Read our guide to the best 3D printer filament types, with handy comparison charts! Learn about PLA, ABS, PETG, metal, wood and 20 more.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers are everywhere from the home to the office, from the classroom to the workshop!
The most commonly used materials in 3D printing are the thermoplastics PLA and ABS, but the list goes on (and on). Other materials that are sold as 3D printer filament include nylon, polycarbonate, carbon fiber, polypropylene, and many more! There are even special blends which can conduct electricity or glow in the dark!
With so much variety on offer, its easier than ever to create functional, beautiful, and high performing prints in a variety of exciting materials. Read our 3D printer filament guide to find out which 3D printer filament type standardexotic, orprofessional is right for you.
Dont Miss:3D Printing Materials Guide 2018
In addition to providing general information for each of the following 3D printer filament types, this section also attempts to present a comparison of their properties, as well as suggest in which situations they might be used.
We apologize in advance to any readers who have knowledge about 3D printing materials; some of the following information could be a bit of review.
In the realm of home 3D printing,polylactic acid (PLA)is king. Although its often compared to ABS next in line to the throne PLA is easily the most popular 3D printer filament type, and for good reason.
First and foremost, itseasy to print with. PLA has a lower printing temperature than ABS, and it doesnt warp as easily, meaning it doesnt require a heating bed (although it definitely helps). Another benefit to using PLA is that it doesnt give off an evil smell during printing. Its generally considered anodorless filament, but many have reported smelling sweet,candy-likefumes. Finally, as a biodegradable thermoplastic, PLA is moreenvironmentally friendlythan most 3D printer filament types, being made from annually renewable resources such as corn starch or sugar cane.
Like ABS, PLA is the base material used in manyexotic or recreational filaments, such as those withconductiveorglow-in-the-dark properties, or those infused withwoodormetal.
To see further comparisons between PLA and ABS, check out the following article:PLA vs ABS: Filaments for 3D Printing Explained & Compared.
When should I use PLA 3D printer filament?
In this case, the better question might be,When shouldnt I use PLA?Compared to other 3D printer filament types, PLA is brittle, so avoid using it when making items that might be bent, twisted, or dropped repeatedly, such as phone cases, high-wear toys, or tool handles. You should also avoid using it with items which need to withstand higher temperatures, as PLA tends to malform around temperatures of 60C or higher. For all other applications, PLA makes for a good overall choice in filament. Common prints includemodels,low-wear toys,prototype parts, andcontainers.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)ranks as the second most popular 3D printer filament type, after PLA. But that just means its the second most commonlyused. With respect to its material properties, ABS is actually moderately superior to PLA, despite being slightly more difficult to print with. Its for this reason that ABS is found in many manufactured household and consumer goods, including LEGO bricks and bicycle helmets!
Products made of ABS boasthigh durabilityand acapacity to withstand high temperatures, but 3D printer enthusiasts should be mindful of the filamentshigh printing temperature,tendency to warpduring cooling, andintense fumes. Be sure to print with a heating bed, and in a well-ventilated space.
Read our in-depth article on this 3D printer filament here.
When should I use ABS 3D printer filament?
ABS is tough able to withstand high stress and temperature. Its also moderately flexible. Together these properties make ABS a good general-purpose 3D printer filament, but where it really shines is with items that are frequently handled, dropped, or heated. Examples includephone cases,high-wear toys,tool handles,automotive trim components, andelectrical enclosures.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)is the most commonly used plastic in the world. Best known as the polymer used in water bottles, it is also found in clothing fibres and food containers.
While raw PET is rarely used in 3D printing, its variantPETGis a popular 3D printer filament. The G stands for glycol-modified, and the result is a filament which is clearer, less brittle, and most importantly, easier to use than its base form. For this reason, PETG is often considered a good middle ground between ABS and PLA, the two most commonly used 3D printer filament types, as it ismore flexible and durable than PLAandeasier to print than ABS.
