Selecting the best 3D printer filament for your FDM 3D printer is essential to getting the best results from your prints. Different filaments are available, and each type has unique properties that make it suitable for specific applications. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting a filament to help you decide which is best for your project.
New to 3D Printing
If you're new to 3D Printing, I’d recommend you start with PLA. 3D Printing involves heat and, with it, the possibility of releasing gases, so it's always a good idea to set up your work area in a well-ventilated area. Gas release from the heating of materials is why cooking food smells good.
Considering safety, environmental risk, ease of use, and more, PLA is an excellent filament choice for beginners. PLA doesn't absorb too much moisture from the air, which can affect print quality, and its lower temperature makes working with it more accessible than some alternatives.
However, not all PLA are the same. Today you can purchase generic PLA and various PLA brands called PLA Plus. The quality, brand, and even color of the PLA you choose will impact the visibility of the layers in your model and the amount of stringing your 3d printer produces. I return to two brands for consistent prints: Hatchbox PLA and Matterhacker Build PLA. Both work well, but the Matterhacker Build PLA produces significantly less stringing.
The rest of this post will help you understand additional options related to the best 3D printer filament for special needs.
Types of Filaments
The most common types of filaments for 3d printers used in FDM 3D Printing are PLA (polylactic acid), ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified), and Nylon. This is just the beginning, as new filament types are released almost daily.
Each type of filament has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to understand their differences before deciding. PLA is a biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane, making it an environmentally friendly option. It’s easy to print and produces good-quality prints with minimal warping or shrinkage. However, if exposed to high temperatures or mechanical stress, PLA can be brittle and prone to cracking.
ABS is a durable plastic that can withstand higher temperatures than PLA. It’s also more flexible than PLA, which is ideal for parts requiring flexibility or shock resistance. However, ABS tends to warp more easily than PLA due to its higher shrinkage rate when cooling down after printing. ABS is difficult to print, and I do not recommend it for most users as many other alternatives exist.
PETG is similar to ABS in terms of strength and durability but is less prone to warping due to its lower shrinkage rate when cooling down after printing. It’s also resistant to UV light and chemicals, making it an excellent choice for outdoor applications where exposure to sunlight or harsh chemicals may be an issue.
Nylon is another strong and durable material that can withstand higher temperatures than many other plastics without deforming or melting. Prints produced in Nylon have fewer visible layers and look great. It’s also highly resistant to abrasion and wear and tear, making it ideal for parts subject to heavy use or frequent movements, such as gears or bearings. Nylon is more challenging to work with as it quickly absorbs moisture, and you need to dry it out with a filament driver before use. Nylon also requires higher temperatures than those available on many entry-level 3d printers.
Nylon filaments are more flexible than PLA or PETG which is why manufacturers such as MatterHackers now offer carbon fiber-reinforced Nylon filaments. This material is sometimes called "plastic aluminum" due to its high strength and resilience to wear.
For flexibility prints such as gaskets or children's toys, the most commonly used filament is TPU. TPU is easier to print on direct extruder 3d printers since the flexible filament is difficult for Bowden-style extruders. TPU is available in various "shore hardness" ratings which indicate its flexibility. The lower the number the more flexible the material. If you want to print TPU on a Bowden-style 3d printer you should choose a filament with a shore hardness of 90 or above and print it very slowly.
Print Quality & Resolution
When choosing the best 3D print filament brand for your project, it is essential to consider more than just the material's physical properties. Thinking about prints' desired quality and resolution is integral in creating aesthetically pleasing and hard-wearing 3D objects. The filament you choose should work with the specific slicer settings you use concerning layer height, speed, and fill to give a meaningful result. You owe it to yourself and your project to consider every factor contributing to producing your print correctly.
Cost & Availability
Finally, cost and availability should also be taken into consideration when selecting a filament for your 3D printer project; some filaments may be more expensive than others depending on their type and brand name but may offer better performance in specific applications compared with cheaper alternatives, so it pays off doing some research before deciding which one is best suited for your needs.