Home 9 3D Printing 9 3D Printing Materials and How to Choose the Right One?

3D Printing Materials and How to Choose the Right One?

Author: YiNuo Zhang
Published on: 2024-05-07

“The choice of 3D printing material untimely decides the quality as the final properties of the printed part are similar to used filament or resin.”


The overall quality of a 3D-printed part depends on the types of 3D Printing Materials the parts are made with. Is it thermoplastic, thermosets composite, or metals? Not only that, but the final properties also depend on whether the material is in the form of a filament of resin. 

Since there are several materials for 3d printing, it might be confusing to decide which one to choose. This article will cover common materials, their properties, and how you can select the right material for your project.


3D Printing Plastic Materials 

3D printers can create the designed items from different plastics, using them as filaments, powders, or resins. It depends on which 3D printing method you have. For instance,  Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) uses plastic filaments for printing. Meanwhile, Stereolithography (SLA) uses a liquid resin cured (hardened) by a laser or light source.

Thermoplastics are mainly used in the filament & resin form, whereas thermosets are preferred in resin or powder form. Additionally, thermoplastic 3D printing is more popular in manufacturing than thermoset printing. 


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Plastic Filaments for 3D Printing

Since plastics are the most popular for 3D print, you an find different 3D Printing Plastics in filament shapes. These filaments can be used to print different shapes and geometries.

1. Polyacetic Acid (PLA) Filaments

PLA filament properties 

These are the top-consuming filaments in the 3D printing industry, made with natural & biodegradable polymers. Consequently, the low melting point ( 180-220°C) of a PLA Filament makes it compatible with all ranges of 3D printers. But, the decomposition is slower. 

Although it does not provide superior properties like other petroleum-based 3D printing materials, PLA Materials are suitable for prototyping and low-stress applications. Next, it can be mixed with other traditional polymers to customize the required properties.

The fast processing and fast printing capability make PLA 3D printing suitable for non-functional prototypes. Manufacturers often print the design quickly with PLA filament and optimize the product before running full-scale production.

2. PETG Filaments

Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol is a durable and impact-resistant material used in 3D printing. This filament builds more heat-resistant and sturdy parts. Additionally, it is also safer for food processing. 

Moreover, it is similar to PET 3D printing plastic, and the glycol (glycol-modified PET) adds strength and makes it easy for printing operation. It also has minimal warping and good bed adhesion. As a result, there is a low risk of print failure with PETG printing.

PETG filaments 

Use of PETG Filament Printing; 

  • Mechanical parts for automotive, aerospace, and electronics.
  • Oils, greases, or chemical containers & prototypes
  • Medical and laboratory devices, like tubes, bottles, and packaging 
  • Display and signage
  • Safety equipment, such as shields, safety goggles, and helmet visors
  • Arts and decorative items

3.  ABS Filaments

Part printed with ABS filament 

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a low-cost thermoplastic with excellent impact and shock absorption capability. Its lightweight, rigidity, and strength make ABS filaments essential in many 3D printing projects.

The high-processing temperature of ABS 3D printing requires heating the printing bead. This heating helps to minimize the risk of material warping. Meanwhile, applying adhesion can also help with shrinkage or warp. 

ABS 3D Printing Applications;

  • Mechanical components, housings, and enclosures
  • Automotive components such as dashboard trims, grilles, and mirror housings. 
  • Models and visual aids for training & educational purposes
  • Household items such as food containers, kitchenware, and decorative items. 
  • Custom Products, like phone cases, keychains, and figurines.

4. Other Filaments

  • TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane): It is a flexible polymer resistant to abrasion, oil, and grease. TUU prints flexible parts such as phone cases, shoe insoles, and seals.
  • Nylon: Delrin or Nylon is a high-strength, flexible, and chemical-resistant material. Nylon filaments are used in applications requiring durable and impact-resistant parts. For example, gears, bearings, and tooling are used.
  • PC (Polycarbonate): PC filaments are famous for printing optical clear parts & products. They also offer high strength, heat resistance, and optical clarity. Some uses are 3D printing of lenses, automotive components, and medical devices.


Plastic Resins for 3D Printing 

The 3D printer prints plastic resins using stereolithography (SLA) deposition. The liquid-state resins are passed through the nozzle to the extruder, where they are heated and cured to achieve the final geometry.

Various thermoplastic or thermoset resins are available in the market that you can use according to your product requirements. 

  • Clear Plastic Resin: They are colorless, transparent, light, smooth, and water-resistant.
  • Water Washable Resin: They can be cleaned with water for a smooth finish.
  • Flexible Resin: Those that came back to their original shape after bending or compression

Next, the speed of printing resins is higher than with filaments, and it can print more precise objects.


