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3D Printing Materials Guide 2017 – The Complete Overview

Picture of Max von Übel
by Max von Übel
September 4, 2017

Read our comprehensive 3D printing materials guide to learn about the materials used for home and industrial 3d printing today.

For decades, industrial production was centered on injection molding of plastics. With the advent of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), many thermoplastics were adapted to work with 3D printing. Research also led to the development of a mind-boggling array of new materials.

One of the advantages of additive manufacturing is that you don’t have to do it yourself. There are several great 3D printing services which do an excellent job on manufacturing your designs (more here). If you want to dig in deeper, there are interesting home and semi-professional 3D printers to fulfil your needs.

But …what 3D printing materials should you choose for the job?

Sorry to say, but “it depends”. For instance, when printing off a food container, you will want to use a 3D printing material that is food-safe, like PETG. If you want to test your design for injection molding on a small scale, you don’t have to use expensive metal since there are thermoplastic options, (Nylon). The pharmaceutical industry benefits from a range of biocompatible 3D printing materials.

Other additive manufacturing technologies, such as Binder Jetting or Stereolithography, have expanded the spectrum of 3D printing materials drastically. Many tasks have been automated that for centuries lay in the hand of artisans alone. Now, they can be performed by anyone with the proper training in 3D modeling and 3D printing.  Take for example the wide range of possibilities for producing full-color concept models, architectural models, and visual arts projects: Paper (SDL), Sandstone (Binder Jetting), and Resin (PolyJet). So, you could argue that 3D printing materials have led to a democratization of rapid prototyping design concepts.

Metal 3D printing materials have enabled shapes and applications that had been unthinkable before. Now it is a common practice for the aerospace industry to produce complex designs in a singular part that use less material, are lightweight, and as a consequence, use less fuel when compared to traditionally manufactured parts.

This 3D printing materials guide will give you an overview of 3D printing materials available, their applications, properties and technologies.

3D Printing Materials Guide: The Choice is Yours

In order to stay on top of the many 3D printing materials options, you have to factor in the application, function, and design of your component or product.  To determine which 3D printing material and 3D printing technology best meet your project’s needs we have compiled the following list. In order to expedite your search and navigate through this 3D printing materials guide, we provide three tables that allow you to filter materials according to their possible applications, their properties, and the possible 3D printing technologies. From these tables, you can jump to the materials for the details.

Take note, in this  3D printing materials guide, we focus solely on commercially available materials. That means we have excluded materials that you can’t buy from the shelve, such as food and biomaterials.

The 3D printing materials on this list are available in a broad range of forms. With plastics being the most widely adopted – you can get it as filament, resin, granules, and powder form. For every material, we will specify the technology in which it can be used.

If you want to learn more about 3D printing technologies in general, read our concise guide on the subject:
9 Basic Types of 3D Printers - 3D Printing Technology Guide

Now, let’s head straight to our 3D printing materials guide.

3D Printing Materials Guide: Applications

These are the most common applications for 3D printing materials.

Material DIY Projects
Concept Models Visual Arts Functional Models Medical Manufacturing Jewelry Tooling General Manufacturing Automotive & Aerospace Manufacturing Support Material
Alumide
ABS
Conductive
HIPS
“Metal”-Filament
Nylon
PEEK
PET
PETG
PLA
PVA
ULTEM
Wood
Aluminum
Bronze
Cobalt Chromium
Copper
Inconel
Nickel
Precious Metals
Stainless Steel
Titanium
Ceramics
Wax
Paper
Sandstone
SLA Resins
PolyJet Resins

3D Printing Materials Guide: Properties

This table can help you to drill deeper into the properties of your 3D printing materials.

