3D Printing Filaments
3D printing filaments are wire-based materials used in FDM 3D printing technology. These include thermoplastic polymers such as PLA, ABS, TPU, HIPS, PETG, PVA, Nylon, and others. All of these materials are used in 3D printers to create three-dimensional objects.
The various materials exhibit a wide range of properties that are well suited to a wide range of applications in a wide range of industries. Some materials are brittle, while others are ductile; some are rigid, while others are flexible; some have high tensile strength, while others have a high resistance to heat, chemicals, or impact. This mix of materials can be carefully studied to be appropriately used in suitable applications.
From this material library, we take a look at some of the strongest 3D printing filaments in FDM 3D printing. They are as listed below.
List of Strongest 3D Printing Filaments
We take a look at seven of the strongest 3D printing filaments for FDM 3D printing.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) filament is a popular industrial-grade polymer. It is considered one of the strongest 3D printing filaments. It is used in a multitude of traditional manufacturing processes to make numerous everyday household items. Due to this, it is highly desirable in 3D printing as well.
ABS is lightweight and has a high impact strength; it is also abrasion-resistant and inexpensive. Furthermore, ABS polymers are resistant to a wide range of chemicals. Its glass transition temperature is 105°C (221°F), making it ideal for use in relatively safe and simple machines. It has tensile strength or approximately 40MPa, which is comparable to PLA but ABS also offers greater ductility and thus more impact resistance.
ABS material has a low melting point, making it easy to use in 3D printers but unsuitable for high-temperature applications. Its low melting point allows ABS to be easily machined during the post-processing stage.
However, ABS is a challenging material to 3D print with. When printing ABS, many users experience issues like warping, cracking, and dimensional inaccuracy. Users have to ensure proper precautions before they start printing with ABS or else the print will result in a failure.
- Extruder Temperature: 210oC to 240oC
- Bed Temperature: 90oC to 110oC
- Printing Speed: 20 to 30mm/sec
- Heated Bed: Necessary
- Enclosure: Recommended
- ABS is an excellent material for 3D printing movable parts, parts that must withstand high mechanical stress or parts that require high-stress functionality.
- Because of its good surface finish, ABS is also suitable for end-use products.
- Enclosures for electrical or electronic assemblies, sports equipment, parts for the automotive industry or the medical sectors, low-cost prototypes, and architectural models for engineers or research departments.
- It is also suitable for the creation of low-cost medical prostheses or material handling equipment.
- ABS filament possesses exceptional mechanical properties such as strength, ductility, impact resistance, and wear resistance.
- The ABS surface can be easily glued or painted with acrylic paints after being smoothened with acetone vaporing.
- It has numerous applications in prototyping and end-of-life parts.
- ABS emits toxic fumes when printed. Due to this, users must take appropriate precautions and perform 3D printing in a well-ventilated room.
- ABS is UV-sensitive and should not be used in outdoor applications where it will be exposed to direct sunlight.
- Warping, curling, and cracking are all common characteristics of ABS. Appropriate safety precautions must be taken to ensure a successful print.
- ABS printing necessitates the use of both a heated bed and an enclosure (heated one for even better results). Both of these features add to the price of the 3D printer. While printing, users must also cover their nose and mouth, which necessitates the purchase of an additional piece of equipment.
Nylon is a synthetic polyamide polymer known for its high durability, strength, and flexibility. It can be 3D printed in SLS and MJF 3D printers, but it is quite costly. Nylon, however, can also be 3D printed efficiently and affordably in FDM 3D printers.
Nylon FDM 3D printing is a little more difficult, but it is certainly possible. Because of its high melting point (around 250-290 °C), nylon cannot be printed with all 3D printers. It also has some drawbacks, but because of many of its advantageous properties, it is widely used in FDM 3D printing.
Nylon has excellent mechanical properties, as well as good chemical, impact, and heat resistance, and it is relatively inexpensive. It is ideal for printing functional parts and prototypes in 3D. Nylon is frequently reinforced with fibers and particles from other materials to improve thermal and mechanical properties like stiffness and abrasion resistance. Nylon has a tensile strength ranging from 40 to 85 MPa.
