What 3D printing material should you use? The answer depends on the surface you’re printing on, and the purpose of that surface or packaging. For instance, when printing on a food and beverage container, you should use 3D printing materials that are safe to use on food packaging.

Other factors to consider when settling on a 3D printing material include whether they are water-resistant, chemically-resistant, UV-resistant, dissolvable, composite, fatigue-resistant, flexible, elastic, heat-resistant, soft, rigid, or impact-resistant.

Most of the 3D printing materials fall in either of these categories. In essence, there are numerous 3D printing materials in the market to choose from. Here are seven you might want to be aware of:

1. Polycarbonate Materials

Sometimes called PC, Polycarbonate filament is a transparent, but sturdy material, which is suitable for high-temperature applications. It has a melting point of 302°F, which is pretty high.

Polycarbonate is naturally flexible, making it ideal for a wide array of circumstances. Using this material comes with the risk of warping since it absorbs moisture from the surroundings. When printing models with polycarbonate, make sure you are equipped with some kind of heat protection.

2. PLA Materials

PLA stands for Poly-Lactic Acid. It’s highly versatile, making it one of the most popularly used 3D printing materials. It’s made from renewable sources such as sugarcane to keep it affordable. Poly-Lactic Acid is a very forgiving material, is reusable, and has a low chance of warping.

A unique characteristic of this material is it produces a popcorn-like smell when melted. PLA has a melting point of 150°F. This is too low and won’t work well for high heat work. Although it’s very versatile, the final product tends to be brittle. So, if you want to build something that can take a few hits, consider using another material.

3. ABS Materials

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. This is the second most popular plastic in 3D printing. ABS has better heat-resistant capabilities than PLA, but you can still melt it down and reuse it if the need arises. It has a melting point of about 221°F, making it great for high heat work.

This plastic is more durable, too, which makes it an excellent choice for prototyping. What this means is that you won’t need to worry about cracking or warping when sanding, painting or polishing ABS. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene barely shrinks, meaning you won’t have to compensate heavily for that. It’s commonly used in manufacturing. LEGO bricks are made out of ABS.

4. Nylon Materials

To make a 3D printed object that can take a beating, go for nylon. It’s a perfect material for this sort of printing. The material is tough, abrasion-resistant, and features a degree of flexibility that most others don’t.

The main issue with nylon as 3D printing materials is that they absorb moisture from its surroundings, causing finished products to warp, which compromises the structural integrity. For this reason, make sure you store extra nylon in an airtight container. The transitional temperature of this material is around 250°F.

5. HIPS Materials

HIPS stands for High Impact Polystyrene. These 3D printing materials rigid and inflexible. It’s commonly used to make the support structures used by larger models. High Impact Polystyrene is water-resistant, but you can dissolve it in d-Limonene. This helps prevent notches left by snap-off supports.

HIPS is a lovely, lightweight plastic, perhaps the reason it’s typically used for replaceable parts. You will, however, need to make use of a heated printing bed when using this material to ensure it doesn’t stick. You’ll also need to work in a well-ventilated area because HIPS fumes can result in a severe headache if allowed to build up.

The transitional temperature of this material is 212°F, which is quite similar to that of ABS.

6. PVA Materials

PVA stands for Polyvinyl Alcohol. Like HIPS, it’s commonly used for support structures. It’s not the best for creating objects due to its soft nature, and also because it’s biodegradable.

The one characteristic that differentiates PVA from HIPS is that the former can completely dissolve in warm water. The main downside to using this material is it tends to clog the nozzle if you heat it without using it. If you end up with some extra PVA, make sure you store it in an airtight container to prevent moisture from getting in.

7. Carbon Fiber Materials

Carbon fibre filament is basically ABS or PLA infused with tough fibres that enhance its stability. This material is very light, but it can improve the rigidity and stiffness of an object vastly. The fibres also help prevent shrinking when the item cools. The print settings for this material are quite similar to those of PLA or ABS filament. Before using carbon fibre, it’s crucial to invest in a stronger steel nozzle.

3D printing is a complex undertaking but highly rewarding. According to your preferences, you can use any of the printing materials to develop practical and highly functional models. Therefore, as you pick your 3D printing material, consider the function of the final product.

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