Get to Know the Different Types of Plastic Filaments for 3D Printing

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3D printing has revolutionized the way we create and manufacture products. From toys to medical prosthetics, the range of items that can be printed is vast and growing. But the key ingredient in any 3D printing process is the plastic used to make the object.

There are many kinds of plastic that can be used for 3D printing, and each has its properties and abilities.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the types of plastic used for 3D printing, their features, and how they are used. From PLA, which is the most common plastic used for 3D printing, to ABS, which is stronger and lasts longer, we will look at the different options.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, this guide will help you understand the various types of plastic used for 3D printing and the best ways to use them.

1. PLA (Poly Lactic Acid)

PLA filament is a type of plastic used for 3D printing in (FDM). It is a semi-rigid material that melts at relatively low temperatures (around 150 to 160 °C) and has a low shrinkage rate.

PLA, also called polylactic acid, is a plastic polymer used to make containers because it is similar to PET. Because it is made of maize starch, it can be considered biodegradable under particular humidity and temperature conditions.

Applications

  • PLA is most commonly used for 3D printing small objects with intricate details, such as jewelry, medical implants, and eyeglasses.
  • They are used for 3D printing prototypes and final products that don’t require a lot of flexing or movement.

Advantages

  • Melts at relatively low temperatures (around 150 to 160 °C (302 to 320 °F; 423 to 433 K)).
  • Capable of printing on a non-heating Bed
  • It’s biodegradable, making it an eco-friendly choice.
  • Applications like food containers and medical equipment can be safely used with them.
  • Features a large selection of composite and color options to offer various qualities and appearances.
  • It can be welded using a solvent (like dichloromethane).

Read More on PLA

Disadvantages

  • On a hot summer day, a material constructed from PLA may exhibit evidence of softening or deformation.
  • PLA is not as strong as other materials used for 3D printing, such as ABS. It can also be more brittle and prone to breaking.
  • Warp more easily than other materials
  • PLA is not conducive for high temperature applications

2. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing uses ABS filament as the material. It is a robust and durable plastic that can be printed in a range of colors. ABS is also soluble in acetone, making it possible to create smooth, polished surfaces.

ABS is short for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a type of thermoplastic polymer. ABS is the most commonly used material for 3D printing prosthetic devices and functional parts because of its strength and durability.

Applications

  • ABS materials are commonly found in many different products we use daily, such as automobiles, home appliances, and consumer electronics.
  • ABS prints can also be sanded and painted, allowing for further customization of the finished product.

Advantages

  • Very strong and durable plastic
  • Prints in a wide range of colors
  • Can be polished to a smooth finish with acetone
  • It works great in objects exposed to harsh chemicals due to its strong chemical resistance.
  • It has excellent dimensional stability ensuring that it maintains its shape over time.
  • Its smooth finish makes it an attractive choice for finished products.

Disadvantages

  • ABS is a petroleum-based plastic which makes it not environmentally friendly.
  • This type of plastic emits fumes which can be hazardous to both people and the environment, especially during long printing sessions
  • ABS is a hard, brittle plastic that can warp and crack when exposed to heat.
  • Not an ideal Plastic to use in enclosed spaces.

3. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-Modified)

PETG is a type of thermoplastic that is used for 3D printing. It is made from polyethylene terephthalate and glycol-modified, making it resistant to cracking, warping, and fading. PETG has a high strength-to-weight ratio, making it a popular choice for 3D printing large objects.

Applications

  • PETG is most commonly used for 3D printing large objects that need to be strong and durable, such as car parts, home appliances, and furniture.
  • It is widely used in building decoration and materials.

Advantages

  • Very strong and durable
  • Resistant to cracking, warping, and fading
  • High strength-to-weight ratio
  • Non-Toxic and Odourless Emissions
  • It can be printed in a wide range of colors

Disadvantages

  • PETG has a low resistance to temperature, meaning that it can warp and crack when exposed to heat
  • It is also not as strong as ABS plastic, making it less durable
  • PETG raw materials are not UV-resistant.

4. ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate)

As an offshoot of ABS, ASA filament is great for making parts that are strong and can stand up to bad weather. It is made from acrylonitrile, styrene, and acrylate, making it resistant to cracking, warping, and fading.

