What Materials Are Used in 3D Printing?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: July 9, 2021

With the constant technology inventions, more materials are used for 3D printing. No longer is the 3D printing market limited to polymers as there are various materials to tap into.

Plastic Filaments For 3D Printing

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Plastics, metals, and ceramics can produce a diverse range of products to suit different applications. Did you know even soybean oil, chocolate, and wet paper can also make 3D prints? Read on to discover how to choose these materials and which ones you can’t use.

What Materials Are Used in 3D Printing?

Let’s see the crucial characteristics and downsides of the different materials used in 3D printing.

Nylon

Nylon is a synthetic thermoplastic polyamide and is the most popular plastic substance used for 3D printing. What makes it an ideal choice for 3D prints is its flexibility, low friction, and durability. This material is also a common choice for textiles and making accessories.

Nylon filament (see on Amazon) is an ideal option for complicated or delicate geometries. It’s majorly used as a filament material in Fused Filament Fabrication or Fused Deposition Modeling 3D printers. It’s inexpensive and one of the sturdiest plastic materials.

Pros

Cons

ABS Plastic

This thermoplastic filament material is a top choice for use as a 3D printer filament. ABS is also one of the most commonly used materials for household and personal 3D printing.

3D Printed Mandalorian Figure

ABS is a good option for engineers and manufacturers who need high-quality prototype products.

Pros

Cons

High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS)

This material is used in FDM printers as a support structure. Its ease of use can be likened to ABS. However, the two differ in their capacity to dissolve. For instance, HIPS is completely soluble in limonene.

Pros

Cons

Resin

Here is another common choice for 3D printing. Resin materials are typically used in DLP, SLA, CLIP, and Multijet technologies. Several kinds are compatible with 3D printing, including tough resin, castable resin, flexible resin, and more.

Pros

Cons

Polylactic Acid (PLA)

PLA comes from renewable resources like cornstarch and sugarcane. It’s a typical choice in learning institutions due to its ease of printing and safety. Moreover, PLA is applicable in FDM desktop printing.

Pros

Cons

Gold and Silver

These metal filaments get processed in powder form and are some of the sturdiest for use in 3D printing. They are mostly used to make jewelry. Printing processes used with these metal filaments include Direct Metal Laser Sintering and Selective Laser Melting.

Pros

Cons

Stainless Steel

Fusion and laser sintering (see 3D printer) are the methods used when printing with stainless steel. This material works with two types of technologies: DMLS and SLM. Given stainless steel is good for constructing sturdy materials and detailed work, it’s ideal for things like key chains, bolts, and miniatures, among others.

Pros

Cons

Titanium

This is the lightest and strongest 3D printing material and has a moderate surface roughness. Titanium gets printed via Direct Metal Laser Sintering. The main application of titanium filaments is in high-tech fields like medicine, space exploration, and the aerospace industry.

Pros

Con

Ceramics

Ceramics can withstand extreme pressure and temperature without warping or breaking. It’s less likely to get corroded and doesn’t easily wear away. Therefore, it’s more long-lasting than metals and plastics.

Ceramics are typically used with Binder Jetting technology, Stereolithography, and DLP (Digital Light Processing).

Pros

Cons

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET/PETG)

PET is another frequently used plastic material for 3D prints employed in thermoforming processes. It can also create engineering resins when combined with other substances like glass fiber.

3D Printed Robot Toy

In 3D printing, PETG is more common than PET as the former contains modified glycol. As a result, it’s clearer, less brittle, and less strenuous to use than PET. The filament (see on Amazon) works with FFF and FDM technologies.

Pros

Cons

What Is the Most Common 3D Printing Material?

From all the 3D printing materials in use, plastic is the most popular. It’s loved for many different applications, including the making of household fixtures, 3D-printed toys, desk utensils, action figures, and vases.

Plastic is available in transparent and vibrant hues, with lime green and red being the most common. These filaments are packaged in spools and may come in matte or shiny finishes.

Given its firmness, smoothness, flexibility, and brilliant colors, its popularity is easy to comprehend. Not to mention, it’s a relatively affordable option compared to other 3D printing materials.

Plastic consumer products typically use FDM printers. The process involves the melting and molding of thermoplastic filaments into different shapes sequentially. The most common types of plastics for 3D printing include:

Plastic items made in 3D printers come in various shapes and consistencies, from flat and round to grooved and meshed.

