FDM 3D Printer Materials Guide

Posted on 18/12/2020

This guide summarises a wide range of properties and characteristics for a variety of 3D printable materials. This overview by no means covers all the possible materials which are available to users of extrusion 3D printers, however we have aimed to cover the most frequently used materials. Often when changing to a new or different material errors will occur in your 3D prints. If you are interested in adding AI based error detection and remote control to your 3D printer go check out Mattacloud which is currently undergoing Beta testing!

Table of Contents

See information below for the following materials:

PLA

PLA, or Polylactic Acid is one of the most popular materials used in FDM 3D printing. It is a fantastic material to learn with as it is easy to print, inexpensive and produces good quality parts. PLA is stiff and quite strong and can be printed with high dimensional accuracy; however, it should be noted that it has low heat resistance, is not suitable for outdoors, due to sunlight exposure.

PLA is also the most environmentally friendly plastic available to 3D print as it is derived from crops such as sugar cane, this provides an added bonus as this plastic gives off a sweet aroma during printing.

It can be printed at a relatively low-temperature and does not require a heated bed or an enclosure , although you may experience better results with a bed heated to around 45-60 °C. You can print PLA successfully on the majority of build surfaces and we recommend using a part cooling fan after the first layer in order to reduce oozing.

  • Extruder Temperature: 190-220 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 45-60 °C
  • Heated Bed: Optional
  • Glass Transition Temperature: 65 °C
  • Density: 1.24 g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 68 µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus: 3.5 GPa
  • Build Surfaces: PEI, Painters Tape, Glass Plate, Glue Stick, PrintBite(+), BuildTak etc.

ABS

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, known as ABS for short, is a very popular 3D printing material due to its low-cost and good mechanical properties. Fun fact: Lego bricks are made out of ABS! It is a very tough and impact resistant material, enabling durable 3D printed parts which can withstand high usage and wear. With a high glass transition temperature ABS can handle higher temperatures than many other printable materials before it begins to deform. As such, this materials is a good choice for high temperature environments or outdoor applications.

When printing with this material ensure there is sufficient ventilation as the material has a slight odour which can be harmful. Additionally, ABS contracts a lot as it cools down, so a heated bed with the appropriate build surface is required if not a heated chamber to ensure minimal warping and shrinkage. ABS oozes far less than PLA and having a part cooling fan blowing on your print will increase the likelihood or warping and cause further shrinkage, so we recommend not using one.

  • Extruder Temperature: 220-250 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 90-110 °C
  • Heated Bed: Required
  • Glass Transition Temperature: 105 °C
  • Density: 1.04 g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 90 µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus: 1.4-3.1 GPa
  • Build Surfaces: Kapton tape with ABS Slurry, Hairspray and BuildTak, PrintBite(+), find what works for you.

PETG

PETG is a durable copolyester (a combination). Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly abbreviated PET is commonly used in fibres for clothing and containers for liquids and foods. The G means it’s been glycol modified for extra durability.

It is a tough material which prints without odour and has similar print quality as PLA. The material has a low shrinkage and as such little to no warping making it ideal for larger prints. It has superb layer adhesion, resulting in strong prints - note that this makes PETG a poor support material. Another benefit of PETG is that it has excellent chemical resistance, along with alkali, acid and water resistance.

  • Extruder Temperature: 230-250 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 75-95
  • Heated Bed: Required
  • Glass Transition Temperature: 75 °C
  • Density: 1.27 g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 60 µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus: 2.0-2.1 GPa
  • Build Surfaces: PEI, Painters Tape, Glass Plate, Glue Stick, PrintBite(+), BuildTak etc.

Nylon

Nylon is an incredibly strong, durable and versatile 3D printing material. It is flexible when thin, and has very high inter-layer adhesion enabling the creation of strong and functional parts. It has a low coefficient of friction and high melting temperature making it an excellent choice for a variety of everyday items such as 3D printed tools, gears, RC cars and more. Nylon filament is incredibly hygroscopic, meaning that it readily absorbs water from the air, and should be kept in a very dry environment and preferably dried before printing.

  • Extruder Temperature: 225-265 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 70-90 °C
  • Heated Bed: Required
  • Glass Transition Temperature: 70 °C
  • Density: 1.15 g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 95 µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus: 2.7 GPa
  • Build Surfaces: PEI, Glue Stick, PrintBite(+), BuildTak etc.

TPU

TPU, or Thermoplastic Polyurethane is a common elastomer (elastic polymer) which can be printed on an FDM machine. In order to print high quality parts reliably a direct drive extruder is definitely recommended. The longer the distance from the extruder to the hotend the less the control as the filament acts like a spring. However, with enough calibration good prints can be achieved on a Bowden extruder. TPU requires a slow print speed of around 30mm/sec due to the fact that it is difficult to push the filament through the extruder thanks to its elastic nature. The material does not produce any noticeable fumes while printing and is a non-soluble material. It is however hygroscopic, which means it will degrade in wet conditions and also not food safe.

  • Extruder Temperature: 210-240 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 20–60 °C (not required)
  • Heated Bed: Optional
  • Density: 1.20g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 90µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus: TPU almost doesn’t have any linear behavior, hence there is no statement on its Young’s modulus.
  • Build Surfaces: PEI, Painters Tape, Glass Plate, Glue Stick, PrintBite(+), BuildTak, practically any build surace will do for TPU.

HIPS

High impact polystyrene, or HIPS, is a material blend of polystyrene and rubber. It can be dissolved in a limonene solution and as such is used for support material, eliminating the need for removal via abrasives, cutting tools, or other methods that leave artefacts on your print.

HIPS is similar to ABS, and is actually a little stronger and is frequently used as a support material for this material. As such, apart from being used as a support material, it is also a good primary building material. HIPS is easily painted, machineable, and works with a large number of adhesives. It’s also food safe, non-toxic, fully recyclable, and non-hydroscopic, meaning it won’t degrade in humid environments.

Unfortunately, HIPS gives off fumes while printing, just like ABS. HIPS will release small amounts of styrene into the atmosphere. Therefore, you should have your printer in a well-ventilated area while utilizing this material.

Additionally, much like ABS a heated bed is required and an enclosure is recommended. A part cooling fan is not necessary.

  • Extruder Temperature: 230-245 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 95-115 °C
  • Heated Bed: Required
  • Glass Transition Temperature: 100 °C
  • Density: 1.08 g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 80 µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus: 1.9 GPa
  • Build Surfaces: Kapton Tape, PEI, Glue Stick, Glass Plate, PET Sheets, PrintBite(+), BuildTak

PVA

PVA, or Polyvinyl Alcohol, is a soft and biodegradable 3D printable polymer that dissolves when it is exposed to water. This makes it a very useful support structure material enabling the printing of highly complex geometries as the supports used to create such shapes can be removed easily by dissolving them in warm water. With PVA you can print parts with large cavities or over-hangs without fear.

Due to PVA dissolving in water it is very moisture sensitive so you do not want to leave this material out in the open air. Make sure you have an airtight storage container to keep the plastic in.

  • Extruder Temperature: 180-200 °C
  • Bed Temperature: 45-60 °C
  • Heated Bed: Required
  • Glass Transition Temperature: 80 °C
  • Density: 1.19 g/cm3
  • Coefficient of Thermal Expansion: 85 µm/m-°C
  • Elastic (Young’s, Tensile) Modulus:
  • Build Surfaces: PEI, Painters Tape, PrintBite(+), BuildTak

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