Applications

  • ASA is perfect for automotive and outdoor applications. Styrene sheets, safety helmets, sporting goods

Advantages

  • It is more durable than ABS, making it less prone to breakage or warping during 3D printing.
  • Resistant to cracking, warping, and fading
  • It resists chemicals, aging, and the sun’s ultraviolet rays (except concentrated acids, esters, and ketones).

Disadvantages

  • It melts with some other plastics giving rise to moldings of poor strength
  • Warp more easily than other plastics, which can lead to poor-quality prints
  • It’s not the best material to use in enclosed spaces due to its tendency to release unpleasant fumes when melted. 
  • ASA is one of the more expensive 3D printing materials, so it may not be cost-effective for some users.

5. Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic (PVA)

One of the most popular materials for 3D printing is Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic (PVA). PVA is a water-soluble plastic that can be used to create intricate objects with fine details. It is also biodegradable, making it an eco-friendly choice.

Application

  • PVA is frequently used to create thin layers of plastic wrapping and lining, such as the wrapping used to protect dishwashers and laundry pods. 
  • PVA is an ideal printing solution for low-budget home printers.

Advantages

  • PVA has a low melting point, making it easy to print and produce high-quality prints.
  • Soluble in water, which allows for easy post-processing and removal of supports.
  • Relatively inexpensive compared to other 3D printing filaments.
  • Eco-friendly and biodegradable.
  • Strong adhesion between layers makes it suitable for complex 3D models with intricate details.

Disadvantages

  • Unsuitable for heavy duty applications
  • It is also not very durable and can break down over time.
  • Difficult to work with, as it is a very viscous material.
  • Has low recyclability.
  • Sensitive to moisture, meaning it needs to be stored in a dry environment.
  • It can also have an unpleasant smell when heated.

6. Polycarbonate (PC)

Polycarbonate (PC) is a strong and rigid thermoplastic polymer. It is often used to create strong, durable parts. Its high melting point makes it perfect for printing large objects with intricate details.

Applications

  • Polycarbonate is often used for 3D printing large objects that need to be strong and durable, such as car parts, home appliances, and furniture. It is also widely used in building decoration and materials.

Advantages

  • Polycarbonate is strong and stiff, making it ideal for 3D printing applications requiring high durability and impact resistance.
  • Polycarbonate shrinks very little when it is heated, which helps to produce accurate, consistent prints.
  • Polycarbonate has a high level of clarity, allowing you to clearly see the details of your print.

Disadvantages

  • Customers choose (ABS), which is stronger but not impact or heat resistant because these materials are substantially more expensive than any plastic materials.
  • Difficult to print with.

FAQs for What Plastic Is Used for 3D Printing

What Type of Plastic Can 3D Printers Use?

Most 3D printers can use a variety of plastics for printing, including ABS, PLA, PVA, and PC. However, some printers are limited to a specific type of plastic. Check your printer’s manual to see which types of plastic it can use.

Can You Reuse 3D Printed Plastic?

Yes, you can reuse 3D-printed plastic. However, the quality of the print may be reduced compared to the first time, so it’s best to use a fresh piece of filament for the best results.

Can 3D Printed Plastic Be Painted?

Yes, 3D-printed plastic can be painted. However, the quality of the paint job may be better than if you were to paint a traditionally manufactured piece of plastic.

How Do You Clean 3D Printed Plastic?

There are a few ways to clean 3D-printed plastic:

1. Soak the plastic in a diluted solution of dish soap and water.
2. Use a soft cloth to scrub the plastic with a mild detergent.
3. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any dust or bits of filament from the print.

Why is Plastic Suitable for 3D Printing?

Plastic is good for 3D printing because it is strong, lasts long, doesn’t shrink much, and comes in many colors. Additionally, plastic is an affordable filament option and can be used to create large or intricate objects.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it’s important to be familiar with the various types of plastic filaments available for 3D printing in order to make informed decisions about which material is best suited for your specific project.

From the strong and durable ABS to the flexible and heat-resistant PETG, each type of filament has its own unique properties and benefits. By understanding these differences, you can choose the most suitable filament for your needs and achieve optimal results from your 3D printing projects.

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