Can You 3D Print Clear Plastic?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: July 20, 2021

Yes! You can 3D print clear plastic! Traditional materials used in prototyping, such as clay, foam, and fabric, are accessible to 3D print. However, it’s different with fully transparent materials that may be difficult to manipulate.

3D Print Clear Plastic

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Numerous products depend on transparency from cellphones to kitchen utensils to make them work and have their unique appearances.

The multi-material 3D technology, therefore, comes in handy as it helps create translucent and transparent parts.

This guide enables you to find out information on transparent materials. More so, on how 3D printing works with them and their possible applications.

So, Can You 3D Print Clear Plastic?

You can get lots of transparent filament in the market that helps in 3D printing transparent objects. Therefore, 3D printing clear plastic is possible and not a mirage as most people would imagine.

The process of printing layers through the additive technique makes transparency cloudy due to the small gaps between layers. So, using HT filaments (view on Amazon) to over-extrude at a high temperature enables layers to fuse.

SLA 3D printing creates transparent objects, and with post-processing, things made are even optically more precise.

Formlab’s SLA Form 3D printers use flexible and clear resin. By resin dipping, the parts in a resin tank, clear pieces with a smooth surface are created.

Some of the applications that can be created using this method are optics, light pipes, and fluidics.

How Do You Make a 3D Print Transparent?

Transparent 3D printing refers to printing a plastic part that you can see through. It’s the opposite of print opaque plastics that you can never see-through.

The application of the technique varies from see-through vases to optical elements like a prism, art, or decorative items.

What Is Transparency?

Transparency is the ability to see through objects and is determined by how light passes through these objects. Glass remains a classic example of common transparent materials.

However, opaque materials serve as the opposite of transparency and may include wood and clay as examples.

Transparent Objects

If light can pass through the object without being redirected significantly, the object appears transparent. Some standard components may include a pane of a glass window or the lens of spectacles.

In the case of Glass, the material is homogeneous and clear, making it completely transparent.

Transparent Filament

PLA, made of natural cornstarch, remains inherently transparent. However, do not expect PLA, in its purest form, to be okay. It looks a bit yellowish when printed.

Manufacturers bid to make PLA a transparent thermoplastic and use the polymerization condensation process to incorporate transparency levels.

The processes use a metal catalyst, lactide chemicals, and heating that brings out PLA’s fully custom transparent parts devoid of the yellow hue.

How Can You 3D Print Transparent Materials?

So that you may 3D print transparent material OR 3D models, you must introduce transparency properties in the 3D printed objects as you initiate the printing process.

Some plastic filaments or materials may consist of tinted transparent components properties. So creating transparent objects from them may be challenging. Therefore, we may need to copy the transparency properties.

To mimic the transparency qualities, you need to do the following;

3D Printing for Optimum Transparency

Often, more complex and geometries reflect light more and may end up being opaque. To obtain transparent geometries, you may need to avoid curved designs that redirect light.

The use of clear Glass to make outstanding parts may suffice as this helps light in passing through.

Technologies That Help in Creating Transparent Materials

Several technologies may offer you the possibility to create transparent 3D models. However, you need to know the technologies, their effectiveness, and affordability before choosing to use any.

Is it a prototype or an end product like food and beverage containers? Remember, individual technologies benefit your 3D print differently.

FDM produces 3D prints by using filaments. The filament is heated and the nozzle is extruded through in the shape of your desired model layer by layer. Usually, very tiny gaps form between layers hindering enough light from passing through your object.

Layer lines that are more pronounced in FDM printers cause refraction that interferes with the transparency. So, minimizing these challenges through structural design and processes brings excellent results.

Another serious challenge to transparent 3D printing using FDM is finding optimal settings for the process. More often, you may have to rely on trial and error to achieve optimal printer settings.

The settings you need to adjust include material extrusion temperature, flow rate, print bed temperature, printing speed, layer height thickness, and nozzle diameter.

Stereolithography (SLA) uses a photochemical process to produce more durable alternative parts with polymer resin. SLA technology, using photopolymer materials, prints very tiny layers, which makes excellent results for transparent 3D printing.

