Types of 3D Printing Materials, Part Two
- Published: Monday, Aug. 10, 2020
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is popular for good reason. It’s tough, more temperature tolerant than some other choices, easy to extrude from the printer’s nozzles and, starting at about $20 for a 1 kilogram spool, it is the least expensive material to print in. ABS's high melting point (210 C – 250 C) means that it can be used in applications that will be exposed to higher temperatures, but it also needs to print on a heated surface, or bed. Since it is petroleum based, it also produces volatile gases that smell and need to be vented safely.
PolyLactic acid (PLA) is popular for many reasons but one of the biggest is it's made from organic materials like cornstarch and sugarcane and is biodegradable. However, being a bioplastic, it does attract moisture that makes it potentially brittle and more difficult to print. It is easier to work with than ABS, prints faster and is less prone to warping. And with no toxic fumes to worry about, ventilation is not a concern.
Due to PLA's lower melting point (180 C – 230 C), it doesn’t require a heated bed to print, but the parts it creates are not as strong or temperature tolerant as ABS. These limitations have sparked new research and development into PLA materials that are stronger and heat resistant and has led to the production of specialty PLA filaments that are flexible, conductive and look like wood, metal or ceramic. Costs for PLA range widely from $22 per kilogram for regular PLA to $200 per kilogram for specialty filaments.
Polyethylene terephthalate - glycol (PETG) is a strong, flexible and temperature-tolerant (210 C – 230 C) filament that is food-friendly, non-biodegradable and recyclable. It doesn’t warp, shrink or absorb moisture from the air like some other filaments, but it may take more expertise in adjusting the nozzle and bed temperature for best results. Since it has been approved by the FDA as safe for food, it may open up another area of printing for you. It is also a little more expensive with a kilogram going for about $28.
Nylon filament, also called polyamide, is gaining popularity because of its strength and durability compared to ABS and PLA. Nylon is flexible, light, wear-resistant and less brittle than ABS or PLA. It’s melting temperature is high (210 C – 250 C), which breaks down the plastic and emits toxic fumes, so proper ventilation is a must. Another big drawback is that it absorbs moisture easily, which affects the prints, so proper storage is essential. It's also one of the more expensive filaments at around $40 per kilogram.