Starters guide to 3D Printing most filament types

Author: Matt Tyson/Friday, 15 June 2018/Categories: How To

Starters guide to 3D Printing most filament types

Contents

Materials Introduction
  PLA
  PETG
  ABS
  Other Plastics
  Visual Comparison

Printer Setup
  Loading & Unloading Filament
  Bed Surface
  Bed Leveling & Nozzle Height
  Pre-heating
  Enclosure / Doors
  Filament Storage

Printer Settings
  Nozzle Temperature
  Bed Temperature
  Cooling

Other Tips
  Removing a print after completion
  Annealing
  Trouble Shooting
 

materials Introduction

PLA

PLA is a biodegradable and recyclable plastic and is one of the most popular and easiest filaments to 3D print with very little warping. PLA is ideal for very large prints, hobbyist and educational projects and non-functional prototypes. Standard PLA isn't suited for mechanically demanding applications as printed parts are quite brittle, breaking from moderate impacts and soften at low temperatures (60°C).

You can print tougher parts in PLA by using PolyMax™ PLA a nano-reinforced PLA; which exhibits an impact resistance 9 x stronger than standard PLA. This material prints exactly like regular PLA materials.

PETG

PETG is a recyclable plastic which is rising in popularity among the 3D Printing Industry. Printing PETG will require a heated bed. PETG is often chosen by users who are having difficulty printing ABS but require parts with more toughness and heat resistance than standard PLA. PETG can be used for some mechanical applications and while not a replacement for ABS; PETG is tougher than PLA and softens at a higher temperature than PLA (80°C). 

You can print even tougher parts in PETG by using PolyMax™ PETG a nano-reinforced PETG. This material prints exactly like regular PETG materials.

Printing PETG with ease is similar to PLA; as instead of warping like ABS can, PETG will tend to curl at the corners.

ABS

ABS is a recyclable plastic and one of the most common 3D Printing materials to print due to its low price and balanced mechanical properties. Printing ABS will require a heated bed and an enclosure is recommended. ABS is commonly used for functional parts and applications and is more impact resistant than both PLA and ABS while softening at a moderate temperature (100°C).

Printing large parts in ABS can be difficult as the material  is susceptible to warping and cracking in uncontrolled environments. An enclosure can minimize warping and actively heated chamber will ensure near-zero warping.

Other Materials

Flexible:
Flexible materials expand the applications of 3D printing. Traditionally these materials are harder to print with, and in some cases will require a modified or specialized extruder. This is all dependant on how flexible the material is; PolyFlex™ for example is a filament with less flexibility than some other brands, but will print on most 3D printers without modification. Information about printing flexibles will be explained in a seperate user guide.

PolySmooth:
PolySmooth™ is a popular material among our customers as it prints with the ease of PLA but parts exhibit mechanical properties similar to ABS. PolySmooth™ can also be polished in Polymakers Polysher™ to achieve a smooth surface and remove layer lines. Our recommended settings to print PLA will also apply to printing PolySmooth™.

PolyCarbonate (PC):
PolyCarbonate is an excellent material for parts requiring improved tensile strength and heat resistance (110°C) when compared to ABS. PolyCarbonate materials like PolyLite™ PC and PolyMax™ PC, print very similarly to ABS. PolyMax™ PC is an improved and nano-reinforced grade of PC which exhibits a vastly superior impact strength.

Nylon (PA) / PolyMide CoPA:
Nylon is an increasingly popular material to print with, ideal for parts requiring, strength, heat and wear resistance. To print Nylon with ease we recommend using PolyMide™ CoPA. Most Nylon materials are susceptible to warping, which cannot be easily solved due to behavior inherent to the grade of Nylon and its formulation. PolyMide™ CoPA is designed to print with near-zero warping and no heated bed required. PolyMide™ CoPA exhibits a high softening temperature (180°C).

Visual Comparison

This chart is a helpful way to understand and compare how different materials feel and perform. Material performance will vary between brands.

The PolyLite™ series of PLA, PETGABS and PC are high quality 'pure' filaments while materials like PolyMax™ PLA, PETG and PC are nano-reinforced for improved toughness. PolyMide™ CoPA is based on a copolymer of Nylon 6 and Nylon 6,6.

