Similar to how a printer requires an ink cartridge, so too does a 3D Printer require specially prepared filament to make the various shapes you design.
The 3D printer filament is nearly as important as the 3D printer itself. The material you decide to buy will dramatically alter how your final shape may look or function. With that in mind, we provide a review of 3D printer filaments as well as a guide to the best 3D printer filament companies on the market.
3D Printer Filament Types Explained
3d printer filaments have been around since the first 3D printers. However, in the past decade, there has been an explosion of different types. Each 3d printer filament serves a unique purpose. Long before purchasing some from a company, it really helps to know what you are selecting and how it might influence your final result. The 15 most popular types of filament include ABS, PLA, PVA, PET, PETT, HIPS, Nylon, Wood, Sandstone, Metal, Magnetic Iron PLA, Conductive PLA, Carbon Fiber, Flexible/TPE, and Glow in the Dark.
PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic that unlike ABS can be derived from sustainable sources. Often considered the alternative to ABS, PLA is the second most popular 3d printer filament currently on the market. PLA will require higher temperatures than ABS and may be more prone to clogging. However, if you can work past this, then you get a sweet aroma when printing, an easy material to work with, and is available in a wider range of colors. PLA is great for things like food containers, models, prototypes, and even candy wrappers.
ABS is a petroleum-based plastic that while non-degradable is among the most popular 3d printer filaments out there. It is very strong, durable, and slightly flexible. Great for things like kitchen appliances, phone cases, toys, knife handles, instruments, and more, ABS has a wide range of uses. It can withstand temperatures pretty well and is available in the standard sizes of 1.75mm or 3mm.
Learn the difference between ABS and PLA Filament
PVA, short for Polyvinyl alcohol, is an all around great 3d printer filament that is biodegradable and non-toxic. PVA’s biggest downside is the fact that it attracts water. However, if you can look beyond this as well as the higher price, you get a material that is great to use with food and water environments. PVA is a popular choice among freshwater fishermen feminine hygiene, adhesives, stickers, and more.
Short for high impact polystyrene, HIPS comes in bright colors and is biodegradable. While similar to ABS in many ways, it is recyclable whereas ABS is not. While not designed for building the object directly, it is designed to provide structural support as a second layer applied to the exterior of the object. Know that while very useful, HIPS can have issues curing as well as adhering to the surface of objects.
This synthetic polymer is fantastic for when you want to create complex things like mechanical parts. It provides a great deal of detail potential thanks to its strength. Whether you are using it for models or dynamic parts, Nylon provides above average durability and flexibility as well. Being 100% thermoplastic, you can re-melt the material and use it again and again. Know that Nylon has among the highest melting temperatures and that it will be sensitive to moisture.
3D Printer Wood Filament
Wood offers a nice break from plastic materials. More natural looking, it can be great for decorative pieces like chairs, cups, figurines, and more. In addition, you can change the color of the wood by printing at a different heat, providing different tonal options. This can be used to artificially create growth rings on objects. While wood is a cool thing to play around with, know that it will be far weaker and more easily broken than other material types.
3D Printer PET Filament is a recyclable plastic that unlike ABS does not produce harmful chemicals when used. Fantastic for plastic bottles, PET can be clear or colored. While an easy material to use thanks to its flexibility, be aware that the material can react with water in the air and should be properly stored for use in the printer itself.
3D Printer Metal Filament
Like Sandstone, Metal uses PLA as a base. Adding to it actual metal powder, you get a metallic material that feels as if it were made out of these materials. The metal may be one of the most challenging 3d printer filaments to print with. However, if you can get passed the initial learning curve, you get a natural looking product great for display.
Want to print objects that have magnetism? The Magnetic iron makes this possible, allowing you to print things like magnets for your fridge. Highly durable, magnetic iron can make things like actuators, stirrers, and more. Know that Magnetic iron is challenging to use with a 3d printer.
Also referred to as T-Glass filament, PETT is a colorless material. While it may not be biodegradable, the PETT is recyclable and will not change color even under pressure. With a high strength and biocompatibility, the PETT material does not shrink and is FDA approved. At the same time, PETT is a little more challenging to print with, meaning that you will want some experience before you start using it.
Another great material that provides an interesting effect, Sandstone is a combination of the PLA material discussed above along with chalk. The benefit is that the final result will look far more like a stone. Because of its textured quality, Sandstone is used for landscape displays, structural parts, museums, and more. While warping issues will not be a problem, be aware that things you create will be brittle and far more likely to break or snap.
