Those who have dreamed of owning a 3D printer can look forward to making a variety of items with their machines. One of the next steps is to find the right filament for the task. The filament is the solid plastic that the printer and extruder turn into a liquid for the purpose of printing. There are quite a few filaments available, and we'll introduce you to two of them in PVC and polycarbonate.
What is polycarbonate?
Polycarbonate is especially used in a few sectors: motorcycle helmets, bulletproof windows, baby bottles, and eyeglass lenses. If you are looking to print something that is highly flexible – and will bend without breaking, polycarbonate is a great idea. Polycarbonate is also highly resistant to heat – part of what makes it ideal for a baby bottle behind washed in a hot dishwasher.
There are small downsides to polycarbonate. Polycarbonate requires a printer that can run hot – up to 140 celsius, which also requires a hot plate or tray to allow it to settle properly. Another limitation to polycarbonate is that it does absorb water and condensation well when not in use yet, so you should store it in an air-tight container to keep humidity from creeping in. You'll also want an all-metal nozzle end for the purpose, as a brass of plastic nozzle might not be able to handle the heat and will wear down more quickly, causing smearing earlier.
What should I use polycarbonate to make in 3d printing?
While this list won't necessarily be complete, we would suggest using polycarbonate to make higher-strength parts as well as prints for heat-resistant areas. Polycarbonate also makes a great electronics device case and can be made to fit a phone or tablet precisely.
What is PVC?
PVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride. If you've ever noticed that your plumbing pipes or other household piping are made of PVC, you are not alone! PVC works very well for everything from electrical insulation to pipes. The key advantages are that PVC is cheaper.
One big challenge of working with PVC in a 3D printer is the need for good ventilation. Chlorine is not friendly to the lungs, especially not while being melted or burned. You'll either want a printer with a strong air filter or at least a respirator when printing with PVC. More recent print developments have made PVC more viable for 3D printing.
While PVC isn't as tough as polycarbonate and wouldn't be used for bulletproof glass, it has the ability to absorb heat still. One potential application includes, you guessed it- specifically fit and sized pipes.
Which is better: PVC or polycarbonate?
The question of what is better is up to the user. Both kinds of filaments ask for some level of specialized 3D printer: the polycarbonate needs to get extra hot and have a proper table, while PVC requires additional ventilation.
We'll be honest here: Neither PVC nor polycarbonate is especially good for beginners to work with on a 3D printer. That honor goes to PLA, which has the safest fumes and is the easiest to print with.
When printing something protective, like a casing, we suggest doing it with polycarbonate. While there is a risk of expansion or contraction with polycarbonate, it might be worth trying a couple of times to make a product with the long-term durability of polycarbonate.
Is one messier than the other?
Both are messy in their own ways. A polycarbonate filament print needs attention and care to ensure that it settles properly. The right amount of heat is needed to ensure that it hardens properly without any problems.
PCV is relatively clean but has only been recently manufactured to be healthy or safe to use. Again – at least get a printed with an air filter for the purpose or a ventilator.
Is one more reliable than the other?
When we were doing research about deep differences between polycarbonate and PVC, most of the discussions were about the toughness but the relative difficulty of working with polycarbonate Most of the discussion about PVC revolved around potential health issues and recent innovations to make PVC easier to melt.
With that said, polycarbonate is certainly a more proven filament for people trying to make protective or heat-resistant products. The answer does depend on your expertise, though, and your willingness to try polycarbonate to see if it works through some trial and error.
Our final opinion for ourselves is to work with polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is the strongest consumer plastic available and, to us, is worth the potential finickiness of the printer itself. Often when a 3D printer is used, the person using it wants the product to last a while, especially considering the work often involved in designing the product. Polycarbonate better represents this.
We just feel that PVC requires some differences in the printer that we wouldn't want to contend with, and generally speaking, it has its uses with easier 3D printing and the making of consumer and home pipes.