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What Do 3D Printers Use For Ink

What Do 3D Printers Use For Ink | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone


January 25, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • 3D printers do not use ink. Instead, they use materials like PLA, ABS, PETG, Resin, Nylon 12, powdered metals, and wax.
  • There are three primary types of 3D printers that determine the type of material used, including Stereolithography (SLA) Printers, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Printers, and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Printers.
  • 3D printers work by depositing continuous 2D successive layers to create a three dimensional object.

3D printing is one of the fastest-growing industries because of how versatile these machines are. But the common question is what type of ink they use.

3D printers don’t use traditional ink. Instead, they use thermoplastics filaments and powders like PLA, ABS, PETG, Resin, and Nylon 12 to create durable 3D-printed objects. The material used varies based on the printer type. Metals and Wax are also used in 3D printing to create different objects.

With years of experience running different 3D printers, we have tested nearly all material types using this guide's three primary printer types. Whether using powdered metal or thermoplastic, 3D printing has changed the way we look at additive manufacturing, and we explain these materials below.

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Table of Contents

What Do 3D Printers Use For Ink?

3D printers do not use traditional ink like an at-home computer. Instead, they use types of thermoplastic. These plastics usually come in filament spools and are fed through the printer head to create the desired object.

However, the material type varies based on the printer type. We have listed the most common materials used for 3D printing below.


PLA, also known as polylactic acid, is a durable thermoplastic completely made from renewable resources. This filament is considered safe, non-toxic, and biodegradable because of its cleaner design.

It is a preferred choice to use with FDM printers and provides excellent benefits like flexibility, and it's easy to use for beginners.


ABS is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, and this is another thermoplastic filament used with FDM printers to create durable and high-strength 3D printed objects. However, it's more toxic and not biodegradable like PLA.

It’s also a much more complex material to use. It creates stiffer objects with minimal flexibility, but the heat and impact resistance is much higher than other thermoplastic filament types.


PETG stands for Polyethylene terephthalate glycol, and it is a thermoplastic material that is used in 3D printing. This filament is both strong and flexible, with good resistance to heat, chemicals, and UV radiation.

It’s considered the easiest thermoplastic material to use with FDM printers. It combines the best characteristics of ABS and PLA to provide the most versatility.


Resin is much more unique but qualifies as plastic too. Instead, it is a UV-curing liquid plastic primarily used with SLA printers. It requires intense light to form 3D-printed objects and structures.

Resin is preferred for use in more tedious and detailed printing situations. It can provide a better object resolution than PLA, PETG, and ABS.


Nylon 12 is an FDM material to create strong and durable objects. It is the perfect option for a wide range of additive manufacturing applications and has excellent tensile strength, heat resistance, and impact resistance.

DMLS Metals

DMLS metals are used with DMLS printers which operate like SLS printers. These metals are in powdered form to create complex objects.

Some of the potential metals include stainless steel, aluminum titanium, copper, nickel, and more.


Wax can also be used in multiple printer types for 3D printing. A custom FDM printer is the most common way to print with wax.

Types Of 3D Printers

3D printing is an advanced and complex way of making a 3D solid object. This is done using an advanced printer using high temperatures, complex plastics, and advanced components.

Most of the established printer types are for plastic materials, including Stereolithography (SLA) Printers, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Printers, and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Printers.

Stereolithography (SLA) Printers

Stereolithography (SLA) printers are machines that create three-dimensional objects by curing liquid resin with a light-reactive thermoset. This printer is a foundational process to additive manufacturing.

It differs from other printer types because a light source is used to cure a liquid resin material. After the resin is cured, it turns into a hardened plastic material as a 3D-printed object.

These printers contain a light source, different build platforms, and a resin tank for the material. The printing happens by turning monomers and oligomers into rigid and flexible shapes.

It’s worth noting that SLA is the chosen printing method for parts that require advanced detail or excellent resolution. This is the preferred printing method for prototyping too.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Printers

Selective Laser Sintering printers are another advanced additive manufacturing method to create 3D printed objects. This print uses lasers to sinter materiasolid finishedhed solid object.

It sounds simple enough, but the process widely differs from the other two printer types. The first primary difference is the type of material used. This printer commonly uses Polyamide 12 (PA 12) or Nylon for the best results.

The nylon is in a granular powder because the laser sintering process fuses the powder into a firm structure. It’s a versatile printing process with a powder bin, build area, re-coating blade, and CO2 laser.

This is a reliable printer for fast print results, excellent properties, high resolution, and strong and durable objects. A DMLS printer type also uses this same process with powdered metals.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Printers

FDM printers work by extruding heated plastic filament, which cools and hardens after being deposited on the surface, layer by layer.

This design is then converted into a series of cross-sections used by the printer to create the object layer by layer.

The printer uses its nozzle to cover each layer with material, then moves up one layer, building up the object in layers until it has completed printing all sections of the design. This printer is used for low-volume manufacturing prototyping and other functional object types.

How Do 3D Printers Work?

The 3D printer builds the object by depositing successive layers of material until the entire object is created. The 3D printer typically starts with a digital file that specifies the object’s shape in a 3D modeling program.

Depending on the printer type, it will work differently based on temperature settings, material type, and print time. For example, SLS printers layer much differently compared to FDM printers.

The model is then sliced into thin horizontal layers and fed to the printer one at a time so it can create each layer and build up the object's shape. The process starts with a digital design of the object as a computer model.

The design is then turned into instructions that are sent to the printer. These instructions tell the printer how to build up successive layers of material until an object is created.

The 3D printer creates the object by laying down successive thin layers of material until it has built up the entire object.

The printer head moves in two dimensions across the surface of the build platform to create an object from the ground up. The easiest way to think about how a 3D printer works is by building thousands of 2D print layers on top of each other to build a 3D object.

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What Do 3D Printers Use For Ink


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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