Material Bio-compatible Chemically resistant Conductive Corrosion resistant Flexible Food-Safe Fragile Full-color Hardly inflammable Hard wearing Heat resistant High resolution Lightweight Smooth surface Strong Soluble Weather-resistant
Alumide
ABS
Conductive ✕✕
HIPS
“Metal”-Filament
Nylon
PEEK ✕✕
PET ✕✕
PETG
PLA
PVA
ULTEM ✕✕
Wood
Aluminum
Bronze
Cobalt Chromium
Copper
Inconel
Nickel
Precious Metals
Stainless Steel
Titanium ✕✕
Ceramics
Wax
Paper
Sandstone
SLA Resins ✕✕
PolyJet Resins ✕✕

3D Printing Materials Guide: Technologies

Some 3D printing materials can be used in different additive manufacturing technologies.

Material FDM SLS SLA Binder Jetting Powder Bed Fusion Lost Wax Casting Direct Metal Laser Sintering SDL Resin
ABS
Alumide
Conductive
HIPS
“Metal”-Filament
Nylon
PEEK
PET
PETG
PLA
PVA
ULTEM
Wood
Aluminum
Bronze
Cobalt Chromium
Copper
Inconel
Nickel
Precious Metals
Stainless Steel
Titanium
Ceramics
Wax
Paper
Sandstone
SLA Resins
PolyJet Resins

3D Printing Materials: Plastics

Today, most consumer products are made from thermoplastics. This is where 3D printing plastic materials come into play. Designers and engineers prefer to create functional prototypes using 3D printing materials that have the same or very similar properties as the materials used in injection molding, the technology used to create the finished product.

Most of the thermoplastics materials can be used in home 3D printing and professional applications alike. The only difference is that professionals are leaning towards Laser Sintering the materials instead of using the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).

3D Printing Materials Guide ABS

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: ABS

Remember the quality of Lego bricks? Then you can relate to why ABS plastic is one the most popular thermoplastics for desktop 3D printing today.

It is readily affordable, strong and lightweight. ABS filament comes in a broad range of colors. There have been concerns about the fumes that ABS emit when reaching its melting point. If you worry about the toxicity of ABS fumes, there are alternatives like PLA. As ABS is 3D printed at 220° to 250° C, it is advisable to use a heated printing bed to control the cooling of this 3D printing material and prevent warping. Also, ABS filament degrades from humidity in the surrounding air – store it in vacuum bags or containers.

Learn more about ABS:

ABS 3D Printer Filament (Explained and Compared)

Technologies: FDM, Binder Jetting, SLA, PolyJetting

Properties: Strong, Light, High resolution, Somewhat flexible

Applications: Architectural Models, Concept Models, DIY Projects, Manufacturing

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Alumide

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Alumide

Alumide is a variation of nylon that has been combined with aluminum particles. In terms of durability and physical properties, this 3D printing material is very similar to nylon. The difference is found in the shiny, durable and porous surface finish. Components printed with Alumide have an excellent size accuracy, are tough and suitable for long term use. This 3D printing material is highly suitable for various post-processing techniques like polishing or coating.

Technologies: SLS

Properties: Strong, Heat resistant, High Resolution

Applications: DIY Projects, Functional Prototypes, Manufacturing

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Conductive

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Conductive

A relatively new addition to the filament market, conductive material enables many exciting new design opportunities for the maker community. This stunning 3D printing material can be used to create touch sensors in applications that require human interface devices like gaming pads, and MIDI machines. Other maker projects include conductive traces in wearable electronic devices and creating interfaces between computers, Arduino boards, and other components to build elaborate DIY projects. Conductive 3D printer filament is usually based on either PLA or ABS plastics. Each of which brings the benefits and problems of the original 3D printing material to the table. Conductive ABS is stronger and more heat resistant that the PLA variant, but it comes with the same fume problems as normal ABS.

Technologies: FDM

Properties: Conductive

Applications: DIY Projects

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide HIPS

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: HIPS

Next in our 3D printing materials guide is HIPS. HIPS has two applications: It is often used as a support material in FDM and SLA printing. As it dissolves in Limonene, a skin irritating chemical. Since the two share similar properties, HIPS works best when used in conjunction with ABS. But, as the name High-Impact Polystyrene instantly gives away, HIPS is also an extremely durable 3D printing material that is suitable for shipping containers or other applications that require high impact resistance. Note that HIPS emits vapors when printed, so air the room while using this 3D printing material on a home printer. Like many other materials, it is susceptible to environmental influences – store it in airtight containers or bags.

