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Resources3D Printing DesignAll About Conductive PLA 3D Printing Filament: Materials, Properties, Definition
3D printed figure. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Reflexpixel

All About Conductive PLA 3D Printing Filament: Materials, Properties, Definition

Learn about conductive PLA 3D printing filament and how it's used in manufacturing.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
September 19, 2022
 8 min read
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Conductive PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a 3D printing material specifically designed to transmit electric current. This property allows the manufacture of parts with integrated electrical circuits or anti-static enclosures for use with sensitive electronics. The first graphene-infused PLA filament was developed by Graphene 3D Lab in 2015. Graphene 3D Lab has since changed its name to G6 Materials. 

Conductive PLA is a low-cost way of powering low voltage (0 to 60 V) electronic devices while also maintaining some of the mechanical strength of PLA. The additives do, however, negatively affect the mechanical properties of the PLA to some degree. Printing with conductive PLA requires no special processes. The same settings that are used for standard PLA can be used for conductive PLA. A typical resistivity for conductive PLA is 0.6 Ω-cm. The main advantages of conductive PLA are its low cost and ease of use. Some typical applications are shown in Figure 1 below:

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conductive pla printed parts
conductive pla printed parts
conductive pla printed parts

A variety of conductive PLA printed parts.

Image Credit: www.3dinsider.com/Types of 3D Printer Filaments

What is Conductive PLA 3D Printing?

Conductive PLA (Polylactic Acid) 3D printing filament refers to PLA filament that is able to transmit electrical current. Conductive PLA is one of the most popular conductive filaments due to its ease of use and relatively low cost. According to a recent study, conductive PLA shows promise in the development of sensors for use in wearable electronics. 

What is the Composition of Conductive PLA Filament?

Conductive PLA 3D printing filament is made by mixing  conductive additives into the PLA base polymer. These additives make standard PLA slightly conductive. Some of the common additives are listed below:

  1. Carbon Black: Carbon black is powdered carbon that is often used as a pigment. However, when a specific grade of carbon black is mixed in with PLA, the conductivity of the composite filament material is increased. Carbon black is the cheapest form of conductive PLA 3D printing filament. 
  2. Graphene: Graphene is a planar sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern. The arrangement of the carbon atoms means that each atom has one free electron, which aids in the transmission of current. 
  3. Metal-filled: Metal powder like copper or bronze can be mixed into the PLA to increase conductivity. Metal-filled PLA has some of the best conductivity ratings.

What are the Properties of Conductive PLA Filament?

Polylactic Acid (PLA) is one of the most popular 3D printing filaments due to its low cost and ease of use. PLA is a semicrystalline thermoplastic. Its partially ordered molecular structure gives it a distinct melting point, unlike amorphous polymers, which have no such distinct phase transition. Listed below are some common properties of conductive PLA 3D printing filament:

  1. The percentage of conductive PLA particles added to the base polymer is typically up to 80% by volume.
  2. The resistivity of the material on a part’s XY plane, i.e. parallel with the bed plate is typically up to 30 Ω-cm.
  3. The resistivity of the material along a parts’ Z axis, i.e. parallel with the bed plate is typically up to 115 Ω-cm.
  4. The maximum safe current that can be transferred through the conductive PLA is typically up to 100 mA. The maximum safe voltage that can be applied across the PLA is typically up to 60 V.
  5. The resistance of a 10 cm length of 1.75 mm diameter filament is typically between 2000 and 3000 Ω.

Comparison of Conductive PLA Filament Properties

The properties of some common conductive PLA 3D printing filaments are listed in Table 1 below: 

Table 1: Comparison of Different Brands of Conductive PLA
PropertyProtopasta Conductive PLAElectrifi Conductive FilamentBlack Magic 3D (Conductive Graphene PLA Filament)
Property

Resistivity (Ω-cm)

Protopasta Conductive PLA

30

Electrifi Conductive Filament

0.006

Black Magic 3D (Conductive Graphene PLA Filament)

0.6

What are the Limitations of 3D Printing with Conductive PLA?

Conductive PLA 3D printing filament is a popular choice for experimenting with electrical applications. However, there are some shortcomings that need to be understood prior to using the material. The key challenges to using conductive PLA filament are listed below:

  1. Conductive PLA is still not very conductive, despite its name. These materials offer a small amount of conductivity for special applications but are not meant to efficiently transfer electrical current. Nothing is better than a metal conductor like a copper wire.
  2. The addition of additives like carbon black, graphene, or metal powder will increase the brittleness of PLA. PLA is already classified as a brittle material, and conductive PLA will be even more susceptible to cracking when subjected to impact loading.
  3. Only low-voltage components can be powered through conductive PLA. This characteristic considerably limits the potential applications of the material. 
  4. A part printed with electrically conductive PLA 3D printer filament will have lower conductivity along the z-axis due to the fact that the individual part layers are not as seamlessly bonded to each other as the material within a particular layer. 

