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3D Printing Filament Guide

There are a wide range of filaments available in FDM 3D printing; it’s easy to get lost in all the abbreviations, acronyms, and temperatures. We’ve decided to bring together the most relevant information when selecting filament for your 3D printer.  We use LulzBot Printers, and they have raised the bar when it comes to a consumer 3D printer with their inclusion of the Auto leveling, heated, PEI covered print bed. The temperature limitations of the heated bed on LulzBot machines is 120°C, well within the bounds of most filaments. Likewise, the limit for the hot end used in the Taz and Mini printers goes up to 300°C; well within current consumer filament temperatures.

In this guide I will go over the temperatures, uses, and special adhesion considerations for each filament type we stock; specifically for LulzBot 3D printers (which already have PEI/Ultem covering on their bed). You can get a PEI sheet for your 3D Printer, if it doesn't already have one, it's easy to install and will make printing a whole lot easier.

Use the quick links below:


black-abs-roll

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) Filament

Glass Transition Temperature: ~105 °C

Printing Temperature: 220 - 240°C

Bed Adhesion: 100-110°C

Soluble: Yes, in Acetone

Biodegradable: No

ABS is one of the two most common filament types and for someone just beginning with 3D printing, it’s most likely you will run into the ABS/PLA decision point almost immediately. When you think ABS think of the rigidity of LEGO blocks and you will be in the right ballpark.

However.

ABS is also quite prone to warping. Warping is when the print cools unevenly during printing, resulting in prints that change their shape as they print. It causes all sorts of issues for the unsuspecting hobbyist. To combat warping in our own prints we use an enclosure with all of our LulzBot printers, it really helps to minimize the effects of warping during prints by keeping the area around the print stable.

With the LulzBot heated bed setup you won’t need any extra adhesion tapes or glues, all you will need to do is ensure the bed temperature is set to around 110°C (sometimes we hike ours up to 115 for safety). 

We recommend the ABS (Villiage Plastics) Quick Print Profile in Cura (LulzBot Edition) as a great start point for printing with ABS

ABS plastic is made from fossil fuels (petroleum and natural gas) meaning it isn’t biodegradable at all. Additionally, there are some nasty fumes released at the extrusion temperature. For ABS (Extruding at 220-240°C) it is recommended that you have some sort of ventilation at a minimum. The smell isn’t great either so the ventilation helps to keep your print space habitable.

A great feature of ABS is its reactivity with acetone (nail polish remover). You can use acetone + ABS to make a fairly decent glue to hold your parts together, paint your 3D printed parts over with Acetone for a glossy finish or even whip up a vapor smoothing box.

For more info on safety and ABS view the MSDS for the ABS filament we stock here.


polymaker-pla-rainbow

PLA (Poly-Lactic Acid) Filament

Glass Transition Temperature: ~60°C

Melting Temperature Range: 180 - 220°C

Bed Adhesion: 45-60°C

Soluble: Yes, only in Sodium Hydroxide 

Biodegradable: Yes

The flip side of the beginner filament coin is PLA, it’s more common than ABS for a few reasons. It's easily to print, doesn't warp, doesn't require ventiliation and is biodegradeable. It's our go-to filament for any rapid prototyping needs.

PLA is quite a sturdy plastic for most conventional uses with a few exceptions. It is brittle when printed meaning it has a much lower impact resistance and elongation at break than that of ABS.

The glass transition temperature of PLA is low, this means if your prints need to survive any contact with hotter environments ( > 50°C) or any sort of impact you would tend away from PLA. We recommend ABS or Nylon alternatives for these parts.

When using PLA, you trade off the impact resistance and durability in hotter environments for a much easier filament to print with. Warping is essentially non-existent with PLA printing along with fumes. The finish of a part printed in PLA is much glossier than one in ABS, which may be preferred. 

For more info on safety with PLA view the MSDS for the PLA filament we stock here.


ninjaflex-spoolsTPU (Flexible & Semi-Flexible) Filaments

Glass Transition Temperature: -35°C (It's already flexible!)