Technologies: FDM, SLA

Properties: Soluble, Highly durable

Applications: DIY Projects, Support material, Shipping containers

Price: $

3D Printing Materials Guide Metal / Plastic Filament

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Metal / Plastic Filament

All of the “Metal” filament sold on the market is actually thermoplastic that has been mixed with low amounts of metal. These 3D printing materials allow you to 3D print components that have the optical properties of 3D printed metal. Also, the metal-plastic-filament is heavier than other thermoplastics. Popular composite 3D printing materials include bronze, copper, steel, and iron. Be aware that your 3D printed parts will require post-processing to get the desired metal appearance.

Technologies: FDM

Properties: Metallic finish

Applications: Visual Arts

Price: $$ (affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Nylon (Polyamide)

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Nylon (Polyamide)

Given its flexibility and strength, Nylon is the premier choice for a wide range of applications from engineering to the arts. Often it is simply referred to as “white plastic” – this is your staple among the others in this 3D printing materials guide! Nylon prints have a rough surface that can be polished smooth. Among FDM filaments, the layer bonding of nylon is stronger than all others making it the ideal material for parts that require good tensile and mechanical strength. Like other thermoplastics, Nylon degrades from humidity in the surrounding air – if you want to use it for home 3D printing, better store it in airtight containers or bags.

Technologies: FDM, SLS

Properties: Strong, Smooth surface (polished), Somewhat flexible, Chemically resistant

Applications: Concept Models, Functional Models, Medical Applications, Tooling, Visual Arts

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide PEEK

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: PEEK

PEEK is 3D printing material designed for high-performance parts. Plastics of this family are highly resistant to stress, temperature, and chemicals. But that’s not all, parts made from PEEK can be exposed to X-ray and gamma radiation. In spite of its robustness, the material is easy to machine and fabricate. But, the catch about temperature resistance is that your 3D printer has to fire up to 400° C in order to extrude this kind of 3D printing material – a job better left to a professional 3D printing service. Besides the high price, this may be a no-go for you for safety concerns. Owing to their excellent material properties, PEEK plastics are used in the most demanding applications the automotive, aerospace, chemical and medical industries can muster. That includes medical instruments but also semiconductor components.

Technologies: FDM, SLS

Properties: Bio-compatible, Highly durable, Heat resistant, Hard wearing

Applications: Manufacturing (Automotive, Aerospace, Chemical, and Medical industries)

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide PET

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: PET

Next in our 3D printing materials guide is PET – the material water bottles are made of. This 3D printing material is the second alternative to ABS. Unlike ABS, PET does not emit odorous fumes when melted but it is just as strong and flexible. More importantly, PET does not require a heated bed. This 3D printing material has a glossy finish and is food safe which makes it a popular choice for many consumer products. Store PET in vacuum bags or containers to protect it against humidity.

Technologies: FDM

Properties: Strong, Food safe, Flexible, Smooth surface

Applications: DIY Projects, Manufacturing, Functional models

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide PETG

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: PETG

PETG is a variant of PET that has been combined with glycol to achieve a number of desirable effects for 3D printing such as high transparency. Moreover, PETG can be printed at lower temperatures while increasing its flow speed (up to 100 mm/s) which in turn translates into speedier prints. PETG components are weather-resistant and are thus often used for garden appliances. Another selling point is its use as a food-safe 3D printing material for containers etc. When using for home 3D printing, store this 3D printing material in vacuum bags or containers to protect it against humidity.