Three things 3D printer enthusiasts should keep in mind when using PETG:
. As this has a negative effect on printing, make sure to store the 3D printer filament in a cool, dry place.
during printing, making this 3D printer filament a poor choice for support structures, but good for layer adhesion. (Just be careful with the print bed!)
For more information on this 3D printer filament type, check out our in-depth article on PETGhere.
Polyethylene coTrimethylene Terephthalate (PETT)is another PET variant. Slightly more rigid than PETG, this 3D printer filament is popular for beingtransparent.
3D Printer Filament Properties: PETG (PET, PETT)
When should I use PETG 3D printer filament?
PETG is a good all-rounder but stands out from many other 3D printer filament types due to its flexibility, strength, and temperature and impact resistance. This makes it an ideal 3D printer filament to use for objects which might experience sustained or sudden stress, likemechanical parts,printer parts, andprotective components.
Nylon, a popular family of synthetic polymers used in many industrial applications, is the heavyweight champion of the 3D printing world. Compared to most other 3D printer filament types, it ranks as thenumber one contender when together considering strength, flexibility, and durability.
Another unique characteristic of this 3D printer filament is thatyou can dye it, either before or after the printing process. The negative side to this is that nylon, like PETG, ishygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture, so remember to store it in a cool, dry place to ensure better quality prints.
In general, many grades of nylon exist, but among the most common for use as 3D printer filaments are 618 and 645.
3D Printer Filament Properties: Nylon
When should I use nylon 3D printer filament?
Taking advantage of nylons strength, flexibility, and durability use this 3D printer filament type to createtools,functional prototypes, ormechanical parts(like hinges, buckles, or gears).
As the name implies,thermoplastic elastomers (TPE)are essentially plastics with rubber-like qualities, making themextremely flexible and durable. As such, TPE is commonly found in automotive parts, household appliances, and medical supplies.
In reality, TPE is a broad class of copolymers (and polymer mixtures), but it is nonetheless used to label many commercially available 3D printer filament types. Soft and stretchable, these filaments can withstand punishment that neither ABS nor PLA can tolerate. On the other hand,printing is not always easy, as TPE can be difficult to extrude.
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)is a particular variety of TPE, and is itself a popular 3D printer filament. Compared to generic TPE, TPU is slightlymore rigid making iteasier to print. Its also a little more durable and can better retain its elasticity in the cold.
Thermoplastic copolyester (TPC)is another variety of TPE, though not as commonly used as TPU. Similar in most respects to TPE, TPCs main advantage is itshigher resistance to chemical and UV exposure, as well to heat(up to 150C).
3D Printer Filament Properties: TPE, TPU, TPC (Flexible)
When should I use TPE, TPU, or TPC 3D printer filament?
Use TPE or TPU when creating objects that need to take a lot of wear. If your print should bend, stretch, or compress, these are the right 3D printer filaments for the job. Example prints might includetoys,phone cases, orwearables(like wristbands). TPC can be used in the same contexts, but does especially well in harsher environments, like the outdoors.
Polycarbonate (PC), in addition to being thestrongest 3D printer filament presented in this list, isextremely durableandresistant to both physical impact and heat, able to withstand temperatures of up to 110C. Its alsotransparent, which explains its use in commercial items such as bullet proof glass, scuba masks, and electronic display screens.
Despite some similar use cases, PC shouldnt be confused with acrylic or plexi-glass, which shatter or crack under stress. Unlike these two materials, PC ismoderately flexible(though not as much as nylon, for example), allowing it to bend until eventually it deforms.
PC 3D printer filament ishygroscopic, able to absorb water from the air, so remember to store it in a cool, dry place to ensure better quality prints.
3D Printer Filament Properties: PC (Polycarbonate)
When should I use PC 3D printer filament?
Due to its physical properties, PC is an ideal 3D printer filament for parts that need to retain their strength, toughness, and shape in high-temperature environments, such aselectrical, mechanical, or automotive components. Also try to take advantage of its optical clarity inlighting projectsor forscreens.
