As 3D printers become more and more affordable and begin to enter more of a mainstream consumer base, now is a great time to start gaining some extra understanding behind some of the factors you need to consider when making your choice of filament. Depending on the quality of printing you require and the applications you are looking to use your 3D printer for, this decision will have quite tangible implications. The major factors to consider regarding your filament is the type of material and its diameter. Whilst there are numerous different types of materials used in filaments we will just focus on two of the most common.
PLA (Polylactic Acid)
PLA is a biodegradable polyester which is derived from natural products such as corn starch, sugarcane and tapioca roots amongst others. Due to this it is the most environmentally friendly material used for 3D printing. This makes it highly suitable for 3D printing surgical implants as items such as pins and screws will be broken down naturally by the body over time with no ill effect. If used without any additional colouring it is suitable for use with food products such as packaging or cutlery etc.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
ABS is one of the most commonly used filament materials and sees widespread use within many industries. It is tough but provides a level of give so it is highly suitable for a great many applications. It can be sanded down without damaging the overall structure and easily painted. It is relatively cheap in comparison to other filament types but it should be noted that it gives of noxious fumes when it is being printed, which some sensitive people can find unpleasant.
The two most common diameters of filament available are 1.75mm and 3mm. In terms of home 3D printers, these are the sizes you will likely to be able to choose between but the best 3D printers can provide you with a bigger choice. There is no set rule regarding the two diameters as different manufacturers will vary considerably. However, generally speaking, 1.75mm filament tends to have better extruding and retraction and higher precision printing. Overall though it is worth experimenting with different sizes as there is such variety within the available ranges.
Check Your Printer’s Recommendations
In spite of all of the above, one important factor to note is that it is very important to check what your 3D printer states is the best material and diameter to use. 3D printers are often designed to be specifically suited to certain printing products so when in doubt always use the ones suggested if you do not have the versatility of choice.
The best thing to do is to just try it yourself. Like most things in life, you will learn a great deal from experimenting first hand. With the dropping price of 3D printers and an increasing number of affordable 3D scanners out there to choose from, it seems to be a feasible time to start trying it out yourself.