A Complete Overview to the (Best) 3D Printing Materials

on November 30, 2023

The rise of 3D printing is transforming a number of industries and enabling products to be manufactured with greater accuracy, at faster speeds and at lower costs. However, the materials you use, along with the type of 3D printing you utilise, have a major impact on the output.

In this article, we take a closer look at what material is used in 3D printing and give you our top tips for selecting the best materials for your 3D printing projects and goals.

What Material Is Used In 3D Printing?

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a broad area and there are various different types of materials that can be used to produce 3D products or models. Here, we outline some of the most popular materials used in 3D printing:

Plastic Filaments

Ask anyone, what material is used in 3D printing, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it’s plastic. Indeed, plastic is the most popular material amongst both professional and hobbyist printers. As plastic is such a diverse material, with plenty of variations, it’s suitable for 3D printing numerous different types of products, including decorative pieces, toys and electronic casings.

Plastics are generally used in conjunction with a form of 3D printing known as fused deposition modelling, so you’ll need an FDM 3D printer if you want to try printing with this material. Here, thermoplastic filaments are melted before being moulded into the desired shape, one layer at a time.

However, if you do decide that plastic is the right option for your next 3D printing project, you’ll also need to consider what type of plastic filament to use, such as:

  • Polylactic acid (PLA)
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Polyvinyl alcohol plastic (PVA)
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)

While some plastics, in general, are a great material for 3D printing, some types of plastics are more suited to specific types of projects. Known for its strength and safety, for example, ABS is popular when printing toys or consumer goods, while the eco-friendly properties of PLA and its availability in soft and hard forms ensures it will be one of the most popular 3D printing materials of the future.

Resins

Commonly used with stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP) 3D printing methods, resin printers use UV light to set the resin as it transforms from a liquid state to solid. Again, the end product is built up layer-by-layer, which enhances the strength and durability of the finished piece. 

3D printing resins are available in a range of colours and there are also different types of resins that can be used for various projects, such as:

  • Paintable resin
  • High-detail resin
  • Transparent resin

While transparent resin is typically the strongest form of resin, paintable resin is popular for prints with a smooth surface and high-detail resin is favoured for printed pieces that feature intricate detailing.

Metal

Used alongside direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), metals can be used to create a wide range of items via 3D printing. Typically, metal dust is used, which is fired to increase its strength, which means that printers do not need to undertake the casting process.

As you might expect, different metals can be used with a DMLS printing method, and the appropriate metal is dependent on the finished product. Popular options include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Nickel
  • Bronze
  • Titanium
  • Aluminium

To date, metal as a 3D printing material has mainly been used to create industrial prototypes, although it is now being used to produce consumer-ready and industrial-grade products too.

Powder

Although powder is a viable material to use for 3D printing, it’s typically restricted to the most state-of-the-art applications and is not, therefore, a common option. If a powder-based 3D printer is used, it melts the powder and applies it in layers to achieve the designated texture and thickness. 

Various types of powders are available for 3D printing, but the most commonly used forms of powder are currently alumide and polyamide. 

As metal becomes a commonly used material for 3D printing, we may see a rise in the number of professional printers using powder. After all, metals are easier to work with and transport when they are in powder form. 

Powder 3D printing offers both strength and flexibility, but it is known for the high level of detail it can deliver. Due to this, powder may be used as a 3D printing material when industrial-grade or medical components are being printed.

Emerging 3D Printing Materials

While plastics, in the form of filaments and resins, are amongst the most popular 3D printing materials being used today, we may see a wider array of materials on the market as the industry continues to evolve. 

For example, wood filaments are already being combined with PLA to create finished products with a wood-like appearance, while concrete could be used as a 3D printing material to deliver a faster and more eco-friendly form of construction. 

In addition to this, carbon fibre is likely to be a popular option amongst industrial-grade 3D printers due to its strength and lightness. However, it’s high melting temperature means this material will likely be restricted to specific industries, such as aviation and transport.

What’s the Best 3D Printing Material? 

Now you know what material is used in 3D printing, you probably want to find out what’s the best material to use. Ultimately, this depends on various factors, such as the type of finished product you want to create, your budget and the 3D printing method you plan to use.

However, the strength, durability and flexibility of plastic filaments and resins make them extremely popular amongst both hobbyist and professional 3D printers. Furthermore, the relative low cost of these 3D printing materials, combined with their accessibility, makes them a great option for a wide variety of 3D printing projects. 

At Pro 3D Shop, we stock a wide range of 3D printing materials, as well as 3D printers, 3D scanners and software, so it’s easy to find everything you need for your next project. To find out more, simply contact our friendly and knowledgeable team today!

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