3D printer filament types: All You Need To Know About PLA 3D Printing

3D printing has become an interesting and fun hobby for many people these days, but the process is not as easy as it sounds. Deciding what to print can be quite a challenge because you may not have the right kind of 3D printer and the right amount of materials for making it. These materials are known as 3D printing filaments and they are actually quite expensive. There are various 3D printer filament types available on the market, but the use of a particular type depends on the item you will print. For example, if you want to print out a photo frame, you would need a 3D printer filament type that’s sturdy enough to hold a photograph inside. In this age of technology, you can order all kinds of 3D printer supplies and filament types online; but before you do that, read on to know more about the types of materials you should look out for.

Commonly Used 3D Printer Filament Types

Polylactic Acid

Polylactic acid, more commonly known as PLA, is one of the most widely used 3D printer filament types and there are plenty of reasons behind this. PLA is extracted from sources such as corn starch or sugarcane. This makes PLA 3D printing an eco-friendly process. An item made using PLA can last from around six months to more than two years. Since you can create multiple prototypes and print out many copies of your design, you can easily replace a printout that has degraded over time. However, if you leave an object made from PLA 3D printing out in the humid environment it will begin to degrade quicker. So it is best to keep the printed object at home.

There are a few other features of PLA that need to be highlighted:

  • PLA is used to produce food packaging and medical supplies, such as tissue screws and sutures. The type of PLA used in 3D printing is a mixture of PLA and other plastics.
  • PLA filament is harder, expands less thermally and degrades slowly. This makes it an ideal material for creating large and flat objects. Although PLA is hard, it’s also brittle; so it could break down under continuous wear and tear. It’s best not to use PLA if what you’re printing will be used quite often.
  • PLA comes in a wide variety of colors and it smells quite good, so you could use your creativity to mix and match different colors so as to make colorful printouts. Allow the extruder to heat up and then remove the filament. If it cannot be removed, heat again to a higher temperature and try to remove again. Now add the second filament. Run it for a while and check whether the previous filament color is coming out or not. If you are switching from a dark to a more lighter color, this step is crucial. Remove filament only when it is soft enough but not completely liquified.

How to Get the First Layer Right?

A house built on a faulty foundation does not last long. Similarly, if the first layer printed out is faulty, the entire printout will be messy. Before you start off with the printing out process to bring your ideas to life, you have to ensure that the print bed is flat. There should be some kind of adhesive material on the print bed that the first layer will easily stick to. The choice of the adhesive material depends on the 3D printer filament type. For PLA, painter’s tape or Jell-O works out just fine. Lastly, the printer extruder should be positioned at a correct height from the print bed.

Adhesive Materials for PLA

Painter’s tape, also called Blue Tape, is an easy way to get the first layer to perfectly adhere to the print bed. When you use painter’s tape make sure it is spread out evenly. You won’t need to heat the print bed as it would damage the tape. After around 10 printouts, you have to replace the tape.

There are other materials that have shown compatibility with PLA, such as Kapton tape, Jello and polycarbonate mixed with a little vegetable oil. Sometimes, proper adhesion can be achieved by simply increasing the temperature of the print bed glass or heating in combination with other adhesive materials.

There are other kinds of PLA that you could use and try to experiment with. There are PLA filaments infused with metal, which could be used to print out ornaments and pieces of jewelry. PLA with carbon fiber reinforcements is also available. You can even make glow-in-the-dark stickers for your walls or glow-in-the-dark action figures for your kids.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

ABS is an oil-based plastic type, mostly used by experts and professionals. Don’t be bewildered by the name. ABS has long been used to make Lego blocks, sports equipment and musical instruments. 3D printing hobbyists do not generally use ABS because it can cause warping problems due to its high melting point. It requires the print bed to be heated, which is something not usually found in home 3D printers. Still, it is best to use the print bed with adhesive materials like Kapton tape or PET tape. ABS smells a bit different, but not as sweet as PLA. So you might not like using it. ABS is also less brittle than PLA, so it is better suited to make objects subject to more wear and tear.

Nylon

PLA and ABS have their fair share of problems, so you can have nylon as an alternative solution. Nylon is stronger and lasts longer, with much higher melting temperatures than ABS and PLA. It is also appropriately flexible, thin and adhesive when dry. A special requirement in case of Nylon is that the extruder temperature must be more than 240 degrees C. You can find out whether your printer is compatible for nylon printing by getting in touch with the manufacturer of your printer.

A problem with nylon printing is that nylon can absorb more moisture than its own weight. For 3D printing to properly work nylon must be dry because water particles in it could create air bubbles and ruin the surface finish. It can also make the structure weaker. You can dry nylon by heating it in an oven for around 8 hours at temperatures, ranging from 160 degrees F to 180 degrees F. Nylon printing requires heated printer bed and use of PVA glue sticks as adhesive.

Polyethylene Terephthalate with Glycol Modification

PETG is just a modified version of PET. There are other versions of PET but this one is most suitable for 3D printing. It could substitute PLA over time as one of the most common 3D printer filament types. Water bottles and food packaging are often made of PETG. It’s kind of a midway material between ABS and PLA. Not only it’s rigid but it’s also easy to use. The glycol modification allows it to be less brittle. Like Nylon, PETG also absorbs moisture, so always store it in a dry place. 3D Printing with PETG containing moisture can create weakened structures. You can use painter’s tape on the print bed, though the bed can be either heated or not.

Now that you have an idea of all types of filament materials, it will be easier for you to 3D print various items. Keep in mind that these materials could come at a high cost, so think before you prototype quickly or make multiple copies of the printout. The filaments are sensitive to environmental changes, so it’s best to store them in vacuum sealed bags or dry sealed containers, to prevent moisture from affecting their mechanical properties. There are other kinds of filaments that you could try to experiment with, but these have been proven to be the most reliable when it came to 3D printing. You can mix and match various filaments and colors to create printouts with unique textures. This way, you can create amazing printouts and flaunt them, making the most of your 3D printer.

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