One big advantage of conductive PLA 3D printing filament is that it has ESD (Electrostatic Dissipative) properties. This property means that it does not allow a static charge to build up on its surface.

Why is Conductive PLA Used in 3D Printing?

Conductive PLA filament is mainly used for a range of low-voltage electrical applications, some of which are listed below:

  1. Conductive PLA 3D printing filament can be used to create parts that can transmit current through their structure without the need for electrical cabling. However, this application is limited to low-power applications like powering an LED light.
  2. Conductive PLA 3D printing filament can be used for electromagnetic and radio wave shielding to eliminate the interference of other signals on sensitive electronic equipment. This type of interference can produce erroneous readings which can skew scientific results.  
  3. One of the best uses for conductive PLA is for capacitive sensors, i.e., sensors that respond to touch. These are low-power applications that do not require high levels of conductivity. 

How to Use Conductive PLA in 3D Printing

Printing with conductive PLA (Polylactic Acid) 3D printing filament is generally as simple as printing with standard PLA, with a few special requirements. These requirements are listed below:

  1. Carbon-filled conductive PLA is very abrasive. Therefore, a hardened steel nozzle is recommended. 
  2. Conductive PLA is very brittle. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the filament is guided to the nozzle as gently as possible. Any sharp bends will snap the filament. 

What are the Best Configuration Settings for Conductive PLA 3D Printing?

The specific settings to use when printing with conductive PLA 3D printing filament depends  on the filament brand. However, some general guidelines for printing with conductive PLA filament are listed in Table 2 below:

Table 2: Conductive PLA Printer Settings
Printer SettingValue
Printer Setting

Extruder/Nozzle temperature

Value

215 °C

Printer Setting

Bed temperature

Value

60 °C

Printer Setting

Print speed

Value

25 and 45 mm/s (10 mm/s for metal filled)

Printer Setting

Flow of filament

Value

2 and 3 mm3/s

Printer Setting

Extrusion Width

Value

0.45 mm

What is the Best Conductive PLA 3D Print Speed?

Conductive PLA 3D printing filament tends to be brittle. The filament can easily snap during high-speed printing maneuvers. It is therefore recommended to print at speeds as low as 10 mm/s for more complex printing tasks. This lowered print speed may take longer, but it will ensure a successful print. 

What is the Melting Temperature of Conductive PLA Filament?

Typical melting temperature of conductive PLA is between 230-250 °C, but still varies based on brand. The extruder temperatures of various conductive PLA (Polylactic Acid) 3D printing filaments are listed in Table 3 below:

Table 3: Recommended Extruder Temperatures for Typical Conductive PLA 3D Printing Filaments
Filament TypeConductive PLA Filament Extruder Temperature (°C)
Filament Type

Protopasta Conductive PLA

Conductive PLA Filament Extruder Temperature (°C)

215

Filament Type

Electrifi Metal-Filled Conductive PLA

Conductive PLA Filament Extruder Temperature (°C)

130 to 160

Filament Type

Black Magic 3D Conductive Graphene PLA

Conductive PLA Filament Extruder Temperature (°C)

220

Filament Type

Amolen Conductive PLA

Conductive PLA Filament Extruder Temperature (°C)

220 to 250

Is a Heated Printing Bed Required When Printing with Conductive PLA?

No, a heating bed is not strictly required for printing conductive PLA. However, for larger parts, it may be required to prevent warping. 

What is a Good Wall Thickness for 3D Printing Conductive PLA?

The optimal wall thickness for a conductive PLA part depends on how the product will be used.   If it is used for an ESD (electrostatic discharge) enclosure, a thicker wall thickness may be required to improve structural integrity. This requirement is because conductive PLA is structurally weaker than standard PLA. However, in general, a wall thickness of 1 mm will be good enough for most applications. 

What is a Good Wall Density for 3D Printing Conductive PLA?

The infill density for conductive PLA is best kept at 100%, meaning the part is completely solid. A solid structure will more effectively transmit current. It may be therefore beneficial to print the conductive parts of a design separately to save on material as conductive PLA is more expensive than standard PLA. 

What is the Difference Between Conductive PLA and ABS in 3D Printing?

Conductive PLA and conductive ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) will both transmit electric current in a similar matter. However, conductive ABS will have better toughness than conductive PLA.

Summary

This article presented conductive PLA 3D printing filament, explained what it is, and discussed all of the different factors to consider when using it. To learn more about conductive PLA 3D printing filament, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities, including 3D printing and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.

Disclaimer

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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.