3D printing is a great way to create the exact shape you need in a short amount of time. There are many different 3D printers and 3D printing materials available on the market and there are even more materials that can be used for 3D printing. Selecting the right material for your project is extremely important because it can have a major effect on your print’s quality as well as its cost.
Plastics 3D printing processes and plastic 3D printing materials
Today, the three most well-established plastic 3D printing processes are as follows:
#1 Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing
Fused deposition modeling 3D printers melt and extrude thermoplastic filaments, which are then deposited layer by layer in the build area by a printer nozzle.
#2 SLA 3D printing
Stereolithography is a process known as photopolymerization, 3D printers use a laser to cure thermosetting liquid resins into hardened plastic.
#3 SLS 3D printing
Selective laser sintering is a process that uses a high-powered laser to fuse small particles of thermoplastic powder.
There are dozens of plastic materials available for 3D printing, each with its own set of characteristics that make it best suited to specific applications. To make it easier to find the best material for a specific part or product, let’s first look at the different types of plastics and 3D printing processes.
Plastic Material Types
Plastics are classified into two types:
The most common type of plastic is thermoplastic. The ability to go through multiple melts and solidification cycles distinguishes them from thermosets. Thermoplastics can be heated and formed into any shape desired. Because no chemical bonding occurs, the process is reversible, making recycling or melting, and reusing thermoplastics possible. Butter is a common analogy for thermoplastics because it can be melted, re-solidified, and melted again. The properties change slightly with each melting cycle.
After curing, thermosetting plastics (also known as thermosets) remain permanently solid. Polymers in thermosetting materials cross-link during the curing process, which is triggered by heat, light, or other suitable radiation. Thermosetting plastics decompose rather than melt when heated and will not reform when cooled. It is not possible to recycle thermosets or return the material to its base ingredients. A thermosetting material is similar to cake batter in that once baked, it cannot be melted back into the batter.
How to choose 3D printing materials?
Choosing a 3D printing material involves an understanding of the properties, manufacturing processes, and applications for each material group. As there are many different materials for 3D printing, choosing the right material for your project seems not easy. Typically, you need to take into account the tradeoffs between strength, weight, thermal resistance, chemical resistance, and cost. We have summarized the typical considerations for 3D printing material selection.
#1 Ease of printing
The ease of printing refers to how easy it is to print material, taking into consideration factors such as bed stickiness, maximum printing speed, frequency of unsuccessful prints, flow accuracy, and ease of feeding into the printer.
#2 Visual quality
Visual quality refers to how appealing the finished thing appears to be.
#3 Compressive strength
Compressive strength tells the maximum amount of pressure when progressively pushing on an object, the amount of stress it can withstand before breaking is determined.
#4 Tensile elongation
Tensile elongation is the maximum length to which an object has been stretched before it breaks, tensile elongation at break is the one we should never miss.
#5 Impact strength
Impact strength is the amount of energy required to break an object when it is struck suddenly. If you need to 3D print a part or object that has to withstand high impact or repetitive use, you’ll have chosen the material with high impact strength.
#6 Layer adhesion
Layer adhesion (isotropy) is a measure of how well a material adheres to itself when it is layered. If you want a strong, reliable 3D printed part, layer adhesion and proper bonding are needed. Without this, you are likely to experience layer separation, splitting, or delamination of your parts, or in simple terms, layers not sticking together.
#7 Melting point(thermal resistance)
The melting point is the maximum temperature that an object can withstand before becoming mushy and deformed.
#8 Chemical resistance
Chemical resistance is the ability of a material to withstand chemical attacks. If your 3D printing parts work in extreme environments, materials with high chemical resistance should be taken into consideration due to their inertness to chemical properties.
#9 Material costs
In 3D printing, the most commonly used filaments are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). Because they are easily processed, machined, and glued together, ABS and PLA filaments are popular because they can be printed at low temperatures and do not require a printing bed, so they are the best choice if you want low-cost materials. See more about how to calculate the costs of 3D printing from here: 3D Printing Cost: Factors to Consider
In the end
There are many different things to consider when choosing a 3D printing filament, and ultimately it will come down to your individual needs. When choosing the right 3D printing filament for your application, you’ll have to rely on your research and experimentation. In the end, though, do what works best for you! We hope this guide was able to help you choose the perfect filament for your needs!