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3D Printing Plastics: Which Types of Plastics are Used in 3D Printing?

Author: YiNuo Zhang
Published on: 2024-02-29

“The precision of 3D-printed plastics transforms ideas into tangible realities. These materials offer excellent customization, from medical implants to automotive designs.”

When it comes to 3D printing, creativity, accuracy, and precision in workflow are paramount. Plastic designs created through this method add more appeal and cost-effectiveness to the process. Although choosing the right material might be agitating for you, don’t worry, this article will guide you to make the most suitable material choice for your specific needs. Plastics are known for their peculiar characteristics, and their applications ranging from automotive to aerospace. You have various choices, including sustainable PLA, ABS, and PETG plastics.

3D printers often produce parts that can be fragile and prone to breakage due to low-standard plastic material. However, appropriate plastic choices enable 3D printers to produce more durable, high-quality, and resilient 3D prints for a diverse range of applications.

This article aims to provide essential details of plastic types suitable for 3D Printing, and compatible technologies. Moreover, we’ll examine the challenges associated with 3D Printing plastic materials with their respective solutions.


Types of 3D Printing Plastics

First of all, It’s essential to understand the difference between pellets and filaments before selecting the appropriate plastic raw material for 3D printing.

Two common forms of plastic feedstock used in 3D printing are pellets and filaments

1- 3D Printing Pellets

Pellets are small, granular pieces like plastic resin. They are typically produced in bulk and are the raw materials used in the manufacturing of plastic products through various processes, including compression, injection molding, and extrusion.

Pellets for 3D Printing

  • In the context of 3D printing(additive manufacturing), pellets are used in certain types of 3D printers known as pellet extrusion or granular extrusion printers. These printers melt the pellets into a molten state and extrude them through a nozzle to create the desired object layer by layer. 
  • Pellet-based 3D printing is less common than filament-based printing but offers advantages such as the ability to use a wider range of materials and potentially lower material costs.

2- 3D Printing Filaments

Filaments are more commonly used in desktop 3D printers due to their ease of handling and compatibility with FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printers.

3D Printing Plastic Filaments

  • Filaments are long, thin strands of plastic material wound onto a spool. They are specifically manufactured for use in filament-based 3D printers.
  • Filaments come in various types of thermoplastic materials such as PLA, ABS, PETG, and TPU, each offering its exclusive characteristics. They are fed into the 3D printer through a heated nozzle, where they are melted and extruded in the build platform to create the printed object layer by layer.
  • Filament-based 3D printing is popular due to its ease of use, wide availability of materials, and compatibility with a range of desktop 3D printers.


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Popular 3D Printing Plastic Materials

Numerous types of polymers boast a wide array of useful and desired characteristics. This makes it a bit challenging to choose the type most suits your needs. Therefore, we will look at different types of plastics available for 3D printing and discuss their respective suitability for particular applications.

1. Polylactic Acid (PLA) in 3D printing

PLA is an engineered thermoplastic polymer and the most preferable choice among product designers for 3D printing due to its affordability and unusual functionality. PLA plastics require relatively lower temperatures than other plastics. PLA  prints within the temperature range between 180°C to 220°C

Moreover, It offers good strength and exhibits toughness that can be further strengthened by annealing processes. Professionals prefer PLA for its commonality, ease of use, and affordability. However, many experts often seek more versatile, robust, and enduring materials. 

2. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) in 3D printing

Then comes the ABS(Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). ABS stands as the most functional polymer in 3D printing due to its flexibility, and exceptional impact resistance ability. It is widely used in making everyday items, from Legos to automotive parts. Moreover, It has a good balance of toughness and rigidity. This makes it a preferred choice for parts that have undergone high stress. 

The operating temperatures of ABS typically lie within the range of 210°C to 250°C, along with a heated bed ranging from 80°C to 110°C. ABS has rapid melting and flow characteristics, which results in quicker printing. That’s why it is a ubiquitous material used in Injection Molding. 

However, ABS can be prone to warping. Also, it emits harmful gases during printing. Therefore, an enclosed printer is a more suitable option for ABS. So, whenever you are choosing ABS, make sure you have great access to an enclosed environment. 

3. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) in 3D Printing

PETG is similar to PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) but is distinguished by adding glycol. It is commonly found in translucent plastic bottles. It offers a combination of strength and flexibility similar to PLA and ABS. Its operating temperatures are higher, typically within the range of 225°C to 260°C, along with a heated bed varying from 60°C to 70°C. 

