3D Printer Metal Filaments

New hybrid materials can help you get that special look for 3D printed objects

3d printer from pronto pasta
A #D printer from Pronto Pasta.

 T.J. McCue

Materials is a wild space, in any industry, but more so in the world of 3D printing. Why? Well, because you give a bunch of hackers, makers, inventors, creators access to a wide range of materials, from metal to plastic, and they do things you would not expect.

For instance, give these creative minds some time and they will combine traditional plastic materials with bits of metal to create an entirely new category of material for 3D printing, as ProtoPlant, makers of exotic material Proto-pasta have done.

A Closer Look

I first mentioned Proto Pasta here: The Latest Filaments for FFF/FDM 3D Printers, but I have met one of the team, Alex Dick, a couple of times at different events. Alex has briefly shown me various prints made from their filaments.

But it was not until I was hanging out at MatterHackers in California that I got an up-close look and time to really ponder the potential of these plastic and metal hybrids. Erica Derrico, Community Manager at MatterHackers, showed me a wide range of hybrid filament (here is just one of them from Proto-pasta: A PLA filament mixed with finely ground stainless steel particles).

I also have shared some technical details about different, but common materials, used in 3D Printing: Tech Specs on 3D Printing Materials highlighting ABS, PLA, and Nylon, to name a few.

Proto-pasta Materials include: Stainless Steel PLA, Magnetic Iron PLA, Conductive PLA, Carbon Fiber PLA, and PC-ABS Alloy.

The filament makers, based in Vancouver, Washington, keep a good sense of humor. According to the website:

“While our filament may resemble spaghetti, Proto-pasta is not actually pasta. The name is a combination of our company, ProtoPlant, and the pasta-like shape of the filament. #donteatthepasta”

If you are looking for plastic that prints with other qualities, you will want to check these out: Their stainless steel polishes like metal while their magnetic iron attracts other metals and rusts for a truly iron finish. They also offer carbon fiber filament, a PC-ABS alloy, and the new conductive PLA filament has a lot of people excited.

Be Careful

One of the concerns with mixed materials is that the metal can damage your hot end, or extruder. While I have not tested the material yet (I am planning to meet with them in an upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon), Aleph Objects, makers of the LulzBot Mini (which I have been testing and reviewed here) and TAZ 5, state that their standard extruder handles the hybrid materials with no upgrades required to their equipment.  

CAUTION: You will want to carefully check with your printer manufacturer to make sure any non-standard material will work with your machine.

On each product page, Proto-pasta gives technical details and explains how to handle the material. For example, this description of the carbon fiber PLA explains the difference between strength and rigidity:

The short answer is that this filament isn't "stronger," rather, it is more rigid. Increased rigidity from the carbon fiber means increased structural support but decreased flexibility, making our Carbon Fiber PLA an ideal material for frames, supports, shells, propellers, tools... really anything not expected (or desired) to bend. It is particularly loved by drone builders and RC hobbyists.

Overall, if you are looking for ways to get new results from your 3D printer, take a look at Proto-pasta.