Having paid the proper respects to the Big Six, the gods of 3D printing should now be appeased. Time to move on to something a little more fun!
What makes the following 3D printer filaments types more fun? Well, where before we mostly focused on physical characteristics like strength, flexibility, and durability, the next seven 3D filament types arepopular for other reasons, often due to theiraesthetics, composition, or special effects. Just look at next one. Wood? How cool is that!
Thanks to theirexoticnatures, these filaments are especially popular inrecreational3D printer use. In other words, this is thefuncategory!
wood? Well, you can! Its not really wood of course that wouldnt make for a very good 3D printer filament its PLA infused with wood fiber.
Many wood-PLA 3D printer filament blends exist on the market today. These include the more standard wood varieties, suchPineBirchCedarEbony, andWillow, but the range also extends itself to less common types, likeBamboo, cherry,CoconutCork, andOlive.
As with other 3D printer filament types, there is a trade-off with using wood. In this case,aesthetic and tactile appealcomes at the cost ofreduced flexibility and strength.
Be careful with the temperature at which you print wood, as too much heat can result in an almost burnt or caramelized appearance. On the other hand, the base appearance of your wooden creations can be greatly improved with a little post-print processing!
When should I use wood 3D printer filament?
Wood is popular with items that are appreciated less for their functional capabilities, and more for their appearance. Consider using wood 3D printer filament when printing objects that are displayed on a desk, table, or shelf. Examples includebowls,figurines, andawards. One really creative application of wood as a 3D printer filament is in the creation ofscale models, such as those used in architecture.
Maybe youre looking for a different type of aesthetic in your prints something a little bulkier and shinier. Well, for that you can usemetal. Like wood 3D printer filament, metal filament isnt really metal. Its actually a mix of metal powder and either PLA or ABS. But that doesnt stop the results from having thelook and feel of metal. Even theweight is metal-like, as blends tend to be several times denser than pure PLA or ABS.
Bronze, brass, copper, aluminum, and stainless steel are just a few of the varieties of metal 3D printer filament which are commercially available. And if theres a specific look youre interested in, dont be afraid topolish, weather, or tarnish your metal itemsafter printing.
You may need to replace your nozzle a little sooner as a result of printing with metal, as the grains are somewhat abrasive, resulting inincreased nozzle wear.
The most common 3D printer filament blends tend to be around 50% metal powder and 50% PLA or ABS, but blends also exist that are up to 85% metal. For more information on these filaments, and how to use them, take a look at ourComplete Guide to Metal 3D Printing.
When should I use metal 3D printer filament?
Metal can be used to print for aesthetics and for function.Figurines,models,toys, andtokenscan all look great printed in metal. And as long as they dont have to deal with too much stress, feel free to use metal 3D printer filament to create parts with purpose, liketools,grates, orfinishing components.
Biodegradable3D printer filaments make up a unique category, as their most valuable characteristic does not lie in their physical natures. As most hobbyists can attest to, not every print turns out the way you want it to, and this results in having to throw away a ton of plastic. Biodegradable filaments seek tonegate the environmental impactthis has on our planet.
As was mentioned earlier in this article,PLAis in fact a biodegradable filament, but others include twoBEars bioFila line and Biome3D, by Biome Bioplastics.
When should I use biodegradable 3D printer filament?
Regardless of their primary reason for existing, biodegradable 3D printer filament types often produce items of sound physical quality. Use them any time you dont have specific requirements for strength, flexibility, or endurance. And if you really want to take advantage of the guilt-free printing biodegradable filaments offer, try using them in projects which requireprototyping.
With so many strong, flexible, and durable 3D printer filament types available, structural and mechanical projects are everywhere, it seems. Enterconductive3D printer filaments. Time for electrical and computer engineers to join the fun!
With the addition of conductive carbon particulates to PLA or ABS, its easy to realize dreams of printinglow-voltage electronic circuits. Just couple a conductive 3D printer filament with an ordinary PLA or ABS in a dual-extrusion machine.
