Materials Used In 3D Printing
The list of materials used in 3D printing is vast and expanding. While the most common materials for 3D printing are plastics, many other materials can be used for 3D printing as well.
As a result of the wide range of possible materials you can print with, 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing at many levels of various industries from aerospace to medical research. Even the famous Lloyd’s Register (not to be confused with Lloyd’s of London) recently released a set of industry guidelines for 3D printing manufacturers in Energy, Oil, and several other metal printing fields.
In this article we will cover many of the materials currently used in 3D printing. We’ve grouped these materials by application, starting with consumer markets and moving progressively into experimental materials that are available only to researchers.
This list is a good overview of the various types of materials 3d printing is currently able to exploit.
Materials Used In 3D Printing
Plastic is the most common material used in 3D printing for everyday hobbyists and makers. Regular FDM 3D printers use spools of plastic filament while other types of 3D plastic printers use powders or resins. Below is a list of the most common types of plastic filament. For a complete list of filaments, check out our list of 55 filaments used in FDM 3D printers.
PLA is one of the two most common plastic used in 3D printing. It is non toxic and melts at low temperatures, around 190ºC. PLA also smells nice and is easy to work with. It’s also hard enough for most applications that aren’t load bearing, such as decorative figurines and jewelry.
ABS is the other of the two most common plastics used in 3D printing. ABS is a particularly strong plastic with a shiny surface finish. It is perfect for functional applications. ABS is hard, like legos or chess pieces. That means you can make a lot of parts that require high durability, like keyboard keys, light switches, and buckles.
Nylons are exceptionally good for functional parts. Nylons are super strong and have low surface friction, making them ideal for print parts that rub together like gears. There are many different kinds of nylons designed specifically for 3D printing, and each of them have different properties. Check out Taulman 3D for the widest range of nylon filaments.
Other common types of 3D printer plastic include PETG, PVA, HIPS, and Polycarbonate. There are also a wide range of composite filaments, which are mixtures of a common plastic and other materials. Some examples of common composite filaments are wood, metal, conductive, and glow in the dark filaments.
Biological applications for 3D printing promise to change the way biological research is done. Using Bio inks that contain living cells, bio printers can quickly create cell tissues and even organs for use in research or medicine. For example, this process is revolutionizing the way cancer research is performed by drastically lowering cost of growing and obtaining tissue cells needed for experiments in laboratory settings. Bio inks can also be used to create new products for the medical industry, such as living skin grafts for treating burn wounds, which would otherwise have to be taken from another part of the patient’s body.
Medical Grade Plastics
3D printers can use medical grade plastics and anti-microbial plastics to create medical devices. The most widely covered way in which 3D printers are changing medical practices is their use in the creation of cheap, customized prosthetics. 3D printers can create prosthetic limbs, teeth, and even support structure for applications inside the body. Customized medical devices can be created on the spot to save lives in emergency situations. And 3d printed hearing aids can fit customer’s ear better so they can use their hearing aids with more comfort.
Metal printing is widely used by manufacturers in aerospace and energy industries to create customized metal parts. 3D printers can quickly and efficiently create metal parts that traditional manufacturing cannot. At the same time, laser sintering of metal promises to change the logistics of these manufacturing industries as much as the designs of the parts themselves. Because parts can now be made locally near the application site, there is less demand for parts to be shipped in from far off locations around the globe.
One of the most innovative use of 3D printing is in the food industry. 3D food printers like the Foodini use a pureed food paste to print edible treats. They can create foods like pasta and pizza in a fraction of the time that traditional methods require. Also, with a heated printer bed, the food can be cooked immediately after it is extruded. Check out the pancakebot, which can make pancakes automatically. You still have to flip them though. And while 3D food printing is still limited in its ease of use, it holds promise for applications in restaurants as well. Recently a completely 3D printed popup restaurant toured several cities around the world. The chefs and engineers who ran the restaurant printed all of the furniture, cutlery, and food from scratch in each location. You can read more about it here. Overall, 3D food printing is still very new, but someday 3D food printers might be a common kitchen appliance.
Ceramics are one of the most recent additions to the list of materials that are printable. Ceramic 3D printers can create beautiful ceramic objects out of extruded ceramic paste. 3D printed ceramic objects can be fired in an oven just like any other ceramic object, and can take glazes and sealants. Ceramic materials in 3D printing hold a lot of promise for applications both in printing dishware or decorative objects and also in manufacturing ceramic parts for machines in various industries.
3D printing of nanoparticles could quickly revolutionize the way electronics, photonics and other nanotech industries manufacture products. 3D printers that use nanotechnology-based conductive and dielectric inks can print multilayered circuit boards. 3D printers using specialized photoresists can print products for the photonics industry. Nano-scale 3D printers can be used to create structures that are as small as a few nanometers in size, which can be applied to robotics, bio-sensors, nano filters and novel drug delivery systems for medications.
The list of above is not exhaustive. Many new materials are on the horizon and being developed at the moment. Some of the most interesting applications are in nanotechnology and biotechnology industries. But the current pace of innovation isn’t limited to high tech industrial printers alone. Consumer 3D printing is changing quickly as well. For instance, the prices of metal printers are dropping quickly and may soon become available at the consumer level. That will open up a completely new area of consumer applications for 3D printing. And as the 3D printing industry expands, new materials will be needed to meet demand for novel applications. These are exciting times, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.