Filaments

The most common AM consumable... yet there are countless varieties.

A filament is simply the material drawn through an extruder and deposited on a build plate layer by layer to build the part.  The diameter of the filament (usually 2.85 mm or 1.75 mm) does not affect the part directly.  The filament is drawn through a nozzle, and the nozzle diameter is what determines the layering of the part, the speed at which each layer is made, and several other parameters.  Most 3D printers have exchangeable nozzles which can range from 0.25 mm to greater than 1.0 mm.

 

Major 3D printer vendors often make their own filaments but there is no requirement to use a specific vendors filament in any given printer.  There are some exceptions to this most notably RFID chips that some vendors embed in their filament spools which allow the 3D printer to detect the type of filament spool inserted.  It is important to realize that in these cases the printer is acknowledging the spool not technically the filament on the spool.  While this may seem obvious it does have practical relevance.  For example, many 3D printers will report amount of filament remaining.  This is done by reading a new spool of filament and then tracking the amount of filament used and subtracting it from the new amount.  If filament was removed by a means other than the printer such as cutting filament by the user, the amount of filament remaining would become less accurate.

 

There are numerous types of filaments, too many to explain here fully.  The ability to use a specific type of filament is most commonly determined by the maximum temperature of the nozzle and the nozzle construction.  Exotic filaments often require higher nozzle temperatures and more robust nozzle construction such as hardened steel nozzles.  Below is a quick summary of the most common filaments:

 

PLA (Polylactic Acid): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polylactic_acid

  • The most common plastic filament and the simplest to use.

  • Relatively low melting temperature yet reasonable enough for most applications.

  • Many PLA filaments have other materials embedded in them to change color, texture, or some material property.  An extremely large number of PLA filaments is possible.  A very long list can be found here: https://all3dp.com/1/pla-filament-3d-printing/

  • Many filaments vendors produce “tough” versions of PLA filament.  These filaments are normally intended to replicate the material properties of engineering plastics such as ABS in simple PLA filaments.

 

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylonitrile_butadiene_styrene

  • Another very common although slightly more difficult filament to print with.

  • ABS is one of the most common plastics and is used in many common applications including Legos, bike helmets, and other common applications.

  • For 3D printing, ABS in general produces a stronger and more engineering minded part.

  • ABS has significant flammability concerns which we will not go into any detail about, but this flammability is a major concern for printing onboard ships and submarines.

  • A lengthy discussion of ABS can be found here: https://all3dp.com/abs-3d-printer-filament-explained/

 

PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate, Glycol modified):

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyethylene_terephthalate#Copolymers

  • Less common than PLA and ABS but growing quickly in popularity, PETG is an excellent 3D printing consumable because of its durability, impact resistance, and ability to be sterilized.

  • In non 3D printing applications, PET (also called PETE or PETG) is used in fibers for clothing, food and liquid containers, and other sterile applications.

  • In general PETG is considered superior to PLA but is more expensive and is not available in as many wide ranging variations.

  • A lengthy discussion of PETG can be found here:  https://all3dp.com/1/petg-filament-3d-printing/#section-petg-filament-explained-and-compared

 

PP (Polypropylene): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polypropylene

  • Next to polyethylene, polypropylene is the second most common plastic and is used in countless every day applications from food containers, to clothing, to piping systems.  PP is very resistant to fatigue.

  • Similar to PETG, PP is less commonly used than PLA or ABS, but is an excellent alternative to traditional filaments.

  • A discussion of PP for 3D printing can be found here: https://all3dp.com/1/polypropylene-pp-all-you-need-to-know/

 

PC (Polycarbonate): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarbonate

  • PC is a strong, tough, and reasonably high temperature plastic used more commonly in engineering applications than simpler plastics such as PLA or ABS.

  • PC also generally has excellent optical clarity making it very useful in transparent applications where glass is not desired.

  • Printing PC can be challenging but is possible with printers capable of going to higher temperature with improved nozzles.

  • A discussion of PC for 3D printing can be found here:  https://all3dp.com/2/polycarbonate-pc-filament-explained-and-compared/

PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_alcohol

  • PVA is a water soluble synthetic polymer that is extremely useful in 3D printing as support material.

  • PVA is used almost exclusively as a 2nd extruder filament so that supports in a part can be made from a dissolvable material.  This is extremely helpful in 3D printing because a part can be made with supports that then dissolve in water.

  • There would be little practical reason to print from PVA only.  PVA can be a more difficult material to print with and not all printers are compatible with PVA.

  • PVA should not be confused with "breakaway" material.  Many filament manufactures make a "breakaway" material that is also intended to be used as supports and the material breaks easier than normal filaments.

ULTEM/PEEK/PEI (Polyether Ether Ketone/Polyetherimide)

  • ULTEM is a brand name of PEI (a very common brand name) and PEI and PEEK are very similar high strength and high melting temperature plastics.

  • In simplest terms, ULTEM is the gold standard of plastics.  ULTEM parts are light like all plastics, have high strength, are highly resistant to temperatures (for plastics), and have excellent chemical resistance.  Additionally unlike ABS, ULTEM and its family of materials have low flammability and toxicity.

  • MakerSpace USNA currently has no printers capable of printing ULTEM, PEI, or PEEK, but we have active projects that are looking to change this….

  • A quick summary of PEEK/PEI for 3D printing can be found here: https://all3dp.com/1/peek-3d-printer/#section-peek-explained.

MakerSpace USNA has over 40 unique filaments with 3D Benchy examples of each.

Try out several to see which works best for your application or project.

Filament Inventory

The below table is a live updated inventory of filament from the MakerSpace (unopened filament only)