Don’t miss:

PETG Filament for 3D Printing: Explained & Compared

Technologies: FDM

Properties: Strong, Food-safe, Weather-resistant, Hardly inflammable

Applications: Concept Models, DIY Projects, Functional Models, Manufacturing

Price: $$ (affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide PLA

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: PLA

Another crowd favorite in our 3D printing materials guide is PLA, a cornstarch derivative (but sugar cane and tapioca varieties can also be found), making it biodegradable. It‘s an easy material to print with. Also, PLA emits a pleasant sweet fragrance when heated. For this reason, many people prefer it over ABS. Moreover, it is a suitable 3D printing material for food contact (PET being the first choice, though) and it contracts less than ABS when cooling. On the downside, PLA is less durable than ABS and susceptible to heat. So, for parts that need for engineering purposes, you will be better off with ABS. PLA is available in a broad range of colors. In addition, there are varieties that have added fibers, giving it the appearance of wood or metal. Like ABS filament, PLA degrades from humidity in the ambient air – store it in vacuum bags or containers.

Don’t miss:

32 Best PLA Filament Blends 2017

Technologies: FDM, SLA, SLS

Properties: Biodegradable, Food safe

Applications: Concept Models, DIY Projects, DIY ProjectsFunctional Models, Manufacturing

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide PVA

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: PVA

Next in our 3D printing materials guide is PVA. This 3D printing material that has been engineered for use as a soluble support material. While other support materials require special chemicals to dissolve, PVA is soluble in tap water. Given its purpose, it is no wonder that this one in our 3D printing materials guide is susceptible to environmental influences – store it in airtight containers or bags.

Technologies: FDM

Properties: Soluble

Applications: DIY Projects, Support material

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials Guide ULTEM

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: ULTEM

ULTEM is another stunning 3D printing material that is often found in high-performance applications. On the one hand, plastics of this family are highly resistant to stress, temperature, and chemicals, while at the same they also excel by their ease of machining and fabrication. The catch about temperature resistance is that your 3D printer has to fire up to 400° C in order to extrude these 3D printing materials – a job that should not be done at home for safety concerns and can be outsourced to a professional 3D printing service. Due to their robustness, ULTEM plastics are used in some of the most demanding applications in the automotive, aerospace, chemical and medical industries – such as electrical connectors, medical instruments and chip test sockets

Technologies: FDM, SLS

Properties: Bio-compatible, Highly durable, Heat resistant, Hard wearing

Applications: Manufacturing (Automotive, Aerospace, Chemical, and Medical industries)

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Wood

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Wood

Human curiosity knows no boundaries. So, it was only a matter of time until engineers successfully experimented with adding wood fibers to plastic filaments. Wood 3D prints can be processed just like the real thing. You can cut it,  sand it, or paint it. Although this exotic 3D printing material is aesthetically appealing, it has not the same functional properties as the original material. For lack of strength and flexibility, you shouldn’t build a chair from wood filament.

Interestingly, you can control the shade of brown in you wood filament by setting the extrusion temperature. While printing at lower temperatures will give you a very light shade, high temperatures will result in a strong, dark brown. So, if you want simulate annual rings in your print, vary the print temperature. Depending on your brand of wood filament, your print will also smell like real wood. Some manufacturers offer a broad selection of this exotic 3D printing material, like birch, olive, bamboo or willow.

Technologies: FDM

Properties: Fragile

Applications: Conceptual Models, Visual Arts

Price: $$ (affordable)

3D Printing Materials: Metals

Metal 3D printing has become especially popular in the aerospace, automotive and medical industries for the ability to produce complex designs that don’t require additional welding or machining. The downside is that these 3D printing materials demand a lot more expertise in terms of engineering and composition than thermoplastics. On the whole, though, it pays off for these industries.

Also, you can’t print these 3D printing materials at home, as metal 3D printing needs high temperatures.

If you want to learn more about Metal 3D Printing, read our extensive article:
Metal 3D Printer Guide 2017 - All About Metal 3D Printing

3D Printing Materials Guide Aluminum

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Aluminum

Because of its lightness and versatility, Aluminum is now a very popular 3D printing material that is found in a wide range of applications. It is used primarily as different Aluminum based alloys. Components made from Aluminum can feature thin walls and complex geometries. They are highly resistant to mechanical stress and high temperatures. This makes them suitable for low-cost prototypes, functional models such as motors, in the automotive and aerospace industries.

