Tech Specs on 3D Printing Materials

From ABS to PLA to ceramic or metal powders, here is a list of 3D Materials

3D print of small vase
Marco Vacca / Contributor/Getty Images

Materials science is going to be an in-demand specialty with the rise of 3D Printing. When you hear about 3D printers, you often hear about printing in plastic, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of materials you can use in a 3D printer.

Thermoplastic 3D Printing Materials

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) properties:

  • ABS Melting Temperature 240°C or 464°F
  • It is petroleum based
  • ABS needs a heated bed or heated build area, in order to adhere to the build surface in a stable way, meaning that it will not warp or pull up and away from the build platform. Some people use kapton tape on a heated platform to create good adhesion and prevent warping, but others use disposable plastic trays that are similar to a Teflon-style pan.
  • ABS produces tough, durable objects. That is not to say that it cannot be broken, it can, but it is often combined with other materials, such as carbon fiber, that makes it much stronger.
  • Available in a variety of colors
  • ABS can be recycled /reformed, granulated and then re extruded into filament again
  • ABS can smell more like melting plastic than PLA and it is recommended that you run your printer in a well-ventilated area.

PLA (Polylactic acid) properties:

  • PLA Melting Temperature 180°C or 356°F
  • Made from renewable sources, such as corn starch or sugar cane
  • PLA does not need a heated bed
  • PLA comes in a variety of colors, including a clear, translucent filament.
  • Objects printed in PLA are not as durable or as strong as ABS
  • Although made from renewable sources, it is actually harder to recycle/reuse than ABS

Nylon (Polyamide) properties:

  • There are a variety of nylons, so I’m referencing Nylon 618, one of the common grades for 3D printers, for now.
  • Nylon 618 melts at 242°C or 464°F
  • Doesn’t require Kapton tape, but does have similar properties to ABS in that it cools quicker at the edges, resulting in some instability that will cause it to peel up off a build platform.
  • No dangerous fumes when printed at the recommended temperatures, but still recommended to use in a well-ventilated area.
  • Lighter than ABS or PLA
  • Offers a slippery surface if you are creating joints or collars that need to slide easily

Metal 3D Printing Powders

With many metals having a melting point of greater than 500 C or 1,000 F, you can see why metal 3D printers are expensive, and potentially dangerous, if not used properly. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is well known and produces standards to safety and quality. They recently released one for additive manufacturing, specifically for metal powders, that you can download (fee) or read a bit about it here.

Metal powders are themselves quite expensive as well. Some of the common powders I have seen or read about include:

  • Metal alloys
  • Titanium alloys
  • Cobalt Chrome alloys
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum

Ceramic and Glass 3D Printing Material

Sculpteo, a 3D printing service bureau, prints in ceramic with a Z Corp 3D printer.

Shapeways recently discontinued its ceramics material and introduced porcelain for 3D printing, as a new material. It looks pretty impressive and you can read about it here.

3D Printing with Food Materials

There are people hacking their desktop 3D printer to print with chocolate, with broccoli, and a cake frosting mix, to name just a few. I am not convinced yet that some of these will taste good, but I am open to test…

Seeking 3D Printing Material news or updates

I will continue to add to this materials fact sheet highlighting new polymers, new resins, metal alloys, ceramics and glass, and whatever new products hit the 3D printing market. As I have mentioned in other posts, companies such as Proto-pasta, are producing a variety of polymers, combining new materials with ABS or PLA to produce an entirely new product.

Get in touch if you have a material that I should include here: Head to my Bio page where I keep all my contact details up to date.