SLA produces excellent results with optical transparency. Therefore, it is best suited for visual applications where a smooth surface finish is required.

However, SLA 3D prints have support structures that require post-production phase removal and the removal process of smooth surfaces of the object affecting its final appearance.

A blog post on poly jet technology confirms that the technology is one of the latest and more advanced among additive technologies. It works by jetting resin onto the build platform. Resin is immediately UV cured into your desired shape layer by layer.

It delivers objects with smooth surfaces and good transparency properties.

How Do I Print Clear PLA?

No significant difference may be noted while printing from a clear PLA and a standard PLA plastic filament. However, the secret lies in the optimal setting of your printer for excellent prints.

Using transparent PLA printing materials makes for exemplary 3D models because of the unique properties of the delicate filaments.

SUNLU Clear PLA Filament 1.75mm, 3D Printer Filament Transparent PLA Dimensional Accuracy /- 0.02 mm, 1KG

Check Price at Amazon

Optimal 3D printer settings for optimal results require that you use a higher hot-end temperature, a more significant layer height, and a low fill. It ensures that transparent material is well melted, spaced out, and quite hollow for optimal transparency.

Manufacturers Instructions

Adhere to instructions from the manufacturers for better results, more so for print settings requirements.

For example, Solutech, a company making unique and transparent filaments, states that there is no need to use a heated bed when using transparent PLA filaments. Further, they say they need odorless and bubble-free printing.

How Do I Make Prints Clear?

You may have many issues with cloudy prints or yellow models when you have finished transparent 3D printing processes. There are numerous ways to stop transparent images from looking imperfect and of shallow quality.

To 3D print explicit models, minimize the amount of UV light models are getting. For exposure to UV, the light print turns yellowish.

Post-Processing

Post-processing activities refer to what you may have to do the 3D print model when the printing process is complete. Sometimes prints come out with rough ends, and you may need to improve their quality by conducting sanding or making a clear coating.

Resin coating, spray coating, or extensive sanding on rough prototypes makes for the best and clear resin 3D prints.

You may print clear resin models from known brands such as Anycubic and Elegoo by getting the right exposure time settings and cure times after the print has finished.

Transparent Materials for 3D Printing

3Dprinting can use a lot of materials that print transparent objects. What matters is the type of 3D print and the technology needed for each print. These materials may be different but may still have similar mechanical properties.

Transparent 3D print materials cover numerous uses; some may be used for colored transparencies, as in mobile phone covers, some in a unique new optic device, medical devices, and cosmetics packaging.

PLA filaments come in different colors and varieties. The filament qualities are also varied for optimal choice making. It tends to produce transparent objects with a yellowish tinge. It calls for post-processing work to improve print quality.

As a clear filament, it is always blended with additives to enhance print quality. Its usage calls for post-processing to improve 3D model quality.

It prints transparently compared to most popular 3D filaments, and its availability in a range of colors is an added quality.

Polycarbonate (PC) filament remains a very clear 3D printing filament with a glossy sheen.

PETG is also a very clear 3D printing filament with physical properties that accurately represent the requirement of the most transparent 3D model applications.

This filament remains one of the most popular in transparent 3D printing. It uses many options as many resins provide different levels of transparency. Often, post-processing techniques are used to help enhance print quality.

Creality LD-002H Mono LCD Resin 3D Printer UV Photocuring SLA 3D Printer with High Precision 6.08 Inch 2K Monochrome LCD and Advanced Light Source, Large Printing Size 5.12x3.23x6.3inch

Check Price at Amazon

Can You 3D Print a Clear Object?

Yes, printing a transparent object is entirely possible! To make your prints clear and transparent, use a filament that encourages smoothing.

Smoothing may be done using a solvent like ABS and acetone or poly smooth filament. Use a significant layer height and conduct post-processing, such as spraying a clear coat or sanding the print.

Conclusion

3D printing technology keeps on evolving, bringing in new benefits to 3D printing users. Many and varied transparent 3D prints are a possibility. Real-world testing of the products remains successful, and that is excellent news to the 3D printing industry.

This article helps provide an accurate guide to many issues surrounding transparent 3D printing and its applications.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.