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3D Printer Metal Filament – 2018 Market Overview

Picture of Matthew Stevenson
by Matthew Stevenson
Nov 9, 2018
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Printing in solid metal is something you may want to try, but it's still a distant shining dream for the consumer with a desktop 3D printer. To fulfill your desire of a beautiful metallic print, 3D printer metal filaments are the way to go.

3D Printer Metal Filament What is 3D Printer Metal Filament?

Unpolished vs. Polished metal filament print
Unpolished vs. Polished metal filament print Source: Proto-Pasta - https://www.proto-pasta.com/pages/getting-started

3D printing in solid metal requires very costly equipment, typically between $200,000 to $850,000 just for the machine. In addition, you’d require special materials to print with and a very expensive furnace to “finalize” prints.

One alternative is to use 3D printer metal filament, which is basically normal filament with some amount of metal added. That means it can be used with a regular desktop FDM printer. Metal filaments come in a variety of materials ranging from copper and bronze to iron and stainless steel.

Resulting prints feel more solid, with a heft you would expect from a solid metal object. And the look is very similar to cast metal when printed. It can also be polished or even caused to “rust”, in the case of iron-filled filament. Post-processing is possible to give a variety of effects.

Note: If you want a filament with actual metal in it, be sure to look for the word “composite” or something stating that it has “metal fill”. Often manufacturers will list a percentage of metal fill, which is also a clear indicator. If it isn’t listed as composite or having metal fill, it probably doesn’t have actual metal in the filament, even if the name does.

If you’re interested in having something printed with a metal filament but not interested in putting in the extra effort, consider a 3D printing service. Requesting a particular finish is easy, and you’re sure to get a professional quality print.

To find the best one for your needs, check out our Price Comparison Service. We provide real-time quotes from the most popular companies, including Shapeways, i.Materialise, and Sculpteo:

Craftcloud – 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service

Save up to 50% by comparing prices from the leading 3D printing services. Craftcloud – 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service by All3DP provides worldwide manufacturing and delivery.

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3D Printer Metal Filament Cost Considerations

Objects printed with bronze filament.
Objects printed with bronze filament. Source: Amolen.com

The cost difference between using 3D printer metal filament and an industrial solid metal printer is orders of magnitude different.

However, compared to standard filaments, metal filament can cost up to two to four times more depending on the amount and type of fill. It’s still within the realm of consumer printing, but pricing can be deceiving, so be sure to pay attention to the amount you’re getting.

PLA and ABS filament usually comes in 1-kg spools. Sometimes the pricing may look like a deal for metal filament, but often the price is only for 500 g (0.5 kg) or some other lesser amount.

Also, look for low-cost “samples” (50-100-g coils) to try different materials and determine which is right for you.

Another thing to consider is that metal adds weight to the filament. As a result, a spool may be shorter than you expect compared to a regular plastic filament. Therefore, always check length specifications when purchasing.

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3D Printer Metal Filament Usage Considerations

Nozzle wear.
Nozzle wear. Source: Dyze Design Blog

There are a couple of key considerations for using 3D printer metal filament:

  • Brass print nozzles wear out much faster due to the abrasive metal fill. Consider upgrading to stainless steel, nickel plated brass (better heat transfer), or other hardened alloys. Moreover, always have backup nozzles on hand.
  • With metal fill, especially at higher percentages, the filament can be a little more brittle and should be handled with care. It should also be stored in a cool, dry location to reduce moisture exposure.
  • The more metal in the filament, the more difficult it may be to find the correct settings to get a good print. Considerations must be made for adjusting temperature, retraction, and first-layer thickness.

Quick Reference Guide:

  • Nozzle temperature: 190 – 220 ºC (varies based on manufacturer recommendations)
  • Bed Temp: 0 – 60 ºC
  • Nozzle size: ≥ 0.4 mm (0.6 mm recommended for beginners)
  • Print speed: Around 30 mm/s (may vary)
  • Retraction: ± 5 mm
  • Recommended extruder: Direct drive (or Bowden with proper calibration)
  • Warping: Minimal
  • Shrinkage: Minimal
  • Strength: High
  • Durability: Moderate (prints can be more brittle)
  • Abrasion resistance: Very high
  • Soluble: No
  • Hygroscopic: Yes
  • Food safe: No
  • Fumes: Minimal
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3D Printer Metal Filament Market Overview

Cost is key.
Cost is key. Source: zMorph3d Blog

There are a variety of companies providing a wide range of 3D printer metal filaments with different types and amounts of metal embedded in standard PLA or ABS. Below are a few options to consider.

