Can You 3D Print Carbon Fiber?

If you have been delving into the types of filament you can use for 3D printing, you may have come across carbon fiber as an option. But, is it what you are looking for? Can you even use carbon fiber to 3D print? In this article, we will explore whether you can print carbon fiber products.

Can You 3D Print Carbon Fiber

What Is Carbon Fiber?

The first thing we should explore is the obvious question. What exactly is carbon fiber? At its core, carbon fiber is a polymer, which is sometimes referred to as graphite fiber.

It is a lightweight yet strong material that is said to be five times stronger than steel and just as strong. What sets carbon fiber apart from steel is the lightness and strength of the material, this is why engineers and designers tend to favor it.

Carbon fiber is a strong crystalline filament that is most often used to strengthen other materials. It can be extremely thin, almost thinner than human hair, yet it gains its strength from being twisted together like yarn or string.

Once you have twisted the fiber together, it can be interwoven into cloth. Otherwise, it can be used on molds and coated in resin or plastic.

Why Would You Want To Print Using Carbon Fiber To 3D Print?

When it comes to using 3D printing carbon fiber, there are specific filaments that utilize it. In essence, a filament will have carbon fiber suspended within a polymer matrix made up of plastics. Specifically, nylon or ABS are used in order to create strong yet lightweight carbon fiber prints that are superior and have three-dimensional strength and accuracy.

This is especially useful for things like jigs, and fixtures, these are two examples of items that would benefit from this combination’s lightweight and stiff nature.

So, why would you want to use carbon fiber filament in your 3D prints? There are several reasons that this might be what you need for your creations. If you require your parts to hold their form and not flex, carbon fiber has a tendency to create stiff prints.

If you have a need for a part that is formidable and tensile, such as robotic parts or end effectors, this is a great fiber to use in your prints. Finally, if your print needs to withstand high temperatures and not deform, carbon fiber has a high neat deflection quality, which can mean that it will work well for your needs.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Carbon Fiber 3D Printing?

Carbon fiber has its advantage for sure, but, what is the downside of using a material that is strong, lightweight, heat-resistant, and stiff? One thing you will need to keep in mind is the price, carbon fiber is complex to manufacture as such, which will make it more expensive to produce.

It is an almost luxurious material to use because of the price, this is why you are likely to see it being used in high-end products such as in aircraft, face cars, and sporting equipment.

Because of the stiff nature of the material, there is the inevitable risk of brittleness. If a product made of carbon fiber is going to be put under stress in situations with a high impact force, you will probably find that your product will shatter. As such, if you are going to use carbon fiber, you will need to keep this in mind.

Carbon Fiber In Filaments

Carbon fiber is increasingly being used in the 3D printing industry, trends have highlighted that companies are increasingly using all composites, this includes the use of carbon fiber. There are two main ways that carbon fiber can be used in 3D printing.

The first way is to use carbon fiber to reinforce other filaments such as ABS, this makes the products stronger while still using filament which is cheaper to produce. The second method is to use continuous carbon fiber reinforcement, one way that this can be used is by having a 3D printer that has a dual extruder.

This is where a special nozzle is used to place an uninterrupted strand of carbon fiber filament at the same time as another nozzle print using another material.

Filaments With A Carbon Fiber Filling

A filament that has carbon fiber within it usually uses short carbon fibers that are less than one millimeter in length, and are then mixed with a thermoplastic that is the base material.

There are several filaments which you can buy that have a carbon fiber filling, some of these include PLA, PETG, Nylon, ABS, and finally Polycarbonate.

The use of carbon fiber in any of these materials causes their strength and stiffness to increase, as well as reduce the weight of each print.

If you have decided that you would like to use one of these filaments with carbon fiber fillings, you will need to take care that the nozzle of your 3D printer can more easily become clogged.

However, if you have a 3D printer that can print your base material, such as ABS, for example, you should be able to use the same filament with a carbon fiber filling.

Use Of Continuous Carbon Fiber

If you want to create a print that is even stronger than a product with carbon fiber filling, you will need to use continuous carbon fiber reinforcement. The reason this format of carbon fiber is stronger is that as a continuous strand, it retains more of its tensile strength.

Studies have shown that continuous carbon fiber is able to replace aluminum at half of the weight and in some cases, it can replace metal for a select few applications.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, you can 3D print using carbon fiber and there are two main options for you to choose from. The difference between a filament with a carbon fiber filling and a continuous carbon fiber filament is in essence the strength and stiffness of the product.

In addition to the qualities of each product, take into consideration the cost of printing using carbon fiber. The manufacturing price is expensive at the moment due to the complex production process of this particular fiber.

As such, it is wise to consider whether you need to use carbon fiber for your prints or if there is another alternative. This is especially true if you are on a budget or running a new business.

In retrospect, you will know what qualities your product needs and, through researching the different filament types, understand what your print needs to be a success.

Michael Moore
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