3D Filament Guide – Everything You Need To Know About 3D Printer Filament

3d-printer-filaments

Welcome to the most in depth 3D filament guide on the internet. Like the title says, this article covers everything you need to know about 3D printer filament and much more. Any questions you might have, such as ‘what filament should I choose for my batman grappling hook print?’ or ‘what happens to PLA when it gets wet?’ will be answered here. This really is the best 3D filament guide ever.

Check out Part 5 for the best 3d filaments as well as the cheapest, weirdest, and most value for money filaments around. We hope this guide helps you whether you are new to 3d printing or not.

There’s a lot of ground to cover so let’s get started!

 

3D Filament Guide – Everything You Need To Know About 3D Printer Filament

 

PART 1: Introduction: 3D Printing depends on 3D filament

 

Most leading market research firms agree with the prediction that the 3D printing market will grow at a staggering rate over the next 5 to 10 years. Exact estimates vary, but most agree that the growth rate will continue to be exponential and soar into the 10s of billions of dollars by 2025.

It makes sense: despite the rapid pace of change in the global economy, one thing that won’t be going away any time soon is the demand for cheap, plastic consumer goods. We will always need new cell phone cases, children’s toys, and toothbrush holders. 3D printing meets that demand in efficient and cost effective ways.

 

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There is a catch though: it all depends on the 3D filament industry. Without new filaments, we won’t be able to unlock the potential of 3D printing technology. And as consumer level 3D printers become more popular, the need for low cost, high quality filaments will become more acute.

Thankfully, the filament industry has boomed over the last decade along with rise of 3D printers. As a result of years of research by engineers around the world, there are now dozens of innovative filaments for almost any application. Here are a few examples of revolutionary filaments:

  • Graphene conductive filament has the potential to bring advanced electronics manufacturing into residential homes where replacement parts for appliances can be created in minutes.
  • 3D printers using specialized 3D printer filaments can now create customized medical devices for hospital emergency rooms in real-time.
  • Biodegradable algae plastics are replacing plastics that would otherwise end up polluting our natural world.

 

With all of the good that 3D printing is doing, it’s easy to see why there is so much excitement about it. Over the next decade, the filament industry will hopefully expand and continue to develop new and interesting materials to facilitate the growth of the 3d printing industry.

 

What is 3D printer filament?WaxFilament-20151118172520

3D printer filament is the strands of plastic wire that a printer melts and extrudes onto the print bed to form objects. It’s basically the ink of your 3D printer. There are many different types of 3D filament plastic available at the moment, and new types of filament are created every month.

 

Why filament? Why not some other form of plastic?

There are actually a few different forms of plastic that can be used in 3D printers: pellets, powders and resins. They each have different advantages and disadvantages. You can’t use powders and resins with regular fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers. But pellets can be used with filament printers with some modifications. And for now, FFF printers are the most widely used. However, resins, pellets and powder printers are all gaining significant user bases. Someday one of these other types of plastic might be the industry standard.

 

Other forms of plastic:

 

Pellets

pellet-extruder-various-pellets-pla-pearlsPellets are simply unprocessed plastic beads straight from a manufacturer. They are usually processed into filament and then sold by filament manufacturers. But you could skip that step and use the pellets instead of filament if you wanted to. And because pellets are the unprocesses form of the plastic, they are often much cheaper than filament. Plus you can buy them in bulk.

 

Powder

04b12ff5-4719-49fe-a4ba-32c40dd61e27Some 3D printers use gypsum powder and a binding material to create objects. Basically, a thin layer of gypsum is deposited on the printer bed. Then a binding material is sprayed onto the gypsum in precise patterns. The binding material causes the gypsum to harden. Then the process is repeated. The object is created layer by layer.

 

Resins

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAMWAAAAJGNkNWQwYjRmLWM5YmEtNDI2Mi04MmY5LWQwNjA0MzIyOWIzMwStereolithography (SLA) printers use resin and a laser to create objects. A pool of resin is hit by a laser which hardens the resin into a layer of polymer. The laser then hits the resin again, hardening another layer of resin onto the previous layer. Overtime, the successive layers build up to create an object.

 

 

Sidenote: Why plastic?

At this point you might be wondering why plastic is used so widely in 3D printing? After all, not everything is made of plastic. What about metal?

The answer is simple: metal printers are super expensive and plastic printers are cheaper. At the moment, 3D metal printers cost around $250,000 each. 

Plastic filament deposition modeling (FDM) printers have steadily been dropping in price for the past 10 years. These days, you can get a plastic 3d printer for a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile, metal 3D printers still cost thousands of dollars. There are many companies working on building affordable metal 3d printers. For instance, check out MatterFab. But for now, most 3d metal printing is only affordable at an industrial level. Aerospace industry manufacturers, for instance, rely on them heavily

 


PART 2: Terms you should know

 

3D printers are technical machines and they require good quality filaments to produce good quality prints. But how do you evaluate filaments and decide what to buy? There are certain things to look for when choosing a filament, and 3d printer enthusiasts use a bit of jargon to describe them. It will be important to understand a few basic terms before moving on to the rest of the article. You can also find a complete list of 3d printer terms in our glossary.

 

FDM vs FFF

You might have noticed that we used two different terms to refer to 3d printers. FFF and FDM both refer to the same type of 3d printer. But Stratasys inc., one of the largest 3d printer companies in the world, holds a trademark on the term fused deposition modeling and it’s abbreviation, FDM. As a result, FFF has become the standard alternative term used to talk about these types of 3d printers in the popular media.

 

Tolerance

Tolerance is a measure of the small changes in diameter across the length of a piece of filament. It is measured with a  micrometer and is probably the most important factor to consider when buying filament. Filament comes in two diameters: 1.75 mm and 3.00 mm. But depending on the quality control standards of the manufacture, those diameters can vary ever so slightly across many meters of filament. So one way to characterize tolerance is that it is the error range in the diameter of the filament. This error is measured in 1/100 of a millimeter. Since 3d printing requires such a precise amount of filament to flow through the extruder for it to work, even these minute changes can have big impacts on the success of a print.

Tolerance is usually expressed as a range, and the industry standard tolerance range for filament is +/- 0.05 mm. This means that the diameter of a filament should not vary from the median diameter by more than 0.05 millimeters across the entire length of the spool. So a filament with a stated diameter of 1.75 mm should stay between 1.70 and 1.80 mm, for example.

The reason this matters is that drastic changes in diameter will cause problems for your printer. Extruders depend on an even flow of filament through the hotend and nozzle in order to accurately deposit the right amount of filament layer after layer. If a significantly larger or smaller amount of filament enters the hotend, the flow will easily be disrupted. This will cause either a build up of filament in the hotend leading to a clog, or not enough filament entering the hotend leading to poor layer quality in the printed object.

Many filament brands pride themselves on exceeding the industry standard for tolerance. Hatchbox for instance boasts that it’s filaments have +/- 0.01 mm tolerances. That is an amazing achievement, and several other high quality filaments like ColorFabb, Faberdashery, Makerbot, and Ultimaker claim similarly fantastic tolerances. It is the most important factor in the quality of filament brand so definitely make sure you check out a brand’s tolerance before you buy it.

 

Layer bonding

Layer bonding is the ability of one layer of extruded plastic to bond with another layer of plastic. If the filament you are printing with has poor layer bonding, then your prints will have cracks or break more easily. This is called delamination. In severe cases, layers can even come apart during printing. This happens most often when a layer cools faster than the layer on top of it, causing the bottom layer to contract at a different rate than the top layer. While the contraction of the cooling layer can cause warping, it can also pull the cooling layer apart from the layer above it.

images

Example of delamination. Layers separating due to poor layer bonding. Source: Simplify3D

Layer adhesion can be improved by optimizing your printer’s settings. For instance, if you do experience delamination as a result of uneven cooling across the print, try using a heated printer bed and a high strength printer bed adhesion material or fans to regulate the cooling of the layers. You can also try increasing your print speed to reduce the amount of time a layer has to cool down before the next layer is deposited on top. Since the bottom layer is still warm when the top layer is deposited, the two layers can bond more easily and create a stronger bond as well. According to research by 3D Matter, faster printing speeds increases the overall strength of an object, but only by a small amount. Still, every bit of strength helps especially when printing functional parts that will need to withstand more stress.