Technologies: Direct Metal Deposition, Binder Jetting

Properties: Light, Strong, Heat resistant, Corrosion resistant

Applications: Functional Models, Manufacturing (Automotive & Aerospace Industries)

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Cobalt Chromium

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Cobalt Chromium

Cobalt Chromium is sometimes called a “super alloy”. This one in our 3D printing materials guide is mostly used in medical applications and the components for the aerospace industry, like turbines or jet engines. It stands out for excellent properties such as strength, but also its temperature and corrosion resistance, yet still suitable for components with fine features.

Technologies: Direct Metal Laser Sintering, SLM

Properties: Bio-compatible, Strong, Corrosion resistant, Heat resistant, Hard wearing, Low conductivity

Applications: Manufacture (Medical & Aerospace industries)

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Copper and Bronze

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Copper and Bronze

Apart from some exceptions, copper and bronze are mostly used for lost wax casting processes and less often in powder bed fusion processes. For their electric conductivity, these 3D printing materials are found in electrical engineering. But they also draw a large following in the arts and crafts community.

Technologies: Lost Wax Casting, Powder Bed Fusion, Direct Metal Deposition

Properties: Conductive, Hard wearing

Applications: Manufacturing (Electrical engineering), Visual Arts

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Inconel

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Inconel

Another addition to our 3D printing materials guide is Inconel, a superalloy produced to withstand the most extreme environments. It is composed primarily of nickel and chrome and it has a high-temperature resistance. In combination with its suitability for extreme pressures it is the perfect material to manufacture airplane black boxes, or even parts of rocket engines. More commonly, these properties are also employed for numerous applications in the oil, and chemical industries. Due to its strength, it is hard to machine this 3D printing material. Therefore, Direct Metal Laser Sintering is one of the preferred methods to shape it.

Technologies: Direct Metal Laser Sintering

Properties: Heat resistant, Hard wearing

Applications: Oil, Chemical and Aerospace industries

Price: $$$$ (expensive)

3D Printing Materials Guide Nickel

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Nickel

Nickel alloys are popular 3D printing materials for technical applications. Nickel alloy components made using 3D printing are stronger and more durable when compared to nickel alloy parts made using traditional techniques such as casting. This, in turn, allows engineers to make the components thinner, resulting in e.g. more fuel efficient airplanes. Today there are many kinds of alloys that combine nickel’s properties with those of other metals (e.g. Monel or Inconel).

Technologies: Powder Bed Fusion, Direct Metal Deposition

Properties: Strong, Light

Applications: Manufacturing (Automotive & Aerospace industries)

Price: $$$$ (expensive)

3D Printing Materials Guide Precious Metals (Gold, Silver, Platinum)

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Precious Metals (Gold, Silver, Platinum)

Most powder bed fusion companies can 3D print with precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. The challenge here, along with maintaining the materials aesthetic properties, is to make sure that none of the precious powder is lost. That’s why you will mostly find parts that were made using the easier to control lost wax casting technique. Precious metals are 3D printing materials for jewelry, medical and electronics applications. Depending on the technology used, some of these materials also are cast.

Technologies: Powder Bed Fusion, Lost Wax Casting, Binder Jetting

Properties: High resolution, Smooth surface

Applications: Jewelry, Dentistry, Functional Models

Price: $$$$$ (very expensive)

3D Printing Materials Guide Stainless Steel

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Stainless Steel

If you are looking for one of the most affordable metals in 3D printing in this 3D printing materials guide, then staineless steel it is. It is also very strong and can be used in a large variety of industrial and even artistic/design applications. This type of steel alloy, which also contains cobalt and nickel, is particularly hard to break while at the same time it has very excellent elastic and magnetic properties. In case you prefer another color, you can plate it to give it the appearance of, say, gold. This 3D printing material is used mostly for industrial applications.

