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Just add water

PVA Filament – Explained and Compared

Picture of Leo Gregurić
by Leo Gregurić
Aug 8, 2018

In this article, you’ll learn about the water-soluble PVA material. Also, you’ll find the most interesting PVA filaments available on the market.

What is PVA?

PVA still attached to the part during the dissolving proces
PVA still attached to the part during the dissolving proces Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ENgGkPP94w

PVA is an abbreviation for polyvinyl alcohol, a water-soluble material. It is often used with multi-extruder FDM 3D printers as a support material. The biggest advantage of PVA filament is its ability to dissolve in water. This means there are no ugly marks left on the print after the support material is removed.

Some 3D printers such as the Ultimaker 3 have two extruders which means the machine can print with two different materials. “Classic” FDM 3D printers have only one extruder which means that the part itself and the support material are printed from the same material. After the print is finished, the supports need to be removed which can be a difficult job, especially if the part has complex geometries.

When the supports are made out of the same material as the part itself, it is a common issue that after you remove the supports marks are left on the surface of the print. With PVA that issue is avoided since it is a material that dissolves in water. Because PVA filament dissolves in water, it is a great choice for a support material when printing complex geometries, large overhangs and detailed features on models.

Imagine printing a very complex structure with an FDM printer that has only one extruder. When that print finishes, it requires some post processing but first of all, you need to remove support material, but that’s the main problem because the support material is the same material out of which the part is made. It is extremely hard and challenging to manually remove support from the complex geometry part. That is when PVA is used because it dissolves in water, there is no need to manually reach challenging places of a complex part to remove supports.

PVA in general works very well with PLA and Nylon filaments since it requires same operating conditions such as the desired temperature.

Parts printed with PVA supports usually need to be placed in water for a few hours (depending on the manufacturer’s specifications), until there‘s no undissolved material left.

Remember, PVA is a hydrophilic material, “it likes water” so the material connects with water molecules which results in PVA dissolving in water. PLA is a hydrophobic material so it “doesn’t like water” which means PVA and PLA are a perfect match because putting a PLA part in water does not affect it since it’s made out of a hydrophobic material, it doesn’t absorb water.

Ultimaker's PVA filament

Ultimaker's PVA filament
Ultimaker's PVA filament Source: https://ultimaker.com/en/products/materials/pva

The first PVA filament we’ll mention is Ultimaker’s PVA filament. Ultimaker released it’s PVA back in 2016 and ever since then people all over the world started using it and were happy with the results.

Ultimaker designed its PVA to work with it’s PLA, Tough PLA, Nylon, and CPE filaments. The Dutch manufacturer claims that it’s own PVA is less moisture-sensitive than other PVA filaments.

According to the manufacturer, it is 100% biodegradable; only tap water is required to dissolve the material, without any additional chemicals needed. Also, Ultimaker’s PVA material is known to have good thermal stability.

It is available in 350g or 750g spools and comes in a “natural” color that is similar to a clear filament. Ultimaker’s PVA prints at 215-225°C with a required bed temperature that is suited for the material out of which the part is being made.

Matterhackers's PVA filament

Matterhackers 1.75mm 0.5kg PVA
Matterhackers 1.75mm 0.5kg PVA Source: https://www.matterhackers.com/store/3d-printer-filament/175mm-pva-filament-half-kg

Matterhackers offers 3D printers, tools, and 3D printing materials. They are offering a standard roll of PLA which is 1.75 mm in diameter and it weighs 0.5 kg. There’s also a 3.00 mm version, 0.5kg PVA alongside a 1kg 1.75 PVA spool. Let’s compare Matterhackers’s PVA with Ultimaker’s PVA which we described above.

Matterhackers’s PVA does not require a heated bed. The printing temperature of Matterhackers’s PVA is 200°C (+/- 10°C). Matterhackers’s PVA dissolves in tap water (usually warm water), just as the Ultimaker’s.

One more thing, Matterhackers’s PVA can be used with all multi extruder 1.75mm/3.00 mm 3D printers while Ultimaker’s PVA is used only with their 3D printers.

Matterhackers’s PVA currently is cheaper than Ultimaker’s PVA – the price difference mainly from R&D, since Ultimaker put quite a lot of effort into tuning the material to work perfectly with their Ultimaker 3 and Ultimaker 5S series.

Product image of Matterhackers PVA

Matterhackers PVA

Makerbot's Dissolvable Filament

Makerbot's dissolvable filament
Makerbot's dissolvable filament Source: https://store.makerbot.com/filament/dissolvable-filament/

If you are using a MakerBot, this PVA is for you. MakerBot’s dissolvable filament’s net weight is 1kg, and the diameter is 1.75mm.

This PVA is only compatible with MakerBot’s Replicator 2X 3D printer. In comparison with Ultimaker’s and Matterhacker’s PVA, the nozzle temperature (print temperature) is the highest; it’s claimed to be 250°C.

Makerbot’s dissolvable filament requires a heated bed, just like Ultimaker’s PVA, but on the other hand, Matterhacker’s filament doesn’t require a heated bed.

Currently, Makerbot’s PVA is one of the most affordable PVA solutions. The only drawback is that Makerbot’s filament requires a chemical called limonene to dissolve in – this is neither eco-friendly nor very easy to handle.

The conclusion

Dissolvable filaments are a great solution for everyone who has access to a dual- or multi-extruder FDM 3D printer.

It‘s great if you want to produce detailed, clean, high-quality models. Because of their phenomenal feature to dissolve in tap water or in some chemicals, dissolvable filaments are a perfect solution for you to say goodbye to difficult support removal.

As you probably noticed, prices and physical properties of dissolvable filaments depend on the manufacturer. Some filaments are suited for most printers; others are bound to one printer model. If you decide to try out PVA, just make sure you read the safety guide, especially if it requires special chemicals.

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

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