Nylon is a highly hygroscopic material, which means it absorbs a lot of water. This causes the material's physical properties and performance to deteriorate. This also causes problems when 3D printing like moisture bubbles, intermittent material flow, gaps in prints, etc. However, the same water absorption property makes nylon easy to post-process with paints. Painting a nylon 3D printed part is simple, and the color adheres evenly to the part.
This versatile material is ideal for a wide range of applications, including connectors and hinges, medical prosthetics, and small-series production of functional parts.
- Extruder temperature: 240-290 °C
- Bed temperature: Up to 65 °C
- Bed surface: PVA glue stick, Magigoo, Garolite, 3DLac
- Print speed: 25-50 mm/s
- Enclosure: Recommended, but not necessary
- Connectors, hinges, cases, and enclosures
- Medical applications like prosthetics
- Small-series production of functional parts
- Robotic, mechanical, and functional components
- Belts, gears, and handles
- Watertight items
- Strong and long-lasting
- Better temperature, wear, UV-light, and chemical resistance
- Allows for the creation of both rigid and flexible parts
- Simple to color and coat
- Exceptional surface finish
- Because of its high moisture absorption, the material necessitates a special storage solution
- When uncoated printed parts are exposed to air, their properties change slightly
- Printing is more difficult than with ABS or PLA
- The possibility of shrinkage during the cooling process
Polyethylene Terephthalate-Glycol (PETG), a PET variant, is a popular 3D printing material. It is also considered to be one of the strongest 3D printing materials. To improve the durability of the base PET material, this variant is formulated by adding glycol to it. PETG is available in translucent colors, giving printed parts a glossy finish. It comes in a variety of colors.
PETG is extremely strong, making it ideal for mechanically demanding applications. It has a tensile strength ranging from 50 to 60 MPa. The filament has the functionality of ABS material and the dependability of PLA. It is an excellent engineering-grade material that can be used in place of ABS. Its ease of printing also makes it a better choice than ABS. It also has low shrinkage, better ductility, and excellent chemical resistance.
Because PETG is translucent, it is prone to scratches. Aside from that, PETG is affected by UV rays and loses mechanical properties when exposed to strong UV rays.
- Extruder Temperature: 220oC to 250oC
- Bed Temperature: 70oC to 80oC
- Printing Speed: 50-60mm/sec
- Heated Bed: Necessary
- Enclosure: Recommended
PETG is a common material in the manufacturing industry because it is considered food safe. It can be used for water and drink bottles, cooking oil containers, and FDA-compliant food storage containers.
PETG is also suitable for printing products that may be subjected to sudden or sustained stress, such as protective components, prosthetic devices, jigs and fixtures, and mechanical parts, due to its impact resistance.
Another application for PETG is product packaging. Transparent PETG packaging, for example, can be used to showcase an item while keeping it safe due to the material's impact resistance.
Because of its ability to withstand rigorous sterilization processes, PETG is also suitable for pharmaceutical and medical device packaging. It can also be used to make thermoformed trays, blister packaging, clamshell packaging, mounting, lids, mounting cards, folding cartons, and a variety of other products. It is ideal for medical device packaging.
- PETG filament is strong, rigid, and resistant to impact. It is also resistant to chemicals, fatigue, and wear.
- PETG has a glossy finish, which aids in the separation of the printed part from the raft when printing with rafts.
- PETG is a popular material in food and beverage because it can be sterilized. It is also widely used in the medical industry to make instruments and prosthetics.
- PETG is prone to a lot of stringing, and if the proper settings aren't used, the stringing can cause problems.
- Exposure to UV rays for an extended period can weaken PETG.
- The material may be difficult to print with for new users, so there is a learning curve. It is not a standard printing material.
