3D Printed Material Strength

Resources to help you figure out which material is right for your 3D project

Titanium 3D Printed Ball

The bulky envelope arrived and inside was a tiny 3D printed titanium ball printed by Morris Technologies (acquired by GE Aviation). Terry Wohlers, one of the world’s top 3D printing experts, sent it to me to showcase just how strong 3D printed metal could be. He was told that this super light, delicate-feeling, woven-looking ball was strong enough that you could stand on it.

Is it strong enough? That is a frequent question people ask about the final 3D printed object, in general.

In my mind, as it probably is in others minds, I am wondering if I take the time, money, and effort to 3D print something – will it be as strong as the product I can buy off-the-shelf? It is a fair question.

Lots of people ask and lots of people want to and are testing material strength. Many of them are scientists, like a duo that I met at Ford Motor Company load testing different 3D printed parts by slamming into them with X amount of weight. Fun job it must be, to test breaking points. Wear your safety glasses.

A YouTube personality, Thomas Sanladerer, creates regular videos about 3D printing called simply: Tom’s or Tom’s Guide.  He did his own entertaining 3D print material test that you can watch here.

So, to cut to the chase, strength is not always easy to define – it depends on what you are doing with it after you print it. Are you bending it? Hanging something from it? Does it need to withstand impact or heat?

One of the best resources to answer some of these questions is found at the CAPUniversity – which is a blog written by a Solidworks reseller in the Northeast USA. In their post, which I encourage you to go read: Choosing Your 3D Printing Material: It’s About More Than Strength!

They outline the strength of common materials: ABS, PLA, Nylon and others.

I give a bit of technical specifications on ABS and PLA here. Here’s one from CAPUniversity based on the tensile strength – lowest to highest.

CAPUniversity Plastic Tensile Strength Chart (link above)
  ABS  33MPa (4,700 psi)
  Nylon  48MPa (7,000 psi)
  PLA  50MPa (7,250 psi)
  PC  68MPa (9,800 psi)
  PEI  81MPa (11,735 psi)


ABS, PLA, and Nylon are very common 3D printing materials.

PC stands for polycarbonate and is one of the most widely used industrial thermoplastics, but you do not hear about a lot of people using it in FFF/FDM type 3D printers. The RepRap Wikihas a good page explaining some of the pros and cons of polycarbonate.

PEI is Polyetherimide (PEI) resin, but the popular trade name is Ultem. Ultem is a family of PEI products manufactured by SABIC as a result of acquiring the General Electric Plastics Division in 2007. As you can see in the chart, it has the highest tensile strength.

Another resource is Stratasys, which has put out a PDF: Thermoplastics: The Strongest Choice For 3D Printing. It is only six pages, and oriented toward materials that work in Stratasys printers, of course, but it is a good resource since most printers are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM); a method they pioneered.

Final note: Back to the Titanium Ball: I do not remember if Terry Wohlers told me this or not, but I thought he jokingly said he would send it to me if I agreed to stand on it. He said he didn’t have the heart to crush the little ball, about the size of an old marble, but if I agreed to he would ship it off to me. I said I would absolutely do it, but when it arrived I didn’t have the heart to stand on it, either! It is just too cool to flatten it, if the makers were wrong about their strength test.

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