What is the Best Material for a 3D Patch?
There are a few materials on the market that are considered flexible like Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), Thermoplastic Elastomoer (TPE), and soft PLA (Polylactic Acid). Each of these materials may be flexible, but are not soft or pliable and therefore not the best material for a 3D patch.
TPU is flexible, but not soft, and is more stiff.
TPE is flexible and soft but is not very pliable.
Soft PLA is flexible, soft and very pliable, making it the best material for a 3D printed patch. The properties a soft PLA material will allow the patch to follow the nature movements of your body without breaking. When the patch gets deformed because of movement it will quickly return to its nature shape as the pressure is released.
Just as a side note, 3D filament is measured for hardness by a device known as a shore durometer. Higher numbers on the scale indicate harder material and lower numbers indicate softer materials. The number is called "shore hardness" and provides an easy way to assess the hardness or firmness of a filament. Soft PLA shore hardness is 92A vs a mouse pad which is 20A.
What is Soft PLA made of?
As mentioned, soft PLA is elastic, resilient, extremely flexible and impact resistant. Soft PLA is made from natural materials like sugarcane, cornstarch, or tapioca roots. Certain chemicals are added which removes the brittleness of regular PLA.
Is Soft PLA Safe?
Soft PLA is considered "food-safe" and can be used for anything that might touch the skin; such as baby mats, utensils and food containers. If it safe for a baby or for our mouth it is certainly safe to be used as a sew on patch that will have minimal exposure to the skin.
Does Soft PLA come in various colors?
The other benefit of soft PLA is it comes in a variety of colors allowing you to match the patch to the material it will be applied too. Remember it isn’t fashion unless it matches. You can find green, white, blue, black, red, and yellow filament colors sold by WYZWorks on Amazon.
A 1.75 mm spool of filament will run you about $31.99 per spool, but that will print a lot of patches.
The disadvantage of a 3D printed patch is in most cases it will be a solid color rather than a multi colored patch that is embroidered. But the fact it is 3D printed will more than make up for that little disadvantage. A good story always makes a better product.
Can all printers print Soft PLA?
Most 3D printers can print soft PLA. Because PLA is food safe and safe for children it has become one of the most popular and easily accessible filaments.
The main negative of using soft PLA is it is difficult to print. The properties that make it flexible also hinder it from being pushed through the extruder. It just doesn't have as much tension as a stiffer filament. This can cause unwanted bunching or clogging or bubbling in the nozzle. It is also difficult to steer or direct as it is extruded onto the printing bed - even though it is good adhesion. The best approach is to slow the print speed allowing better guidance of each layer.
What do I Need to Know When Printing Flexible 3D Patches?
Suggestion #1: Avoid retraction from start to finish.
Frequent retraction can cause damage to the filament leaving an undesirable result in the finished object. As noted above, the filament does not push or pull easily through the extruder.
Suggestion #2: Keep your 3D soft PLA material dry.
Damage goods leads to damaged products.
Suggestion #3: Keep it slow.
With harder materials you can speed up the printing as the material responds easily to direction. But with flexible material it’s like directing a rope, you push one end with little reaction on the other end. Slowing down helps to get the right response.
Suggestion #4: Get it right from the get go.
In other words, the first layer is key. Get it right and the rest of the print will follow. Make sure the print bed is level. Ensure the nozzle is the correct distance from the bed. And finally, make sure to have adhesion on the bed for the print to adhere too. This could include a heated glass bed, blue painters’ tape or a good PVA glue.
Suggestion #5: Temperature is key.
Soft PLA has a recommended temperature of 210 to 250 Celsius and a bed temperature of 30 to 50 Celsius. Based on the material, set the right temperature for the best results.
Suggestion #6: Consider special hardware.
There are add-on tools like direct drive extruders that help improve the printing process. Essentially a direct drive extruder reduces the journey the soft PLA must take by eliminating bends and turns. A direct route reduces problems. You might also consider certain adhesion liquids for the printer bed to hold the soft PLA better.
I Want the Easy Route. Who are some 3D Printing Services?
Since you’ve decided printing your own 3D flexible patch isn’t the best option, here are a few companies that can service your needs from design to production.
Offers instant quotes based on your own 3D model upload. They do not design, so you would first need to design your own model or hire someone to produce it for you. They offer price comparisons for other 3D printing services which is a nice benefit.
3DExperience Marketplace Make:
Operated by Dassault Systemes a French software company also offers instant quoting based on your uploaded files. You can pick and choose from their global network of manufacturers. One benefit is their online catalog of predesigned items. Unlikely you would find exactly what you want for a patch, but you never know.
May be the best option from start to finish. You can get your design customized and printed all in one place. They offer professional design services along with their 3D printing capabilities.
Another online 3D printing service capable of printing most materials. The unique thing about Sculpteo is they also allow people to open online storefronts and sell their designs. If you were thinking of customizing patches and selling them to the public, this may be a good option.
Offers instant quoting, utilizes 3D printing services all over the world, and will narrow down the right printer for your job. Unique to Treatstock is their open storefronts full of artists selling their designs. You may be able to locate an artist that fits your style and your patches style.
The answer is yes, you can certainly 3D print a custom patch just for you. You can design it yourself and print it yourself if you have the knowledge, the software and the right printer. But, no need to fear if you don’t. There are numerous online 3D printing services that can accommodate anything you can dream. Happy printing and happy patch making.