Materials in 3D Printing (Part 1)
3D printing is a cool way to bring ideas to life. But picking the right material for your project can be tricky. There are so many choices out there. It’s not just about grabbing any material. You need to find the one that works best with your 3D printer and fits your project needs.
To make things easier, I wrote two blog posts about this topic. I want to help you understand which materials to use for different 3D printing technologies.
In the first blog post, we’ll talk about Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), a technology that uses plastic filaments, and resin-based 3D printing methods like Stereolithography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) We’ll go over materials like ABS, PLA, and different types of resins, and tell you which projects they’re best for.
No matter if you’re new to 3D printing or you’ve been doing it for a while, I hope these posts will help you. Keep an eye out for them as I share more about 3D printing materials and how to choose the right one for your projects.
Fused Deposition Modeling
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), is one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies, particularly popular in the consumer and small business markets. It’s an additive manufacturing process that involves the layer-by-layer deposition of melted thermoplastic material. The main advantages of FDM are its accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and versatility in material choices. It’s a perfect choice for rapid prototyping, educational purposes, and low-cost production of simple parts. However, compared to other 3D printing technologies, FDM generally provides lower resolution and might leave visible layer lines on the final object. The most commonly used materials for FDM include ABS, PLA, PETG, TPU, and Nylon, but the technology can support a wide range of thermoplastics, each with distinct properties.
|Material||Abbreviation||Key Properties||Common Uses|
|Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene||ABS||Strong, durable, heat-resistant, slightly flexible||Functional parts, automotive parts, toys|
|Polylactic Acid||PLA||Biodegradable, less durable than ABS, easy to print||Non-functional prototypes, models, educational purposes|
|Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol||PETG||Good durability, chemical resistance, easy to print||Food-safe applications, mechanical parts|
|Thermoplastic Polyurethane||TPU||Highly flexible, durable, resistant to abrasion||Flexible parts, seals, gaskets|
|Nylon||–||High strength, flexibility, and durability, resistant to impact and abrasion||Functional parts, gears, bearings|
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a strong and durable thermoplastic commonly used in FDM. It has high heat resistance and is slightly flexible, making it a popular choice for creating functional parts, automotive components, and toys.
PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a biodegradable thermoplastic with easy printability. It’s less durable than ABS, making it more suitable for non-functional prototypes, models, and educational purposes.
PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) is another popular material known for its good durability, chemical resistance, and ease of printing. It’s commonly used in food-safe applications and mechanical parts.
TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is notable for its high flexibility and durability. It’s resistant to abrasion, making it perfect for creating flexible parts, seals, and gaskets.
Nylon offers high strength, flexibility, and durability. It’s resistant to impact and abrasion, which makes it an ideal choice for functional parts, gears, and bearings.
Selecting the Right Material for FDM
While these are the most common, the ability of FDM to support a wide range of thermoplastics opens up an array of possibilities for various applications. Its versatility in material options is one of the primary reasons for FDM’s widespread use in the world of 3D printing. The key to selecting the right material for FDM 3D printing lies in understanding the properties and advantages of each material and how they align with your specific project requirements. If you’re seeking durability and heat resistance, ABS or Nylon might be your go-to. If ease of use and aesthetics are your main priorities, PLA would likely be your best bet. For a balance between ease of printing and durability, PETG is an excellent choice. Lastly, for parts that require flexibility, TPU is your best option. Consider these factors and match them to your project’s needs for the best results.
Stereolithography, also known as SLA, is a 3D printing technology that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to harden and convert liquid resin into solid objects. Invented by Chuck Hull in 1986, this technique is the earliest form of 3D printing and has remained relevant due to its precision and high-quality results. SLA is often used in industries such as dentistry, jewelry, product design, and healthcare due to its ability to produce highly detailed and smooth objects.
|Resin Type||Properties||Common Uses|
|Standard Resin||Versatile, affordable, high detail, may brittle||Prototyping, educational models|
|Tough Resin||Durable, resilient, withstands stress or strain||Mechanical parts, protective components|
|Flexible Resin||Flexible, impact-resistant||Rubber-like objects, seals, gaskets, cushioning|
|Castable Resin||Burns away cleanly with minimal ash or residue||Jewelry, metal casting molds|
|High-Temperature Resin||Withstands high heat, rigid||Thermal testing prototypes, high-temperature applications|
Standard resin is the most common type of material used in SLA printing. It is versatile, affordable, and produces objects with a high level of detail. However, objects printed with standard resin may become brittle over time, especially when exposed to UV light. The use of standard resin is prevalent in prototyping and educational environments due to its versatility and affordability.
