While supporting dozens of materials is nothing to scoff at, we occasionally get inquiries for materials we can’t yet use or don't encourage for one reason or another. Thankfully, in most cases there are perfectly suitable alternatives. Here are the four most common materials we are asked about with alternatives to each.
Polyethylene is used in applications that vary depending on the density of the material, which can vary depending on how it’s produced. High density polyethylene (HDPE) is found in products such as milk jugs, while low density polyethylene (LDPE) is found in products such as air cushions in packaging. Polyethylene was tested for use in 3D printing several years ago, but determined to be unsuitable at the time due to its high thermal expansion coefficient.
Bridge Nylon is as a good alternative to HDPE because of its similar level of flexibility and durability. For LDPE, NinjaFlex, SemiFlex, or FlexSolid can all serve as an alternative, but the most common applications for LDPE are most often best served by other methods of manufacturing rather than 3D printing.
It should be noted that neither HDPE or LDPE have any significant relationship with the fantastic, varied, and printable material PET, despite the fact that both have the “ethylene” suffix.
Polypropylene (PP) is a somewhat flexible, generally food-safe material which is often used in foodservice and medical applications. It is just beginning to see usage in 3D printing. At the time of this writing, Type A Machines has not yet delivered a settings profile for using polypropylene filament, but as always we welcome input from customers who have experience with a particular brand.
The mechanical properties of polypropylene are best met by PCTPE, while the food-safe and medically friendly requirements are best met by XT Copolyester or Nylon 680.
Also known as Delrin, Acetal, Polyacetal, and Polyformaldehyde, Polyoxymethylene (POM) is a self-lubricating material used in motion systems such as mechanical gears, plastic zippers, and even medical applications such as pumps. Some POM filaments are out there, but like PP, we haven’t yet developed a profile. If you are intrepid and want to test the material, take note that with high temperatures, this material offgasses formaldehyde. Proper temperature is very important and appropriate ventilation is a required.
IGUS i180 is an appropriate alternative to POM. It is an POM-based material with added solid lubricants. If you just want the chemical resistance of POM, there are lots of options, including nylons and PET based filaments.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
ABS was the first material used in FDM and is the standard in the world of injection molding. However, when Type A Machines was founded, we made the decision not to initially support ABS because of its toxic and carcinogenic properties. Additionally, it’s a fairly difficult material to print in due to its high thermal expansion coefficient.
For alternatives to ABS, we recommend PET based materials such as TechG, tglase, and BluPrint which have similar mechanical and thermal properties. Note that, compared to ABS, PET-based materials are more difficult to chemically weld or polish.
(Type A Machines carries GMASS materials despite them containing ABS, as these materials fulfill a radiation-shielding need which other filaments do not provide.)
Aside from the machine itself, nothing impacts the outcome of your part like the material is printed in. Our goal is to open the doors to new capabilities by unlocking characteristics inherent in the materials we use.