The Best 3D Printing Filaments

The life of a 3D printer rests on the printing filament used and choosing the right one depends on the needs of the user. There’s a number of factors to take into consideration when choosing a filament. Many specialized types of filaments now exist that can take 3D printing to a new creative plane. Here’s a breakdown of just three filaments, PLA, ABS, and TPU.

PLA — Polylactic Acid

PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic made from a mixture of corn starch or sugar, melting at temperatures from 190–210 C degrees. Currently PLA is one of the two most popularly used filaments for desktop 3D printing and it’s generally the ‘default’ recommendation given its support a wide range of printing applications.

Pros of PLA

Amongst the pluses of PLA are its biodegradability, non-emission of UFCs (ultra fine particles), or harmful fumes. It is also relatively odorless, with the slightest sugary smell appearing during extruding. PLA has a lower tendency towards warping during printing and is much ‘stickier’ than ABS (the other widely popular filament). Material printed generally appears shinier and smoother as well as in more detail than ABS.

Cons of PLA

There’s relatively few cons to PLA, thought it can deform from heat and is generally less sturdy than its ABS counterpart.

ABS — Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

ABS might be considered the ‘legacy’ printing filament, being amongst the first in use. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a petroleum based plastic that generally requires 220–260 C degrees for extrusion. Post-processing with acetone can create a glossy finish and parts made using ABS are very durable. A heated surface is highly recommended while printing with ABS since it contracts when cooled.

Pros of ABS

One of the main pros about using ABS is that it’s very hard and sturdy, especially suitable for tasks like printing machine or car parts. It has a higher melting point the PLA as well as a longer lifespan. ABS printed parts also tend to have a glossier finish when compared to those made from PLA.

Cons of ABS

ABS, because it’s essentially petroleum based, comes with some negative environmental and health concerns. During extrusion it produces a ‘burnt plastic’ fume and UFCs, requiring users to take proper ventilation measures. It can be more difficult to print with and deforms when not printed on a heated surface. ABS is not suitable for food printing purposes.

TPU — Thermoplastic Polyurethane

TPU is a specialized filament made from thermoplastic polyurethane that provides many useful properties like elasticity, transparency, and a resistance to grease, oil, and abrasion. The variety of TPUs are generally used in wet environments and to resist oil and hydrocarbon.

Pros of TPU

One of the most important properties of the TPU filament is the high degree of flexibility available. It also has several other advantages, however, and is highly resistant to abrasion, performs well at low temperatures, has a high degree of elasticity, and mechanical properties. TPU, unlike ABS and PLA, is perfect for printing bending prototypes, easily bending without effecting design, strength, or durability. It is also easy to clean, requiring only a mild soap.

Cons of TPU

TPU has relatively low heat distortion resistance, making textile after treatments at elevated temperatures difficult.