 

Surface quality

The quality of the surface of an object depends on several factors: filament quality, filament additives, printer settings and post-processing. Depending on these variables, printed objects can have very different surface qualities. Some printed objects have a rough surface, and some are smooth. Some surfaces are glossy while others have a matte finish.

The quality of the filament you buy can really affect the surface quality of objects. You can often tell what the surface of your prints will be like as soon as you unwrap a spool. Lower quality filaments tend to have rough, uneven surfaces and are simply less pleasing. But high end filaments have amazing, silky smooth surfaces that are super pleasing to the touch.

Many filament brands will put additives into their plastic in order to achieve a more desirable surface finish. This can have negative effects on the ease of printing for those filaments since higher temperatures and more exact settings are often required to deal with the properties of the additives. But the results are often well worth it, especially for PLA. For instance, check out the Hatchbox Black PLA (Check on Amazon). It has a glossy finish similar to ABS which is likely the result of additives. And it looks great!

 

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Printer settings can also affect the surface quality of a printed part. For instance, layer height will determine how visible each layer of plastic is on the surface of the printed part. Higher layer height will cause the layers to be more visible and the surface rough to the touch while lower layer height can sometimes make layers almost imperceptible.

If all else fails, there are several post-processing techniques that can help improve the quality of an object’s surface. When printing with ABS, consider using an acetone bath to smooth out rough patches bring out the natural gloss of ABS. You might sacrifice some print detail, but there are ways to avoid that as well. Wood filaments can be sanded and metal filaments can be polished. There are many post processing techniques out there, which we will go into in a future post.

 

Strength, toughness, and rigidity

There are a few ways to measure the strength of a material. In general, strength is measured by a material’s ability to withstand stress. There are various types of strength, such as elongation or elasticity, rigidity, torque or twisting, and impact strength. Impact strength is probably the most common type of strength that concerns 3D printers since it measures how much a material deforms when force is applied to it. However, a common test that you can do at home is called the bend test. Click here to see how one Ultimaker user performed a bend test in their home.

In general, for high strength filaments, check out PLA+, ABS+, PETG, and Nylon filaments. These filaments are good for use in functional parts such as door handles and light switches – anything that requires the part to withstand significant stress.

 

Clarity and opacity

Opacity is the ability of light to penetrate a material. A material that lets a lot of light pass through it is said to have low opacity. This essentially means it has high clarity. Conversely, an object with high opacity usually doesn’t let any light through, so it is not see through at all.

opacityTransparent filaments have low opacity, for instance. But regular filaments can also exhibit varying degrees of opacity depending on how thinly they are printed. Some objects have tapering edges, and these edges can often be more see-through than the rest of the object. Each filament brand is different. If this is a parameter you are considering for your filament, you can quickly test the opacity of a filament by melting a small blob onto your printer bed and then using a knife to smear it. When it cools, you can hold the smeared blob up to a light source and see how much light passes through it at various thicknesses.

 

Technical data sheets and Material Safety data sheets

Many filament brands offer technical data sheets on their websites that have exact specifications about the material properties of their filament. These data sheets contain information such as strength, flexibility, impact resistance, and chemical composition. This is very helpful for determining if a filament is right for your project. You can usually find these data sheets on a company’s website on product description pages.

Materials safety data sheets are also often provided by filament producers. Filament manufacturers provide safety data sheets that include information about how to safely store and use filament, the composition of the materials, flammability, and first aid advice about what to do if you ingest, inhale or otherwise come into contact with the material in an unintended and dangerous way.

 


PART 3: Types of 3D filament

 

As the world of 3D printing grows, more types of filament are coming to market every year. In fact, there are now at least 55 types of filament available today. The selection will only increase as 3D printing finds new applications. There are some very interesting filaments out there, including algae filament by Algix and flexible wood filaments by Lay Filaments. Check out our master list of all types of filament.

 

What are the most popular types of filament?

source:

Source: Tiguu3D 

Currently, the most popular types of plastic filaments are PLA, ABS, PET, TPU, Nylon, Glow in the Dark, Metal, and Wood. They each have different properties and have different applications.

Of these, PLA and ABS are by far the most popular. PLA is a softer plastic that is easy to work with. By soft, we don’t mean that it is malleable. It is a hard plastic that can be used to print most non-functional plastic objects, such as figurines, jewelry and pencil holders. For functional parts, the current 3D material of choice is ABS. ABS is much harder than PLA. ABS can therefore be used to create parts for machines, toys for kids, and even medical devices. The only major downside to ABS is that it is a bit harder to work with than PLA.

PETG and Nylon are also growing in popularity. They are both very strong materials and PETG is as easy to print with as PLA. The fact that PETG has the strength of ABS and ease of PLA, there is a good chance that it will take over as the most popular filament material in the future.

The table below for more information about each of these popular filaments.

 

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Specialty filaments

The world of specialty filament is vast and expanding. Only a few have found mainstream appeal so far.  Many of these common specialty filaments are composite filaments, meaning that they are a mix of common plastic, like PLA or ABS, and additives that give the filament new properties.

Here is quick list of the most popular kinds of specialty filaments.

 

WoodWood BenchyWood filament was invented by Kai Parthy of Lay Filaments in 2012. When it first became commercially available, it became a sensation and sparked new interest in 3D printing in the mainstream media. These days, wood filaments are one of the more popular types of specialty filament available. Some are more wood-like than others, so be sure to read our full review of the best wood filaments here.
MetalMetal_filament_colorfabbMetal filaments are one of the more exciting filaments that are available to print with today. Some metal filaments are simply metal-colored. But others contain actual metal in them. ColorFabb metal filaments contain 40% metal, for instance. Check out our review of the best metal filaments.
Glow In the DarkGlowinthedarkbenchyGlow in the dark filaments are fun to play with for kids and around halloween. You can also use them to make light switches for the bathroom so that you can see it at night. Some glow in the dark filaments glow longer and brighter than others. Be sure to read reviews before you buy them.
Color ChangeColor_change_gizmodorksColor change filaments change color based on their temperature. These filaments are fun to use for objects in used in the shower or bracelets that change as you warm up. You can also create some kitchen appliances that will indicate when something is hot, such as coasters and hot plates. (don't use filaments for objects that will be in direct contact with food or flames)
Polycarbonatepolycarbonate-detail11Polycarbonate filaments exhibit superior strength and toughness. They are used in a wide variety of engineering applications due to the fact that they are strong, easily shaped, and some are transparent.
Carbon FiberCarbonfiberBenchy_nanovia-benchy-carbonCarbon fiber reinforced polymers are some of the strongest materials available. They are strong even when they are thin, and are often used as fins for surf boards and other water-based applications.

 

Innovative, weird filaments

From algae and flexible wood filaments to conductive and magnetic filaments, there are now specialty filaments for many applications beyond what a regular consumer would usually print. But these filaments make the future look very exciting. Every filament pushes the technology forward and opens up vast numbers of new ways to create objects.

 

Conductive PLAGRPHN-175-4Conductive PLAs are one of the most exciting new filaments to come along in the last few years. Many of these filaments have serious drawbacks that prevent them from reaching mainstream use, such as high price and high difficulty in printing. But as these filaments improve, more and more electronics will become printable. This will lead to new, radical designs in the electronics industry.
CeramicCeramics1Ceramic filaments are one of the more interesting filaments being developed. Ceramic filaments contain clay and can be fired just like regular filaments. They can also take surface gloss and other ceramic surface materials.
Algae3d-printed-algae-fuel-vaseAlgae filaments are made from special polymer producing algaes. They promise to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that usually go into producing plastic objects.
Beerbuzzed-beer-filament-stein_packagingBeer filaments are made of the waist products from the beer production process. After beer ferments, the waste products can be converted into filament.
Leatherkai-parthy-unveils-rubber-like-solay-3d-printing-filament-for-your-future-shoes-7Leather filament is one of the newest filaments to come out of the creative genius of Kai Parthy's mind. It could someday replace real leather for many textile applications.
Anti Microbialpurement-175mm-anti-microbial-filament-Antimicrobial filaments are immediately useful for medical applications and sterile devices. They are also useful for home use as kitchen sponges, such the one pictured here, since they will not promote the growth of bacteria like regular sponges.

