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What is 3D Printing Material?

What is 3D Printing Material? | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone


January 26, 2023

3D printing material is plastic, nylon, glass, resin, metal, wax, chocolate, wood and more.  It is the material the printer extrudes to create an object.  Think of your desktop printer and the ink that creates the image.  3D printing material is the ink of the 3D printing process.

Most 3D printing material used by beginners, hobbyist and home users is called filament.  Filament is a wire or thread with a high melting point.  It comes in spools.  Most filament is some form of plastic or thermoplastic.  This thermoplastic is heated up as it is pushed through a nozzle or extruder on the 3D printer and positioned on a platform as the printer moves it around based on a 3D digital design.

Other 3D materials will come in resin or powder form.

For many of us this is new technology, yet every day 3D printing is expanding and growing and getting closer to your desktop.

3D printing consists of 3 things:  a printer, material (think ink), and a type or process (think dot matrix vs laser).  There are many different printers, big and small. There are many different materials as discussed above.  And there are various printing processes like FDM (fusion deposition modeling) or SLA (sterolithography).  Each process is just the way material is bonded together to create an object.

FDM melts the material in thin strands and layers it one upon another.  SLA uses laser beams to harden liquid resin layer upon layer.  No mater which process is used, it is all considered additive manufacturing, meaning adding one layer at a time.  

But we digress, this article is about 3D printing material so let’s continue.

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Table of Contents

How much do 3D printing materials cost?

The cost of 3D printed material depends upon the type of material.

Plastic is the basic material used for 3D printing and it is the least costly and the most common of all 3D printing filament.  Check out our complete guide to 3D printing materials.  Here is a sampling of various thermoplastic materials and their relative cost:

PLA – $$
ABS – $$
ASA – $$
PETG – $$
PC – $$$
HIPS – $$
NYLON – $$$
PP – $$$$$
PVA – $$$$

PLA and ABS are the least expensive and will run you about $25 per kilogram.  PP is the most expensive in the above list and will run you about $100 per kilogram.  Price change often and vary depending on the seller, it is always best to check around.  The good news is some of these filaments can be purchased at your local Walmart.

Is 3D printing material recyclable?

Yes, many different types of 3D printing materials are recyclable, meaning you can use the material multiple times for one purpose. However, the quality of material often decreases the more it is used.

Plastic is divided into two types:  thermoplastic and thermosetting.  Thermoplastic can be heated, molded and cooled without chemical change.  It is considered recyclable.  Thermosetting strengthens when heated and cannot be reused.

Most metal is recyclable, like aluminum, brass, copper, iron, copper, tin, gold and silver.  Some materials like alloy metals cannot be used multiple times for 3D printing. Steel is one of these materials which will get hard and cannot be used multiple times in 3D printing.

Composite material may be recyclable in terms of 3D printing but cannot be recycled curbside as it is difficult to separate the particles from the composite material.

What is the safest 3D Printing Material?

PLA is a commonly used material that is plant based, biodegradable, does not emit fumes when printing and therefore is one of the safest materials to use.

Safety is always important in 3D printing and addresses the basic question, “will it harm people?”.

Some 3D printed materials are FDA approved and used for storing food, others are not.  Some materials emit fumes during 3D printing and require ventilation.  Some materials used in printing may be safe for adults but not for children.  Always understand the material and your purpose before 3D printing.

What is the most dangerous 3D Printing Material?

PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) is one material that could be considered the most dangerous.  While it is easy to use it does emit toxic fumes that are very dangerous.  It is not a material that should be used at home and should be well ventilated where ever it is used.  People often don’t realize they are inhaling toxic fumes from PVA so be aware.

What 3D material is best for Home Use?

PLA is by far the most common and widely used 3D printing material and is the favorite for home use.  Its is safe if used by children, it is least expensive, and it does not give off toxic fumes.  Nylon may also be considered a good option for home use.

Where to buy 3D Printing Materials?

Almost anywhere.  3D printing materials are more common than you may think, so the purchase options are many.  A quick search online will reveal both manufacturers and resellers of 3D filament.  You can go direct to a manufacturer to purchase.  Or, better yet, you can even go to your local Walmart store and find a selection of 3D printing materials.

When buying material, just be aware, not all material is the same quality.  Look for reviews, read specifications to make sure you are getting a good product that will provide you the best print.  Not all material is created equal, buyer beware.

What materials cannot be 3D printed?

You might hear the statement; anything can be 3D printed.  A better statement is many things can be 3D printed but certainly not everything.  Certain materials are either difficult to print or dangerous to use as 3D printing materials, think explosives like trinitrotoluene.  Heat it the wrong way and, well, you understand.  Live tissues cannot be 3D printed right now as the live tissue will be killed during the 3D printing process. In the future this may be different as scientists continue to push the limits.  Some materials are not suited for adhesion, like salt, and therefore cannot be used as 3D printing material.  Also, corrosive and dangerous substances are not suited for using in 3D printing.

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What is 3D Printing Material?


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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