When should I use conductive 3D printer filament?
Even though this 3D printer filament type only supports low-voltage circuitry, the skys the limit with customized electronics projects. If youre experimenting, try coupling a circuit board withLEDs,sensors, or even aRaspberry Pi! If youre looking for something a little more specific, popular ideas includegaming controllers,digital keyboards, andtrackpads.
Glow-in-the-dark3D printer filament pretty self-explanatory. Leave your print in the light for a while, then flick the switch and behold thateerie green glow.
It doesnt have to be green, of course. It can also be blue, red, pink, yellow, or orange. But green is so cool
So, how does it work? It all comes down to the phospherescent materials mixed in with the PLA or ABS base. Thanks to these added materials, a glow-in-the-dark 3D printer filament isable to absorb and later emit photons, which are kind of like tiny particles of light. This is why your prints will only glow after being in the light they have tostorethe energy before they canreleaseit.
For best results, consider printing with thick walls and little infill. The thicker your walls, the stronger the glow!
When should I use glow-in-the-dark 3D printer filament?
Thinking about that eerie green glow, it almost doesnt even seem necessary to suggest using a glow-in-the-dark 3D printer filament forHalloween projects, likejack-o-lanternsorwindow decorations. Other examples of where these filaments really shine er,glow includewearables(think jewellery),toys, andfigurines.
Are metal and conductive prints not exciting enough for you? Okay then, how aboutmagneticprints? This exotic 3D printer filament, based in PLA or ABS and infused with powdered iron, features a grainy, gunmetal finish, and of course, it sticks to magnets!
One thing to note: Despite the name, this 3D printer filament type is actuallyferromagnetic, meaning that while it is attracted to magnetic fields, it has no fields of its own. In other words, the objects you print maystickto magnets, but they wont actuallybemagnets.
When should I use magnetic 3D printer filament?
Use this type of 3D printer filament whenever you want your prints to stick to something magnetic.Ornaments(especially for the fridge) are the most obvious example, but why not incorporate some magnetism intotoysortools?
Remember those T-shirts from the 80s, the ones that would change color based on body temperature? Or how about mood rings? Well, this is the same deal, becausecolor-changing3D printer filaments alsochange color based on changes in heat.
Filaments from this category tend to change between two colors, for example from purple to pink, blue to green, or yellow to green.
As with other exotic 3D printer filament types, color-changing filament exists in blends of both PLA and ABS.
When should I use color-changing 3D printer filament?
With no special physical, tactile, or functional characteristics, this type of 3D printer filament is purely good for aesthetics. Use it whenever you would normally use PLA or ABS, but desire that extra visual flare. Good candidate projects includephone cases,wearables,toys, andcontainers.
First, compared to those already discussed, the remaining 3D printer filament types areless commonly seen in desktop 3D printing, being more popular among extreme hobbyists or more frequently appearing in industrial and commercial scenarios.
Second, many of the following filamentsprovide a function apart from simply being a print material, such as structural support or extruder cleaning.
That said, the following 3D printer filament types can still be extremely useful, or provide good alternatives to some of the above-mentioned filaments, depending on what you want to print.
When 3D printer filament types like PLA, ABS, PETG, and nylon are reinforced withcarbon fiber, the result is anextremely stiff and rigidmaterial withrelatively little weight. Such compounds shine in structural applications that must withstand a wide variety of end-use environments.
The trade-off is the increasedwear and tear on your printers nozzle, especially if its made of a soft metal like brass. Even as little as 500 grams of this exotic 3D printer filament will noticeably increase the diameter of a brass nozzle, so unless you enjoy frequently replacing your nozzle, consider using one made of (or coated with) a harder material.
When should I use carbon fiber 3D printer filament?
Thanks to its structural strength and low density, carbon fiber is a fantastic candidate formechanical components. Looking to replace a part in yourmodel car or plane? Give this 3D printer filament a try.