 

Is 3D printing food safe?

 

Here’s a question that comes up often: are 3d printing filaments food safe? For a few reasons, the answer is no. While a few of the plastics are technically food safe materials, like PLA and PETG, 3D printing creates little gaps in objects that bacteria can get into. The bacteria in these gaps cannot be washed out. Other plastics, like ABS, give off chemicals that would be harmful to ingest. You wouldn’t want these chemicals leaking into your food. Finally, some 3d printer nozzles have lead in them, and you don’t want lead anywhere near your food.

The situation is a bit different for medical grade 3d printed parts and food safe plastic packaging. These objects are approved by regulatory authorities like the FDA for use in medical and food product applications. So unless you are certain that you are using these materials for an approved application that follows FDA guidelines, it’s best to avoid bringing 3d printed objects into contact with food and medical contexts.

 


PART 4: Buying filament

 

Buying filament is usually a pretty simple process. But figuring out which brand to buy is trickier. There are many ways to find high quality and new types of filament, and not all of them are obvious. You need to know where to look and what to look for. Here are some things to look out for when buying filament.

 

Filament marketplaces

There are many good places to find filament online. The most popular tend to be Amazon and Ebay simply because, well, they are Amazon and Ebay. But there are also several smaller filament marketplaces worth checking out. These tend to be businesses that specialize in sourcing high quality filament from the best brands in the world. You can read more about our favorite filament marketplaces here.

 

matterhackers_bannerMatterhackers is a fantastic online marketplace devoted to bringing the best filaments in the world to the US 3D printing community. Matterhackers carries the best filaments in the world, as well as samples and discounts. You can also find useful informational articles on their website.
imgresGlobal FSD (Filament Sample Depot) is a filament sample marketplace that specializes in providing samples of some the best specialty filaments in the world. You can find samples of many of the most innovative filaments on the market today. Many of those filaments are too expensive to justify buy entire spools. But if you want to give them a try, check Global FSD to see if they have samples.
tumblr_static_medium_transparentPrinted solid is a high quality filament supplier and marketplace from Newark, Delaware. They carry some of the best filaments in the world and offer great customer service as well.
Filaments.ca_Filaments.ca is the main supplier of premium filament brands to Canada. But they also ship to the USA, so don't let that stop you from checking them out. They also have great informational articles and resources on their website.

 

Filament samples

Buying samples of filaments is one of the best ways to find new types of filaments and try out various colors. You can find tons of sample packs on Amazon. The Global Filament Sample Depot (Globabl FSD) is a great place to find samples of specialty filaments that are otherwise too expensive to try. For example, you can find samples of Black Magic 3D Conductive filament on Global FSD for around $15. The regular price of a 100g spool costs around $55.

 

What should you look for in a brand?

The main things to look for in a filament brand are filament quality, consistency, and price. These are the three main factors that usually determine whether or not you will have a good experience with a brand’s products. There are several other qualities to consider as well, though, such as packaging and customer service.

 

Quality

Obviously you want to buy the highest quality filament you can. The quality of filament directly affects the quality of your print. There are tons of cheap Chinese filaments that are very poor quality. We suggest avoiding them. Otherwise you are bound to spend your time unclogging your extruder and dealing with poor quality prints. If you are unsure about the quality of a brand, check out our master brand list here.

 

Consistency

Good filament brands delivers consistent results from one spool to the next. In other words, they are dependable. That is one of the reasons why Hatchbox, ColorFabb and eSun have become some of the most popular brands of 3D printer filament. When you buy a spool from them, you know that you getting good quality filament every time.

 

Price

The price of filament depends loosely on many factors including the quality and source. The reason we say ‘loosely’ is that, at the end of the day, the price is determined mostly by manufacturers and suppliers based on what they think people will buy. That means you can often find poor quality filament for high prices (like cd-writer.com or Cool Components ), and high quality filament for low prices like (Amphilogic and FormFutura). Check out our massive list of all 3D filament companies to find more examples.

 

Tolerance

Tolerance is probably the single most important factor to look at when evaluating a brand. If a filament has bad tolerances, then it basically unusable. Watch out for cheap chinese filaments that often have terrible tolerances. These brands are everywhere and many beginners fall for them. Instead, stick with brands that have incredible tolerances. For instance, Hatchbox offers tolerances as low as +/- 0.01 mm, which means that their tolerances are basically perfect. Also check out Rigid.ink which offers tolerances of +/- 0.03 mm.

 

Colors

Surprisingly few brands offer a good color range. But finding a brand with a vast range of colors is important. After all, if you end up liking that brand then you won’t have to switch just find a specific color. Check out Inland and Hatchbox.

 

Customer service

When something goes wrong with your order, customer service is nice to have. Check out MakerGeeks, Gizmo Dorks, German RepRap Foundation, and 2PrintBeta for companies offering great customer service. MakerGeeks and Gizmo Dorks are especially awesome.

 

Deals

Look for deals on a brand’s website, social media pages and on Amazon. Brands will often have contests and giveaways on social media where they give filament away for free. The 3D Printing subreddit on Reddit.com is a good place to look for things like this as well.

 

Packaging

Packaging is super important to maintain the quality of filament while it is being delivered to you. Most filament spools are vacuum sealed with a desiccant included. That prevents moisture from getting in and corrupting the plastic. Labeling also helps you keep track of which brand of filament is on the spool. Cardboard boxes with vacuum sealed spools inside are standard packaging for most filament. Be wary of any brand that doesn’t follow these industry standards.

 

Spool

3d-printer-filament-spool-empty-9Filaments usually come wrapped around a spool because that’s the easiest way to store them and keep them from getting tangled. Spools are usually made of hard black plastic, and come in a range of different designs. ColorFabb, Hatchbox and Alchement are good examples of companies that have put a lot of thought into the design of their spools. Stay away from companies that offer cardboard spools if you can. Cardboard particles can cover the filament on the spool, compromising its purity and causing clogs.

Also make sure the spool’s center hole is at least 2 inches in diameter so that you don’t have to print a custom spool holder. Small center holes can also lead to tight winding of the filament closer to the center so that as you get close to the end of a spool, the filament has a harder time unwinding. This can affect the flow rate of filament through your extruder.

 

Redflags

Some filament brands aren’t who they say they are, or have such poor quality standards that their filament is unusable. The brand’s website might look great, but the claims they make don’t match the quality you get from them. It’s important to find trustworthy filament supplier. There are a few subtle clues to watch out for when evaluating a filament company that signal that they may not be a good brand to buy from. Here are a few things to watch out for.

 

  • Make sure it is a legit business. Check contact information and confirm that it makes sense.
  • Find out where the filament comes from. Avoid business that aren’t upfront about their source.
  • Try to buy from manufacturers or highly rated resellers.
  • See what media sites like 3dprintingindustry.com say about the brand.
  • Check the return policy. Avoid brands that don’t have one.

 

If you check these details out before buying filament, you will be more likely to buy from a good source. There are so many filament brands out there today that it is often very hard to tell the good from the bad. A great supplier with limited web design skills might look less trustworthy than a terrible supplier with an outstanding website. It’s easy to get fooled. But the above tips will give you a better chance having a good experience.

 

Does the kind of 3D printer I have an impact on the type of filament I should buy?

The short answer: usually no. Most filaments will work on any FDM 3D printer. On rare occasions, some filaments will print better on specific 3D printers, but that is usually the result of human error or the quality of the 3D printer. In general, good filament will print well on all good 3d printers if operated correctly. One thing to watch out for are printers that are designed to only use filament cartridges. These printers will only work with a limited range of cartridge filament brands.