PETG exhibits resistance to warping and adhesion. Also, this 3d printer plastic absorbs moisture from the air. Therefore, to maintain prolonged shelf life, store PETG in a dry environment due to its hygroscopic nature. 

PETG offers higher strength and durability than PLA. Additionally, it is resistant to higher external temperatures, with minimal concerns of bed adhesion or warping.

4. Nylon or Polyamide in 3D printing

Nylon or Polyamide offers exceptional strength, flexibility, and durability. However, it is moisture-sensitive and thus requires storage in a dry environment to prevent degradation. This 3d printer plastic needs a very high temperature, ranging from 240°C to 260°C along with a bed temperature of 70°C to 100°C. 

3d printed nylon parts are susceptible to shrinking and warping; therefore, you need enclosed printers for the best results from nylon 3d printing. Moreover, nylon has high tensile strength and durability, which makes it a perfect option for applications in tools and functional mechanical parts.

5. PC (Polycarbonate) in 3D Printing

PC, or Polycarbonate, is known for its transparency and durability which makes it an ideal choice for making display screens and even bulletproof glasses. 

Polycarbonate(PC) requires a notably high temperature, ranging from 270°C to 310°C. Therefore, it may not be compatible with standard printers due to its minimum heat requirements. Like other materials discussed, Polycarbonate is hygroscopic and requires storage in a dry environment to prevent moisture absorption.

6. PE (Polyethylene) in 3D Printing

Polyethylene among other plastics offers versatility and exceptional durability with high chemical resistance ability. PE is considered the easiest polymer to work with. Moreover, it offers three grades; High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low-Density polyethylene (LDPE), and Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE).

PE presents salient features such as resistance to moisture, chemicals, and impact. Amongst its types, HDPE is most often used in 3D printing applications due to its rigid nature, while LDPE is more flexible and resilient. It produces strong and reliable printed parts. 

PE has a low melting point and is prone to warping. Warping can be avoided by using enclosed printers with heated beds. Depending on its type, PE has a typical printing temperature range of 115°C to 260°C, along with a bed temperature of 50°C to 100°C. This 3d printer plastic is used in a wide range of applications for packaging materials like plastic bottles and even medical implants and prosthetics. 

7. PP (Polypropylene) in 3D Printing

PP is a versatile thermoplastic, similar to PE. Polypropylene’s flexibility, toughness, and chemical resistance make it an ideal option. Compared to other 3d printer plastics, it has relatively low density, resulting in lightweight printed parts. 

PP has a high printing temperature range of 220°C to 270°C, along with a bed temperature of up to 100°C. Commonly, it produces functional prototypes, storage containers, and automotive parts. 


Compatible Technologies with Plastic 3D Printing

Three fascinating technologies optimally integrate with plastic 3D printing processes, such;

1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Fused Deposition Modeling(FDM) or Fused Filament Fabrication(FFF) are the most widely used 3D printing technologies for plastics. FDM works by melting and extruding thermoplastic filament through a heated nozzle. The nozzle moves along a predetermined path, depositing the melted material layer by layer onto a build platform. As each layer is deposited, it solidifies, bonding to the previous layer to form the desired object.

FDM 3D Printing

FDM is known for its simplicity, versatility, and affordability. It is widely used in industries ranging from aerospace and automotive to healthcare and consumer goods due to its ability to produce functional prototypes, custom parts, and end-use products quickly and cost-effectively. Additionally, FDM offers versatile applications to industries for rapid prototyping, tooling, jigs and fixtures, and the production of end-use parts. 

Moreover, It finds applications in aerospace (for lightweight components), automotive (for custom parts and tooling), healthcare (for medical devices and prosthetics), and consumer goods for customized products and small batch production.

2. Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography (SLA) utilizes a vat(tank) of liquid photopolymer resin cured by UV light to create objects layer by layer. A build platform is lowered into the resin tank, and a UV laser selectively solidifies the resin according to the design, resulting in high-resolution parts with smooth surface finishes.

SLA 3D Polymer Printing

SLA is known for its high resolution, smooth surface finish, and accuracy, making it ideal for producing detailed prototypes, intricate parts, and investment casting patterns. It is commonly used in industries such as automotive, aerospace, medical, and consumer electronics for concept modeling, functional testing, and master patterns for molding and casting.

