3D printing materials guide for FFF

3D printing materials guide

Our 3D Printing Materials Guide explains the materials used in FFF and FDM 3D printing.  At 3D Print Works, the most popular material we use is PLA and ABS - it is cheap, easy to use and comes in a variety of colours.  But did you know we also print with Nylon, PETG, Polycarbonate and many more?  What's more, we can make 3D print your parts in metals, resin, acrylic and other materials using different 3D printing methods. 

You can even print in chocolate (although we don't!) 

If you are not sure about which material to choose, tell us about your project when you send us your file(s).  Our default material is usually ABS or PLA, so if you are not sure, let's start there.

We have listed some of the most popular materials but there are others which we can use, so ask us if the one you need is missing from the list.

The sections on this page are:

1.  General Comparision Table
2.  Material Specific Information
3.  Best Material For ..........

General Comparison Table

Material Specific Information

PLA – Polylactic Acid

PLA is one of the most common materials used in 3D printing.  Unlike most plastics which are made from fossil fuel, it comes from a BioSource, corn starch.  It is therefore biodegradable. 

It is easy to print with and comes in a wide range of colours.  It can be sanded and painted with acrylic paint to create stunning results.

Additives can be added for different finishes or properties.  For example, wood and metal can be added to achieve these aesthetic qualities.  PLA can be mixed with other materials to make a conductive product.

ABS – Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

This is another commonly used material in 3D printing.  ABS has been around for a long time and is used in a variety of common products found in your home, car or workplace.  If you look around your home you will find that many plastic parts are made from ABS, so it is very versatile.

It also comes in a variety of colours.  To obtain a smooth, glossy finish, it can be exposed to acetone vapours. 

It suffers from shrinkage when 3D printing – this is when the layers contract as they cool.  This can make it difficult to print large objects.  However, it glues together well, so large parts can be made in smaller sections and stuck together.

As it has good resistance to impact and chemicals, it is more versatile than PLA and can be used in functional parts. 

Beware, it will degrade in the sun, so should not be used for outdoors products.

PET / PETG – Polyethylene Terephthalate and the G is for Glycol

PET is most commonly used in plastic bottles and is highly recyclable.  Glycol is added to the PET for 3D printing as this makes it easier to flow through the extruder.  This also makes it a little stronger than PET.

PETG can come into contact with food and it can be sterilised.  It should still be noted that 3D printing is a layering process and therefore food particles could become lodged between the layers, so cleaning would be very important.

It is slightly more expensive than PLA or ABS but has generally better qualities and considered a good material to work with.

PA – Polyamide

Commonly known as Nylon, this material will produce strong products that can be used in functional parts.  It is resistant to many chemicals, abrasion and impact.  It will also last well in the sun.

The material is about 3 times more expensive than PLA or ABS.

PA comes in a standard format (often called PA 12) as well as a glass-filled version (often Glass Filled Nylon).  The glass filled version is stiffer, far more resistant to abrasion and can handle higher temperatures.  It is more expensive than normal PA. 

TPU – Thermoplastic Polyurethane

This is a bendy, flexible, stretchy material.  In fact, you can stretch it to twice it’s natural length without it breaking.  It has superb scratch and impact resistant properties.  It does not handle heat well.

It has a moderate price tag – a bit more than PETG but less then PA.

PC – Polycarbonate

PC is widely used for products which need to be strong – it is used in bullet proof windows and for riot shields.  It can handle heat and has good mechanical properties.  Like ABS, it is prone to shrinkage.  It is about double the price of PA.

ASA - Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate

This is a similar material to ABS but it has excellent UV resistance.  The price tag is about 4 times that of ABS.  This material is best for use outdoors.

Best For ....

Price – PLA or ABS

Food – PETG

Sun / UV exposure – ASA

Flexibility – TPU

Functional products – PA, PETG, PC

High Heat exposure – PETG or PC

Recycling – PETG

Biodegradable – PLA