Carbon Fiber Filament
Carbon Fibers are very popular in a wide range of industries like automotive/motorsports, aerospace, engineering, military, sports equipment, etc. Carbon fiber 3D printing filaments are made up of tiny fibers that are infused into a base material to improve their properties. PLA, PETG, Nylon, ABS, and Polycarbonate are among the popular filaments that can be purchased with carbon fiber-filled variants. These fibers are extremely strong and cause the base filament's strength and stiffness to increase. As a result of the fibers, the 3D printed parts will be much lighter and more dimensionally stable, as the part will not shrink as it cools.
Printing parameters such as temperature, speed, bed adhesion, and extrusion rates will be very similar to those used for the base material to which the fibers were added (for example, the stock PLA settings would be a good starting point for PLA-based carbon fiber filament). However, because of the additional fibers, these specialty materials are more likely to clog and may necessitate the use of special hardware to avoid damaging the printer.
However, carbon fiber cannot be 3D printed in smaller nozzles. The tiny fiber particles infused in the base material can cause blockage in the nozzle. This clogging results in printer downtime and some cases, the nozzles have to be scrapped. An additional pain as well as cost.
Carbon fiber materials are costlier than regular materials due to obvious reasons for delivering better strength properties to the print.
- Extruder Temperature: 200-230 °C
- Bed Temperature: 45-60 °C
- Nozzle Type: Hardened Steel Nozzle
- Build Surface: Painter’s tape, PEI, Glass plate, Glue stick
- Serves applications in aerospace, engineering, motorsports, sports equipment, etc.
- R/C vehicles and Drones are widely using carbon fibers
- Functional prototypes and Lightweight end-use parts
- Non-critical parts to replace metal parts
- Increased stiffness and strength
- Lightweight material
- Dimensional stability is excellent
- It is abrasive and therefore demands the use of a hardened steel nozzle
- Increased oozing during printing
- Increased filament brittleness
- A greater proclivity to clog nozzles
Polyether Ether Ketone (PEEK) is a very demanding material and is one of the most difficult to print with. But it is also one of the strongest 3D printing materials. PEEK has a tensile strength of around 100MPa. PEEK, along with other polymers in the PAEK family such as PEKK, is regarded as one of the highest performing engineering thermoplastics in the world. The melting temperatures are high, resulting in a higher nozzle temperature that is generally higher than what standard nozzles can withstand. Thus, it is preferred to be used in high-temperature applications.
PEEK is used to make items used in high-stress applications such as aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and medicine. PEEK can also replace metal parts under suitable conditions.
The high temperature also means that regular nozzles cannot be used and as a result, printing with PEEK requires the use of specific nozzles.
- Extruder temperature: 360-400OC
- Bed temperature: 130 – 145OC
- Enclosure Temperature: 70 – 150OC
- Nozzle Type: Hardened steel nozzle
- PEEK can be used in the aerospace and defense industries due to its superior strength. It can also be used to replace metal parts. PEEK applications in the defense industry include functional prototyping, metal replacement, and other end-use parts.
- PEEK is used in the automotive and motorsports industries to replace non-critical metal parts to reduce vehicle weight.
- PEEK can also be used for end-of-life parts in medical applications such as prosthetics, consumer electronics, the plastics industry, the manufacturing industry, and so on.
- PEEK can eliminate corrosion, improve fuel efficiency with lower friction, and operate in more extreme chemical environments.
- PEEK has the unique property of being both a strong 3D printing material and a lightweight material. This property aids in the reduction of product weight, thus ultimately making the system efficient.
- PEEK can be used to make parts that metal additive techniques cannot make due to its ability to manufacture complex geometries and greater design freedom.
- PEEK is quite expensive to manufacture, and the cost is the main criterion to consider when justifying its use.
- To print PEEK, a 3D printer must have a high-temperature nozzle, heated bed, heated build chamber (recommended), and PEI bed to ensure good print quality.
- PEEK is difficult to print because it is affected by a variety of factors such as nozzle temperature fluctuations, build chamber temperature fluctuations, build platform material, print speed, and so on.
Polycarbonate (PC) is one of the most durable engineering plastics for 3D printing. It is a tough, dimensionally stable, and heat-resistant material that can withstand high-impact stresses. It offers a tensile strength of around 70MPa. It has a high melting point and thus has been used in high-temperature applications. It can create strong and long-lasting 3D printed parts.
