Types of 3D Printer Filaments
Learn more about the different types of filament materials used in 3D printing.
FDM (Fused deposition modeling) 3D printers make use of filaments. These materials are supplied on a 3D printer spool and are directed through a heated nozzle by means of an extruder. The extruded plastic is then used to build up a 3D printed part, layer by layer. There are different 3D printer filament types. However, 10 of the most commonly used will be described in this article including their mechanical properties, characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a thermoplastic monomer made from organic sources. This is in contrast to other 3D printer filament types that are made from petroleum products. PLA is easy to print and is environmentally friendly. However, it is brittle and has poor UV resistance. Additional key characteristics are:
- Warping: PLA does not warp easily during printing
- Solubility: PLA is not soluble in water. But, it can be dissolved in acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, or caustic soda.
- Food Safety: PLA is food safe
Table 1 lists the mechanical properties of PLA:
Some types of PLA filament can be conductive, for more information see our full guide on Conductive PLA Filaments for 3D Printing.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a widely used engineering plastic and 3D printing filament type. ABS exhibits excellent toughness and can withstand relatively high temperatures. Printing with ABS requires high temperatures for both the hot end and the printer bed. Heated build volumes are also required for good results. Additionally, all types of ABS tend to warp during printing, which results in poor dimensional accuracy. Additional key characteristics are:
- Durability: ABS has excellent resistance to overall wear and tear. It is both tough and impact resistant.
- Solubility: ABS is not soluble in water. However organic solvents like acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and esters will dissolve ABS.
- Food Safety: ABS is a food-grade plastic
Table 2 lists the mechanical properties of ABS:
3D printer filaments can be made with specific additives to either improve their mechanical properties or aesthetic appearance. Typical 3D printing filament types used include PLA, PETG, or ABS. For the purpose of comparison, ABS-filled 3D printer plastic will be used.
Carbon-fiber-filled filaments have improved mechanical properties when compared to unfilled thermoplastics. They also have good dimensional stability. Carbon fiber filaments are brittle and clog easily. Listed below are additional key characteristics:
- Durability: The addition of carbon fiber improves the durability of ABS
- Warping: The addition of carbon fiber reduces the amount of warping that is common with unfilled ABS
- Solubility: Carbon-fiber-filled ABS is soluble in organic solvents like acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and esters.
Table 3 lists the mechanical properties of Carbon fiber filament:
Nylon or polyamide is a widely used engineering thermoplastic due to its excellent wear resistance and durability. The most commonly used grade of nylon for 3D printer filaments is PA 6. Nylon is both impact and wear-resistant. However, nylon tends to absorb moisture easily. It also requires relatively high print temperatures of up to 265 °C. Below is a list of nylon’s other key characteristics:
- Warping: Due to the high temperatures involved, nylon tends to warp during printing. As such, a heated enclosure is recommended.
- Solubility: Nylon expands when exposed to water due to its hygroscopic nature. Acetic acid and formic acid will dissolve nylon.
- Food Safety: There are grades of nylon that are food safe
Table 4 lists the mechanical properties of nylon:
FLEX filament is a proprietary blend of polymers that creates a flexible copolymer 3D printing filament type. Flex is part of the TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) family of materials. Parts printed with this material can achieve a shore A hardness of 93 A. They are also flexible and impact resistant. Parts printed using flex are hygroscopic. This means that it should be dried before use and kept dry during long prints. Other key characteristics are:
- Durability: Flexible materials are by their nature durable; this is no different with FLEX filaments
- Warping: No warping
Table 5 lists the mechanical properties of FLEX filament:
High impact polystyrene (HIPS) is a thermoplastic often used for pre-production machining prototypes. However, it is also one of two 3D printing filament types used as a soluble support material, alongside ABS. HIPS has similar properties to ABS, making it an ideal second extruder material. Despite being soluble, HIPS produces harmful fumes during printing. As such, it is recommended to print in a well-ventilated area or to direct fumes outside with a duct. Other key characteristics are:
- Durability: HIPS has excellent durability due to its unique mix of flexibility and strength
- Warping: HIPS can suffer from excessive warping if temperatures are not carefully controlled. Heated enclosures are recommended.
