Important Factors when Choosing a Suitable Filament Material for 3D Printing

In 3d printing selecting the right filament is important to ensure you get the results you want. Choosing inappropriate materials can lead to unfavorable 3D printing projects, wasted time, money and effort, as several 3D printers may not be able or are not suited to print some filament types. Having said this, it is important to be familiar with the available filament materials, their individual printing characteristics and properties, especially if you are new to 3D printing.

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In this particular discussion, we will take a look at the factors to consider in picking the suitable filament material for 3D printing.

  1. Size/Diameter

When looking for filament materials and before making an order, check the specifications of the 3D printer you are going to use, specifically the diameter size. This is because the size of diameter required depends on the model of the printer. In 3D printing, filament diameters are either 1.75 mm or 2.85/3.00 mm. Ensure your slicing software is set to use the correct filament when preparing your projects.  There are also new 3D printer upgrades that give you the option to print with both diameters.

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  1. Colour options

For a project with a tight budget, sometimes a colour choice can reduce the costs of printing. If you want to lessen the expenses, going for transparent or natural colours can sometimes be the best way to go since they do not require pigment additives. It is also important to be aware of the actual colour that is presented on the screen when you are ordering your filament, colours often look different depending on which device you are viewing it from.  Several stores including 3D FilaPrint give you the opportunity to buy small samples at a low cost, ensuring the colour you have in your mind is the colour that you will receive.  It goes without saying that there are many shades of grey!  It is also worth remembering that some filaments will actually print a different shade/tone of its original colour, when subjected to heat during the printing process. Some manufactured filaments also provide the corresponding RAL colour code.

  1. Grade and Condition

Filament materials come in many different grades such as 2003D and 4043 for PLA type. You may find that some cheaper but quality manufactured filaments could suit the project you are working on. Additionally, external printing conditions are also worth taking into consideration . No matter which material you are printing with it is good practice to ensure you have adequate ventilation.  Though remember a room that is too hot or too cold can effect the final print.  The settings that you use to print in the morning in your cosy room may not be the same during a cold winters evening or hot summers day, we have even been informed that altitude 3D printing has its own challenges!  3D Printing with exactly the same filament in a cold garage/classroom will require software/hardware setting changes if you then take your printer indoors (if its warmer that is).

  1. Packaging

If the printing project does not require large quantities of plastic filament, coil packaging could be practical/cost effective to choose, watch that the uncoiled filament does not become tangled when printing. On the other hand, if working in bulk and a large amount of material is needed, spool packaging is the better option since it is easier to work with, although it can also entail higher shipping costs because of its volume and weight.  If you are printing big there are options to purchase larger spools, such as 2.3kg, 4.5kg spools, ask your supplier if this is an option.  You may also find that larger spools work out cheaper per gram/kg/lbs.

  1. Type

The type of material is equally important to consider when choosing the right filament for 3D printing. The three common types are Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA). ABS is a tad flexible and is more heat resistant. This strong material uses heated bed and can be used for numerous applications. However, it is non-biodegradable and produces fumes in the process. PLA, on the other hand, is a biodegradable type, some more degradable than others, which can be printed on 3D printers that are not fitted with a heated build plate.  It is also known for its slight flexibility. Meanwhile, PVA is for printers that have multiple extruders, used to provide material support for complex objects. There are also many filament types available suitable for specific uses in manufacturing, medical, aerospace, engineering and for animal welfare, we are sure you must have heard of Buttercup the Duck!

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Being familiar with the features and characteristics of filament materials is imperative to find the appropriate filament for a 3D printing project, with the many different filament types available in the market today, taking time to know what factors to consider will prove to be useful and will save you time and money.  If in doubt ask, we are always happy to share our knowledge.

The Advancement of 3D Printing Materials

When 3D printing was first commercialised in the 1980s it was mostly used for small scale prototypes and its industry growth was quite slow. At that time, the hardware was slow and the prints lacked the properties required for use in products for the medical, electronics, or even home utensils sector. Designs were limited to cheap, disposable plastics that were weak and had no functional properties. But in recent years, the 3D printing industry has been growing rapidly.

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The Growth of 3D Printing

More 3D printing software and hardware have been developed not only for the commercial or industrial sectors, but even for hobbyists and product designers working from their own homes. Prices of 3D printers declined. The ability to create highly customised designs on-site became a much speedier process. You could now do quicker design iterations, have more freedom with designs, waste fewer materials, and assemble high-quality end-use parts with a more simplified method. Business and designers began to see the huge opportunity 3D printing presents in manufacturing all types of products, from mobile phones to artificial ligaments.

Demand for more 3D printing materials

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA) plastics used to be the only materials used in 3D printing. However, 3D printing is now a technology used in architecture, medicine, aerospace, jewellery, and other high-profile industries, and most of the end-use parts used in these industries cannot be made just from ABS or PLA plastics. Thus, the development of novel 3D printing materials needed to be addressed.

As newer materials were introduced or existing ones greatly improved, the filament production industry grew rapidly. In fact, a study in www.idtechex.com states that seven key materials (photopolymers, thermoplastic powders, thermoplastic filaments, metal powders, welding wire, plaster, sand and binder) are predicted to have a total market value of over $8 billion by 2025.

Another reason why there is a growing demand for improved or new 3D printing materials is lot-to-lot variations in the adhesion, melting temperature, and other properties of most materials proved to be a challenge in producing consistent results. Today, filament manufacturers are producing filaments with more consistent viscosities, melting points, and other important characteristics. These materials can print stronger products that are more aesthetically appealing. This is because they have layers that are more tightly bonded and are smoother.

The desire to create more environmentally friendly 3D printed products is another reason for the filament market’s advancement and growth. There is now biodegradable thermoplastic, professionally engineered ABS filament produced from 100% recycled plastic, filament made from coffee by-products, and printing materials made from paper or architectural wood waste composite.

The Role of 3D Printing Materials Advancements in the 3D Printing Industry

It cannot be denied that locally manufactured and highly customised items will become more widespread and affordable as the 3D printing industry continues to move forward. And in order for 3D printed parts to keep up with the market demands, the materials used need to be as advanced, or even more advanced, as the printers.