 


PART 5: 3D Filament Brands

 

The filament world has exploded over the last few years. There are now hundreds of brands of filament to choose from. So which ones should you pick? Next, we’ll discuss the best filaments in different categories.

 

What are the highest quality brands of filament?

Some brands of filament are famous for their high quality: Faberdashery, Colorfabb, Makerbot, Taulman. They tend to cost more because, after all, quality isn’t cheap. But they are so good that people buy them despite the high prices. What makes them the best? Beyond the quality of the filament, these brands tend to be the be extremely reliable and offer an overall better customer experience than most brands. They ago above and beyond to supply the best quality filament they can to the world.

In no particular order, here are the highest quality brands of filament that we’ve come across so far.

Highest Quality Filaments

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What are the cheapest filament brands?

The best places to find cheap filaments are bargain bins and clearance sections. A few brands have them and the filaments that end up there are usually fine to print with. They end up in the bargain bin because the color didn’t come out quite right or the brand upgraded to a new type PLA. But they still print just fine. You can sometimes find entire spools of PLA for just less than $10. Here’s a list of place to look for deals:

Deals And Discounts

FilabotLogoCheck out the Filabot bargain bin for some of the lowest prices on the internet. These filaments are not quite good enough for sale for different reasons, but are usually ok for printing.Click here to visit Filabot's bargain bin
logo_largeAtomic filament's clearance section is a good place to find discount high quality filaments. The prices aren't as low as the filabot bargain bin, but the quality is a bit higher.Click here to visit the Atomic's clearance section
makergeeksMakerGeeks sells recycled filament at discount prices. They also offer deals on shipping and holiday deals. Click here to visit MakerGeeks' clearance section

 

 

Filament Samples

Also some brands offer samples of filament for cheap or sell by the meter so you can buy exactly what you need and no more. These are small cost saving tricks that can really add up.

globalfsdlogocompleteGlobal FSD (Filament Sample Depot) is a marketplace for filament samples. You can find samples of many of the most cutting edge specialty filaments hereClick here to visit Global FSD
pFsvxt7AColorFabb sells samples of it's high end filaments so that you can experience the high quality they offer without committing to an entire spool.Click here to check out Colorfabb samples
Das-Filament-Logo537e10e136b8bDas Filament is a German filament supplier that offers samples through its websiteClick here to check out Das Filament samples
d64fff4dd80613655052cea1979ad7dc_400x400eMotion Tech is the France reprap project's filament supplier. You can find a few samples of specialty filaments on their websiteClick here to check out eMotion Tech samples

 

 

Cheapest Filament Brands

The cheapest filament brands often offer filaments for around $15 or less. Of course, the quality of these filaments can be suspect, but the cost savings makes them worth it. And there are several filament brands that are super cheap but still decent quality. Here are a few dirt cheap filament brands worth checking out:

makergeeksMakerGeeks offers good quality filament for under $20, and recycled filament for as low as $13 per spool. Combined with great customer service and free shipping, they're hard to beat.Check out MakerGeeks filament
eSUN LOGOeSun filaments can be bought from different suppliers at generally cheap prices. Inland, which is microcenter's brand, is particularly cheap. At only $15 per spool for good quality filament, it might be the best cheap filament on the planet.Check out Inland filaments here
logo_squareProto-paradigm sells 200g of good quality filament for just $5. That's the same price as many samples but you get much more filament Check out Proto-Paradigm filaments here

 

 

What are the best value for money filaments?

Value filament brands offer a mix of quality and cost effectiveness. These brands tend to be priced between $15 – $25 per spool. And the filament they sell can be surprisingly high quality. They might not be as good as ColorFabb or Makerbot, but they are well worth the price. In fact, several of the most popular filament brands in the world are value filaments.

Value Filament Brand

hb-hatchbox-86210969Hatchbox is one of the best filaments in the world. The quality is high and the price won't break your budgetClick here to check out Hatchbox filaments
ce0dd4dba329bb3cc0f97e6e24c05e6aSainSmart is a great budget filament. Good quality, good tolerances, medium priced.Click here to check out SainSmart filaments
gd_logo_website_1403045687__45110Gizmo Dorks offers OK quality filament and good prices. It also has some of the best customer service of any brand.Click here to check out Gizmo Dorks filaments
3602c5_1bb4138a626046efac67d4f81e3d8afaDockwell is an underrated brand. The quality is ok and the price is good. Click here to check out Dockwell

 

What are the most environmentally friendly filament brands?

Environmental sustainability is a big topic in 3d printing. One the reasons that people are attracted to 3D printing as a way of manufacturing goods is that, by printing the objects you need in your own home, you can avoid buying them from stores that order them from China. That saves greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise be created while the object gets shipped around the world.

But another reason that local manufacturing is so exciting for environmentally conscious 3d printers is that you can control the materials you use to make your objects. There are some cool biodegradable plastics to choose from that won’t pollute the oceans and clog up landfills. Here are our favorites:

Environmentally Friendly Filament Brands

FilabotLogoFilabot is one of the most environmentally friendly filaments around.Click here to check out Filabot filaments
Algix_3D-05-1Algix-3D produces filament out of Algae to produce polymers. By using sustainable resources to produce plastics, they cut the environmental impact of their products drasticallyClick here to check out Algix-3D filaments
faberdashery-logoFaberdashery focusses on producing PLA filament partly for environmental reasons.Click here to check out Faberdashery filaments
Ultimaker-LogoUltimaker's stated goal is to facilitate a local manufacturing revolution that will benefit the environment.Click here to check out Ultimaker filaments

 

Biodegradable filament

The plastics industry has done a very good job of pushing the idea that many types of plastic are “biodegradable” when in fact they require very specific non-biological chemical processes to take place in order for them to become a suitable food source for microbes. And even though microbes have been discovered that can use certain types of plastic as an energy source, they are not abundant enough to be a solution to the problem of waste plastic.

For instance, PLA, which is widely considered to be a prime example of biodegradable plastic, actually requires a heat source or chemical agent to decompose into segments of polymer chains that are small enough to be consumed by microbes. Even when PLA is buried in soil, it decomposes due to either contact with chemicals in the soil or the addition of a heat source, such as the warmth of compost heap. Without those conditions, PLA will degrade much more slowly over the course of years, decades and centuries as a result of non-biological processes.

The same is true for polyesters and PHA. These plastics must undergo and initial chemical decomposition into smaller segments so that bacteria can consume them. This is usually achieved by the application of a heat source.

 

The most innovative filament brands

The amount of money being put into researching and developing new materials for 3D printing is astounding. But aside from a few well funded projects, the most innovative filaments are still coming smaller players in the filament industry.

Perhaps the greatest filament innovator is Lay Filaments, a German brand run by the legendary Kai Parthy. Kai is the inventor of wood filament, which helped to revive the 3d printing industry and filament industry in 2012 after a 3-5 year slump. Since then, Kai has continued to invent new, mind-blowing types of filament:

  • Brick
  • Foam
  • Flex wood
  • Ceramic
  • Stone
  • Chalk

There are definitely other filament companies making cool new materials though. Check out this basic list of experimental filaments from specialty brands:

Innovative Filament Brands

bm3d-logoBlack Magic 3d is pushing the boundaries of functional filaments with conductive, ferromagnetic and other research oriented filaments Click here to check out filaments
logo14-1Lay Filaments is run by the famous Kai Parthy, inventor of wood filaments. Kai has continued to invent new types of filaments with a unique range of materials, such as foam, leather, and brick. Click here to check out filaments
taulman3d-smallTaulman 3D produces high performance filaments for a variety of applications. Click here to check out filaments

 

Best Filament Brands In Your Country

In order for 3D printing to reach its potential to change the way the world manufactures consumer products, filament must be available at a local level in every country possible. But the best filament companies are located mostly in large technology hubs of the world. So if you aren’t in the US, Europe, China or Australia, you might be wondering what your options are. While we haven’t made the list yet, we will complete our master brand list for filament companies in each country soon. Check back for updates.

