At one point, there were only two materials available for 3D printing: PLA and ABS. PLA is safe and easy to use, but is too brittle and has too low of a melting point for some applications. ABS is a bit more ductile and heat resistant, but smells horrific and is made from some seriously nasty, not to mention carcinogenic chemicals. Now, ther's a much wider array of materials available for 3D printing, and the list is growing every day.
The beauty of the Series 1 platform is that you don’t have to worry about committing to a material when you own the world’s most versatile extruder. We’ve mentioned in many other places that the G2 extruder can run about 80 different materials through it using the presets we’ve included in our version of Cura alone, and more still if you’re willing to calibrate the material profiles yourself. If you’re new to doing your own 3D prints, this can be a little intimidating. Here’s where to start.
Below are five materials that are on the easier side of the learning curve, have a diverse set of characteristics, and are commonly used in a wide variety of applications.
Off the bat, you’ll notice that all the materials on this list are of stiffer, easier-to-work-with varieties. For more information on how the Series 1 Pro tackles soft and/or flexible materials, check out this video.
1. TechG PETG
Known for: Strength, recyclability
Common uses: light-duty mechanical parts, semi-transparent parts
Similar materials: Tglase, XT CoPolyester, BPet, PET+
In the last 5 years, the clearly identified need to find “happy mediums” between ABS and PLA has been met by materials such as PET. PET is much less toxic than ABS, but still has some of its mechanical properties and heat resistance. It’s also the most recycled plastic on earth, and materials like BPet take advantage of this fact. PET is a strong, versatile material with good temperature and impact resistance, and a low environmental impact.
Taulman TechG PETG in particular is a good place to start, as it both retains more visual clarity and has less of a chance of becoming brittle or sensitive to UV light than regular PET. In addition, it’s among the easiest materials to print with.
Known for: General purpose printing, wide color selection, stiffness, lower environmental impact
Common uses: The majority of non-final prints produced are PLA.
PLA is ideal if you’re just getting started. Low-cost, easy to print with, geometrically accurate, non-toxic, and biodegradable, PLA has been the general purpose filament for many years, and was the very first material that Type A Machines supported. We offer two varieties of the material in a multitude of colors.
Everyday PLA is great for first run prototypes, excessively complex geometries, and large items with consistency from batch to batch of material.
The higher end Performance PLA offers all this, with an added level of consistency from color to color, ensuring that you can use the same tweaked settings from one color of spool to another. It’s also fantastic for customers who use PLA in production applications.
3. Alloy 910 (Nylon)
Known for: Chemical resistance, strength
Common uses: Medical devices, prototypes
Similar materials: Nylon 618, Nylon 645, Nylon 680, Bridge Nylon
Some describe Nylon as another happy medium between ABS and PLA in that Nylon can offer the geometric accuracy of PLA and the heat resistance of ABS. Nylon is also great because it has a good deal of chemical resistance as well. There are many different versions of Nylon to work with, including some that are FDA compliant. A good nylon with which to start is Taulman Alloy 910, as it’s very strong and doesn’t always require a heated bed.
Known for: Durability, heat resistance
Common uses: Mechanical parts, prototypes
Similar materials: PC-Plus
Polycarbonate is one of the most commonly used plastics in Injection molding because of its fantastic strength characteristics such as impact resistance. Most safety goggle lenses and plastic computer casings, including the ones on the original MacBook, are made from transparent injection molded polycarbonate.
Polymaker’s PC-Max polycarbonate formulation is both easier to 3D print with and incredibly strong. Check out some of their demos to see what I mean. It’s an ideal choice for parts that need to be tough above all else.
Known for: Aesthetically pleasing, easy to finish, lightweight, pliable
Common uses: Architectural models, art pieces, parts that need painting or sanding
Difficulty: Easy / Intermediate
Similar materials: While ProMatte is a unique material, consider exploring filled and composite materials.
There’s an entire class of materials that have developed around looking good while still holding together, and ProMatte is hands-down the place to start in this field. A new filament offered exclusively by Type A Machines in collaboration with Polymaker, Promatte, is a specially formed variant of PLA (read: easy) which yields lighter parts that are easy to finish. We have examples of beautifully finished and painted parts in ProMatte. Even without any post-processing work, ProMatte produces that kind of finish worthy of its namesake.
Now that you don't just have one, but five great starting materials, you’ve taken your first step towards choosing the material perfectly suited to your application.