Polycarbonate ABS alloy (PC-ABS)is a tough thermoplastic, combining thestrength and heat resistance of polycarbonatewith theflexibility of ABS. Commonly found in automotive, electronics, and telecommunications applications, it is one of the most widely used industrial thermoplastics in the world.
When used as a 3D printer filament, the same benefits apply, but the trade-off is aslightly more complicated printing process. First, because PC-ABS ishygroscopic, its recommended to bake it before printing. Second, it requires a high printing temperature (of at least 260C). Third, it tends to warp, so a high print bed temperature is also necessary (of at least 100C).
In the commercial world,high impact polystyrene (HIPS) a copolymer thatcombines the hardness of polystyreneand theelasticity of rubber is commonly found in protective packaging and containers, like CD cases.
In the world of 3D printing, HIPS typically plays a different role. 3D printers cant print onto thin air. Overhangs require some underlying structure, and this is where HIPS really shines. When paired with ABS in a dual extrusion printer, HIPS is anexcellent support material. Simply fill any gaps in your design with this 3D printer filament, then melt it away by immersing the finished product in limonene, a colorless liquid hydrocarbon.
Avoid using HIPS with other 3D printer filament types, as they can be damaged by limonene, whereas ABS is left unscathed. HIPS and ABS print well together in any case, being of similar strength, stiffness, and requiring a comparable print temperature.
In fact, despite its primary use as a support material, HIPS is a decent 3D printer filament in its own right. It isstronger than both PLA or ABS,warps less than ABS, and it can beeasily glued, sanded, and painted.
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)issoluble in water, and thats exactly what commercial applications take advantage of. Popular uses include packaging for dishwasher detergent pods or bags full of fishing bait. (Throw the bag in water and watch it dissolve, releasing the bait.)
The same principal applies in 3D printing, making PVA agreat support materialwhen paired with another 3D printer filament in a dual extrusion printer. The advantage of using PVA over HIPS is that it can be printed with more than just ABS. Common substitutes include PLA and nylon.
The trade-off is a 3D printer filament that isslightly more difficult to print with. One must also be careful when storing it, as even themoisture in the atmosphere can damage the filamentprior to printing.
Want to print something in real brass, tin, or some other metal? Well, you can! Kind of In reality youll be printing a mold using awax 3D printer filament. But after a few extra steps, your design really can come to shiny, metally life.
The process is calledlost-wax or investment casting, and it more-or-less works like this:
Create a positive wax mold, i.e. a wax replica of what you want the final metal product to look like.
Dip the mold in plaster and let it dry.
Put the wax-plaster object in an oven. At a high enough temperature, the wax will melt away, leaving a negative space within the plaster, in which the metal product can be cast.
Wax 3D printer filament makes the first step easy, as one would normally have to carve the mold out of pure wax.
Dominating the wax 3D printer filament arena isMOLDLAY, by Kai Parthy CC Products. When using this or similar wax-like materials, keep in mind that they aremuch softer than most 3D printer filament types. Among other precautions, it may be necessary to modify your extruder and layer your print bed with an adhesive.
Sure, ABS is great, but it has its flaws. Thats why plastics manufacturers are always looking for alternatives. One such alternative isacrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA), originally developed to be more resistant to weather effects. Hence its primary use in the automotive industry.
In addition to being a 3D printer filament that isstrong, rigid, and relatively easy to print with, ASA is also extremelyresistant to chemical exposure, heat, and mostly importantly, changes in shape and color. Prints made of ABS have a tendency to erode or to yellow if left outdoors. Such is not the case with ASA. For anything from birdhouses to custom garden gnomes, look no further than this 3D printer filament.
Another minor benefit to using ASA over ABS is that it warps less during printing. But be careful with how you adjust your cooling fan; ASA can easily crack if things get a little too windy (during printing).
Polypropylene (PP)istough, flexible, light, chemically resistant, and food safe, which might explain its broad range of applications, including engineering plastics, food packaging, textiles, and bank notes.