What Materials Cannot Be 3D-printed?

You cannot print materials unable to melt into a semi-liquid state able to get extruded. Take the operation of FDM 3D printers, for instance. These printers melt thermoplastic substances from a spool, having a tight tolerance of ± 0.05 or lower.

Materials which burn at high temperature instead of melting are difficult to extrude through the nozzle.

We can use Selective Laser Sintering to bind powdered metals into solid models.

Provided you can meet the tolerances and semi-liquid state, it should be possible to print that substance. Here are some materials you cannot use for 3D printing:

Choosing the Right 3D Printing Material

When printing 3D models, you have first to consider your type of material. We’ve already seen the advantages, demerits, and applications of different 3D printing materials above.

Let’s take a keener examination to see what to look for in them.

This refers to your material’s resistance to snapping under tension. It not only indicates a material’s ductility but can also denote its strength. Some substances break sharply while the more ductile, like metal and plastic, experience deformation before snapping.

Mechanical, structural, and static components need high tensile materials as breakages are unacceptable. Examples of sectors that require high tensile materials are construction, aviation, and automotive. Nowadays, 3D printing delivers similar or even higher tensile models than previous injection-molded plastics like ABS and polypropylene.

This denotes a material’s resistance to length changes under tensile stress. Stiff materials have a high Young’s modulus and are more resistant to change. When selecting materials for structural and mechanical components, a high Young modulus is crucial.

Elongation is the extent of a material’s stretching exactly at the breaking point. Stiff materials, like brittle-hard plastics, usually have a low elongation, while soft, elastic materials stretch multiple times before breaking.

Elongation is necessary for architecture and construction, where structures need to deform noticeably rather than suddenly snap.

Flexural strength is also a material’s breakage resistance under load, like tensile strength. However, the loads differ with flexural strength encompassing the bending. Therefore, it reflects on a material’s tensile strength and compression.

Most plastics have closely aligning tensile and flexural strengths. Some materials with a homogeneous structure have the same tensile and flexural strengths. SLA is homogenous, which is an advantage over other 3D printing technologies. This is because components have analogous strength irrespective of the orientation.

This refers to a material’s resistance to bending. Stiff materials have a high modulus, while elastic ones have a low modulus. Flexural and Young’s modulus also have a close relation.

Flexural modulus is vital when constructing steel springs, especially leaf springs, and in structural parts or support beams.

Materials have different responses to static load and sudden impact. Impact strength greatly influences a material’s toughness. Brittle materials have minimal toughness due to the limited deformation they can endure. Temperature also impacts the toughness, with low heat levels reducing a material’s toughness.

This factor is crucial in various applications, like making safety goggles and shields.

Plastic materials absorb some water in humid conditions or if submerged. Despite some plastics having a higher hygroscopy than others, the minimal difference may be irrelevant in finished plastic products. However, it’s a crucial consideration for heat resistance in plastic parts and raw material processing.

When plastic materials get heated above approximately 150°C, the presence of moisture results in hydrolysis. This then causes the cracking of long-chain to short-chain molecules, thereby weakening the material. If this occurs before 3D printing, it weakens the material, resulting in poor-quality products. Therefore, you should store raw materials having a high water absorption capacity in dry conditions.

New Innovative 3D Printing Materials

3D printers are no longer majoring in plastics. Some of the latest 3D printers are compatible with recycled materials.

For instance, one designer developed a 3D printer able to use wet paper fibers. It’s sturdy, long-lasting, and offers a good solution to plastic materials. Moreover, it provides an efficient cyclic system as it can recycle finished products once they are old.

The food industry has some of the latest innovations in 3D printing. Company Universal Favourite developed a 3D-printed mold for the creation of a unique chocolate line.

New polymers for 3D printing of medical implants are on the rise. For instance, Evonik, a specialty chemical brand, launched an implant-grade PEEK filament. According to them, this new material is the pioneer PEEK-based filament usable in maxillofacial surgery and orthopedics.

Conclusion

The above 3D printing materials guide will make it easy for you to choose the right material for your task. With the diversification of the 3D printing industry and the world, additional filaments will be available for use.

Picking the right materials is imperative for efficient 3D printing. With a good understanding of the different materials available for 3D printing, operations can become swift and produce high-quality products.

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.