 


PART 6: Homemade filament

 

We ended the previous section by listing filament brands in each country. It shows that good filament is often hard to come by. The irony is that plastic waste is everywhere around us these days. Wouldn’t it be great if we could recycle that waste plastic into filament?

With home filament extruders, you can do just that. It takes a little bit of work to learn how to produce usable filament with these machines, but once you do, you can start recycling plastic bottles, milk jugs, and other commonly available plastic items into filament for your 3d printer. You can also purchase plastic pellets for fraction of the price of filament and extrude them into filament yourself.

Of course, these machines aren’t cheap. A typical filament extruder will cost you anywhere from $500 to $2000. So are they worth the investment? Considering that you can find spools of good quality  printer filament for around $20 these days, it probably isn’t worth the hassle. But if you plan on doing a lot of printing, then you might want to seriously consider getting one. After all, you would only have to extrude about 50 rolls of filament to recoup the value of investing in $1000 extruder.

 

Filament extruders

There several great filament extruders you can buy for your workspace. They each have pros and cons. The best option currently is probably the filabot extruder simply due to ease of use. But here is a list of other filament extruders worth considering:

41+03WKn1CL._SX425_Wellzoom is one of the most popular filament winders on Amazon.Wellzoom extruders are only sold on Amazon.
Filabot_ISO_View_1024x1024Filabot is a Vermont based home extruder company. After a successful kickstarter campaign, Filabot has become a leading brand.Click here to view Filabot products
side-view-noztek-adjustedNoztek sells more than just a filament extruder. They sell everything else you will need to make your own filament at home.Click here to view Noztek products
felfil-assemblato-300x203Felfil Evo is a Torino based startup building excellent desktop extruders and kits in EuropeClick here to view Felfil products
protocyclerFunded by a successful Indiegogo campaign, Redetec makes an all-in-one filament production unit that can grind, extrude and wind filament all in one processClick here to view products

 

Filament winders

Another machine that dovetails nicely with filament extruders is filament winders. These machines wind the filament onto a spool at a constant speed as it comes out of the extruder. Once of the hardest parts of extruding your own filament is making sure that you don’t pull too hard on the filament during winding as it comes out of the extruder. Otherwise, your filament will have uneven diameters. Filament make it much easier to exert a constant low level force on warm filament without messing up the tolerance.

 

auto-winder-spooler-machine-for-desktop-3d-printing-filament-maker-machineWellzoom makes a very good filament winder to go with their filament extruder. Together, the wellzoom winder and extruder compose a very good filament extrusion system that is available exclusively through Amazon.Click here to view Wellzoom products
photo-mainX-winder is a good filament winder with an innovative design. It's design is similar to some of the DIY filament winder designs available on Thingiverse and elsewhere.Click here to view X-winder products
72aa5d303d663c572ad84be288bb5642The Filabot winder goes perfectly with their Filabot extruder to complete their desktop extruder system. Filabot is one of the best desktop filament extruder companies around.Click here to view Filabot products

 

How to make filament at home

Making filament at home is a fairly involved process. It can take hours to extrude enough filament for your print projects. In the future, all 3d printers could come with extruder attachments that would allow you to extrude filament straight into your printer while it prints. But for now the two process are separate and equally complex. Here is a quick overview of the process:

 

  1. Find a source of recyclable plastic.
  2. Clean the plastic as well as you can.
  3. Shred it into small bits so that that it can be fed easily into the extruder.
  4. Turn on the extruder and get it warmed up.
  5. Feed shredded plastic into the extruder.
  6. Carefully guide the filament onto a spool. Put some distance between the spool and the extruder so that the filament has a chance to cool after it comes out of the extruder.

 

What kinds of plastic can be used to make filamentnextek-recycled-milk-bottles

Many common types of plastic can be used to make 3D filament. The most common by far is PET simply because it is everywhere. PET is one of the most common packaging materials for consumer goods. It is also super easy to use as a filament. So if you save all of your milk jubs, water bottles, and plastic packaging trash, you can recycle it into filament using an extruder at home.

 

 

Safety precautions

Be sure to exercise caution when using a home extruder to make your own filament. As with 3D printers, because these machines get very hot, make sure there are no flammable materials nearby and take precautions to prevent burning yourself. Where protective clothing such as gloves, goggles, and face masks to avoid inhaling fumes. Only use these machines in a well ventilated area.

 


PART 7: How to store filament

 

Filament storage is a small but vital part of the 3D printing experience. Some types of filament become brittle or swell when exposed to moisture. For instance, PLA and Nylon will absorb moisture quickly. Also dust particles that settle on filament that is left out can gunk up your extruder. So it is very important to store your filament in a dry, dust free place.

The best way to store filament is is in a storage bin. You can by these plastic storage containers at office supply stores, large department stores like Target and Walmart, as well as some Hardware stores. Make sure you get storage containers that have air-tight lids to prevent humidity from getting inside. Also, try to get clear bins if you can so that you can see what filaments are inside without opening it up. It’s not necessary but it makes life a bit easier.

2015-06-19_17.07.56_preview_featuredNext put a desiccant of some kind in the bin. A popular desiccant is a porous bag of rice. Rice naturally absorbs moisture from its environment. So if you put a few cups of rice in a sock or shoe box and place it in the bin, it will absorb any humidity that gets inside and keep the filament dry. You can also you silica beads or gel packs.

But the environment you keep your filament in also matters. If you are storing your filament in a basement or workshop, you might want to take some extra precautions to keep the humidity levels in check. One way to do that is to set up a dehumidifier in the room where you do your printing or store you filament. You can get small dehumidifiers for around $20 on Amazon, and they really do the trick.

Another thing to keep in mind is temperature. Don’t leave filament next to a radiator or anywhere where it could warm up enough to become soft. If it becomes soft, your tolerances might get warped and the filament could become unusable. Try to keep the filament in a cool or room temperature environment, especially in the summertime.

 

What does water do to filament?

Exposure to water will cause some filaments to chemically degrade, especially polyester filaments. PLA is a polyester, meaning that it is composed of ester chains. Water can break up these ester chains, and the process by which it does that is called hydrolysis.

Thankfully, wet PLA is often salvageable if swift action is taken. Let’s look at why.

 

Here’s exactly what happens when PLA comes into contact with water:

While hydrolysis of ester linkages by water will degrade PLA over time, the PLA will at first simply absorb the water without breaking down on a molecular level. Absorption in this case is simply the process of water molecules diffusing into spaces between the strands of polymer chains that make up PLA filament. The diffusion of water into these spaces causes the filament to swell up a bit but doesn’t immediately break up polymer chains.

dc85ab90b50913335e6b9e430a4eb4edOnce the filament has absorbed water, hydrolysis of the ester bonds that PLA is made of will begin. But polylactic acetate does not undergo hydrolysis all at once. It is a gradual process. That means that PLA can be dried out before hydrolysis completely ruins the filament. Just pop your spool in the microwave for a minute or two, leave it in a bin with a desiccant, or expose it to a low heat source for a while and it will dry right out. You can then print with it without any problems. But if you don’t dry it fast enough, the hydrolysis will break apart too many ester chains and the PLA will become too brittle to use.

What about other filaments? PHA has good resistance to water. ABS, Polycarbonate and PETG are hygroscopic, meaning that they absorb water. Thankfully, they won’t break down the way PLA does. Nylons are hygroscopic as well, and they do decompose when in contact with water. However, the process is so slow that you would never notice it. For all of these polymers, if they get wet or absorb moisture, you can dry them and use them. 

For a description of Hygroscopic polymers, click here to visit Plastics Technology.

 

How to dry out filament

There a few ways to dry filament that has absorbed water. Each has advantages and disadvantages. But all of them will dry your filament out well.

