- Arts and Design
Materials for 3D Printing
Choosing Materials for Online 3D Printing Services
There are lots of materials available for online 3D printing services and a couple for home 3D printing use. Find out what your options are and find the right 3D printing material for your design or product.
Whether you're printing jewelry, ornaments, home décor or parts for a project or home made gadget, you should be able to find a suitable material.
If you're considering starting a business selling 3D printed products then you'll want to understand the range of materials available.
Or maybe you've just found out about 3D printing and you're wondering what it's possible to make. 3D printing is brilliant for making really special unique gifts or one off design pieces.
On this page we'll take a look at lots of the materials that are available for 3D printing and some items made with them.
If you need an introduction, try: What is 3D Printing.
Materials for Home 3D Printing
ABS Plastic is the plastic used to make LEGO and lots of other kids toys. It's strong and durable and usable by many popular home 3D printers. For home printing ABS comes in filament form in a reel for feeding into your 3D printer extruder.
See ABS Filament vs PLA Filament for a comparison of the two popular plastics for home 3D Printing.
PLA plastic filament is another popular plastic filament for home printing. It has similar qualities to ABS but some differences, one of them is that it smells nicer when it's printing. I can confirm that PLA is not at all unpleasant when printing and gives good results.
The pendant in the photo was printed at home using purple PLA filament.
Materials for Commercial 3D Printing
Available from online 3D printing services.
Materials at Popular 3D Printing Services - Shapeways, i.Materialise, Sculpteo, Ponoko
These quick links will take you to the list of materials pages for popular online 3D printing services Shapeways, i.Materialise, Sculpteo, Ponoko.
Some of these services offer a 3D materials sample pack or individual samples, this is a good way to get a hands on feel for the materials available. In some cases a voucher is included that allows some of the cost to be offset against a future purchase.
3D Printing Materials Overview
Below you'll see an overview of many of the 3D printing materials that are available. Many of these materials are provided by multiple 3D printing services, but the exact composition of the materials may vary so please check carefully. This information is just intended as a guide to the kinds of materials that can be used for 3D printing rather than as a technical specification or reference.
Online 3D printing is a new industry and the services are experimenting with new materials and compositions all the time so I'll keep an eye out for new materials and add to this page. If you think I've missed an important material you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
Strong Plastic - White and Colors
Strong white plastic is a popular material for use with online 3D printing services. This material is inexpensive compared to other materials so it's a good choice when you are starting out and want to prototype 3D objects or try out different designs.
Strong plastic is flexible and strong and much a much more tolerant material that others of details in your 3D printing design - another reason why it's good to start with.
You'll see the terms Polyamide, nylon and PA 2200 used to describe strong plastic materials.
This material is usually available in white and a small choice of strong colors which are applied as dyes.
White plastic 3D objects are produced using a process called 'laser sintering'. The powder is printed in layers and a laser melts the plastic and bonds it together to form your object.
White plastic is somewhat porous and it can go yellow with exposure to the sun.
It's good for making key-chains, household objects and prototypes.
Shapeways White, Strong & Flexible 3D Printing
Acrylic is another option for smooth detailed models.
Alumide is an interesting material that has become popular for 3D printing. It's based on white plastic polyamide, but also includes aluminum powder which gives it a rough texture and aluminum color. Alumide is popular for ornaments and jewelry.
Alumide 3D Printed Models
The Scrappies 3d models by designer Ulrich Schwanitz are commonly referenced as 3D printing successes. In this video you can see a Scrappies model in 3D printed alumide.
I'm sure you're familiar with stainless steel as a material. It's strong, fairly heavy and has a very modern and stylish look to it.
Stainless steel is the cheapest kind of 3D metal printing. As well as the default silver-colored stainless steel you can also get finishes like bronze and pewter.
Stainless steel is good for model parts, jewelry, modern art, steampunk designs and lots of functional and decorative uses.
3D Printed Stainless Steel
Silver, Gold and Titanium
More 3D Metal Printing Materials
Other metals available for 3D printing include silver, gold and titanium. These materials are popular for jewelry. Titanium is strong and good for precise models.
Multicolor or sandstone is a really interesting 3D printing material. It's made using a mineral-based powder with a special 3D inkjet printer. This means that the material can be colored as it is laid down, created designs that can use many colors.
The material is brittle and needs to be handled carefully so multicolor is only suitable for decorative objects such as ornaments and models. It does look amazing though!
Full Color 3D Printing
Fast forward along to 2:05 if you just want to see some multi color 3D model examples.
Ceramic is another interesting material to 3D print with. Glazed ceramic is food safe (check individual services to confirm) so it can be used to make your own mugs, how cool is that! You can also use ceramic for ornaments.
As you would expect, ceramic is breakable. I haven't seen a 3D printed ceramic that can go in the dishwasher yet, but it can be handwashed.
3D Printing Glazed Ceramics
3D resin models are made from photo polymeric liquid. These models can be very finely detailed and have a smooth surface. Resin is rigid rather than flexible. Resin models are for display rather than functional use.
Below you'll see videos from i.Materialise that show 2 different kinds of resin 3D printing process: PolyJet for High Detail Resin and Stereolithography for Paintable / Clear Resin.
Paintable resin is a good starting point for hand-painted models and clear resin is a very interesting option.
These materials require supports while being printed and there are limitations to the designs that can be achieved.
High Detail Resin 3D Printing - PolyJet
Clear and Paintable Resin via Stereolithography
Yes, you can 3D print glass objects too. Shapeways offers 3D glass printing, but notes that the process is currently experimental!
3D Printed Glass
3D Printing Books
Find out more about 3D printing. Could you design 3D objects for printing? Could you sell your designs to others? Or maybe you'd like to invest in 3D printing. Educate yourself and find out what all the fuss is about.
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3D Printing Materials