Flexible filaments like TPU are becoming popular to test 3D printer capabilities and, of course, print objects that can stretch, bend, and curl. The question is, what is this TPU we keep hearing about, and which brands offer the best varieties? Keep reading to find out!
TPU, or Thermoplastic Polyurethane is a very common form of elastic polymer, or elastomer, capable of being used on any properly equipped FDM 3D printer. Of the many kinds of flexible 3D printer filaments, TPU is slightly more rigid, making it easier to extrude and use. It is a medium-strength material with very high flexibility and durability, able to withstand much higher compressive and tensile forces than its more common counterparts PLA and ABS.
Quick Reference Guide:
To print high quality parts properly without jamming, a direct drive extruder is recommended, however with the proper settings and calibration, decent quality prints can be achieved using a Bowden setup. This means that your success with TPU filament will be largely based on your printer setup and how well you are able to calibrate it before printing. Before doing any large, time-consuming, or difficult prints, we recommend doing a few small test prints with TPU in order to fine-tune your settings.
When printing, TPU has minimal warping and shrinkage, and like PLA doesn’t require a heated bed, although it is recommended. The recommended print temperature is between 210°C and 230°C, but may vary based on the manufacturer. One downside to TPU is the printing speeds, which are rarely higher than 30 mm/s. This is because it’s difficult to push the proper amount of filament through the hot end, resulting in prints taking a lot longer to complete. TPU doesn’t produce any notable levels of fumes while printing, but it is not considered to be food safe. TPU is a non-soluble material, but it is hygroscopic, meaning that it will degrade in wet conditions.
TPU filament is commonly used to 3D print a wide variety of items. For everyday use, TPU is great for making custom phone cases, rubber mats, and stress toys. In the R/C hobby department, TPU can be used for tires or shock absorbers, and is even occasionally utilized to make o-rings and seals. In the world of DIY, TPU is fantastic for flexible parts or casings, as well as parts that need to have resistance to sudden impacts and movement, for applications such as vibration dampening and shock absorption.
In short, if you need to make a custom rubber piece quick and relatively easily, TPU is your go-to material.
rigid.ink is well-known for their reliable, high-quality filaments, and their TPU is no exception. It’s an easy-to-use flex filament, boasting the rigid.ink “set and forget” reliability that makes this company so popular.
has a 94A shore hardness, and prints between 210º and 240º C without the need for a heated bed. If, however, you do have a heated bed, the recommended settings are bteween 20º and 70º C, similar to PLA. The recommended print speed is 15 mm/s or below.
rigid.ink boasts a massive 500% elongation to break their TPU, meaning you can extend this filament to five times its original length before it breaks.
Proudly manufactured in the USA, MatterHackers has an almost unparalleled amount of different high-quality filaments in a huge variety of colors. Their PRO Series filaments are all well-known for exemplary quality, and their TPU is no different, with the best precision in manufacturing and quality control.
has a shore hardness of 95A, and according to the manufacturers, has a clean and easy print experience with very little hassle. The recommended print temperature is between 240º and 260º C, and like most TPU filament, does not require a heat bed. In fact, MatterHackers PRO TPU does not have a posted recommended setting for heat beds, so you can be sure that this will print perfectly fine on an unheated bed. The optimal print speeds for this particular TPU are between 20 and 40 mm/s.
Probably the best known TPU filament around, NinjaFlex is one of the most flexible TPU filaments available. It’s renowned for being able to make those fantastic “squishy” prints.
has a shore hardness of 85A, making it extremely flexible, not unlike a wet noodle. The recommended temperature settings are between 210º and 225º C, with no recommended settings for heat beds. NinjaFlex has a top reliable print speed of about 30 mm/s.
Another filament from NinjaTek,is meant to print at higher speeds while retaining excellent quality, hence the name. Cheetah boasts the ability to run at an amazing 60mm/s print speed, using standard settings for ABS.
Cheetah has a shore hardness of 95A, which is part of what allows for higher print speeds. The recommended nozzle temperature is between 235º and 245º C, with recommended heat bed settings between room temperature and 40º C.
Cheetah is advertized as having a 580% elongation to break, meaning it can stretch just a little under six times its original length before it breaks.
The only non-flexible TPU on this list,utilizes the extremely tough, abrasion resistant, and warp-less printing qualities of TPU and turns them into an extremely strong, ridgid material that can be used as an alternative to PLA, ABS, and even Nylon filaments. This TPU is meant for printing high-wear parts such as gears, fasteners, and protective cases.
Armadillo TPU has a shore hardness of 75D, and the recommended print temperature is between 220º and 230º C. Print bed settings are between room temp and 45º C, but a heated build plate is not required. Print speed varies based on the part of the print, with an average speed of around 35 mm/s and a maximum recommended speed of 60 mm/s while printing infill.
NinjaFlex boasts that their Armadillo TPU filament has 84% more abrasion resistance than PLA, 60% more than ABS, and up to 90% more than Nylon filaments. If one thing is for sure, this material is going to be really hard to sand. Armadillo is also advertised as being chemicallly resistant to substances such as Naphtha, Petroleum and Freon.
Fillamentum is a well-known, reliable filament manufacturer, and their Flexfill TPU is definitely worth a try.
has a shore hardness of 98A, making it a bit stiffer than some of the other TPU filaments on this list, but also easier to print. Recommended print temperatures are between 200º and 220º C for the nozzle and 30º and 50º C for the print bed. Recommended print speeds are between 20 and 30 mm/s.
TPU is rapidly becoming one of the most popular 3D printing filaments for flexible applications, and it’s not hard to see why. With outstanding bed adhesion, no heated bed requirements, minimal warping, and abrasion resistance much higher than any other standard printing material, the uses and possibilities that TPU uncovers have revolutionized 3D printing for people around the globe.
So, if you need to 3D print a flexible part, or you are curious to try, what are you waiting for? Get yourself a roll of TPU, it’s time to start experimenting!
License: The text of "TPU Filament – Explained and Compared" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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