However, Polycarbonate also is difficult to 3D print dues to various reasons. It exhibits a high proclivity to warping and splitting than any other thermoplastic material.
- Extruder temperature: 250-300 °C
- Print bed temperature: 90-150 °C
- Enclosure: recommended
- The print bed covering: glue stick, PEI
- Polycarbonate is used in a wide range of applications, including sunglass lenses, scuba masks, electronic display screens, and phone cases.
- Polycarbonate is ideal for high-stress, load-bearing applications due to its strength and heat resistance, and it can withstand temperatures as high as 110 OC.
- Carbon-reinforced Polycarbonate is also suitable for making intake manifolds and other high-temperature parts for the automobile industry.
- Injection molds for low-volume manufacturing, tools, and functional prototypes are all excellent candidates for 3D printing with a PC.
- Polycarbonate is a rigid material with high stiffness, strength, and heat resistance. It has moderate chemical resistance and excellent temperature resistance.
- PC has the same transparency as glass. The majority of other plastics, including PETG, do not transmit visible light as well as this material does.
- Tumbling is an excellent choice for automated post-processing due to the high impact resistance of PC. Vibrating grit particles can quickly smooth the layer lines without damaging the part.
- Because Nylon, like PETG, is hygroscopic, it should be kept in a controlled, low-humidity environment to avoid absorbing moisture from the air.
- PC must be printed at a high temperature (typically above 250 °C) due to its high heat resistance.
- PC is also prone to warping and splitting.
Polypropylene (PP) is a popular material in conventional manufacturing processes. It is widely used in containers, water bottles, and other products. As a result, polypropylene becomes a desirable material for 3D printing. The filament has a high level of flexibility as well as excellent toughness. It's also resistant to a wide range of chemicals and electricity. Polypropylene is a food-safe material and is FDA-approved. (However, it is important to note that the 3D printing process can contaminate the material, so 3D printed polypropylene is not completely food safe. Food safety can be achieved through various methods after the 3D print.)
Soon, the importance of 3D printing with polypropylene will grow even more. This is primarily due to the versatile property profile of this material, which far exceeds the property profile of traditional 3D printing materials. Polypropylene is easily recycled and has a variety of beneficial properties, such as mechanical strength, chemical resistance, and biocompatibility. Furthermore, PP is sterilizable, skin-friendly, and suitable for food contact. An important consideration for 3D printing is that PP is not water-attractive and thus does not require drying before 3D printing.
With all of its great properties, Polypropylene faces a major challenge in achieving 3D printing success. It is not the easiest of materials to 3D print. Because of the high failure rate, few brands produce this material and fewer companies use this material.
- Extruder Temperature: 230 – 260 OC
- Bed Temperature: 85 - 100 OC
- Build Plate: Polypropylene Sheet
- Heated Bed Required
- Enclosure Recommended
- Nozzle Type: Regular Brass Nozzle
Polypropylene has a wide range of applications in both consumer and industrial products. Being an FDA approved material, it has wide applications in the packaging industry
Its superior properties also make it appealing to the automotive industry for use in the production of parts such as car bumpers.
Polypropylene, however, is ideal for orthoses and orthopedic aid applications because it combines lightweight products with the ability to withstand high mechanical stress. Furthermore, because the parts are semi-flexible, they are much more comfortable and can effectively aid in the recovery process.
In addition to these, PP has medical applications such as standing or sitting assistance devices and communication aid fixtures.
- Polypropylene has high mechanical strength, is resistant to chemicals, and is biocompatible.
- Polypropylene is a skin-friendly and sterilizable material.
- It is both light and strong mechanically.
- FDA-accepted and food-safe
- Changing to Polypropylene is also good for the environment. Parts made of polypropylene can be recycled multiple times.
- It is difficult to 3D print with Polypropylene successfully.
- Its properties are unstable during the printing process because they can change with small temperature changes.
- It is susceptible to shrinkage.
- Polypropylene of high quality is expensive.