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The Ultimate Filament Guide

2020 3D Printer Filament Buyer’s Guide

Picture of Sean Rohringer
by Sean Rohringer
Jan 2, 2020
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Check out our buyer's guide to the 25 most popular 3D printing filament types, showing their uses, properties and where you can buy them.

Getting your hands on a 3D printer opens the door to a universe of possibilities. Be it something functional like prosthetics or recreational like tabletop gaming parts, there’s one universal need tying it all together: 3D printer filament.

The raw material that keeps you printing, there’s an abundance of 3D printer filament choices available to you. Here, we’ll cover the common “daily driver” filaments like PLA and PETG, plus the fancy stuff that lets you get real creative (also frequently referred to as “exotics”).

In addition to the thermoplastics that comprise the common 3D printer filament types (such as the aforementioned PLA and PETG), 3D printer filament can be (or consist of) the likes of nylon, polycarbonate, carbon fiber, polypropylene, and many more! There are even special blends that can conduct electricity or glow in the dark!

With so much variety on offer, it’s easier than ever to create functional, visually striking, and high performing prints in a variety of exciting materials. With this in mind, we present our buyer’s guide for 3D printer filament. Split over three sections, you’ll find 25 filament material categories in total:

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Basic Types of 3D Printer Filament

This first category introduces the six most commonly used types of 3D printer filament in desktop 3D printing, popular for their ease of use and their physical properties.

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Exotic and Recreational Types of 3D Printer Filament

Having paid the proper respects to the Big Six, the gods of 3D printing should now be appeased. Time to move on to something a little more fun!

Where before we mostly focused on physical characteristics like strength, flexibility, and durability, the next seven 3D filament types are popular for their finish, composition, and other special characteristics. Just look at the next one. Wood? How cool is that!

Thanks to their exotic natures, these filaments are especially popular in recreational 3D printer use. In other words, this is the fun category!

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3D Printer Filament Buyer's Guide

Biodegradable (bioFila)

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What is Biodegradable Filament?

Biodegradable 3D printer filaments make up a unique category, as their most valuable characteristic does not lie in their physical natures. As most hobbyists can attest to, not every print turns out the way you want it to, and this results in having to throw away a ton of plastic. Biodegradable filaments seek to negate the environmental impact that plastic waste has on our planet.

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As was mentioned earlier in this article, PLA is in fact a biodegradable filament, but others include twoBEars’ bioFila line and Biome3D, by Biome Bioplastics.

When Should I Use Biodegradable 3D Printer Filament?

Regardless of their primary reason for existing being environmentally friendly, biodegradable 3D printer filament types can still produce items of sound physical quality. Use them any time you don’t have specific requirements for strength, flexibility, or endurance. And if you really want to take advantage of the guilt-free printing biodegradable filaments offer, try using them in projects which require prototyping.

Recap of Biodegradable 3D Printer Filament

  • Pros: Environmentally-friendly
  • Cons: Lackluster mechanical properties, limited selection, tend to be expensive
BioFila
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3D Printer Filament Buyer's Guide

Clay/Ceramic

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What is Clay/Cereamic Filament?

As evidenced by this article, plastic tends to dominate 3D printing as the primary print material. We’ve explored some other non-plastic options already, and here’s another: clay. Boasting earthenware properties, clay 3D printing filament typically contains a mixture of clay and polymer.

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There are a few different companies offering stone/earthen material-based filaments, with clay (often marketed as ceramic) being the one with perhaps the strongest use case: faux-pottery.

A common characteristic shared between these filaments is brittleness, meaning care is required to properly handle and print them.

Lay Filament’s LAYCeramic is one example of a ceramic filament that achieves near-authentic results. Fireable in a kiln after printing, the polymer binding the ceramic particles within de-binds to leave behind a slightly shrunken, but the hardened, final print can be spruced up with ceramic glaze and other post-processing effects.

When Should I Use Clay/Ceramic 3D Printer Filament?

When you’re looking for a handmade earthenware look paired to the impossibly precise repeatability 3D printing gives.

Recap of Clay/Ceramic 3D Printer Filament

  • Pros: Provides clay-like properties, can be fired in a kiln
  • Cons: Parts will shrink after post-processing, the filament is expensive
Clay Filament
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Professional Types of 3D Printer Filament

We’ve given the following types of 3D printer filament the label “professional” for two reasons:

First, compared to those already discussed, the remaining types of 3D printer filament are less commonly seen in desktop 3D printing, being more popular among extreme hobbyists or more frequently appearing in industrial and commercial scenarios.

Second, many of the following filaments provide a function apart from simply being a print material, such as structural support or extruder cleaning.

