What Are The Different Types Of 3D Plastic?

3D printing is such a great hobby to get into. But before you go straight out and buy yourself a 3D printer, it makes sense to learn as much as you can about them first, so you know what to expect.

And, more importantly, some 3D printers will only print with a limited number of material (AKA filament) types, so it’s best to learn about these different types before you buy. That way, you know what properties you can expect your printouts to have and assess whether they are fit for purpose.

And that is why we’ve put together this article, to explain a bit about the different types of 3D printer filaments available, so you can ascertain which ones might be of most interest to you.

We’ll kick things off with a section on the most popular 3D printer filament, PLA, before going onto the next most popular filament, ABS. Then we’ll talk a bit about some of the other types of filament on the market, namely PETG and Nylon, before rounding off with a quick summary of their various benefits.

PLA

PLA stands for Polylactic Acid. It’s hands down one of the most popular 3D printing plastics around, and can be used by almost every FDM 3D printer across the board. And as such it’s also one of the most readily available types too, every stockist will have some.

One of the other main reasons why it’s so popular is that it’s a biodegradable thermoplastic. Moreover, it’s also made from renewable sources, such as corn starch. So it’s particularly environmentally friendly, and a no-brainer option for those who are concerned about the environment.

It’s also a very easy filament to print with, perfect for beginners. This is thanks to its relatively low printing temperature, which comes in at between 180 and 230 degrees centigrade. It doesn’t warp as easily as other filaments do, and you don’t need a heating bed for it.

It’s fairly strong, and has very little flex, which makes it a good choice for making children’s toys. It’s only of medium durability, however, and can be brittle, so it should not be used for anything that might be dropped, such as phone cases or tool handles. If stretched too much, it will snap.

It’s also as close as you’re going to get to odorless, and it’s one of the cheapest filaments to buy.

ABS

The next most popular filament is ABS, which stands for Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. And it can be used by a great many FDM 3D printers.

It may not be biodegradable or odorless like PLA, but it does have some great properties, and many professional 3D printing services often favor it.

It offers a very high level of durability, with four times the impact resistance of PLA. This makes it a very useful filament for the likes of tool handles, electrical components, and even safety helmets. It’s not at all brittle, and will not crack.

It’s not as easy to print with as PLA, however. It will need a heat bed, and its printing temperature is a whopping 210 to 250 degrees centigrade. And you have to keep an eye on it to ensure that it doesn’t warp as it cools down.

And as you may imagine, with such a high printing temperature, finished printouts can withstand some pretty high temperatures. You can even use it for car parts.

It’s readily available with leading online retailers and costs about as much as PLA does at about $20 to $25 for a 1 kg spool.

PETG

But, depending on what 3D printer you get, PLA and ABS don’t have to be your only options.

It may not be biodegradable or odorless like PLA, but it does have some fantastic characteristics…

Not only is it equally as durable as ABS filament, but it also makes for excellent printouts designed to be kept outdoors. It is UV resistant, so the sun’s rays won’t ever make the color of the printout fade. And it’s water-resistant, so it can take a little rain, too.

And that’s not all. It’s also highly chemical resistant to boot, and food safe, and can handle temperatures up to an impressive 80 degrees centigrade.

Together, these properties make PETG a great choice for making things like wind chimes, or for quirky lunch boxes.

It’s not quite as easy to get hold of as the likes of PLA and ABS, but Amazon always stocks some, and it costs just as much for a 1 kg spool as it does for PLA and ABS.

But there’s a clear drawback to this filament, and that’s its distinctive, not very pleasant odor. So, if you’re going to print with it, make sure you’ve got plenty of ventilation.

Nylon

Nylon filament, also known as polyamide, has excellent strength and is not at all brittle. As such, the longevity of nylon printouts is unmatched, thanks to its semi-crystalline structure.

It’s also quite malleable, which means you can change the shape of it without worrying about it breaking. And it’s this very flexibility that it owes its toughness. Resilient, yet pliable, very strong indeed.

Like PETG it’s also UV resistant and highly chemical resistant. And it’s abrasion resistant to boot.

The issue is how difficult it is to 3D print with. It has a tendency to draw in moisture from its surroundings, so you have to print it in dry conditions, preferably in an enclosed chamber, and keep the filament dry before use too.

Summary Of Benefits

PLA

  • Better for the environment
  • Cheap to buy
  • Almost odorless
  • Easy to print with

ABS

  • Very high level of durability
  • Cheap to buy

PETG

  • Very high level of durability
  • Cheap to buy
  • UV resistant
  • Water-resistant
  • Chemical resistant
  • Food safe

Nylon

  • Very resilient
  • Malleable
  • UV resistant
  • Chemical resistant
  • Abrasion resistant
Michael Moore
Latest posts by Michael Moore (see all)