 

  • Microwave: I know it sounds crazy but it works. Place your spool in the microwave and zap it for about 30 seconds.  You might hear some popping and sizzling sounds as the water evaporates out of the filament. Once it’s done, let the filament cool off before repeating the process if necessary. Warning: make sure the type of plastic is microwave safe (PLA is not, for instance).
  • Desiccant: Place the filament into an airtight container with a desiccant, such as a bag of rice. The spool will be completely dried out in a day or two.
  • Heat: Place your filament near a heat source. Be careful not to let the filament get too hot, otherwise it may begin to melt and your tolerances will be off. After a 5-15 minutes, it will be dry.

 

How long does filament last?

Most regular polymers used to produce filament can last indefinitely so long as they are stored properly. Few if any plastics must be used within a specific timeframe. Even when exposed to moisture, many plastics will not degrade.

That being said, each type of filament has different degradation properties. Nylon for instance does degrade when in contact with water over months or years. PLA will degrade faster in water because it is a polyester and therefore susceptible to hydrolysis, as explained above. But ABS will usually only begin to decompose when exposed to direct sunlight.  And PET only degrades at higher temperatures (above 570ºF) and so are unlikely to decompose quickly.

 

Desiccants

There are a few different kinds of desiccants you can use to keep your filament dry. Here is a list of some of the more popular desiccants along with pros and cons of each.

RicebrownBasmatiRiceRice is an age old desiccant material. In ancient times, rice was used to keep other foods and objects dry during storage and transport. Place a cloth bag, sock, or just an open container of filament in the bottom of your filament storage bin. It will keep your filament dry by absorbing humidity from the air inside the container.
Silicasilica-litterKitty litter is a good source of silica desiccant, believe it or not. In fact, kitty litter is mostly silica beads. Simply put some kitty litter in the bottom of your filament storage container to keep your filaments dry.
Silica gel packetsSilica-Gel-Desiccant-for-PackingSilica gel packets are a common desiccant. They are great for keeping filaments dry when they are in vacuum sealed packages or plastic bags.

 

Containers

Storage bins are the best way to store filament. But there are also filament racks and shelving. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Filament-Storage_27Large, 5 gallon ziplock bags are a very common way of storing filament. Simply place a spool in the bag with a desiccant and you are good to go.
filament-storage-boxPlastic storage bins are probably the most popular way of storing filaments since they are easy to use and customizable. Include a desiccant in the bottom of the bin to keep your filaments dry.
3-Stall+renderFilament safe is a brand of filament container that keeps each spool in an individual container. That way you don't have to expose every one of the spool to air when you need to open the container to use the filament. You can put a desiccant in each section and label the lids.

 

How to create the ultimate filament storage container

You can create the ultimate filament storage unit by making a few simple modifications to a plastic storage container. Basically, you can create a container that keeps your filament dry and that you never have to remove filament spools from in order to print. The filament simply unspools within the container and exists through holes in the side of the container. It looks like this:

3dp_filament_box_full

The process is simple. First, install a rod across the width of the box (can be a wooden dowel, metal or plastic rod). This will act as the spoke of the spool rack to keep your filament elevated and free spinning. But importantly, it should allow the spools to unwind independently so that each spool can be used freely without requiring the other spools to spin as well.

Next, drill several holes in the sides of the bin. I know, drilling holes in an airtight dry box? That doesn’t make sense, right? Actually the reason you need to make holes in your box is to allow filament to unspool through the side of the box to your printer so that you don’t have to remove the filament every time you want to use it. Once you’ve drilled your holes, you are going to install bowdin feeder tubes and a bracket in each hole. Make sure to calk the brackets with ABS calk so that they are airtight.

That’s the basic process. For a more detailed set of instructions, stay tuned for our in-depth article on storing filament.

 

How to clean dusty and dirty filament

ex1Cleaning up dusty or dirty filament is kind of a pain, but there are some nifty tricks you can try. The most efficient way to do it is to wind the filament from one spool to another while holding a towel around it. As the filament passes through the towel, it will wipe off and dust or dirt. You can also get filament dust filters that attach to your 3D printer. They are basically sponge holders with a hole in the middle. The filament will pass through one of these small devices before it enters the hotend and the sponge will wipe off any dust particles that might be on the filament. Check out some of the filter designs on thingiverse and print your own.

 

How to fix tangled filament and poorly wound spools

One of the reasons why it is important make sure you store your filament properly is to avoid making a mess and tangling filaments. Filament tangles are surprisingly easy to create. It happens often when filament falls off of a spool and gets mixed around. Other times, the tangle is created by the manufacturer during winding.

So how do you fix a tangle of filament?

  1. The simplest tangle occurs when the end of your filament is under one or more coils of filament on the spool. To fix it, unwind the spool until you reach the tangle and pass the unwound filament under the spooled filament to release it. Then wind the filament back onto the spool.
  2. For more intense tangles you have to start by pulling the filament tangle apart and spreading out the mess. Find the loose end of the filament and wrap it around something round, like a tin can or a coffee mug. Then start winding the rest of the filament around your object. Every time you come to a snag, thread your object through the tangle to free the snag. Then continue winding until you come to the next snag. Eventually, all of the spool will be untangled and wrapped around the object.

 


PART 8: Preparing for printing

 

Before you start printing, you can do a few things that will make your print run more smoothly. They are fairly small tips, and none of them are necessary to do. But they save time and frustration, and over the course of several prints, their benefit can compound.

 

Spool holders and Lazy susans

One thing you can do to make your life a lot easier is get a lazy susan to hold your spools while your printer does its thing. Lazy susans spin around, unspooling as the stepper motor tugs gently on the line. They are a lot easier to work with than many spool holders out there. And they’re cheap.

But if you don’t get one of those, you should still consider getting a spool holder or spool rack of some kind. There are many different types to choose from. You can print your own or buy a nicer filament holder depending on what your needs are. Here are a few for your to consider:

 

20160204_220346-001You can make free standing A frame spool racks like this one out of PVC pipe and printed brackets. They are easy to assemble and fully customizable.
01_preview_featuredIndividual spool holders such as this one make use of rollers or ball bearings to allow the spool to unwind during printing. The example shown here is fully printable, but you can purchase similar models as well if you like.
wall-mount-spool-holder-for-filament-3d-model-stlWall mounted spool racks have the added advantage of keeping your spools off the ground or work bench so that they don't take up valuable surface space. There are many variations for this design and you can print the wall brackets yourself.
lazy susan with spoolLazy susans such as the one pictured can hold individual spools and easily unwind during printing. You can buy them or find stl files on thingiverse to print one yourself.

 

Bed adhesion materials

During the setup process, while you are calibrating your printer and leveling your bed, you may need to apply something to your printer bed to help the prints stick. There are dozens of different bed adhesion materials and surfaces you can print on. Not all adhesion materials are equal, so it’s important to try a few to find out what works for you. Of course, there are some tried and true materials. We will go into more detail in another post, but here is a quick list to help you get started:

 

bluetape3m_1_3Blue printer tape is one of the most popular bed adhesion materials out there. It is perfect for printing ABS and other types of filaments that require strong adhesion materials to prevent warping
unnamedKapton tape was developed by NASA for the Apollo missions. It is heat resistant so it can be used with a heated printer bed. Kapton tape is most often used to print ABS.
unnamed-1ABS slurry is made by dissolving ABS into acetone. When you apply the mixture to your printer bed, the acetone evaporates, leaving behind a thin film of ABS
elmers-glue-stickGlue stick and PVA glue are used to literally glue prints to the printer bed. This is often necessary for printing with ABS and other filaments with strong warping tendencies
bt_productBuildTak is a popular brand of print surface. There are many other brand to choose from as well, and each has different qualities.
AquaNetHairspray is another common adhesion material that is applied to printer beds to get them to stick. You can use unscented hairspray it you don't like the smell.

 

Empty spool weight

Here’s a nifty trick: if you know the weight of your spool when it is empty, you can use that to track how far through a spool of filament you are during a print. All you have to do is put the spool on a kitchen scale while it’s printing and watch as it’s weight falls. When it gets close to the weight of your spool, you will know if you there is enough filament left to complete the print or whether you need to get ready to swap in a new roll.

 

How to find your empty spool weight before printing

But how do you find the empty spool weight? Easy.

