Consumer Durables News

What Are the 6 Different 3D Printer Filament Types?


Consumer 3D printers are no longer restricted to ABS and PLA filaments. The popularity of additive manufacturing technology has led to the influx of many engineering plastics. Although ABS and PLA remain popular, many 3D printing enthusiasts have switched to newer materials.

So, here is everything you need to know about different 3D printing filaments and how to choose one for your specific needs.


How to Choose a 3D Printing Filament

3D printing is unlike most run-of-the-mill hobbies. It involves sophisticated robots creating complicated objects using exotic materials. Like all advanced engineering endeavors, 3D printing relies on the users’ ability to read and follow technical data sheets. Knowing how to make sense of these documents is key to knowing which 3D printing filament to use for specific applications.

There’s no need to bother with this if your 3D printing needs are restricted to cosmetic prints because PLA is all you will ever need. Printing functional parts, however, needs an understanding of various filament parameters, such as tensile strength, toughness/flexibility, heat resistance, durability, creep, and warping.


So, what are the best 3D printing filaments, and when should you use one over another?

1. PLA (Polylactic Acid)

Polylactic Acid is to 3D printing what training wheels are to bicycles. It’s incredibly easy to print on even the cheapest 3D printers. With print temperatures beginning as low as 180°C, you don’t need an all-metal hot end to print this filament safely. PLA doesn’t even require a heated bed, as long as the ambient room temperature is maintained above 20°C.

The material practically doesn’t warp and can bridge extremely well if you give adequate part cooling. Not sure what all those terms mean? Check out our Ender-3 upgrade guide to learn more about all-metal hot ends and 3D printer safety.

The bottom line: it’s incredibly difficult to ruin a PLA print. This allows beginners to gradually learn the many complicated aspects of 3D printing without hitting the brick wall of repeated print failures. As a beginner, sticking to PLA makes it easy to grasp the fundamentals of bed adhesion, first layer calibration, overhangs, and bridging. PLA is the optimal way to test the limits of 3D printing without having to second-guess your printer calibration and slicer settings.


PLA Filament Properties

  • Printability: Excellent
  • Color Selection: Excellent
  • Heat Resistance: Poor
  • Tensile Strength: Excellent
  • Toughness: Poor
  • UV Resistance: Excellent
  • Moisture Resistance: Excellent
  • Creep Resistance: Poor

When Should You Use PLA 3D Printing Filament?

PLA is great for cosmetic 3D prints but not so much for anything else. Despite its high tensile strength, it lacks toughness because the material is too hard to flex. This makes it brittle and susceptible to cracking in applications requiring impact resistance and bending. Its low-temperature printability also translates into poor heat resistance. PLA prints warp when subjected to direct sunlight or in-car conditions due to the material’s low glass transition temperature of 57°C.

PLA’s tendency to creep, or to permanently deform under load at room temperature, makes it unviable for any functional print that either uses fasteners or serves any load-bearing purpose. Consequently, most 3D printing enthusiasts move to other materials once they have mastered slicer settings and 3D printer tuning with PLA.

2. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)

PETG should ideally be your second filament challenge once you have mastered PLA. It is quite similar to the plastic found in water bottles and food containers, except for the addition of glycol to improve printability. PETG is better than PLA in most important parameters. It’s slightly tougher, significantly more heat resistant, exhibits excellent creep resistance, and is therefore suitable for functional 3D printing.

However, it is also slightly more difficult to print. That isn’t entirely a bad thing. While it is virtually impossible for a well-tuned printer to mess up PLA prints, getting PETG right requires a better understanding of slicing software and first layer calibration. This makes the filament a safe way to learn these concepts, which are vital to mastering other technically challenging 3D printing filaments.


PETG is also quite hygroscopic, so drying it before printing is necessary if you live in a humid area. The prints themselves aren’t prone to moisture absorption, but a wet filament will cause extrusion and print quality issues. The material can bond permanently to most 3D printing surfaces if the first layer is printed too close to the build surface.

The sticky, viscous nature of the molten filament also makes it a poor choice for bridging and steep overhangs. However, that also translates into the best layer adhesion despite its low printing temperature.

