Once you have decided on a 3D printer, the next step is to choose the filament that will best suit your needs. With numerous options available, including different colors and dozens of varieties with names that sound like chemicals, it can be overwhelming to choose. However, most manufacturers use simple, descriptive names that refer to the essential quality of the filament for a 3D printer. For example, “Tough PLA” refers to a filament that is both tough and flexible.

Filament Basics

Filaments used in 3D printing are thermoplastics, which means that they melt instead of burning when heated. They can be molded and shaped and solidified when cooled. The filament is fed into a heating chamber in the printer’s extruder assembly, where it is melted and then extruded through a nozzle, layer by layer, to create a 3D object. While most 3D printers have a single extruder, some dual-extruder models can print objects in different colors or with different filament types. The process of printing with plastic filament is called fused filament fabrication (FFF) or fused deposition modeling (FDM), which are interchangeable terms.

Filament for the 3D printer is sold in spools by weight ranging from 0.5 to 2 kilograms and in two thicknesses: 1.75 millimeters and 3 millimeters (which is actually closer to 2.85 millimeters). The majority of filament is of the 1.75-millimeter type.

Popular Filament Types

When purchasing a 3D printer, it typically comes with a sample roll of 3D printer filament, but what happens when it runs out? In this guide, we explore the different types of 3D printer filament available for fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers. We will examine the advantages and disadvantages of each material, as well as which types are compatible with your 3D printer.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a tough, nontoxic plastic filament for a 3D printer that is also used in Legos. It retains color well, is easy to shape, and melts at about 220 degrees C (about 430 degrees Fahrenheit), making it suitable for 3D printing. A large heater is needed to reach the melting point, and a printer with a heated print bed is usually required as ABS sticks to a hot print bed. ABS is resistant to water and chemicals, but it does produce an unpleasant smell when heated, and the vapor can contain harmful chemicals, so proper ventilation is necessary. However, it is not suitable for long-term outdoor use as it loses color and becomes brittle when exposed to UV radiation.

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is a water-soluble synthetic polymer 3D printer filament used to create supports that hold 3D prints in place. It melts at about 200 degrees C and can release harmful chemicals when heated to higher temperatures, making it ideal for 3D printing. It can be used in a standard 3D printer extruder to form support structures, and it sticks well to a heated glass print bed. After printing is complete, the PVA parts can be dissolved by immersing them in water, leaving the rest of the print behind. However, proper disposal of the water is necessary as the sticky residue can clog drains.

Nylon is a strong and tough synthetic polymer that melts at about 250 degrees C and is non-toxic. It is becoming increasingly popular for 3D printing due to its ability to produce durable prints that are resistant to damage. Nylon 3D printer filament is widely used in other industries, making it an inexpensive material for printing, but it requires high temperatures to print and is harder to get it to stick to the print bed compared to ABS or PLA. Generally, a heated print bed and white glue are required to ensure adhesion while printing.

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