Technologies: Direct Metal Deposition, Binder Jetting

Properties: High resolution, Corrosion resistant, Somewhat flexible, Strong

Applications: Tooling, Functional Models, Manufacturing

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide Titanium

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: Titanium

Pure Titanium powder is a commonly used metal for 3D printing. It is certainly one of the most versatile, as it is both strong and light. It is used both in powder bed fusion and binder jetting processes. You will mostly find it in high-performance medical applications – to make personalized prosthetics. Other applications include parts and prototypes for the aerospace, automotive, and tooling industries. Apart from the cost, there is another catch: It is a highly reactive 3D printing material, which means it can easily explode when it is in powder form. For this reason, it needs to be 3D printed in a vacuum or in an argon gas atmosphere.

Technologies: Powder Bed Fusion, Binder Jetting, Direct Metal Deposition

Properties: Bio-compatible, High resolution, Heat resistant, Highly durable

Applications: Tooling, Functional Models, Manufacturing (Automotive, Aerospace, Medical industries)

Price: $$$$ (expensive)

3D Printing Materials: Ceramics

SONY DSC

Ceramics have broadened the applicability of 3D printing for everyday use to the point that custom ceramics like coffee mugs have become staple items for online 3D printing services. But with dedicated extruder systems like WASP’s Clay Extruder Kit 2.0, ceramics is now also a viable 3D printing material for home use. The clay is made up of fine-grained particles, other minerals and a certain amount of water that give some plasticity to the material.

When a ceramic part has been printed off it is then turned into solid pottery in a kiln. The water evaporates and the particles melt into each other, setting the shape and increasing the strength of a given component. For a glossy finish, it is covered in glaze and then kilned a second time. Ceramic 3D prints can be made using like humble FDM to more sophisticated methods like SLA. Wannabe potters can choose between varieties of glass, porcelain, and silicon-carbide. Pottery stands out as heat resistant and hard wearing 3D printing material that is nowadays mostly used in the arts, for tableware and dental implants.

Don’t miss:

Technologies: FDM, Binder Jetting, SLA

Properties: Heat resistant, Fragile, Porous surface, Hard wearing

Applications: Visual Arts, Manufacturing (Tableware, Dentistry)

Price: $$ (affordable)

3D Printing Materials: Wax

Wax prints are usually not the end product, but an essential stage in the production process. As they are used to produce molds with stunning high resolution (0.025mm) for the lost wax casting technique of metal components. Today it is often employed to create customizable jewelry at a comparatively low price. The second industry that uses this 3D printing material is the dental medicine industry. You can 3D print complex structures that require supports by using waxes of different melting points and melting the supports off at low temperatures.

Technologies: SLA, PolyJet

Properties: High resolution, Smooth surface

Applications: Manufacturing (Jewelry, Dentistry)

Price: $ (very affordable)

3D Printing Materials: Paper

With Selective Deposition Lamination good old copy paper from the office store around the corner has found its niche in 3D printing. SDL parts have a wood-like feel and are fully colored, making them a popular choice for architectural and other conceptual models. On the downside, SDL parts are less durable than parts made with any other technology and you won’t get the same level of detail as with other 3D printing materials like PolyJet Resins or gypsum.

Technologies: Selective Deposition Lamination

Properties: Cost-effective, Easy to recycle, Full-color

Applications: Conceptual Models, Visual Arts

Price: $$

3D Printing Materials: Sandstone

Variously referred to as “gypsum”, or “multicolor”, sandstone is one of the 3D printing technologies able to create spectacular full-color parts in one process. To enhance the quality of the colors and add strength the part is coated with a protective layer of epoxy resin. Since sandstone parts that are exposed to water will discolor, leaving you with a muddy white model. Also, components made from this 3D printing material are as fragile as porcelain. Allowances for the materials weakness should be made already during the design process. Considering the finicky nature of sandstone, it comes as no surprise that it is mostly used for architectural models, conceptual prototypes and art projects.

