probability of deformation and good reuse.

As an added benefit, it produces a sweet popcorn smell when melted. ABS is more heat resistant than PLA but can be melted and reused if necessary. Its melting point is approximately 221°F so you don't have to worry about your creations melting in most cases. HIPS has a transition temperature of 212°F and is very similar to ABS. Like HIPS, PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) is most commonly used as a support material but not so good at creating objects since it's soft and biodegradable.

The main difference between PVA and HIPS is that PVA dissolves completely in warm water so you don't need to get any additional solutions or products. Nylon is tough, abrasion resistant, and has a good degree of flexibility that most others don't. For example, nylon can be used to create cable ties without them breaking. The main problem is that nylon tends to absorb moisture from its environment which can deform the finished product and compromise its structural integrity. The carbon fiber filament is usually PLA or ABS with strong fibers that improve its stability. It is very light but it manages to greatly improve the stiffness and stiffness of an object.

In addition, these fibers help prevent shrinkage as the article cools. Polycarbonate (sometimes called PC) filament is a transparent, tough material that is suitable for high temperature applications due to its very high transition temperature (around 302°F). The PC is naturally flexible so it can be used in a variety of circumstances including those where printing is subject to stress. ASA stands for Acrylic Styrene Acrylonitrile and commonly used in outdoor applications because it is highly resistant to high temperatures and UV rays. It's also tough so you don't have to worry about it breaking unless you're really hard on it. Advances in AM materials have taken the uses of 3D printing beyond shaping and fitting models and prototypes to functional parts for testing and ultimately production. And while the result of 3D printing is different from other manufacturing processes, it can offer a suitable alternative when looking for a direct replacement. Here we have created an objective description of some of the most commonly used 3D printing materials.

Recognizing that some properties will separate one material from others, the recommended approach to selecting a material for 3D printing is to first define which mechanical or physical properties are key and identify characteristics.