Melting Temperature Range: 215-230°C

Bed Adhesion: 45-60°C (With Glue Stick on PEI)

Soluble: Nope

Biodegradable: Nope

When it comes to flexible filament printing with a direct drive extruder, you might run into issues. For the earlier models of LulzBot printers (and many other consumers printers) you'd need modifications to allow the flexible filament to print. However, with the newer Aerostruder Tool heads, printing with NinjaFlex/SemiFlex filaments is a breeze. We find that with flexible filaments, they are tough, durable and really easy to print. They have benefits out the wazoo, plus, having flexible models means you can print more practical things. There's a technical data sheet, MSDS and Chemical Resistance Report available for the NinjaFlex material (and SemiFlex). 

We've found that stringing is an issue with these filaments, and in a lot of cases it's difficult to controls as the filament is flexible during printing. This means the usual retraction methods are as effective. We have found that coasting can help with this, as well as increasing the print speed. It's good to know that there are NinjaFlex profiles for all of the LulzBot Printers, meaning you have a great start point for your flexible prints. 

Finally, you will need to consider a glue stick or additional adhesion when printing NinjaFlex on a PEI covered bed


Nylon (Polyamide) Filaments

nylon-910-filament-rollGlass Transition Temperature: ~95°C

Melting Temperature Range: 230-260°C

Bed Adhesion: PVA Glue Stick and 70-80°C

Soluble: No

Biodegradable: No

For the strongest, lightest and most durable filament you will be looking to print with a Nylon filament, especially the alloys available from Taulman. Boasting improved benefits of the PETG filaments discussed above with higher durability and an operating temperature of 95°C. This is the premium end of the durable 3D printing filament market.

We recently printed some skateboard wheels with Taulman 910 Filament, they came up extremely rigid and strong for their size. "A combined tensile strength higher than the strongest copolyesters, the durability of Nylons, a shrink factor that rivals Taulman's T-Glass, a vast range of chemical resistance, and a 95°C working range." Is what Taulman has to say about their 910 filaments and it’s so true.

For Nylon filaments you will need to utilize your trusty PVA glue stick again. If you are wondering which brand of glue stick to get, it doesn’t really affect the print too much. We used a $1 glue stick from Officeworks and it worked perfectly for all of our Nylon prints.

For more info on safety with Nylon Filaments view the MSDS for the Nylon filaments we stock here.


Specialty Filaments

It's hard to summarise all of the different specialty filaments into one section. As time goes on we are innundated with different options for filaments that have unique looks and practical uses. I'm just going to list the notable options that we enjoy using with our printers. Bear in mind that all of these filaments have support printer settings on their respective pages, if you need extra information, just let us know and we can help!

ColorFabb Fill Filaments - ColorFabb have a range of filaments that utilise a conservative mix of PLA and other materials to give some unique printing options. The list includes:

  • WoodFill
  • BronzeFill
  • CopperFill
  • SteelFill
  • BambooFill

Carbon Fibre XT Filament - This one is a really impressive option, however, it requires some special considerations to print with as the Carbon in the filament mix reacts with the Brass nozzle on most printers and can wear them out. 

PolyAlchemy Silk Elixir Filament - This filament is all about the looks. It has the same properties and any PLA filament, however, the finish is incredibly shiny! The visual effect is stunning and impressive. A great filament for models on display!

ProtoPasta FIlaments - ProtoPasta are in the experimental end of the filament marker and have a wide range of different options that you won't see anywhere else. Their range includes:

  • PolyCarbonate + ABS 
  • Conductive PLA
  • Iridescent PLA
  • Magnetic Iron PLA


That's the rundown

If you've got any questions, queries or things to add please let us know your thoughts! 

There are a wide range of filaments available in FDM 3D printing; it’s easy to get lost in all the abbreviations, ...

Have a question? Ask the Author of this guide today!