3D printing materials have come a long way since the beginning of this technology. Nowadays, we can choose from a wide variety of different material types, that are supplied in different states (powder, filament, pellets, granules, resin etc). Each material offers a unique combination of practical and aesthetic properties to suit a variety of products.
Here are some of the most popular materials, which are commonly used in home-based 3D printing. Choose the best one for you or try them all!
PLA is a biodegradable material which can be processed by extrusion such as 3D printing, injection molding, film and sheet casting, and spinning, providing access to a wide range of materials. PLA is a great material for beginners - it’s affordable, easy to print with, and available.
PLA’s greatest advantage is that its shrink factor is lower than other 3D printing materials in FDM/FFF technology. The shrinking material might be quite a challenge. It causes our 3D printed objects to deform, unstuck from a print bed or dissect along layers. Lower shrink factor means easier and effortless 3D printing.
PLA is a rigid and strong material, but a little brittle, once it has cooled down. PLA can be sanded down and may be painted over with acrylic paint. It’s considered to be the easiest material to work with when you first start printing.
PLA is perfect for the various type of decorations, ornaments, figurines, etc. It is used to manufacture simple objects, e.g. for household items, gadgets, and toys. Since it’s a natural material, PLA is also used in food packaging, bags, disposable tableware, and hygiene products.
ABS is very durable and strong, slightly flexible and quite resistant to heat. 3D printers able to process ABS plastics operate with a hot end at a temperature around 210-250°C and are equipped with a heated print bed. ABS is lightweight and can both be injection molded and extruded. It is used in a very large variety of applications in the industry nowadays.
3D prints made of ABS are high quality and good-looking. The high temperature of melting makes single layers less visible and more smooth. ABS is more elastic plastic and resistant to brittles and bending.
ABS material can be post-processed such as grinding, drilling, etc. ABS is susceptible to chemicals, e.g. acetone dissolves the material and smoothes the surface.
The biggest disadvantage of ABS is that it tends to shrink when cooling and may deform the printed object, printed parts may exhibit warping, and layers may crack or split. That is why the heated print bed at temperature 70-100°C is required. An enclosed case is recommended. It improves the print quality and protects the printed object from drafts.
ABS is suited for objects that need to withstand rough usage. It can be used for parts that are subject to mechanical stress, for interlocking parts or pin-joints. It is used to manufacture low-cost prototypes and architectural models for engineers or research departments, as well as to create low-cost medical prostheses.
The wood-based material used for 3D printing is actually a composite of around 70-80% PLA and 20-30% recycled wood fibers. Woodfill is a special material which makes 3D prints will look amazing and feel like a real wood.
As a mix of PLA, woodfill takes many advantages from it. It has low shrink factor, no fumes and unpleasant smell (on the contrary, it smells like a wood!). What’s more, 3D printing in woodfill makes our 3D prints look very impressive and detailed.
Woodfill is perfect for any kind of ornaments, decorations, figurines, stands, and cases. We can grind and polish our prints to improve the quality and achieve better results.
Copper is a composite of PLA and a small proportion of metal particles. It behaves in a similar way to the PLA.
3D print made of copper are mat but with a little polishing, they’re shiny. Copper prints are much heavier than PLA, ABS or Woodfill so they feel like made of real metal.
The copper material can be very useful for creating ornaments and decorations, such as vases, sculptures, figurines, and promotional products. The ability to post-process is giving even better results and help us create unique high-quality objects.
The general idea of 3D printing is similar to 2D printing - your digital file is ‘sent’ to a printer, which interprets it and gives you a physical object - a representation of your file. Unlike the two-dimensional printing, the additive manufacturing technology uses a melted material to put successive layers of plastic until the object is created.
As the technology was being developed, more additive processes were invented. The main differences between those technologies are in the way the layers of material are deposited to create objects and in the materials which are used to 3D printing.
The methods where the material used to produce the single layer is melted or softened are for example selective laser melting (SLM), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser sintering (SLS), fused deposition modeling (FDM), fused filament fabrication (FFF). We can also use curing liquid materials, such as in stereolithography (SLA).
FDM/FFF process is the most popular and commonly-used technology for desktop 3D printing. It is based on laying down material layer by a layer. A string of solid plastic material goes through a heated nozzle, which melts the material and puts it, layer by layer, through the extruder onto print bed. Each layer hardens as it is deposited and bonds to the previous layer.
As the cheapest 3D printing technology on the market, FDM also offers a wide variety of plastic-based materials in a rainbow of colors including ABS, PLA, nylon and even more exotic material blends including carbon, bronze or wood.
Stereolithography (SL) is a laser-based process that creates objects from photopolymer resins, that react with the laser to solidify the liquid material in a very precise way to produce very detailed parts.
Stereolithography is generally accepted as being one of the most precise 3D printing processes with excellent surface finish.
Selective laser sintering (SLS), also called laser melting, refers to a laser-based 3D printing process that uses laser to melt and solidify powdered materials into final products. Laser sintering can process plastic as well as metal materials. Parts produced with this process are much stronger than with SL.
SLS is vastly used in industry for producing functional prototypes and parts as well as some end products. Its biggest advantage is the almost complete freedom of designing shapes and geometrics.
Material Jetting is used in industrial 3D printers. It is a technology, which works similar to inkjet printing where instead of jetting drops of ink onto paper, you put extra thin layers of curable liquid photopolymer over and over onto a bed.
Material Jetting uses liquid photopolymers thanks to which 3D printed models can be tough, transparent or flexible, and rubber-like. It is one of the most precise technologies, printing layers of only 16 microns, which means a single layer of material is actually thinner than human hair!
If you want to check how much will it cost you to print a model we have developed an easy use cost calculator to determine the cost of a print, including the cost of your time.
To set up the calculator you will need to input your own data.
You can find the calculator here