3D printing is an exciting blend of science, creativity, and engineering. For both recreational and professional users alike, one of the most important components of 3D printing is the choice of filament itself.
However, it can be a daunting task to pick the right filament, and even harder to source an excellent supplier in such a fast-growing market. In fact, the market for filament alone is expected to top $1.6 billion by 2025, and there are countless suppliers out there. Here is a simple guide to filament types, some of their uses, and tips on how to source the best filament.
3D Filament Types – What’s the Difference?
The applications for 3D printing are incredibly diverse, and it’s important to choose the right filament for the job. Most 3D printing users get started with the basic filament types. However, there are many other types of filament that serve different types of projects, including “exotic” and specialized filament. The variety of available filament types makes printing anything from toys to car parts to circuit boards possible.
The Common Types of Filament
There are dozens of material types that contribute to the basic variety of thermoplastics used in 3D printing. Some of the most common include:
- Polylactic Acid (PLA) Filament: One of the most prolific types, PLA filament melts at a low temperature, is strong, more environmentally friendly than other filaments, and often odorless during printing.
- Nylon Filament: Another favorite for 3D pros and recreational printers alike, nylon filament is durable, flexible, and strong, but users will need to accommodate for moisture absorption and shrinking.
- Polycarbonate Filaments (PC): PC is extremely strong and resilient to high temperatures, making it a good filament for machine parts. It is subject to shrinkage, however, and prints at very high temperatures.
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS): If you’ve played with LEGOs, you’ve used ABS. It’s tougher than PLA but requires higher printing temps and a printing area with very good ventilation.
- PETG Filament: This popular thermoplastic 3D filament is synthesized from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It’s a great filament because of its sturdiness, flexibility, and subtle transparency, but it doesn’t store well in very humid environments.
- TPE (thermoplastic elastomers) Filament: TPE reigns for users who need to print stretchy projects because of its incredible durability and flexibility. However, it can be tricky to work with during printing.
To increase durability, many of these basic filament types come in a carbon fiber-reinforced material. Using this augmented filament type, however, requires a professional-grade printer nozzle to accommodate the sturdier material.
“Exotic” Filament Materials Enable Specialized Projects
Depending on the project, crafters may want to use filaments that exist in the “exotics” class. These include materials such as biodegradable plastics, glow-in-the-dark filament, PLA infused with metal powder, clay, or wood, magnetic filament, or conductive filament used in electrical projects.
Finding the Best Source for 3D Filament
Thanks to the proliferation and decreasing price of 3D printers and materials, it’s easy to find retailers from which to purchase equipment and supplies online for 3D printing projects. However, not all vendors are equal, and the best sources should offer services such as:
- Comprehensive technical support: A good 3D printing vendor should provide phone or in-person technical support for both equipment and consumable materials from specially trained techs.
- User training: Choosing a vendor who also provides optional training materials or courses to customers and clients helps to ensure the best possible results for 3D printing projects.
- Detailed compatibility information: Users can avoid frustration and unnecessary delays or returns by choosing a vendor who publishes specific compatibility info for the filament and parts they sell.
ImageNet is a leading supplier for 3D printing machines, parts, and supplies, offering training packages and comprehensive support to customers. With brands like HP, Ultimaker, CraftUnique, Markforged, BigRep, & Artec, we have printers that fit every need, from small, one-off prints to large-scale manufacturing. Clients can not only source their materials from ImageNet, but complete exclusive training, ask questions from 3D printing specialists, and receive consultations about the best products to fit the needs of their projects.From the early typewriters, ImageNet has been at the forefront of groundbreaking print technology for over 50 years. Contact us today to learn more about our special offers and products in our 3D print shop.