Conductive PLA allows you to make electrical circuits with a low voltage. It does not require a heated bed nor is it soluble. At the same time, Conductive PLA is somewhat specialized and the number of applications is limited.
Carbon Fiber is an improved PLA in nearly every way. It is more rigid and quite durable. Formed from chopped carbon fiber strands, it does not warp. At the same time, it is quite abrasive which means it will wear down your printer hardware quicker.
Flexible/TPE is among the most flexible 3d printer filaments out there. Highly elastic, it is great for toys. However, 3d printing with Flexible/TPE may take some time to work out.
Glow In The Dark
As the name would suggest, this particular 3d printer filament glows in the dark. Made from PLA, it is friendly to the environment. Know that while it is renewable, non-toxic, and resilient, it is not food safe.
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How To Choose The Right 3D Printer Filaments
Now that we’ve covered the basics of 3d printer filaments, we next look at how you can choose the right 3d printer filaments for your next project. Your first step is to check what your 3d printer recommends. This might be a long or short list depending on your model type. With that out of the way, consider what you are building. Do you want it to look natural or can it look like plastic? You will also want to consider the diameter size of the 3d printer filaments. While 3mm is popular, 1.75mm tends to work a bit better across machines.
When looking at reviews for 3d printer filaments, keep an eye out for moisture. Issues with packaging will result in moisture getting into the filament itself and will end your next project with a disfigurement. If it splits or splatters, then it no doubt is having issues with moisture. Finally, you will want to consider impurities. Impurities are why you want to buy 3d printer filaments instead of trying to make them yourself. You will need the purest form of whatever material you are buying if you want a clean, finished look. Always go for quality over low price and save yourself a massive amount of hassle down the road.
Companies That Sell 3D Printer Filaments
While there are now a number of companies that provide 3D printer filaments, only a few are worth your time and money. Providing consistently high purity as well as high marks in terms of reducing moisture, the following companies are considered solid choices if you want 3d printer filaments that you can trust to work.
A popular choice known for its reliability, Filamentum is located in the Netherlands. While the price range is medium to high, it sells a range of ABS in a wide range of colors. While it operates primarily within the country, you can still purchase from them internationally. A great choice if you want quality and color, Filamentum provides both.
Selling a wide range of 3D printer options, 3D Prima is based out of Sweden. It includes printer filaments that are low to medium in a price range. It has white ABS filaments, along with ABS, HIPS, PETG, Nylon, and even special options. If you are shopping from within the EU, you will get free shipping with orders above 100 pounds.
Another company based in the Netherlands, Formfutura sells a wide range of 3d printer filaments. Some of their selection includes HD glass, HOS, ABS, PLA, and more. With a low to the medium price tag, Formfutura helps make 3D printing more affordable to the masses.
A company based in Colorado, LulzBot offers not only their own range of products but also other products sold by their competition as well. Popular 3d printer filaments carried by them include bamboo, copper, nylon, HIPS, ABS, and PLA. With a range of colors, LulzBot has a high price range. At the same time, for those in the US, LulzBot means purchasing from a local producer instead of going abroad.
Another company in the US, MakerBot is based out of New York City. With a high price range, MakerBot sells PLA and ABS. What it lacks in variety it more than makes up for in 3d printer filaments colors.
Based in California, Matterhackers is a US provider that offers low to medium cost 3d printer filaments. One of the best companies to purchase from, you can get an impressive range of colors as well as types. Different types of 3d printer filaments include specialty materials, PRO PLA, PRO ABS, PLA, PET, Nylon, and more. There is a wide selection of colors for every material.
Last but not least, this UK based 3d printer filaments supplier is more than worth your time looking up. Providing low to medium cost filaments, you get a wide range of colors in their ABL, HIPS, PLS, Nylon, and more. A solid pick, it is hard to go wrong with 3d FilaPrint.
IV. Getting The Most For Your Money
If you have time then before you place an order, ask for a sample of the material. They will either send it to you for free, ask that you only pay off the shipping, or charge you for the section. Regardless, you will be able to test the material with your machine to see how it turns out. Any company that is sure of the product they sell will offer you this option. If they refuse to provide a sample for pay or otherwise, then consider going somewhere else.
Every hour you spend reading reviews for people who have similar goals, as well as a similar 3d printer to you, will save you in the long run. Reduce the hassle of research. You will learn about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the 3d filaments types and that will help direct your purchase order. If nothing else, go with the suggestions listed above and you will be off to a solid start.