3D Printing Materials
Some of the popular 3D printing material categories are as below.
Polymers form one of the widest categories of 3D printing materials. Also, it can be used in many 3D printing technologies like FDM, SLA, DLP, DLS, SLS, MJF, and more. However, two types of polymers are used.
Thermoplastic Polymers: These polymers can be heated and cooled with little or no change in their mechanical and chemical properties. Such materials are used in popular 3D printing processes like FDM, SLS, and MJF.
Thermosetting Polymers: These polymers get permanently hardened upon application of heat. Their physical state cannot be reversed. Such materials are used in the 3D printing process like SLA, DLP, and DLS™.
Popular Polymer 3D Printing Materials
PLA & ABS: Both materials, PLA (Polylactic Acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) are used in FDM 3D printing technology. While PLA is softer, brittle, and biodegradable, ABS is tough, shows better heat, impact, and abrasion resistance.
Material Cost: Both PLA and ABS are widely available at affordable prices across the globe. A one-kilogram spool of PLA or ABS will cost around $15 to $50 depending on the brand and any special PLA-based materials like wood, metal, ceramic filaments, glow in the dark, etc.
TPU: TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is a flexible material and is midway between rubbers and plastics. It rubber-like, durable, and has a smooth finish to it. This material is popularly used in 3D printing technologies like FDM, SLS, and MJF.
Material Cost: TPU is a complex material to manufacture and also the raw material is a bit costly compared to PLA and so the average price of TPU filament ranges from $40 to $100 per kg.
Nylon: Nylon is a polyamide and is commercially sold as PA11 and PA12 powders for use in SLS and MJF technologies. For FDM it is known as Nylon itself. However, for realizing its true potential, Nylon should be used in SLS or MJF technologies.
Material Cost: Since Nylon is available for three different technologies, the pricing also varies quite a bit along the spectrum. FDM Nylon filament is the cheapest and starts from $45 onwards. A Nylon filament for premium brands like Markforged can also cost as high as $150. An SLS Nylon powder will averagely cost $600. MJF is a proprietary technology of HP Inc., and the Nylon powder is manufactured by a limited number of qualified companies and so the cost is not revealed by the company.
PEEK, PEKK, and PAEK: PEEK (Poly-Ether-Ether-Ketone), PEKK (Poly-Ether-Ketone-Ketone), and PAEK (Poly-Aryl-Ether-Ketone) are high-performance materials with wide applications in the medical, aerospace, and automotive industry. These materials have superior properties, it can even replace some metal parts in aerospace and industrial applications (depends on case to case).
Material Cost: PEEK, PEKK, and PAEK are highly expensive filaments and generally sold in half kg spools. One such spool will cost you over $150 and as much as $400. A half-kilogram medical-grade filament by Solvay can cost around $450.
Resins: Lastly, SLA, DLP, and DLS technologies use thermosetting polymers. They are generally released as application-based materials and are named as Tough, Elastic, Biocompatible, Dental, Jewelry, and High-temperature materials.
Material Cost: Resins are costly compared to FDM filaments. One liter of resin can start from $40 for a low-end starter material and can go up to $300 for high-end specialty materials.
Metals are comparatively a smaller category but scientists and companies are rapidly developing and qualifying more and more metal materials for 3D printing. We take a look at some of the popular metal 3D printing materials.
Popular Metal 3D Printing Materials
Stainless Steel: This is the most common metal 3D printing material. SS is highly ductile and shows strong corrosion resistance. These properties make it a desirable candidate for sectors like medical (orthopedics, surgical assistance), aerospace, automotive, and others.
Material Cost: Stainless steel 316l powder for DMLS, SLM technologies start from $90 per kg.
Titanium: The most desirable metal material there is. Titanium is known for its excellent strength but low density making it ideal for lightweight products. It has wide applications in the aerospace, automotive, and defense industries. Its biocompatibility also makes it a high-demand material in the medical field for implants.
Material Cost: Titanium 6AI-4V powder for DMLS, SLM technologies starts from $150 per kg.
Copper: This is a recent addition to the list of metal 3D printing materials. Due to its high electrical and thermal conductivity, the material is attractive to the electronics market. Companies like EOS, Markforged, Desktop Metal, and a few more offer copper material.
Material Cost: Markforged Copper filament Markforged systems cost around $400 per spool.
Precious Metals: Lastly, not many people know but precious metals are also 3D printable. Most precious metals like platinum, gold, silver, and palladium alloys can be 3D printed. The most common technique employed for this sort of direct 3D printing is DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering).
Material Cost: It is difficult to determine the prices of precious metals used in DMLS technologies. Companies maintain that it depends on a case-to-case basis and that the prices fluctuate frequently.
Bioinks are living cells or synthetic polymer is chosen for their biocompatible components and favorable rheological properties. These materials mimic the extracellular matrix environment to support living cells to facilitate their adhesion, proliferation, and differentiation during maturation. Bioinks can be of four types (structural, functional, support, and sacrificial) depending on their application in bioprinting.
Material Cost: Bioinks are by far the costliest materials in 3D printing. Due to its high regulatory requirements and clearances, they are costly for an individual to buy and are bought by large research organizations. They are sold in small vials in milliliters. The pricing ranges from $135 to excess of $1300 for a case of 5 vials of 3ml each.
Composites comprise a polymer-based material that is blended/reinforced with fibers. These fibers are either chopped or continuous depending on the technology to be employed for printing.
Such composites mostly serve the purpose of imparting additional strength, better mechanical, thermal, and/or chemical properties to the material while being lightweight. Popular composite materials are Carbon Fiber, Fiberglass, Kevlar, Graphene, flame-retardant materials,
Construction 3D printing is challenging and relatively new but it becomes more and more practical each day. There is a significant buzz around the technology and companies are now developing new concrete compositions to produce a better, reliable, and durable structure. However, companies do not reveal the secret sauce and so the concrete for 3D printing is still a well-guarded secret.
Currently, the concrete material is a mix of cement, sand, and some additives. Some are also added with geopolymers and fibers to increase their strength. According to WASP, an Italian Startup, their eco-sustainable construction material is a mix of 25% soil, 25% rice husk, 40% straw chopped rice, and 10% hydraulic lime.
Material Cost: Materials used in concrete 3D printing is manufactured only by the concrete 3D printer manufacturers. The material itself is at a very early stage of development and so companies, as yet, do not reveal the cost of concrete materials.