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How Much Filament Is Used In 3D Printing?

How Much Filament Is Used In 3D Printing? | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone

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October 19, 2021

A 3D printer needs 3D printing filament to convert a 2D scan into a 3D object. So, what exactly is this filament and how much filament is used in 3D printing?

As an example of how much filament is used in 3D printing, on average, you should get about 1KG worth of printed pieces for 1KG of filament. However, you do have to account for losses in the form of test prints and losses incurred when loading the filament into the printer.

Getting your mitts on a 3D printer can indeed open up a whole world of possibilities, as there's a lot you can do with one, from designing toys and jewelry, building parts for automobiles and planes, to printing prosthetics and parts used in construction. Regardless of why you will be using your new 3D printer, you will need the right 3D printing filament, and more importantly, the right amount of filament. That's exactly what we're going to discuss in this article.

The following information is based on years of personal experience, product reviews, insights from industry experts who specialize in Stereolithography (SLA), Fused deposition modeling (FDM), Digital Light Processing (DLP), Selective laser melting (SLM), Digital Beam Melting (EBM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Laminated object manufacturing (LOM), and a whole host of other reliable sources.

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How Much 3D Printing Filament Is Used in 3D Printing

This is a loaded question. For personal use, you can just limit the number of 3D prints you design to the amount of filament you have on hand. However, it could get problematic if you're providing a service and are required to produce 3D items in bulk.

General Use 3D Printer Filaments

This is definitely a loaded question. When speaking about general use, we are talking about using 3D printers to print small parts, tools, and other small items – and not large-scale commercial use. If you plan on using your 3D printer to print small items sometimes (the keyword here is: sometimes), as in, not every day, and always one printout at a time, then your filament (PLA) requirement should not exceed 50 grams. Obviously, if you are using a 3D printer that can print using multiple filaments at a time, you will require more filament.

Length vs. Weight

Many experienced 3D printer users often use both length and weight to gauge the amount of filament their machine consumes to print items. That being said, it is safe to say that since 90% of filament purchases are done by weight, that is a better method of measurement when it comes to estimating the amount of 3D filament you need. You can get this estimated weight from the slicer you will use, which will give you this information in grams and based on the material the filament is made from, such as HIPS, PETG, ABS, and the popular PLA.

While slicers can usually provide this information while slicing the STL file to G-Code, it is important to note that not all slicers provide this information, so it's always best to use a slicer that also offers "sliced information" as well.

 It is always best to just stock up on 3D printer filament and adopt 3D printing best practices. Also, processes such as calibration and benchmarking prints can also eat away a good chunk of the filaments you use. However, the good news is, once you get familiar with your 3D printer, you get a better idea of how much filament it takes to make small items and other thingamajigs with your 3D printer.

Filament Requirements for Frequent Use

Not everybody buys a 3D printer for personal use or to print their favorite figurines or fidget spinners. Many enterprising folks take on 3D printing projects on a routine basis, which requires printing multiple models at a time. If you're in this category, it goes without saying that you will then burn through your stock of filament a lot quicker as compared to those using the printer for personal use.

Those who take on 3D printing projects also tend to require filaments made from various materials along with different colors in order to create prints. One of the snags the many commercial 3D printing business owners face is trying to find out just how much filament they are going to need to complete a particular project at the start of a project. This is an important question since the price of a project correlates to the amount of filament that is used in said project.

 Finding out the estimated weight of filament you require should not be a problem, provided you have the final approved STL file ready to be sliced. That being said, having a complete STL file ready on the first day does not generally happen, especially when it comes to 3D printing enthusiasts and hobbyists.

This is where making an estimation is the only way to find out just how much filament is used in 3D printing.

3D Printer Filament Estimation

This is probably one of the most common ways to find out the amount of filament that you will need for a project: you estimate the amount by reaching out to others who you know have worked on a similar project or item, or you simply compare the task at hand to similar past projects.

For instance, if you are looking for a hexagonal print and you have prior experience with a similar project, then you know that you will need around 76 grams of filament (PLA) when printed with 20% in-fill.

But what if you want to make it sturdier? Then, you can add another 25% to the 76 grams, which will get you the number; 95 grams - an extra 20% for extra weight and another 5% for the size difference. You should know, though, that making estimates such as this is only possible if you have prior experience making similar objects.

