Digital Making | Week 1

With the addition of the fabrication & material exploration group, we were able to disperse our research across the two groups. Taking that into consideration, I wanted to offer insight on something that may come across as simple but not may be widely known, that is different 3D printer filament types.

It’s just filament?

To some, filament may just be a bit of plastic, when in reality there are vast varieties that may just prove to come in handy. In our experience, we have been using PLA, a biodegradable plastic which is easy to print. The next common type being ABS, an oil-based plastic.

While both types have their advantages, filament types have grown into fascinating and interesting tools. There are four in particular which i believe may be useful and also are realistically usable (more later on that).

NinjaFlex

Object printed in NinjaFlex filament

First up is NinjaFlex, from a company called NinjaTek. This is a type of flexible filament which has high durability and flexibility. The company also offers an industrial grade flexible filament called Cheetah which carries the same characteristics as NinjaFlex but to a far greater degree.

Glow in the Dark

Ghosts printed in a green ‘glow in the dark’ filament

Next up is glow in the dark filament. It is somewhat more of a gimmick but may or may not prove to be useful in certain situations. It offers medium flexibility with good durability. There are various colours available, helpful if needed to blend into certain decor until it is dark enough to become visible.

Conductive PLA

Circuit printed and connected via wires

This filament is directly aimed at the IoT group but may be adapted by others. It is a unique type of PLA that can transfer low voltages, ideal for LEDs, sensors, circuits and low voltage Arduino projects. While it is not completely flexible, it offers a semi-flexible state which may just be the reason to use it over rigid electronic components.

Colour Changing/Thermoplastics

Purple/red colour changing print

Finally there is the colour changing filament. Technically, all these plastics are thermoplastic but i’m reluctant to brand it as simply a colour changing filament. These types of plastics have the same characteristics as glow in the dark filament with the only difference being that each filament is a combination of two colours.

To conclude

As mentioned earlier, these types of plastics are all realistically usable. When it comes to 3D printing, each type of filament requires different capabilities from a printer, this is why PLA is so common because it is the easiest to print with its low melting temperature.

ABS is next but it requires a heated bed to print properly. That means you are limited by what printer you have access to. The four mentioned above don’t require a heated bed and therefore can be printed on any type of FDM printer. There are far more interesting filament types, e.g. wood, metal infill, acrylic and carbon fibre to name a few however, these take more trial and error and fine tuning to produce acceptable results and/or printer hardware upgrades.

Pros:

  • Unique material properties
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Somewhat expensive as some are labelled as ‘specialty filament’
  • Will require tinkering to perfect prints
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