3D Printing Metals & Composites

Metal 3d printing

3D printing materials are not limited to plastics: With compatible printers, 3D printers can also manufacture metal and composite parts. 

Metal 3D printing typically uses either filaments, powder metals, or alloys. Meanwhile, composites mainly use powder to print the designed item. Whether the materials are metal or alloy, the powder bed fusion process melts the powder with a laser beam or other source. It continuously builds the layer-by-layer in a pre-determined path until it takes the final shape.

1. Aluminum (AlSi10Mg)

It offers low density, high strength, and good corrosion resistance. Therefore, it is best for parts requiring a balance of strength, lightweight, and corrosion resistance, such as aerospace components, automotive parts, and lightweight structural components.

2. Titanium (Ti6Al4V)

3D printing of titanium alloys is beneficial for high-performance and biocompatible parts. They are commonly used in the aerospace, medical, and automobile industries.

3. Stainless Steel (SS316L)

Stainless steel 316L is a corrosion-resistant steel alloy with good mechanical properties. 3D printing of SS316L produces parts such as marine components, chemical processing equipment, and medical implants.

4. Inconel (IN718)

It is a high-strength, nickel-based superalloy with excellent mechanical properties at high temperatures. Some applications of 3D printed IN718 parts are gas turbine engine parts, parts for chemical processing systems, etc.

5. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers (CFRP)

This 3D printer material consists of a matrix of carbon fiber with polymers like PLA and Nylon. It provides a high strength-to-weight ratio, stiffness, and durability to the printed components. So, it is suitable for aerospace, automotive, and sporting applications.

6. Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymers (GFRP)

In GFRP, glass fibers are embedded in a polymer matrix. This combination can improve strength and stiffness compared to pure polymer parts.


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Plastic 3D Printing Vs Injection Molding

Injection molding is another method to manufacture plastic parts in large volumes and can offer more material options than 3D printing Materials. The process creates identical parts throughout the batches using a reusable metal mold. It involves injecting the molten metal into the mold at high pressure, followed by cooling & ejection.

ABS plastic injection molding  

Furthermore, you can see differences in 3D Printing Vs. Injection Molding regarding the complexity, production time, cost, and structural integrity of produced parts.

The table below highlights the differences between 3D printing and injection molding in shortly;

Table: Differences of 3D Printing and Injection Molding

Aspect 3D Printing Injection Molding
Complexity Complex geometries with internal structures  It can handle complex shapes but may require the assembly of individual parts.
Cost Cost-effective for prototyping and low volumes  Economical for medium to high volumes 
Lead Time Short lead time, even for a few parts Longer lead times due to tooling and complex setup 
Design Changes Easy design modifications & iterations  Design modification is costly and takes much time, 
Surface Finish Variable finish  Consistent and high-quality finish 
Strength and Quality Good but do not match the strength of injection-molded parts High strength parts 


How Can I Choose the Right 3D Printing Material?

Different considerations and matching the properties with application requirements help to choose the appropriate 3D printing material. Here, you also need to think about which printing technology you have like laser sintering, fused deposition, or any other. It also shows whether you need to look for filament, material powder, or resins.

Here is the step-by-step approach you can take as a reference while selecting the right material for 3D printing. 

  1. Define the End Requirements ( Eg. Physical & Mechanical Properties) 
  2. Identify the Potential 3d printing plastics, metal, or composites
  3. Check the Comptiabilty of the listed 3D printing materials with the available 3D Printer
  4. Analyze the Cost of Materials without Compromising the Properties required for Functionality

Furthermore, you must collaborate with an experienced and reliable manufacturer to print your parts or products if you’re outsourcing them. You can choose ProleanTch for Plastic 3D printing services. 

We provide low-cost yet precise printing solutions for 50+ materials. With our services,  you can get your design printed at your door to meet your quality and functionality expectations. 


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3D printing technology can produce plastics, metals, and composite parts; only the correct type of printer is required for this. However, thermoplastics are the most common among different 3D printing Materials. The ease of manufacturing and the capability of handling diverse materials make 3D printing a trustworthy technology for rapid prototyping and short runs of different components and end products. 



Which is the best material for 3D printing? 

It depends on the specific application requirements. However, the common choice is PLA filaments due to their ease of use and versatility.

What are the common materials used in 3D printing? 

Common materials used in 3D printing include thermoplastics like PLA, ABS, and PETG. 

What materials cannot be 3D printed? 

A 3D printer cannot print materials that are unable to be melted or cured, like cloth. Additionally, materials that require extremely high temperatures or specialized equipment may be challenging to 3D print.

Are 3D-printed parts durable? 

The durability of 3D-printed parts depends on the material used and the printing process. However, they are typically less durable than molded or machined parts.


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