Technologies: FDM, Binder Jetting, Powder Bed Jetting

Properties: Fragile, Full-color

Applications: Conceptual Models, Visual Arts

Price: $$ (affordable)

3D Printing Materials: Resins (Photopolymers)

3D Printed Porcelite Ceramic Resin results (Image: Nervous System)
(Image: Nervous System)

The next one in this 3D printing materials guide are Photopolymers. They are a range of liquid resins that solidify to plastic components and prototypes when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) or visible light. The two main technologies current today are SLA (Stereolithography) and PolyJet. SLA works using a UV laser that traces the shape of an object onto the surface of a photopolymer vat and the resin congeals to form a layer of the object. This operation is repeated for every layer until the object is complete.

PolyJet, on the other hand, follows another approach: A printer head jets a drop of resin onto a bed that is instantly cured by an attached UV lamp. SLA printers deliver a layer height of about 0.1 mm at its best, while PolyJet can 3D print as fine as 16 microns. Although both methods are similar and use similar raw 3D printing materials, they differ widely in how these materials are can be harnessed. All photopolymers are susceptible to sunlight.

3D Printing Materials Guide SLA Resins

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: SLA Resins

Many SLA resins were designed to simulate the different properties of “traditional” 3D printing materials mentioned above: You can find a material that is comparable to wax and is used to create wax molds in investment casting. If you need bio-compatible properties there is an SLA thermoplastic that is very similar to PLA. Other SLA plastics can be as durable like ABS.  Also, there is a composite material that has properties of ceramics – after printing you can kiln it and use it like a ceramic part.

Resins are an excellent choice for functional and concept models. This 3D printing material is particularly suited to producing large parts in a short span of time, while still maintaining a high degree of detail. Some resins are even strong enough to be machined after curing. Also, high-temperature resins are a cost effective means to produce injection molds for small scale production of prototypes. The popularity of SLA resins stems from its superior speed and accuracy. The downside is that resin is still substantially costlier than other 3D printing materials.

SLA 3D printers are available commercially and also for home / small office use. They offer an interesting range of semi-professional 3D printing materials

Technologies: SLA

Properties: Smooth surface, Somewhat flexible

Applications: Conceptual Models, Functional Models, Visual Arts, Tooling (Prototypes)

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

3D Printing Materials Guide PolyJet Resins

Image of 3D Printing Materials Guide: PolyJet Resins

Like SLA resins, PolyJet materials simulate different properties of “traditional” 3D printing materials. Most of the materials available have quite descriptive names, Rigur, for instance, is a 3D printing material designed for strength. It is also dubbed “Simulated Propylene” for its similar surface finish and functionality. A range of materials is marketed as “Digital ABS”, meaning they are both heat resistant and tough. “Rubber-Like” materials were designed for non-slip surfaces, vibration dampening overmolding. Because of the large range, we have decided to forgo a detailed account of every material. (For more PolyJet materials refer to our table below.)

But, the major difference between PolyJet and SLA resins lies in the ability to produce what Stratasys calls “Digital Materials”: The combination of up to three materials to create new and custom materials that have the optimal blend of properties (durability, heat resistance, transparency, etc.) for a given part with the full range of colors. This opens up avenues for many new applications. While others in this 3D printing materials guide can produce a visual approximation of the finished product, PolyJet parts can also convincingly simulate its touch and feel.

PolyJet Resins are an excellent choice for color prototypes of consumer products, for testing with consumer groups. Depending on the materials chosen and the desired application it is possible to produce functional models using these 3D printing materials, such as form and fit testing. Also, PolyJet Resins are the only 3D printing materials able to simulate overmolded parts. Some varieties of PolyJet resin are suitable for mold-making. Others are used for high-resolution parts that are a perfect fit for visual prototypes, models, props etc.

Technologies: PolyJet

Properties: High resolution, Smooth surface, Flexible, Heat resistant, Transparent (see table)

Applications: Conceptual Models, Visual Arts, Jewelry, Medical Manufacturing, Tooling (Prototypes)

Price: $$$ (reasonable)

Material Concept Models Functional Models Tooling Medical Manufacturing Visual Arts Support Material General Manufacturing
Opaque/Rigid (Vero)
Translucent
Rigid
High Temp
Digital ABS
Rubber-
Like
Performance Digital
Bio-
compatible
Support
Dental Material

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