PETG Filament Properties

  • Printability: Good
  • Color Selection: Good
  • Heat Resistance: Average
  • Tensile Strength: Good
  • Toughness: Good
  • UV Resistance: Excellent
  • Moisture Resistance: Poor
  • Creep Resistance: Good

When Should You Use PETG 3D Printing Filament?

PETG is the perfect compromise between PLA and the much superior ABS filaments. While it lacks the higher temperature resistance of ABS, it is still good enough for prints to be used outdoors or car interiors. It is also considerably tougher than PLA and ideal for applications where impact resistance is desired. PETG’s resistance to creep also makes it ideal for functional prints and 3D printer components alike.

3. TPE/TPU/TPC (Thermoplastic Elastomer/Polyurethane/Copolyester)

TPE comprises a number of plastics with rubber-like properties. Such filaments are used in applications where flexibility is desired. Regular flexible filaments marketed as TPE are available in various shore hardness, which is a measure of flexibility. In fact, TPE incorporates a broad category of filaments, including urethane-based TPU, which is slightly more rigid to improve printability. TPC is a copolyester-based variant with improved resistance to heat, UV, and chemical agents.

Printing with TPE and its variants are challenging due to the inherent flexibility of the filament. These filaments are particularly difficult to print with Bowden extruders since the lack of rigidity makes it difficult to push the filament through the nozzle. Therefore, direct drive extruders, with a short filament path between the extruder gears and nozzle, are recommended for reliable printing.

The tendency of the filament to compress and elongate also makes retractions unreliable. This leads to excessive stringing in prints, which requires expertise to mitigate. It is also recommended to print these flexible filaments on an unheated bed, preferably with a release agent, such as a glue stick or hairspray. Failure to do that often results in the prints permanently bonding to the build surface.


TPE Filament Properties

  • Printability: Average
  • Color Selection: Average
  • Heat Resistance: Average
  • Tensile Strength: Average
  • Toughness: Excellent
  • UV Resistance: Good
  • Moisture Resistance: Poor
  • Creep Resistance: Good

When Should You Use TPE/TPU/TPC 3D Printing Filament?

These flexible filaments are excellent in applications where impact resistance, bendability, wear, and grip are more desirable than rigidity. TPE and TPU are regularly used to 3D print gaskets, phone covers, and wristbands for wearable devices. TPC is a more expensive alternative that offers additional temperature and chemical resistance suitable for harsh environments.

4. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS, in its injection molded avatar, is found in most consumer products in the form of automobile dashboards and switchgear, toys, pipe fittings, and as the chassis of most consumer durables. Not surprisingly, its familiarity, price, and availability made it the material of choice for the commercial 3D printing industry. It’s a terrific material with an unmatched price-to-performance ratio and good heat resistance.

Its heat resistance makes it incompatible with the cheap PTFE-lined hot ends. Most ABS filaments require nozzle temperatures of around 250°C. This makes all-metal hot ends mandatory for safe printing. The filament also off-gasses harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as styrene, which are known to negatively impact health. Learn how ABS compares to PLA in our ABS vs. PLA comparison.

ABS filament’s tendency to warp makes it difficult to print unless you own a printer with a heated enclosure, like the Voron series of DIY 3D printers. Delamination, bed adhesion, and warping are persistent issues on large ABS prints on unenclosed printers. Having said that, most modern ABS filament blends print fine, as long as you keep the build volume enclosed and use the heated bed as a passive heat source. Carbon fiber and glass fiber-enhanced ABS composite filaments mitigate these issues to a great extent.

ABS Filament Properties

  • Printability: Average
  • Color Selection: Average
  • Heat Resistance: Good
  • Tensile Strength: Good
  • Toughness: Good
  • UV Resistance: Average
  • Moisture Resistance: Good
  • Creep Resistance: Excellent

When Should You Use ABS 3D Printing Filament?

ABS exhibits good tensile strength and toughness, which makes it ideal for functional prints and even some engineering applications. The material can be used in high-temperature applications such as 3D printer hot end components and functional prints for car interiors. Any engineering scenario that demands resistance to heat, impact, and wear can be met cheaply with ABS.

5. ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate)

ASA is a modified form of ABS that is easier to print and exhibits improved UV resistance. Large ASA prints are easier thanks to their tendency to warp less than ABS. Most ASA filaments also tend to off-gas less VOCs while printing.

And all this is achieved while maintaining the strength, toughness, and temperature resistance comparable to ABS. We see no reason to choose ABS if you can afford the slight premium commanded by ASA filaments.

ASA Filament Properties

  • Printability: Good
  • Color Selection: Average
  • Heat Resistance: Good
  • Tensile Strength: Good
  • Toughness: Good
  • UV Resistance: Excellent
  • Moisture Resistance: Good
  • Creep Resistance: Excellent

When Should You Use ASA 3D Printing Filament?

ASA can be used for the same applications as ABS, with the added versatility of maintaining durability and color integrity despite heavy exposure to sunlight.

6. PA (Polyamide or Nylon)

Polyamide, better known as its brand name Nylon, is found in consumer durables in the form of gears, hinges, and sliding components—basically in any application that calls for extreme wear resistance, low friction, excellent toughness, and some degree of temperature tolerance. PA is indispensable in powder-sintered 3D printing processes employed in commercial SLS 3D printers.


Nylon also exists in the FDM 3D printing space in various blends offering different compromises between heat resistance, toughness, durability, and creep resistance. The latter is important because the material exhibits a tendency to heat creep in its natural state. Therefore, most engineering applications require PA blended with carbon or glass fiber to improve tensile strength, creep resistance, and temperature tolerance.

The material’s high glass transition temperature and an innate tendency to warp make it difficult to print on cheap, unenclosed printers. Furthermore, PA’s chronic tendency to absorb moisture requires filament dryers that can reliably maintain 80°C chamber temperatures. In fact, successful printing also requires the filament to be routed through a dry box while printing. It’s a great engineering filament that demands a capable printer and an experienced operator.

PA Filament Properties

  • Printability: Poor
  • Color Selection: Poor
  • Heat Resistance: Good
  • Tensile Strength: Good
  • Toughness: Excellent
  • UV Resistance: Average
  • Moisture Resistance: Poor
  • Creep Resistance: Average

When Should You Use PA 3D Printing Filament?

Functional PA prints work well as mechanical parts, such as gears, hinges, and levers. The material is also tough enough to be used to manufacture custom tools and prototypes requiring strong meshing parts subjected to friction and impact. Various glass fiber and carbon fiber blends can also be used to modify the rigidity and flexibility of the material to suit different engineering demands.

6. PC (Polycarbonate)

PC is one of the strongest 3D printing filaments accessible to consumer 3D printers. How strong, you ask? Well, the material is used to manufacture everything from bullet-proof glass to fighter jet canopies. PC can withstand temperatures as high as 110°C, with some blends even outperforming that impressive figure.

PC has the unique distinction of exhibiting high tensile strength while also being extremely impact resistant. This gives it the distinction of excelling in applications where even Nylon falls short. However, these physical properties make PC challenging to print. It isn’t uncommon for some PC blends to require nozzle temperatures of 300 °C, with the heated bed maintained in excess of 100 °C.

The material is also prone to excessive warping and only adheres well to polycarbonate build surfaces or polyimide tape. However, like Nylon, PC is available in various blends, making it more printable.

PC Filament Properties

  • Printability: Poor
  • Color Selection: Poor
  • Heat Resistance: Excellent
  • Tensile Strength: Excellent
  • Toughness: Excellent
  • UV Resistance: Excellent
  • Moisture Resistance: Poor
  • Creep Resistance: Excellent

When Should You Use PC 3D Printing Filament?

PC is employed in various industrial, automotive, and electrical applications—especially those requiring high strength and temperature resistance. The inherent optical clarity of the material also makes it ideal for transparent prints, as long as the wall thickness is kept minimal.

Choose Your 3D Printing Filament Wisely

Now that you have a handy means to compare various physical properties and performance parameters of consumer-grade filaments, choosing the right one is a matter of evaluating which parameters are best suited to your particular applications.

If you are new to 3D printing, we recommend starting with PLA and graduating to PETG before taking on more challenging materials such as ABS and Nylon.



Source link