  1. Cut off a small amount of filament, say a centimeter or less, and weigh it.
  2. Now, you already know the approximate length of the filament on your spool (330 meters for 1.75 mm diameter filament on a 1kg spool, and 110 meters for a 3.00 mm diameter filament on a 1kg spool). If you can find a more exact length from the manufacturer, even better.
  3. Simply multiply out the weight of your small sample section of filament according to the proportion of its length to the entire length of the spool. So if you chopped off a 1 cm sample of 1.75 mm filament, multiply the weight by 3300 (don’t forget to subtract the weight of the 1 cm sample) to get the approximate total weight of the filament on your spool.
  4. Then weigh the spool and subtract the total filament weight from the total spool weight and you will have a usable approximation of the weight of your empty spool. Ta Da!

 

weighing spool on a scale

Source: Fabbaloo

 

3D Printer Filament Accessories

There are many different accessories that will help your printing experience go smoothly. Other than those listed above, most accessories are not strictly necessary for printing, but they are nice to have. Here is a quick list of a few other accessories to consider buying before you start printing.

painting_knifePalette knife for removing prints from the printer bed and spreading ABS slurry
ImageresizerPliers for removing prints stuck to the printer bed and for removing support materials
500-752-10Micrometer or calipers for measuring designs and filament diameters
135297Sandpaper for smoothing of prints with rough surfaces
eva-dry-model-edv-300-amp-edv-500-mini-dehumidifiers-in-small-dehumidifiers-small-dehumidifiers-for-the-houseA small dehumidifier can help remove excess humidity from the room or filament storage units

 

How to set up an overnight print

We don’t usually cover topics that aren’t directly about printer materials. But we decided to cover this one because you can buy several accessories to make the process safer. Overnight printing is definitely not safe and if you can avoid it, you should. But despite the risks, many people do it for longer prints that take 10+ hours. If you are going to leave a printer running overnight while no one is watching it, make sure you take appropriate safety precautions.

  • Don’t print overnight with a heated printer bed
  • If possible, set up a camera and alert system that will send a message to your phone in case something goes wrong.
  • Put your printer in a metal cabinet or metal enclosure.
  • Install a smoke detector and an automatic fire extinguisher above the printer.
  • Install a thermal fuse to cut power immediately if a problem is detected.

 


PART 9: How to print with different materials

 

Each type of filament requires different settings and treatment. Specialty filaments can be particularly difficult to work with, especially if your printer isn’t top of the line. Here are the settings and general techniques for working with some of the most popular types of filaments.

 

The First Layer

The first layer of any print is the most important layer. You have to get this right or else the rest of the print will be off. Most importantly, it needs to stick well. Here’s how you set your first layer up:

  1. Make sure your printer bed is level
  2. Home your extruder so that it is the correct height from the printer bed
  3. Add an adhesive printer bed material if needed
  4. Make sure the first layer is hot enough to stick to the bed well. Turn the temperature up 5-10 degrees for the first layer if it isn’t sticking well.

 

PLA

PLA is one of the easiest materials to print with. You can print it straight onto glass with no bed adhesion materials. Make sure to clean the glass off with denatured alcohol first for best results. Here are a few basic troubleshooting instructions:

  1. Lower the temperature a few degrees if you see stringing
  2. Raise the temperature if layers are not bonding well, if your object is brittle and not strong enough or the surface of your object is rough
  3. Adjust your retraction setting if filament is leaking from the nozzle when the printer head moves but shouldn’t be printing.

 

ABS

ABS is a fantastic material to print with. You can make strong, versatile parts. ABS is a bit trickier to print with than PLA, though. So if you are new to 3d printing, it may take some getting used to. Here are a few tips:

  1. ABS requires a heated printing bed. Recommended temperature = 110ºC
  2. Apply Kapton tape to your printer bed instead of printing directly onto the glass.
  3. Apply a binding material, such as glue stick or hairspray, to the surface so that the ABS will stick to the bed.
  4. Make sure the ambient temperature in the room where you are printing is not too cold or too hot.
  5. Start at a higher temperature, ~230ºC, and reduce in increments of 5ºC if necessary.

 

Wood

Wood filament prints very similarly to other PLA filaments. After all, wood filament is simply wood particles mixed with PLA. That being said, there are a few extra things to be aware of when printing with wood filament.

  1. Try to use a larger nozzle size. Wood particles don’t always fit through nozzles that are 3 mm and smaller. That can cause jams. Try to use a 4mm or 5mm nozzle.
  2. Use higher print speeds so that the wood particles don’t burn up as they pass through the hot zone.
  3. Don’t ever leave wood filament in the hotend when not printing. The wood particles will burn and you will end up with a black, sticky mess to clean up.

 

TPU/Flex

TPU is a flexible plastic. As such, it can often be a bit more difficult to print with. It has a tendency to kink while printing, which can completely mess up a print. Here are some tips to avoid problems:

  1. Print slow, at 30mm/s or even 20mm/s
  2. Keep retraction very low (2mm or less) or turn it off completely.
  3. Use a direct drive printer and install support between the drive gear and melt chamber.

 

PETG

PETG and other PET variations are quickly becoming the filament material of choice for 3D printers. It was fantastic strength and is easy to print with.

  1. PETG prints very similarly to PLA with a few differences
  2. Make sure you use heated print bed and bed adhesion material for best results
  3. Print at higher temperatures, 230ºC to 265ºC
  4. Use cooling fans for tall objects

 

Nylon

Nylon is the go to choice for printing strong, durable, functional parts. It has excellent layer bonding and strength, but thin layers of it are also flexible. This versatile material is also fairly easy to print with. Here are a few things to consider.

  1. Make sure your extruder can handle print temperatures higher than 240ºC
  2. Use a heated printer bed (~75º C) and a bed adhesion material
  3. No fans

 


PART 10: Best 3D printers

 

One of the most common questions people have about 3d printers is: Which one should I buy? Since we are interested mostly in printer materials, we are going to give a materials centric answer. Thankfully, our job is easy because most printers will produce similar quality prints. There is no single ultimate 3d printer that is better than all others. That being said, there are definitely some printers that are much worse than others. So it is important to do some research before you buy one.

Below are two 3D printers that will work with all of the most popular types of filament currently available. If you get one of these printers, you will be good to go. They can also be modified to print specialty filaments, such as polycarbonate and other abrasive filaments. Check out this list on 3d Hubs for more great options. 

 

Ultimaker

ultimaker-2-plusUltimaker is a fantastic, top of the line 3D printer manufacturer. Founded in 2011 by Dutch engineers with close ties to the reprap community, Ultimaker has made a name for itself as a producer of all-around high quality machines. The Ultimaker 2+ is the highest rated 3D printer on 3D Hubs, and the newly released Ultimaker 3 is excellent as well. The Ulitimaker series is a solid choice for anyone looking for a new printer.

Ultimaker also sells some of the highest quality filaments in the world. Ultimaker filaments are in the same category as other high-end Dutch filaments, like ColorFabb. Ultimaker PLA is fantastic and their ABS is especially good. Ultimaker also has excellent customer service and a lively community of followers. So you will be in good hands if you guy one of these machines.

 

Prusa

frontpagePrusa is one of the most famous open source 3d printing projects in the world to come out of the RepRap project. Run by Josef Prusa in Prague, Czech Republic, the company produces cutting edge, high performance 3d printers that sell for as low as $699. Prusa has been the first to try several innovations in 3D printing, such as multimaterial extrusion and various innovative printer designs.

Prusa i3 printers are some of the most beloved machines in the 3d printer world. Due to their commitment to open source technology and relentless focus on quality, Prusa has grown to become one of the most popular and recognized 3d printing brands in Europe and America. Prusa also produces high quality filament that is worth checking out.

 


PART 11: Troubleshooting failed prints

 

For this section, we are going to focus on issues that are specifically caused by filament. After all, this is a site about printer materials, not 3D printing in general. If you suspect the issue you are having is unrelated to the filament you are using, then we can suggest some other resources for you.