Using the Method of Approximation

Any nerds reading this will already be familiar with the concept of "Fermi Approximation," introduced by none other than famous Italian Physicist (and creator of the world's first nuclear reactor) Enrico Fermi. We can use Fermi's concept here because it is only concerned with being approximately right rather than precisely right. In other words, it is great for napkin calculations and rough estimates. This also works well in our case because Fermi approximation is only bothered about weight (in grams) that's rounded in 1, 10, 100, and so on.

So, for instance, if you are looking to print a bicycle helmet for yourself and don't have a clue as to how much printing filament you will need, all you have to do is (bear with us) compare your helmet to a 10 cm3 cube with 100% in-fill (PLA).

While the helmet is not going to be 1000 times the size of the cube or just 10 cm3, the only possible answer is that the helmet is going to be 100 times larger than the cube.

With the PLA density being at 1.25 grams per cubic centimeter, your helmet (100% in-fill) would weigh 12.5 grams.

Now, raise that to 100 times, and you will get the approximate answer of 1250 grams with 100% in-fill. So, at just 20% in-fill, you will get a weight of 250 grams. So, the actual weight of the 3D printed helmet will be somewhere in the ballpark of 100 to 300 grams. Viola!

While some of you might be scratching your scalp, thinking, "How is this an accurate answer?" The trick here is not to be exact, but rather, to approximate (it's in the name). Besides, this method is used as the gold standard to reach a level of accuracy within an order of magnitude of the actual answer.

Is Geometric Volume a Good Method of Estimation?

Many experienced 3D printer users are quick to acknowledge that geometric volume does not help when it comes to calculating the exact weight of a 3D printed item - and they aren't wrong!

This is mainly because all 3D prints have unique shapes and sizes, which means you will have to be an Einstein or an expert in building Minecraft-esque cuboids to get it right using just geometric volume as a reference for 3D prints.

Using this method is also a bad idea mainly because you will be forced to make several guesses, which will only raise the level of uncertainty as the 3D prints increase in complexity. Another reason why going the geometric volume route while trying to find the weight of a 3D print does not work is that it simply fails to account for other factors such as technical losses – as in failed prints – and the need for possible support structures.

This means that you could grossly underestimate the amount of filament required for a particular project and have to stop your operation halfway through the project just to restock on filament. Since the whole purpose of estimating is so that you won't run out of filament during a project, using a volumetric approach defeats the purpose.

Is a Spool of Filament Enough?

That is like asking will a reel of thread be enough before working on a project. Several factors will determine whether or not one reel of thread is going to be enough or whether you will require multiple reels. Similarly, 3D printing filament generally comes in spools of 1 kilogram, which may seem like a lot, but as anybody who owns a 3D printer will tell you, it is an extremely addictive pass time, which means you will probably run out of filament before you know it.

To get an idea of how much you can print with a 1 KG spool of 3D printing filament, you can print up to 400 chess pieces of average size or 90 calibration cubes at 100% in-fill. Of course, the number can go much higher to 335 calibration cubes if you use 5% in-fill. For those of you who are wondering "how long does 3D printing filament last," on average, a 1 KG spool should last you about 50 printing hours – that is, if you are going to print an average size chess piece which takes 8 grams of filament and can be printed in 1 hour 30 minutes.  

However, there are other factors that come into play here, such as the quality of the filament.

Quality of the 3D Printer Filament

In other words, if the filament breaks often or gets jammed, you will end up wasting the printing filament. While 3D printer filament does not have a shelf life, some materials have been known to perform better than others. This is why it is advised to choose ABS or PLA, which are reinforced with carbon fiber, resulting in a rigid and robust material that is strong along with being relatively lightweight as well.

TPU or Thermoplastic Polyurethane is another option known for its flexibility and robustness, allowing it to be used for many commercial 3D printing projects. But as a "daily driver," PLA or a thermoplastic filament of polylactic acid is the way to go. PLA is considered to be the go-to option for 3D printing enthusiasts and commercial users alike mainly because it is affordable and offers a high level of resistance to impact.

While it is true that 3D printer filaments do not have a specific shelf life, per se, it is possible for the 3D printing filament that you use to "go bad" due to inappropriate storage. If the 3D printing filament is stored in bad conditions, then it will deteriorate quicker. This is why one of the first things experienced 3D printer users check when the print quality suffers is the condition of the 3D printing filament and its storage space. Storing away filament (ABS and PLA) in an airtight container to prevent it from absorbing humidity is an absolute must if you want your 3D filament to go the distance.  

One way to tell if your 3D printer filament has come in contact with water or droplets is by listening for crackling or popping sounds while the filament is being melted in the hot end. Printing with moist filament means using filament that is inconsistent and a lot weaker, resulting in more breaks during the printing process.

