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A Tough Nut to Crack

Polycarbonate (PC) Filament – Explained and Compared

Picture of Hironori Kondo
by Hironori Kondo
Aug 6, 2018

Polycarbonate (PC) has seen decades as one of the toughest of engineering plastics, and now, you can 3D print it. Here, we've broken down what PC is good for, how to print it, and the purchase options that are available.

Polycarbonate (PC) Filament is Clearly Strong

Polycarbonate Face Shield
Polycarbonate Face Shield Source: Uvex via Amazon.com

Polycarbonate (PC) is most commonly used for its three main features: optical clarity, resistance to heat, and incredible toughness. This makes it perfect for use in DVDs, safety glasses, riot shields, or even bulletproof glass. 3D printable variants will typically get you a temperature resistance of just over 110°C, yielding translucent, icy prints. Parts will come out fabulously strong, but printing PC can be quite a challenge. 

Here’s how to get the most out of your PC filament:

General Printing Tips and Settings

  • Nozzle Temperature: 260 – 310 °C (varies)
  • Bed Temperature: 80 – 150 °C (varies)
  • Fan Speed: 0%
  • Retraction Distance: <10mm 
  • Bed Adhesion: glue stick, hair spray, cyanoacrylate, commercial solutions
  • Printer Enclosure: Recommended/Required 
  • All-Metal hot-end: Required 
  • Warping: Severe
  • Layer splitting: Severe
  • Fumes and odors: Severe

PC’s extreme resistance to heat calls for equally extreme temperatures. Print in a controlled environment with sufficient heat. 

PC has a strong tendency to ooze while printing. Tune your retraction settings, but avoid retraction distances of over 10mm to prevent jamming. 

If your hot end doesn’t get hot enough, start printing at slower speeds. 

The material generates strong fumes and odors. Print enclosed or in a well-ventilated area. 

Storage

Polycarbonate is extremely hygroscopic, which means that it absorbs moisture from the air. This will quickly degrade the plastic, so keep filament in a controlled, low-humidity environment. Airtight containers with desiccant packs will do the job. 

For long prints, consider printing straight from the container, feeding the filament from out of a small, well-constrained hole. 

Top Pick: Polymaker PC Max

Polymaker PC Max (True Black)
Polymaker PC Max (True Black) Source: Polymaker

Polymaker’s PC Max is the latest in Polymaker’s line of high-performance polycarbonate filaments. Tuned for smooth extrusion and warp-resistance, PC Max offers the perfect balance between performance and printability. Strength is also exceptional, with drastically improved impact resistance. To put its toughness into context, Polymaker has even lifted just shy of a metric ton with a PC-Max hook.

Available in True White and True Black color variants, choose PC Max for strength and printability.

Buy from: Polymaker (Ships with BuildTak adhesion sheet)

Runner Up: Ultimaker PC

Ultimaker PC (Black)
Ultimaker PC (Black) Source: Ultimaker

Ultimaker is usually known for their high-performance printers, but their filament is no less praiseworthy. With improved interlayer adhesion and well-tuned material profiles, Ultimaker PC is an exceptional, easy-to-print-with choice. Ultimaker 3 and S5 users will also benefit from the included NFC tag that encodes all of its print settings. Strength is what you would expect from a PC filament.

Available in 2.85mm Black, White, and Clear, choose Ultimaker PC for good printability and smooth integration.

Buy from: Matterhackers

Budget: E3D Polycarbonate

E3D Polycarbonate (Clear)
E3D Polycarbonate (Clear) Source: E3D

For inexpensive, simple PC, E3D polycarbonate is the way to go. Unmodified to be more printable, its strength and temperature resistance matches or even surpasses that of PC Max, but printing requires significantly higher temperatures. If you can forgive the extra challenges it poses, E3D polycarbonate offers quality strength at an unbeatable price.

Available only in Clear.

Buy from: E3D

Where Does that Leave Me?

Lamp 3D Printed in PC
Lamp 3D Printed in PC Source: Ultimaker

Polycarbonate is tough: both to print and to break. It will survive considerable stress and heat, but at the cost of warping, cracking, and an overall unpleasant printing experience. For most of us, plain old PLA or even PETG will do the job.

But sometimes, jobs demand extreme dimensional stability, durability, and strength. If that’s what you need, grab a roll of PC, and it won’t disappoint.

License: The text of "Polycarbonate (PC) Filament – Explained and Compared" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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