Impact Strength: Measurement of the impact energy required to fracture a part.
Bending Strength: Measurement of force stress in a material just before it yields in a flexure test. You could think of bending strength to gauge on how stiff the material is.
Tensile Strength: The tensile elasticity, or the tendency of an object to deform along an axis when opposing forces are applied.

Printer Set-Up

Loading and Unloading Filament

It is important when loading and unloading filaments that you set the right temperature for the material you are extruding.

When loading a low temperature material (e.g PLA) after printing a higher temperature material (e.g ABS) It is important to load the lower temperature material at the higher temperature so the previous material can be purged out.

Material Unloading Temperature Minimum Loading Temperature
PLA 200-210°C 200°C
PETG 230°C 230°C
ABS 240-260°C 240-260°C
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) 240-260°C 240-260°C
PolyCarbonate* [1] 240-260°C 240-260°C

Notes:
[1] - Recommended temperatures are for Polylite™ PC and PolyMax™ PC. A cheap generic PolyCarbonate which hasn't been optimized for 3D printing will require higher temperatures.

Bed Surface

Different printer manufacturers will recommend different print surfaces. A closer or further gap between the bed and nozzle may be required for some surfaces.

Material Recommended Print Surfaces Additions
PLA BuildTak, FlashForge Sheets, Perforated Board, Heated Glass. None
PETG BuildTak, FlashForge Sheets, Perforated Board, Heated Glass. None
ABS BuildTak, FlashForge Sheets, Perforated Board, Heated Glass. See 'Removing a print after completion' if printing on heated glass.
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) BuildTak, FlashForge Sheets, Heated Glass. PVA Glue stick applied to all bed surfaces.
PolyCarbonate* [1] BuildTak, FlashForge Sheets, Perforated Board, PVA glue on heated glass. See 'Removing a print after completion' if printing on heated glass.

Notes:
[1] - 
Recommended bed surfaces are for Polylite™ PC and PolyMax™ PC. A cheap generic PolyCarbonate which hasn't been optimized for 3D printing will require higher temperatures.

Bed Leveling & Nozzle Height

It is important when printing all 3D Printing materials that your first layer adheres to the printing bed. To achieve this it is important to ensure your bed is perfectly leveled and your nozzle height is set correctly.

For printing materials which require a heated bed above 80°C, we recommend adjusting nozzle height while the bed is heated  the bed and setting the nozzle height with a pre-heated bed to account for any expansion or shrinkage that may occur.

The ideal nozzle height when printing most materials is a distance of 0.1mm, this is the thickness of two pieces of paper. When changing between bed surfaces, it is important to adjust the nozzle height again to compensate for the added thickness of the bed surface.

Pre-Heating

Pre-heating is recommended when printing some materials, to increase the environmental printing temperature while ensuring even heating across the heated bed. A longer pre-heating time may be required before printing larger models.

Material Preheated Bed
PLA Not Required.
PETG Preheated Bed (100°C) for 5 minutes
ABS Preheated Bed (100°C) for 10-30 minutes
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) Not required.
PolyCarbonate* [1] Preheated Bed (100°C) for 10-30 minutes.

Notes:
[1] - Recommended temperatures are for Polylite™ PC and PolyMax™ PC. A cheap generic PolyCarbonate which hasn't been optimized for 3D printing will require higher temperatures.

Enclosure / Chamber Temperature

Material Enclosure Doors / Lids Small Prints Large Prints Heated Chamber Temperature* [1]
PLA Optional Enclosure not required, optional. Enclosure recommended to prevent drafts. Off
PETG Optional Enclosure not required, optional Enclosure recommended to prevent drafts. Off
ABS Closed Enclosure recommended. Enclosure with heated chamber required. 60-70°C if equipped
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) Optional Enclosure not required, optional. Enclosure recommended to prevent drafts. Off
PolyCarbonate Closed Enclosure recommended. Enclosure with heated chamber required. 60-70°C if equipped

Notes:
[1] - Some industrial printers like the INTAMSYS range have an Advanced Thermal System or heated chamber; while not a requirement, the advanced thermal system can be turned on to ensure near-zero warping and improved strength. Adding active heating to any standard Desktop 3D Printer will likely result in permanent damage to the printer, all electronics and product materials must be tested and rated for performance in the chambers high temperatures.