You can use the household oven to dry saturated ABS filaments since they come with a Tg of 100 degrees Celsius, unlike PLA, which has a Tg of 60 degrees. You can use a renewable dehumidifier if you want to keep PLA filaments dry, or just go for the lowest setting in your kitchen oven and leave it there until it dries.  

Degradation of the 3D Printer

Another important factor to consider is the age of the 3D printer itself you are using. With time, wear and tear in 3D printers is not unheard of, which could result in increased instances of failed prints, significant increases in process loss at the hot end, and more jams, all of which can result in wasted filament. Speaking of wear and tear in 3D printers, as long as the wheels aren't too tight, you're good.

Over time, the wheels tend to conform to the aluminum rails. Also, it is important to keep the wheels of your 3D printer clean since the wheels rolling back and forth against the aluminum leads to a build-up of static electricity, which can attract dust over time and lead to failed prints.

Incorrect 3D Printer Settings

Incorrect 3D printer settings can result in extrusion, which in turn, can waste 3D printing filament.

A quick fix for this problem is to decrease the extrusion multiplier. This can be done by the flow settings on the slicing software you are using, which indicates the 3D printer's rate of ejecting plastic during the printing process.

All you have to do is decrease that setting to 2.5% increments to prevent the 3D printer from extruding a lot of filament. In instances where the in-fill appears to be weak, lower the printer's speed since the extruder could have a hard time keeping up if the speed is too fast. It is also possible for a blocked extruder to cause inconsistencies in filament extrusion, which means that the nozzle requires cleaning.

Need for Support Material

Beginner 3D printing enthusiasts do not realize that support materials can also take a toll on your spool of 3D printing filament. To fix this problem, you should use 3D printing software to find design tweaks that will help reduce the need for support material in the items you design. For instance, you can also use software such as Meshmixer to create custom supports for the objects you are designing in the 3D printer, which does not use up much of the 3D printing filament. While you're at it, try to find ways to minimize the number of rafts, brims, or skirts that are unnecessary.

The good news is, while it may be difficult to reduce the skirts in a 3D printing project, rafts and brims, on the other hand, can be easily reduced or done away with when 3D printing many designs.

How to Make the 3D Printer Filament Last Long?

One of the most effective ways of doing this is by simply using good quality software to slice your objects in a way that the 3D printer utilizes less filament. To make sure you're not using more filament than you should, it is best to experiment with several slicing techniques and choose one that uses the least filament.

At the end of the day, other factors such as the in-fill density, size of the prints themselves, and the need for supports should all be considered when trying to figure out how much filament you need to 3D print an item. The amount of filament that is used during a 3D printing process also depends on the object being printed. For instance, a vase or round pot tends to use less filament since there is no in-fill. You can also play around with the settings of your 3D printer to help lower filament usage per print.

What about 3D Printer Cleaning Filament?

Not all 3D printing filament is used for printing purposes. Unlike other filaments, cleaning filament is not used to print objects in the 3D printer but rather to clean or remove any materials that get lodged in the hot end of the printer. These cleaning 3D printer filaments are necessary between printing sessions where multiple filaments of different colors and temperatures are being used. Furthermore, it is recommended to give the hot end of your 3D printer some TLC from time to time just to be sure it performs at an optimal level.

During the process, you will have to feed the cleaning 3D printer filament manually into the heated print head. This helps force out any lodged materials from the previous printing session. Once the cleaning filament is fed in the print head, yank it out once the hot end has cooled. The good news is, if you do use this procedure rather than the old "cold pull," which does not require a 3D printer cleaning filament, you will only need around 10cm of the cleaning filament for every cleaning session.

At the end of the day, owning a 3D printer is a lot like owning a car; as in, the more you drive it and press down on the gas, the more you have to fill up the tank. When it comes to how much filament is used in 3D printing, it is always going to boil down to how much you use your 3D printer and what items you make. But, you don't have to be completely in the dark. There are some slicers that show the approximate amount of filament that's going to be used for printing a particular item. The key here is to always enter the right filament density in the slicer you are using to get close to an accurate reading.

You can also use slicers such as Ultimaker Cura, which has become an industry standard to determine how much filament is required to print your models. All you have to do is load the models you want to print into the slicer to get a good idea of the amount of filament you need. As a rule of thumb, it is always best to store up on every filament color you may need because you are going to run out of 3D printing filament eventually.

About THE AUTHOR

William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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How Much Filament Is Used In 3D Printing?

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