Unfortunately, as a 3D printer filament type, PP is notoriouslydifficult to print with, presentingheavy warpingandpoor layer adhesion. If not for these issues, PP would likely contend with PLA for most popular 3D printer filament, given its strong mechanical and chemical properties.
Interestingly, since many household objects are made of PP, its actually possible to recycle old junk and turn it into new 3D printer filament.
Polyoxymethylene (POM), also referred asacetaland Delrin, is well known for its use as an engineering plastic, for example in parts which move or require high precision. Such parts include gears, bearings, camera focusing mechanisms, and zippers.
POM performs exceptionally well in these types of applications due to itsstrength, rigidity, resistance to wear, and most importantly, its low coefficient of friction. Its thanks to this last property that POM makes such a great 3D printer filament. For most of the 3D printer filament types in this list, there is a significant gap between what is made in industry and what you can make at home with your 3D printer. For POM, this gap is somewhat smaller; the slippery nature of this material means prints can be nearly as functional as mass-produced parts.
Make sure to use a print bed when printing with POM 3D printer filament, as the first layer doesnt always want to stick.
Ever heard ofpolymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)? Maybe not. What aboutacrylic, orPlexiglas? Thats right, were talking about the same material thats most often used as a lightweight, shatter-resistant alternative to glass.
Rigid, impact resistant, and transparent, use this 3D printer filament for anything that should diffuse light, whether thats a replacement window pane or a colorful toy. Just dont use it to make anything that should bend, as PMMA isnot very flexible.
3D printing with PMMA 3D printer filament can be a little difficult. To prevent warping and to maximize clarity, extrusion must be consistent, which requires a high nozzle temperature. It might also help to enclose the print chamber in order to better regulate cooling.
Unlike the other filaments in this list,cleaning 3D printer filamentis not used to print objects, but to clean 3D printer extruders. Its purpose is to remove any material in the hot end that might have been left over from previous prints. Though a good general practice, using cleaning 3D printer filament is especially useful when transitioning between materials that have different print temperatures or colors.
The general procedure involves manually feeding cleaning 3D printer filament into a heated print head to force out the old material, then cooling the hot end slightly and yanking the filament back out again. For more detailed instructions, take a look at the manufacturers information for the specific filament youre using.
Print temperature depends on whatever 3D printer filament types you used before, as well as on the one you want to use next. (Cleaning 3D printer filament is stable anywhere between 150 and 280C.)
Its not typically necessary to use more than 10 cm of filament at a time.
Other methods of cleaning exist, including the popular cold pull technique, which is similar to the above procedure and does not require cleaning 3D printer filament.
Flexible polyester (FPE)is a generic label given to a 3D printer filament that combines rigid and soft polymers. Such filaments are comparable to PLA, but aresofter and more flexible. The specific flexibility depends on the hard and soft polymers used, and on the ratio between them.
Two notable aspects of FPE includegood layer-to-layer adhesionand a moderately highresistance to heat and a variety of chemical compounds. Given the wide range of FPE 3D printer filament that is available, perhaps the most useful way to differentiate between the wide range of FPE available is the Shore value (like 85A or 60D), where a higher number indicates less flexibility.
As evidenced by this article, plastic tends to dominate 3D printing as the primary print material. Weve explored some other options already, and heres one more to add to the list: ceramic. More specifically, clay ceramic.
Basically, ceramic (or pottery) is produced through the baking of a raw substance, clay being the most commonly used. Food-safe, recyclable, and water-tight, ceramic is a great material to use for cups, plates, statues, or figurines.
Unfortunately, printing a green object the clay version of a design which must then be baked in a kiln, requires a special kind of 3D printer. Several of these printers exist on the market today, but if these devices fall outside your price range, consider instead one of the several online printing services. For more information on these services, or DIY ceramic printing, check out another one of our articles,Ceramic 3D Printing – The Essential Guide.
License: The text of25 Best 3D Printer Filament Types & Comparison ChartsbyAll3DPis licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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