Filament Storage

Most 3D Printing materials are hygroscopic, absorbing moisture from the surrounding environment. When the filament passes through the hot end the moisture rapidly expands creating bubbles in between layers, poor layer adhesion, inconsistent extrusion due to material expansion and thus poor surface quality. Materials like Nylon, PVA and PolySmooth will absorb moisture at a faster rate than ABS and PLA however it is important to prevent moisture absorption to maintain excellent print quality from the start of the spool to the end.

We recommend storing filaments in a resealable bag with desiccant when not in use and we recommend using a filament dry box like the PolyBox™ when printing. The PolyBox™ is a spool holder / dry box in an environment below 20% relative humidity, preventing moisture absorption.

Printer Settings

Nozzle Temperature

The optimal nozzle temperature will vary between brands and printers. To find the optimal nozzle temperature we recommend starting with a temperature in the middle of the recommended settings. Based on the quality of the print we suggest adjusting ± 5°C at a time.

Material Nozzle Temperature (°C)
PLA 190 - 220°C
PETG 230 - 240°C
ABS 245 - 265°C
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) 240 - 265°C
PolyCarbonate* [1] 240 - 270°C

If your printing temperature is too hot, you may see hairs of plastic on the surface of the print, fused support material and poor surface quality on undersides. If the temperature is too cold mechanical properties will be poor, surfaces will be under extruder and if the filament is not melting fast enough; nozzle blockages.

Notes:
[1] - Recommended temperatures are for Polylite™ PC and PolyMax™ PC. A cheap generic PolyCarbonate which hasn't been optimized for 3D printing will require higher temperatures.

Bed Temperature

For the best print quality, it is recommended to avoid increasing beyond these temperatures.

Material Bed Temperature
PLA Not Required, can be set up to 60°C
PETG 80 - 90°C
ABS 80 - 100°C
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) Not Required, can be set up to 70°C
PolyCarbonate 80 - 110°C

Cooling

Material Part Cooling Fan
PLA On
PETG On
ABS Off
Nylon (PolyMide™ CoPA) Off
PolyCarbonate Off

Other Tips

Removing a print after completion

The best method to remove your 3D Prints will depend on your build platform, if it is difficult to remove parts from the platform, a larger gap between the nozzle and bed may be required or adjusting the bed temperature. PVA glue can also be used on the printing platform as a release agent.

Glass Build Platform

When printing on glass with a heated bed, it is recommended to remove the print when the temperature is high. Removing a print in ABS or PolyCarbonate after the bed has cooled may cause the glass to break because those materials will shrink at a faster rate than the glass plate.

Rigid Build Platform
On rigid build platforms like glass or aluminium, a sharp paint scraper can be used to easily remove the model. Some printers are designed so the platform can be removed from the bed while other printers the build platform may be fixed in the printer. If the platform is fixed, we recommend supporting the platform with your second hand to prevent uneven pressure on the bed which could affect your bed leveling.

Flexible Build Platform
Some printers on the market print on flexible build plates. With these platforms users can flex the plate to remove prints.

Annealing

What is Annealing?

Annealing is a process commonly used in metallurgy to heat the material and remove internal stress and toughen parts. A similar annealing process can be applied with some 3D printing materials to remove internal stress and maximize mechanical performance and heat resistance.

Annealing is not beneficial for all materials and will depend on the materials category.

Benefits of Annealing PolyCarbonate (PC)
A part which isn’t annealed will slowly release any internal stress in the form of micro-cracking, which can compromise up to 50% of the parts strength. Annealing PolyCarbonate releases the internal stress properly, maintaining the materials true strength and toughness.

PolyCarbonate will 3D print with less stress and thus better strength when printing with an enclosure and or a heated chamber.

Benefits of Annealing Nylon / PolyMide CoPA
Annealing Nylon increases the degree of crystallinity in the part, this crystallinity is responsible for the materials mechanical properties and heat resistance.

Annealing Temperatures and Times

Material Temperature Time
PolyLite™ PC & PolyMax™ PC 100˚C 2 hours
PolyMide™ CoPA 70˚C 2 hours

Trouble Shooting

Having difficulty printing one of these materials? Check out our advanced and comprehensive user guides on each material for trouble shooting tips and explanations.

How to print: PLA, PETG, ABS, Nylon (PA), PolyCarbonate (PC)

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