3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS works by selectively sintering powdered thermoplastics using a high-power laser. A thin layer of powder is spread over a build platform, and the laser fuses the particles, forming a solid layer corresponding to the shape of the object being printed. The process repeats, with each layer of powder being spread and sintered until the object is complete.

SLS 3D Plastic Printing

SLS is known for its ability to produce parts with high strength, durability, and complex geometries without any need for support structures. Moreover, SLS is considered a great solution for the rapid prototyping of functional polymers because it offers exceptional accuracy. 

Click here to download: The Best 3D Printing PLA Materials 


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What are the Challenges Associated with 3D Printing Plastic Materials?

Plastic 3D printing 

3D printing often comes with a set of challenges for product designers. Let’s break down complications faced by designers during the 3D printing process and provide practical solutions to overcome them. 

Table: Challenges associated with 3D printing plastics and their respective solutions.

3D Printing Plastic Associated Problems Respective Solutions
PLA Warping and Shrinkage Use a heated build plate and enclosure to control temperature and minimize temperature fluctuations.
ABS Layer Adhesion and Delamination Increase print bed temperature and ensure proper cooling to promote better layer adhesion.
PETG Stringing and Oozing Optimize retraction settings and print speed to minimize stringing, and ensure proper cooling to prevent oozing.
Nylon Moisture Absorption Store nylon filament in a dry environment or use a filament dryer to remove moisture before printing.
PC  Warping and Cracking Enclose the printer to maintain a stable printing environment and use a heated build plate with adequate adhesion.
PE Poor Layer Adhesion Adjust printing parameters such as extrusion temperature and layer height to improve layer adhesion.
PP Warping Utilize a heated build plate and chamber to mitigate warping, and optimize part orientation to minimize stress during printing.


Find Creative Solutions with Prolean

At Prolean, we are committed to providing high-quality products and services made specially to meet your specific needs. With our technical and skilled team of professionals, we prioritize attention to detail for enhanced product design and performance. 

With our help, you can transform concepts into tangible solutions and bring your ideas to practicality. Explore our extensive range of premium 3D printing plastics to find the perfect material for your project, and join our community of satisfied customers.

If you want to explore your options about which technique and material to choose, we will provide the best solution. So, contact us, and get a free quote.


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Summing Up

Plastic 3D Printing has become a frequently cost-effective and creative approach to designing sophisticated geometries. It offers versatility in material choice for creating functional prototypes for end-user products. 

There is a wide range of plastics available to you with their unique characteristics. Although it can become difficult to choose the right material. But, through this article, you can get valuable insights and knowledge about which process is suitable for your needs.

Moreover, whether it’s Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), or Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D Printing, understanding how these processes interact with different plastics is crucial for achieving optimal results



What is plastic 3D printing?

Plastic 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process of creating three-dimensional objects by depositing successive layers of plastic material to build up the desired shape.

What plastics can be used in additive manufacturing?

Several types of plastics can be used for additive manufacturing (3D printing) such as Polylactic Acid (PLA), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG), Nylon (Polyamide), Polycarbonate (PC), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene (PE).

Can I reuse excess or failed prints made from 3D printer plastics?

Yes, you can use excess plastic or miscarried plastic prints. However, doing that requires some additional work. First, you will have to melt the plastic to use it again for new prints. This recycled plastic may not be as good as the original plastic. 

How can I prevent issues of warping and bed adhesion when 3d printing?

You can prevent issues of warping and bed adhesion by using a heated bed and an enclosed printing environment. 

What post-processing techniques can be used to improve the surface finish of plastic 3D-printed parts?

Post-processing techniques such as sanding, polishing, painting, and annealing can improve the surface finish, mechanical properties, and aesthetics of plastic 3D-printed parts.



1- Swetham, T., Reddy, K. M. M., Huggi, A., & Kumar, M. N. (2017). A Critical Review of 3D Printing Materials and Details of Materials Used in FDM. Department of Mechanical Engineering, Vidya Jyothi Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, India. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/33109418/A_Critical_Review_on_of_3D_Printing_Materials_and_Details_of_Materials_used_in_FDM 

2- Jandyal, A., Chaturvedi, I., Wazir, I., Raina, A., & Ul Haq, M. I. (2021). 3D printing – A review of processes, materials, and applications in industry 4.0. School of Mechanical Engineering, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra, Jammu and Kashmir 182320, India. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666412721000441. 


  1. Khalida Y

    What do yo think that how much bed temperature should i fix to printPE TG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) in 3D Printing

    • Dikendra Acharya

      It’s between 50-75 0C.


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