When getting started with 3D printing it can be easy to get in the habit of using the same type of filament for nearly everything you print. This can be convenient for quick prints but for every project there is usually a particular filament which would work best for the job. Whether you need a part to be strong, shiny, flexible, transparent, weather resistant or glow in the dark there is a filament to help with that. In this guide we will go over some of the most popular FDM filaments which you might find helpful foryour projects.
PLA (Polylactic acid)
By far the most popular filament used in the consumer 3D printing community. This is mainly due to the fact that PLA is easy to print with and also very inexpensive. There is a huge selection of colours and finishes readily available online to help match anything you may need. The main area where PLA struggles is in mechanical properties. It is a fairly low strength material, brittle and has a low melting point. It is not considered to be very durable and is usually a poor fit for outdoor applications. One possibly way to increase the strength of PLA is by heat treating it. Although heat treating PLA can increase its strength slightly it is still no match for materials like PETG or ABS mentioned below.
TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane)
TPU plastic is your best friend for creating flexible parts. There are many things such as phone cases, watch straps or rubber belts that are just not practical to print without flexible filament. When looking at TPU filament be sure to look at the Shore rating of the filament. The Shore rating reflects how hard the plastic is. This will help you to choose a filament that has the proper amount of flex for the job. Depending on the type of filament feeder on your printer, it may be difficult to print TPU. FDM printers with direct drive extruders are very good at printing TPU while Bowden extruders may not be able to print the filament. For more information on working with flexible filaments check out our article dedicated to this topic.
PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate glycol)
PETG is a very popular filament and is often compared to PLA. It isn’t quite as easy to print as PLA and is usually slightly more expensive however it also brings many good characteristics to your prints. Some of these benefits include higher strength/durability, better resistance to heat, as well as being UV and water resistant. PETG also has low odors while printing. When looking to get some PETG filament be sure to read some reviews on the filament brand you are looking at before buying. From personal experience, some brands of PETG are a lot easier to print with than others. If you are looking for one to start with the brand ERYONE has some good quality PETG which is fairly inexpensive. They also offer a variety of transparent filaments which can be bring a really interesting look to prints.
ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
Most properties of ABS filament are very similar to PETG . The main difference is ABS is able to withstand higher temperatures making it ideal for high heat applications. It is also slightly less expensive than PETG. There are a few challenges that come with this filament. ABS is fairly prone to warping while printing which can make it very frustrating to print with until you get your printers settings dialed in for the filament. Another issue is the odor that ABS gives off while printing. The odor is quite noticeable and not recommended for printing in small areas. For these reasons most people tend to use PETG over ABS unless their part requires high heat resistance.
Nylon filament is a very durable filament making it great for parts that are expected to take a lot of abuse. It is also fairly resistant to chemicals. Although not an overly strong material, it is fairly flexible which helps to give it high impact resistance and great durability. Most Nylon is printed at high temperatures so ensure that your printers hot end is capable of reaching the temperature before purchasing Nylon filament.
There are too many to list, but here are a few other filaments which you might find interesting:
Carbon Fiber – Many different suppliers offer different forms of carbon fiber filament. Most of them typically have carbon fiber infused in the filament which helps to increase part strength and stiffness.
Marble – A white filament with small dark particles giving parts a well aged look.
Rainbow – A single roll of filament that contains many different colours. As the roll feeds through the printer the colours change after some time creating cool colour fading effects.
Glow in the dark – Exactly what it sounds like. Try creating your own glow in the dark keychains, toys or room decorations.
Bronze Filament – A bronze finish is fairly unique for 3D printed parts. Take a quick look online to see all the amazing statues, vases and more that people have created with this material.