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Resources3D Printing Design13 Best Materials for 3D Printing: Materials Guide
Up close of modern 3d printer. Image Credit: asharkyu/Shutterstock.com

13 Best Materials for 3D Printing: Materials Guide

Learn about the most common 3D printer filament materials.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
July 15, 2022
 8 min read
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3D printing has matured as a manufacturing technology with a wide range of different material choices. 3D printers can employ basic plastics like PLA and some can even produce advanced titanium components.

This article will explore some of the more common types of 3D printer filaments. It will also describe their uses, challenges, and hardware requirements. The table below summarizes the general properties of 13 of the most common 3D printing materials:

MaterialAdvantagesDisadvantagesHardware Requirements
Material

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

Advantages
  • Impact- resistant 
  • Wear-resistant
  • Low cost
Disadvantages
  • Difficult to print due to warping and poor bed adhesion
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer, heated enclosure recommended

Material

ASA (Acrylic Styrene Acrylonitrile)

Advantages
  • UV-resistant
  • Impact-resistant 
  • Wear-resistant
Disadvantages
  • High cost
  • Dangerous fumes during printing
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer, heated enclosure recommended

Material

PP (Polypropylene )

Advantages
  • Impact-resistant
  • Fatigue resistant
  • Good surface finish
  • Good chemical resistance
Disadvantages
  • Difficult to print due to warping and poor bed adhesion
Hardware Requirements

May require nonstandard bed covers for adhesion

Material

Nylon (Synthetic Polymers)

Advantages
  • Excellent mechanical properties
  • Low friction
Disadvantages
  • Absorbs moisture
Hardware Requirements

May require specialized hot end nozzle

Material

PLA (Polylactic Acid)

Advantages
  • Cheap and easy to print
Disadvantages
  • Brittle
  • Degrades in outdoor environments
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer

Material

HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)

Advantages
  • Low weight
  • Can be dissolved with a solvent
Disadvantages
  • High printing temperature
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer, heated enclosure recommended

Material

PC (Polycarbonate)

Advantages
  • One of the strongest 3D printer filaments
  • Transparent
Disadvantages
  • Difficult to print
  • High cost
Hardware Requirements

FDM printer capable of printing at very high temperatures

Material

Flexible (made of Thermoplastic Elastomers)

Advantages
  • Rubber-like behavior
Disadvantages
  • High cost
  • Difficult to print
Hardware Requirements

Direct drive or Bowden extruder required

Material

PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol)

Advantages
  • Dissolves in water
Disadvantages
  • Can only be used for support material
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer

Material

PETG (Glycol Modified version of PET)

Advantages
  • Excellent mechanical properties
  • Easier to print than ABS
Disadvantages
  • Imperfect interlayer adhesion
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer

Material

Wood-Based Filament

Advantages
  • Aesthetically pleasing finish
Disadvantages
  • Poor overall strength
  • Can block nozzle
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer

Material

Metal Filled Filaments

Advantages
  • Aesthetically pleasing finish
Disadvantages
  • Poor overall strength
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer with hardened nozzle

Material

Carbon Fiber Filled

Advantages
  • High-strength parts
Disadvantages
  • Can block nozzles
  • High cost
Hardware Requirements

Standard FDM printer with hardened nozzle

Table: General Properties of 3D Printing Materials

1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS is a tough and impact-resistant 3D printer plastic used in many different industries. In addition to its mechanical properties, ABS has good temperature resistance. ABS was one of the first 3D printing materials used for FDM 3D printers. It requires high print temperatures and the initial setup can be challenging because the plastic does not adhere well to substrates and tends instead to warp. However, parts printed with ABS have good overall mechanical properties and can be used for real-world applications. For more information see our guide on ABS.

The image below is an example of ABS material used in 3D printing:

Slide 1 of 1
3d printer printing with yellow abs
3d printer printing with yellow abs
3d printer printing with yellow abs

filament.

Image Credit: Kaca Skokanova/Shutterstock.com

2. ASA (Acrylic Styrene Acrylonitrile)

This 3D printing material is billed as a replacement for ABS with better thermal resistance, mechanical properties, and resistance to a wider array of chemicals. ASA also does not turn yellow when exposed to UV addition. This makes it ideal for products and components used in outdoor settings. ASA does not warp as easily as ABS, which makes printing with it significantly easier. 

3. PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene sees use in many different non-3D-printing applications due to its excellent chemical and fatigue resistance. PP is a semi-crystalline plastic which means that, like ABS, it tends to warp easily. PP also does not stick well to the build plate. As such, it is a challenging material to 3D print. Nevertheless, PP is a valuable option for food containers and can be turned into living hinges thanks to its fatigue resistance. 

For more information see our guide on PP (Polypropylene).

FREE SLA 3D Printing Design Guide

4. Nylon (Synthetic Polymers)

Nylon is an engineering thermoplastic used in many different mechanical applications like gears or pulleys. It exhibits a low friction coefficient and good temperature and chemical resistance. Due to its low friction coefficient, nylon struggles to stick to the build plate. Nylon also has a very high melting point and tends to absorb moisture easily. Once successfully started, however, it prints well thanks to its excellent interlayer bonding properties.  

For more information see our guide on nylon.

5. PLA (Polylactic Acid)

PLA is one of the most common 3D printing materials for FDM printers. PLA prints at a low temperature do not need a heated bed and are even biodegradable to some degree. PLA is also a very stiff material. That can be valuable, but means it is prone to brittle failure. It is a good beginner filament for those just getting started in FDM printing as it is cheap and easy to print with.

6. HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)

HIPS is often used in dual extruder FDM printers as a support material. It is often used in conjunction with ABS so it can later be dissolved in a solvent called d-Limonene. Using HIPS in this way makes it significantly easier to print parts that require extensive support material. HIPS can also be used to support features in hard-to-reach areas – as long as the dissolving solvent can reach it, it can be easily removed. Alternatively, HIPS can be used as a standalone material to print lightweight, impact-resistant parts. 

7. PC (Polycarbonate)

Polycarbonate is a tough, temperature-resistant thermoplastic that is naturally transparent. PC is very difficult to print due to its high melting point. It is prone to warping and interlayer splitting if printing and enclosure temperatures aren’t carefully controlled. If printed successfully, PC can produce extremely strong parts and can withstand some exposure to UV radiation. However, PC does tend to yellow with prolonged UV radiation exposure. 

For more information see our guide on PC (Polycarbonate).

8. Flexible (Made of Thermoplastic Elastomers)

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are 3D printing materials that exhibit both the melt processing behavior of thermoplastics and the flexibility of elastomers. TPEs can produce very flexible products. Direct-drive extruders are often necessary while printing TPE because the material often jams standard FDM extruders. TPE has high impact resistance and is an excellent vibration dampener. It is available in a wide range of hardnesses.

For more information see our guide on thermoplastic elastomers (TPE).

9. PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol)

PVA is primarily used as a support material because it will dissolve in warm water. Like HIPS, PVA can be used to support overhangs in enclosed volumes. Because of its vulnerability to moisture, PVA is not a valuable end-product material – it is primarily used as a support material.

10. PETG (Glycol Modified version of PET)

PETG is a durable material that is stronger than ABS and can also flex without breaking. PETG is easier to print than ABS but still requires relatively high printing temperatures. If those temperatures are maintained, it exhibits excellent inter-layer adhesion properties. However, these adhesion properties mean that support material can be difficult to remove. All of these properties make PETG an excellent general-purpose choice for 3D printing. 

11. Wood-Based Filament

Wood-based 3D printing filament types were developed to create 3D printed parts that had a more natural, wood-like appearance. This is achieved by blending a 3D printing plastic – typically PLA – with a wood filler in the form of powdered wood particles. Parts printed with wood filament have a texture that approaches that of wood and is more aesthetically appealing than standard plastic. Wood-based filament does, however, tend to block nozzles.

12. Metal Filled Filaments

Metal-filled filament does not create material with metal-like properties but instead gives parts the weight and appearance of metal. This is achieved by mixing the metal powder into a typical 3D printing plastic like PLA. A common metal filler is iron, which can gradually take on a rust-like appearance once it begins oxidizing. Other fillers include: copper, stainless steel, and brass. Metal-filled filaments wear out a standard brass nozzle quickly, so hardened steel nozzles are recommended. The addition of metal fillers tends to reduce part strength because the metal particles interrupt the intermolecular bonding of the plastic. 

13. Carbon Fiber Filled

When carbon fiber particles are added to standard 3D printing materials like ABS, PLA, or PETG they have the effect of increasing the material’s strength. This contrasts with other fillers like wood or metal that reduce the strength of the material. Carbon-fiber-filled plastics will, however, tend to clog the printing nozzle. It can accelerate wear on standard 3D printing nozzles. As such, it is best to use hardened steel nozzles. 

What Are the Most Commonly Used Materials in 3D Printing?

PLA (Polylactic Acid) is the most popular 3D printing plastic for non-industrial use while nylon is the most common plastic for industrial applications. For more information, see our article on the guide to 3D printing.

What Materials are not Suitable for 3D Printing?

The majority of 3D printing technologies melt their raw material in order to print parts. As such, materials that cannot be melt-processed are not suitable for 3D printing. Materials like ceramics, paper, or textiles cannot be 3D printed. 

What is the Simplest Material to 3D Print?

The easiest material to 3D print is PLA (Polylactic Acid). It should therefore be no surprise that this material is the most common among new hobbyist printers.

What Are the Most Important Material Properties for 3D Printing?

The choice of material for a 3D printed part depends heavily on the intended end use. Critical properties are thus application-specific. Listed below are some properties that are important for general 3D printing:

  • Melting temperature
  • Elongation
  • Impact strength
  • Flexural strength
  • Hardness
  • Tensile strength
  • Heat deflection temperature

Where Can I Find 3D Printing Materials?

3D printing materials can be found on Amazon or at any local store that carries 3D printing supplies. More advanced materials such as metal powder are often supplied by the machine manufacturer so they’re most often found on individual company websites. 

How Much Do 3D Printing Materials Cost?

The pricing of 3D printing materials covers a wide range. A roll of PLA filament can cost as little as $20 per kg whereas the same amount of metal-filled filament can cost $50. In the upper range, DMLS metal powder can cost up to $450 per kg. 

How to Select the Best 3D Printing Material

To select the correct material it is important to define the application. Below is a list of general rules to follow when choosing the best 3D printing material:

  1. If high strength is needed, a polycarbonate or carbon-fiber-filled material may be ideal.
  2. If a basic jig is required, then a cheaper material like PLA may be better suited. 
  3. If the application is a safety-critical component, then it is always safest to consult with the machine supplier as well as the material supplier to understand how any given material will perform.

Summary

This article reviewed 13 of the most common materials used for 3D printing and presented their advantages and disadvantages. To learn more about which materials are right for your products, contact a Xometry representative for expert guidance.

Xometry offers a full range of 3D printing services for your project needs. Visit our Instant Quote Engine to get a free, no-obligation quote in minutes.

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The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.

Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.