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Multicolored filaments of plastic for 3D printing. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/MarinaGrigorivna

Types of 3D Printer Filaments

Learn more about the different types of filament materials used in 3D printing.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
September 12, 2022
 9 min read
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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. 

1. PLA Filament

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:

Table 1. PLA Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

65 MPa

Flexural Modulus

3.8 GPa

Print Temperature

130 to 180 °C

Print Bed Temperature

50 °C

Some types of PLA filament can be conductive, for more information see our full guide on Conductive PLA Filaments for 3D Printing.

2. ABS Filament

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:

Table 2. ABS Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

40 MPa

Flexural Modulus

1.6 to 2.4 GPa

Print Temperature

220 to 250 °C

Print Bed Temperature

95 to 110 °C

For more information see our full guide on ABS 3D Printer Filament.

3. Carbon Fiber Filament

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:

Table 3. Carbon Fiber Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

46 MPa

Flexural Modulus

5.26 GPa

Print Temperature

220 to 240 °C

Print Bed Temperature

100 to 110 °C

4. Nylon 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:

Table 4. Nylon Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

40 to 85 MPa

Flexural Modulus

0.8 to 2 GPa

Print Temperature

225 to 265 °C

Print Bed Temperature

70 to 90 °C

For more information see our full guide on Nylon 3D Printer Filament.

5. FLEX Filament

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:

Table 5. FLEX Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

40 MPa

100% Modulus

9.5 MPa

Hardness

93 Shore A

Elongation at Break

500%

Print Temperature

210 to 230 °C

Print Bed Temperature

60 °C

For more information see our full guide on Flex 3D Printer Filament.

6. HIPS 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:

Table 6. HIPS Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

32 MPa

Flexural Modulus

1.5 to 3 GPa

Print Temperature

230 to 245 °C

Print Bed Temperature

100 to 115 °C

7. PVA Filament

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:

Table 7. PVA Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

78 MPa

Flexural Modulus

N/A

Print Temperature

185 to 200 °C

Print Bed Temperature

45 to 60 °C

For more information, see our full guide on PVA 3D Printer Filament.

8. PETG Filament

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 :

Table 8. PETG Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

53 MPa

Flexural Modulus

2.2 GPa

Print Temperature

230 to 250 °C

Print Bed Temperature

75 to 90 °C

For more information see our full guide on PETG 3D Printer Filament.

9. TPE Filament

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:

Table 9. TPE Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

32 MPa

100% Modulus

3.6 MPa

Hardness

70 A

Elongation at Break

900%

10. PC Filament

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:

Table 10. PC Mechanical Properties

Tensile Strength

72 MPa

Flexural Modulus

2.2 to 2.5 GPa

Print Temperature

260 to 310 °C

Print Bed Temperature

80 to 120 °C

How to Choose the Best Type of Filaments?

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.

Which Filament Produces the Smoothest Prints?

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.

What Is the Strongest 3D Printer Filament?

Polycarbonate is the strongest 3D printer filament, provided it is printed correctly. 

What Is the Best Filament To use?

For general purpose use, PETG is an excellent option as it is cheap, easy to print, and has good mechanical properties. 

What Is the Best Filament for Beginners?

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. 

What Are the Differences Between ABS and PLA Filaments?

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:

Table 11. PLA vs. ABS Comparison
PropertyPLAABS
Property

Tensile Strength

PLA

65 MPa

ABS

40 MPa

Property

Stiffness

PLA

3.8 GPa

ABS

1.6 to 2.4 GPa

Property

Glass Transition Temperature

PLA

50 to 80 °C

ABS

105 °C

Property

Ease of printing

PLA

Essentially plug-and-play

ABS

Requires high temperatures, tends to warp, and requires a heated build volume

Property

Chemical resistance

PLA

Good chemical resistance

ABS

Good chemical resistance

Property

Durability

PLA

PLA is brittle and cracks easily. PLA cannot withstand long-term outdoor exposure

ABS

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. 


Summary

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.

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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.