That’s not to say that they are off-limits for casual use. Most print in much the same way as the filaments mentioned above, albeit with more attention paid to print settings or special requirements that can be modded onto a standard desktop 3D printer (such as a hotter hot end).

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3D Printer Filament Buyer's Guide

PC / ABS

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What is PC/ABS Filament?

Polycarbonate ABS alloy (PC-ABS) is a tough thermoplastic, combining the strength and heat resistance of polycarbonate with the flexibility of ABS. Commonly found in automotive, electronics, and telecommunications applications, it is one of the most widely used industrial thermoplastics in the world.

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When used as a 3D printer filament, the same benefits apply, but the trade-off is a slightly more complicated printing process. First, because PC-ABS is hygroscopic, it’s recommended to bake it before printing (or, at the very least, store it in a proper environment). Second, it requires a high printing temperature (of at least 260°C). Third, it tends to warp, so a high print bed temperature is also necessary (of at least 100°C, could be as high as 140°C).

When Should I Use PC/ABS 3D Printer Filament?

Functional prototyping, tooling and small-batch end-use parts that need to withstand small shocks and impacts are a good fit for PC/ABS.

Recap of PC/ABS 3D Printer Filament

  • Pros: Offers the best qualities of PC and ABS materials
  • Cons: Requires high temperature for nozzle and print bed, susceptible to moisture
Polycarbonate-ABS filament
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3D Printer Filament Buyer's Guide

Acetal (POM)

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What is Acetal (POM) Filament?

Polyoxymethylene (POM), also referred as acetal and Delrin, is well known for its use as an engineering plastic, for example in parts which move or require high precision.

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Acetal as a material sees common use as gears, bearings, camera focusing mechanisms and zippers.

POM performs exceptionally well in these types of applications due to its strength, rigidity, resistance to wear, and most importantly, its low coefficient of friction. It’s thanks to this last property that POM makes such a great 3D printer filament.

For most of the types of 3D printer filament in this list, there is a significant gap between what is made in industry and what you can make at home with your 3D printer. For POM, this gap is somewhat smaller; the slippery nature of this material means prints can be nearly as functional as mass-produced parts.

Make sure to use a heated print bed when printing with POM 3D printer filament, as the first layer doesn’t always want to stick.

When Should I Use Acetal (POM) 3D Printer Filament?

Any moving parts that need to be low friction and tough. We imagine gearing mechanisms in projects using motors (such as RC cars) could be an applicable field for POM.

Recap of Acetal (POM) 3D Printer Filament

  • Pros: Good resistance to chemicals and heat, ideal for functional applications
  • Cons: Difficulty with first layer adhesion, requires high print bed temperature
Acetal Filament
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3D Printer Filament Buyer's Guide

PMMA (Acrylic)

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What is PMMA Filament?

Ever heard of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)? Maybe not. What about acrylic, or Plexiglas? That’s right, we’re talking about the same material that’s most often used as a lightweight, shatter-resistant alternative to glass.

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3D printing with PMMA 3D printer filament can be a little difficult. To prevent warping and to maximize clarity, extrusion must be consistent, which requires a high nozzle temperature. It might also help to enclose the print chamber in order to better regulate cooling.

When Should I Use PMMA 3D Printer Filament?

Rigid, impact resistant, and transparent, use this 3D printer filament for anything that should diffuse light, whether that’s a replacement window pane or a colorful toy. Just don’t use it to make anything that should bend, as PMMA is not very flexible.

Recap of PMMA 3D Printer Filament

  • Pros: Rigid, transparent, and resistant to impact
  • Cons: Susceptible to warping, not flexible, requires high print temperature
PMMA
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3D Printer Filament Buyer's Guide

FPE

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What is FPE Filament?

Flexible polyester (FPE) is a generic label given to a 3D printer filament that combines rigid and soft polymers. Such filaments are comparable to PLA, but are softer and more flexible. The specific flexibility depends on the hard and soft polymers used, and on the ratio between them.

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Two notable aspects of FPE include good layer-to-layer adhesion and a moderately high resistance to heat and a variety of chemical compounds. Given the wide range of FPE 3D printer filament that is available, perhaps the most useful way to differentiate between the wide range of FPE available is the Shore value (like 85A or 60D), where a higher number indicates less flexibility.

When Should I Use FPE 3D Printer Filament?

When flexibility in the print is desired, but ease of printing takes priority. Flexible filaments can be tricky to print, and FPEs go some way to offering an alternative that offers a little bit of everything. Easy to print, like PLA, but with the greater flexibility in the resulting print.

Recap of FPE 3D Printer Filament

  • Pros: Easy to print, provides flexibility and high strength
  • Cons: Requires high nozzle temperature and low printing speed
FPE Filament
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License: The text of "2020 3D Printer Filament Buyer’s Guide" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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