 

Clogs

jam-free-image_opt1

Source: Polymaker

Clogs happen all the time in 3D printing. Clogging probably the most common issue 3D printers face. And they are pain to deal with because so many things cause them: dirty gears, malfunctioning parts, obstructions in the hot end, printer height is too low, etc. But when they are caused by filament, the problem is usually easier to discover. Here are a few of the most common reasons that a 3d filament cause 3d printers to get clogged up.

  • Particles in a specialty composite filament (wood, ceramic, metal) are too big to fit through the nozzle
  • Impurities in the filament itself have either burned up inside the hotend or are obstructing the nozzle. (This is one reason why we recommend avoiding sketchy filament brands.)
  • Dirt or dust on the filament has entered the hot end and caused a jam
  • Wood filament has burned up inside the hotend because the printer speed is too slow
  • You didn’t clean out the extruder between spools so old filament is burning inside
  • The momentum of the spool spinning forward has pushed more filament into the melt chamber than your printer can handle and has jammed it up.
  • The filament absorbed too much water
  • And last but not least (say it with me): THE DIAMETER OF THE FILAMENT IS TOO LARGE

 

Warping

Warping

Source: Simplify3D

Warping is usually caused by uneven cooling between layers of filament. This happens commonly with ABS, PETG, and other filaments that require a heated printer bed and adhesive materials to keep the bottom of the object stuck to the print plate. Basically, as middle layers cool, they contract, which pulls on the warm bottom layers that are in contact with the heated printer bed and the warm top layers that were recently extruded. If the force of the this contraction is large enough, the object will bend out of shape.

 

Delamination and Layer bonding

The same process described above can also pull layers apart. But layer bonding issues can have other causes as well. Some 3D filaments simply don’t have good bonding properties. Flex filaments are a good example. Other times, delamination occurs because the printer is speed is too slow and the filament isn’t getting deposited on top of the previous layer before it cools. After the previous layer cools, the new layer won’t won’t fuse with it as easily.

 

Discolorations

degradationSome brands of filament have discolorations when printed. Discolored patches in object often occur when the colorant used in the filament is poor quality. However, many discolorations are caused by impurities in the filament and by burned filament. PLA specifically becomes discolored when it absorbs too much moisture. ABS and other plastics can also become discolored when exposed to UV rays and direct sunlight over time.

 

Fun Fact: The degradation of ABS by UV radiation in direct sunlight led to the discontinuation of it’s use in parts for seat belts in cars.

 

How to clean out your extruder with cleaning filament41WCIEhwn1L

If you haven’t tried eSUN cleaning filament already, then you are definitely missing out. That stuff is magical. It will remove gunk from the inside of you printer that you didn’t even know was there. The best part about it is that it is super cheap and super easy to use. Just push a 10 cm piece of it through your hotend while it is heated to the temperature you will be printing at. Then insert a piece of the material you want to print with and push the cleaning filament out. That’s it. The cleaning filament will remove all dirt. It is far easier than other cleaning methods, like the Atomic pull method (AKA Cold pull or Nylon pull).

 


PART 12: Post-processing techniques for different materials

 

One of the advantages of making objects yourself with 3D printers is that you can customize them. That includes making sure they look exactly the way you want them to after they are printed. After all, many objects come off the printer bed with visible layers, rough surfaces, discolorations and other imperfections. With a little touching up you can fix these blemishes and makes your pieces eye-catching.

 

SAFETY WARNING: Some of the techniques described below are dangerous and require taking safety precautions. Where protective garments, including gloves and facemasks, and protect against burns of fires when using flammable materials. Follow all safety guidelines for handling the materials listed below and research all methods thoroughly before attempting them.

 

PLA

There are several good ways to post-process you PLA prints. Like other filaments, you can apply heat to PLA objects to smooth their surfaces. You can also carve and sand your prints to shape them. For more advanced post-processing, you can use tetrahydrofuran (THF) to polish the surface of objects made with PLA. If you decide to use this method, carefully observe all safety precautions.

 

ABS

One of the most popular ways to smooth the surface of ABS prints is to apply an acetone vapor bath. This works by wetting a paper towel with a small amount of acetone and placing it in a sealed container with your ABS object. Acetone vapors from the paper towel will slowly dissolve the surface of the ABS, and as it does, the ABS will take on a brilliant shine. This process takes several hours, and you will have to play around with the timing until you get the results you are looking for. Don’t leave it in for too long though or else you may lose some of the surface detail on your print. Also, do not apply acetone directly to your ABS prints or else they will entirely dissolve.

 

Safety Note: liquid Acetone is flammable and Acetone vapor is explosive. Use extreme caution when handling acetone.

 

Wood

Wood filaments are perhaps the most amenable to post-processing of all filaments. You can do many different things to them to achieve different results. Here’s a quick list:

  • Carving: Just like any piece of wood, you can carve printed wood objects
  • Etching: With a hot knife, you can etch designs into the surface of wood filaments
  • Staining: Wood filaments can be stained with wood stain to achieve different wood shades.
  • Burning: If you want to get that “just pulled out of the fire” look, you can burn the edges of your objects

 

Metal

Many different metal filaments can be aged and polished just like regular metal objects. And depending on the type of metal filament you are using, you can get rust effects as well. Here are a few different post-processing techniques to try with metal filaments.

  • Sanding: Use sandpaper to remove excess metal filament from edges and corners
  • Buffing: Use steel wool to give your metal prints a bit of a shine
  • Polishing: To really bring out the shine, use a car polishing agent like Nu Finish
  • Oxidation: For bronze and copper prints, use ammonia based oxidizing agents for a more intense oxidation look and a simple salt & vinegar mixture for a mild patina. These both take 30 minutes to an hour before effects will be noticeable.
  • Rust: copper and iron (ferromagnetic) filaments can be rusted by placing them in a water bath for a few days or weeks.
  • Sealant: Apply a metal sealant to metal printed objects so that they don’t tarnish further.

 


PART 13: The future of filament

 

The future of 3D printer filament looks very bright. As the 3D printing industry expands, the filament industry will as well. Significant resources are being put towards developing new and innovative types of filament that will allow 3D printers to find new applications.

Several types of filament are already making waves in industries that are not traditionally focussed on plastics as a functional material. Architecture firms and other business that rely on rapid prototyping can now create prototypes in-house in just a few hours with PLA and ABS. Conductive filaments hold strong promise for reshaping the future of the electronics industry. And ceramic filaments could change the way dishware, pottery, and ceramic parts are produced.

The filament industry is itself undergoing big changes. With the proliferation of cheap filament brands has come massive confusion about the quality of different filament products. The industry is highly fractured. But large players are emerging, like ColorFabb and Hatchbox. And now that the 3d printing industry is shifting in the direction of multimaterial printing (one printer, multiple extruders) and more specialized materials, we might see some of the smaller filament brands die off.

Moreover, with metal printing, bio printing, food printing and nano printing on the horizon, the filament industry will have to diversify to keep up. Innovative brands like Lay Filaments, owned by Kai Parthy, and Black Magic 3D, owned by Graphene 3D lab, will have to continue to innovate in order to stay relevant. Meanwhile larger filament brands will continue to hone their manufacturing technologies and large 3d printing companies will likely acquire promising filament brands. These trends could lead to market consolidation.

Perhaps the largest threat to filament companies is the rise of home extruders. Homemade filament is still in its infancy, and home filament extruders still face serious obstacles to widespread adoption. But as the technology improves and prices come down, personal filament extruders could become the 3D filament source of choice for many, including the most hardcore DIY enthusiasts. Extrude your trash! Recycling trash into filament could become a daily chore for teenagers around world over the next decade.

Whatever happens, the consumer level 3D printing industry will more than double in the next 5 year according market analysts. That bodes well for the filament industry in general.

 

Final thoughts

 

We hope you enjoyed the 3d filament guide. We really did try to include everything you would ever want to know about filament in it. Of course, 3d printer filament is such a wide subject that there are bound to be things we missed. If you would like us to include anything else, feel free to leave a comment below.

 

Happy printing!

 

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