There are many more out there, so it’s important to do some research to determine which filament is right for your project. Note that each of the following is just one example of many from the respective manufacturer.

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1

3D Printer Metal Filament ColorFabb

A print made with ColorFabb's SteelFill.
A print made with ColorFabb's SteelFill. Source: ColorFabb

Price: ~$80 per .75 kg

ColorFabb, based in the Netherlands, is known for their quality filament. In 2014, they started producing BronzeFill composite filament and have since added BrassFill, CopperFill and SteelFill. Their SteelFill filament is about 80% metal, thus it’s heavier and more brittle, yet seems to produce good results.

ColorFabb Metal Filament
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2

3D Printer Metal Filament Proto-pasta

A rusty Bender head made of Proto-pasta's iron composite.
A rusty Bender head made of Proto-pasta's iron composite. Source: Proto-pasta

Price: ~$55 per .5 kg (~$80 per .75 kg)

Proto-pasta is a US-based company that was started by scientists and makers building their own extruders. Time came they wanted some metal filaments, and thanks to a few successful Kickstarter campaigns, that became a reality.

Among their many other filaments, their metal-filled materials include blends of copper, brass, bronze, steel, and iron. The latter product is also called Rustable Magnetic Iron Composite PLA. You can polish it to expose the metal, then apply water- or vinegar-based washes to cause different aging effects.

There are two drawbacks to Proto-pasta’s metal blends:

  1. The spools are cardboard instead of plastic. While environmentally friendly, they may not roll as smoothly.
  2. The filament is brittle and has to be handled with care.

Otherwise, Proto-pasta appears at the top of many consumer lists, so is likely to provide good quality prints.

Proto-pasta Metal Filament
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3

3D Printer Metal Filament FormFutura

Prints made with FormFutura's Classic Copper.
Prints made with FormFutura's Classic Copper. Source: FormFutura

Price: ~$65 per .75 kg

FormFutura produces a wide range of composite filaments. Their MetalFil includes PLA blended with with brass, copper and “ancient bronze”. The latter, for example, contains 80% bronze fill and can be brushed, polished, sanded, waxed, or coated.

FormFutura Metal Filament
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4

3D Printer Metal Filament Gizmo Dorks

Objects when printed and polished.
Objects when printed and polished. Source: Gizmo Dorks

Price: ~$25 per .75 kg

Gizmo Dorks offers metal-filled PLA in both copper and bronze. The 20% metal fill helps to keep the cost down and still provides a nice look to your prints. This option may be easier to work with than some of the other more brittle metals containing more metal fill.

Gizmo Dorks Metal Filament
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5

3D Printer Metal Filament Amolen

Image of: 5. Amolen
Source: Amazon

Price: ~$30 per .75 kg

Amolen’s Frosted Bronze Fill PLA is about 20% bronze fill which makes it less brittle. By it’s color, it looks almost like gold, making it great for projects such as coins and jewelry. The clear plastic spool it comes on makes it easy to see how much filament you have left. Note that this product may be advertised as 0.5 lbs (~250 grams) so check pricing carefully.

Amolen Frosted Bronze Fill PLA
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3D Printer Metal Filament Summary

Image of: Summary

3D printing pure metal components by consumers is not quite there yet. But there are a lot of metal-infused filaments to choose from. Once printed, objects can be polished to provide beautiful metallic effects.

However, be sure to look for “composite” or “metal-filled” filament versus standard plastic filament designed to give a metallic look. And be prepared to spend extra money both on the filament itself and for upgraded nozzles, which can handle the abrasive metals.

Finally, be aware that these filaments are brittle and need additional care and handling both when printing as well as with the final printed objects.

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License: The text of "3D Printer Metal Filament – 2018 Market Overview" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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