As the name suggests, tough resin produces prints with higher durability and resilience. This type of resin is often used for functional parts that need to withstand stress or strain. Tough resin is ideal for producing objects that need to endure high stress or strain, such as mechanical parts or protective components.
Flexible resin is used when the printed objects require a degree of flexibility and impact resistance. It is commonly used to print rubber-like objects, seals, gaskets, and cushioning. Flexible resin allows for parts with compressive qualities and is especially suitable for prototyping wearable technology or custom-fit items.
Castable resin burns away cleanly with minimal ash or residue, making it perfect for creating molds used in metal casting. Jewelry designers frequently use this material to create complex designs that would be difficult to carve by hand.
High-temperature resin withstands heat better than any other SLA resins, maintaining its rigid structure at temperatures of over 200°C. This material is ideal for creating molds, prototypes for thermal testing, and components for high-temperature applications.
Selecting the Right Material for SLA
In summary, SLA is a versatile 3D printing technology that offers a variety of material options to suit different needs. From standard to high-temperature resins, the SLA method caters to a broad range of industries and applications. It’s essential to understand the properties and uses of each type of resin to maximize the potential of this technology. When selecting materials for Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, consider the purpose of your printed part. Use Standard Resin for general prototyping due to its balance between cost and performance. If your print requires higher durability, opt for Tough Resin. For parts needing flexibility, choose Flexible Resin. Castable Resin is perfect for applications like jewelry or dental prosthetics due to its clean burnout properties, and High-Temperature Resin should be used for parts that need to withstand high temperatures, such as molds or heat-resistant fixtures. Always align the choice of resin with the specific needs of your project.
Selective Laser Sintering
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing (AM) technology that uses a laser to sinter powdered material, binding it together to create a solid structure. It was developed in the mid-1980s and has since been adopted in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, medical, and consumer products.
|Nylon (Polyamide)||High strength and flexibility, good chemical resistance||Functional parts, mechanical parts, automotive components, aircraft components, complex structures|
|TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)||Elasticity, high resistance to abrasion and deformation||Flexible parts, prototypes for rubber-like products, seals, gaskets|
|Polyamide (PA 12)||High mechanical strength, good thermal resistance, excellent dimensional stability||Electronics housing, consumer products, automotive parts, medical devices|
|Alumide||Blend of grey aluminum with polyamide, metallic appearance, good stiffness||Decorative parts, jewelry, models with metallic appearance|
Nylon is the most commonly used material in SLS printing, favored for its strength, flexibility, and high durability. It is ideal for producing functional parts like gears, hinges, or any component requiring good impact resistance and flexibility.
TPU is valued for its rubber-like elasticity and flexibility. It’s suitable for parts that need to bend or flex during use, such as seals, gaskets, or flexible tubing.
This is a composite material that combines polyamide with glass fillers. The addition of glass enhances the material’s rigidity and thermal resistance, making it a good choice for parts that require greater structural integrity or that will be exposed to high temperatures.
This composite material combines polyamide with carbon fibers. It is renowned for its high stiffness and excellent tensile strength. It’s an excellent choice for parts that need to be lightweight yet strong, such as drones or racing components.
Alumide is a blend of polyamide and fine aluminum powder, giving parts a metallic appearance. It provides higher rigidity compared to pure polyamide, but with less flexibility. Alumide is often chosen for its aesthetic appeal and for parts that need a balance between strength and rigidity.
Selecting the Right Material for SLS
For functional prototypes or parts with high strength and durability, choose Nylon. If you require flexible, rubber-like properties in your print, go for TPU. When you need parts with increased rigidity or improved thermal resistance, use polyamide-based composites. For prints with a metallic appearance and higher rigidity, select Alumide. If cost is a major consideration, lean towards the more affordable materials like Nylon. Consider the post-processing steps required for each material and make sure they align with your project’s timeline and resources. Always match your choice to the functional requirements of your final product. This will ensure your printed part performs as expected.