- Solubility: HIPS is soluble in D-limonene
- Food Safety: HIPS is a food-safe material
Table 6 lists the mechanical properties of HIPS:
Polyvinyl alcohol is a biodegradable 3D printer plastic that dissolves easily in water. It also has printing properties close to that of PLA. This makes PVA one of the more ideal 3D printing filament types for PLA support material. Although PVA is easy to use, it can be expensive due to it being used as a sacrificial support material. Some key characteristics of PVA are listed below:
- Durability: Due to its water solubility, PVA is not useful in most applications, as moisture will degrade the plastic
- Warping: PVA can warp to some degree
- Food Safety: PVA will dissolve in the presence of water; as such it is not recommended for use with food
Table 7 lists the mechanical properties of PVA:
Polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified (PETG) is a modified variant of PET. The addition of glycol lowers the melting temperature sufficiently for PETG to be more user-friendly. Aside from being easy to print, PETG is also UV-resistant. Its key disadvantages are its poor adhesion and its tendency to create strings when the printhead crosses empty space between features. Other key characteristics of PETG are:
- Durability: PETG has excellent mechanical properties, while also being resistant to a wide range of chemicals and high temperatures
- Warping: PETG is not particularly prone to warping
- Solubility: PETG is soluble in toluene and methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)
- Food Safety: PET is food safe and by extension so is PETG
Table 8 lists the mechanical properties of PETG :
Thermoplastic elastomers are flexible materials that can be melt-processed in most types of 3D printers. There are many 3D printing filament types of TPE, and it is easy to confuse TPE with TPU. TPU is generally on the harder shore A range whereas TPE is softer. The properties and characteristics described in this section are based on the FilaFlex TPE filament. FilaFlex has high elasticity and good bondability. It is expensive, however. Some key characteristics of TPE are:
- Durability: TPE has good abrasion resistance and excellent flexibility
- Warping: TPE does not warp
- Food Safety: TPE is not food safe
Table 9 lists the mechanical properties of TPE:
Polycarbonate (PC) is an advanced engineering thermoplastic with excellent mechanical properties and is the strongest 3D printer filament. It has high strength and a glass transition temperature of 150 °C, making it ideal for high-temperature applications. However, PC needs to be printed at very high temperatures of up to 310 °C. It is very hygroscopic and will readily absorb moisture. This moisture can then cause defects in the printed part. Other key characteristics of PC are:
- Durability: PC is one of the most durable 3D printing filament types
- Warping: PC is very prone to warping
- Solubility: PC can be dissolved in tetrachloromethane, pyridine, and chloroform
- Food Safety: PC can be used for food containers
Table 10 lists the mechanical properties of PC:
Selecting the best 3D printer filament depends on the application. If a quick prototype is required then PLA will suffice. However, if more strength is required ABS might be a better choice. It is also ideal to choose a material that doesn't warp readily and does not absorb moisture. Eliminating these two common problem areas will make the print easier. For more information, see our guide on printing in 3D.
PETG is one of the 3D printing filament types that produces very smooth prints provided the printer is properly calibrated. However, printing in ABS and then smoothing with acetone can also create very smooth parts.
Polycarbonate is the strongest 3D printer filament, provided it is printed correctly.
For general purpose use, PETG is an excellent option as it is cheap, easy to print, and has good mechanical properties.
PLA is a good filament for beginners as it is cheap, is often shipped with new printers, and is very easy to get up and running.
Both PLA and ABS are widely used types of 3D printer filament. For more information, see our guide on PLA vs ABS – What's The Difference?
Table 11 shows the comparison between the two:
1.6 to 2.4 GPa
Glass Transition Temperature
50 to 80 °C
Ease of printing
Requires high temperatures, tends to warp, and requires a heated build volume
Good chemical resistance
Good chemical resistance
PLA is brittle and cracks easily. PLA cannot withstand long-term outdoor exposure
ABS is very durable, with high impact resistance and good wear resistance
In terms of a functional material for real-world applications, ABS is the better material.
This article reviewed 10 of the most common 3D printer filaments and presented their mechanical properties, characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. To learn more about 3D printer filament types and uses and how Xometry can assist with 3D printed parts, contact a Xometry representative.
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.
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.