Factors to be Considered for Selecting the Right Material for 3D Printing

Factors to be Considered for Selecting the Right Material for 3D Printing

Industrial 3D printing has come on a long way in recent years. More companies than ever use the technique to create parts and sometimes entire products.

The range of materials that can be used for 3D printing has also expanded. Plastics, metals and even composite and ceramic materials are all viable options. And online tools and resources make finding the right material for a particular application easier than ever.

Advanced technologies for 3D printing materials

The technologies for 3D printing materials are rapidly growing and covering the gap between prototype and end-use production. The new and innovative applications are driving development and helping machine manufacturers and third-party materials developers.

Coupled with this is the continued proliferation of information online and resources such as a materials database that stores design data for materials. This database allows efficient retrieval of data to find and compare materials for 3D printing.

Considerations for finding the right material

#1 Choosing a material that fits your needs

This entails picking up the right material for the 3D printing technique used and determining if that material corresponds with the certifications and key characteristics required. Below are four common polymers used in widely available 3D printing machines. However, as mentioned before, 3D printing isn’t limited to plastics.

  • ABS: The popularity of this material lies in the fact that it can be melted at 225 degrees Celsius that can even be achieved by small home electronics. It also has a high ‘glass transition temperature’ of about 100 degrees Celsius, which is enough to transform the plastic from its sturdy solid state to an adjustable state, where it can easily be molded. This makes ABS ideal for making machine spare parts and objects that can resist continuous high temperatures produced by fire, sunlight or boiling water. Since Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)breaks down in acetone, you can obtain a very bright finish by subjecting the prints to acetone steam treatment.
  • PLA: PLA not only melts between 190 and 210 degree Celsius, it also flows effortlessly compared to ABS. This allows printing more definite articles at higher paces. PLA also provides pointed and clear edges to the object fabricated without even requiring a warm bed for printing. Compared to ABS, PLA delivers a brighter surface. However, unlike ABS, it does not dissolve in acetone. For dissolving PLA, sodium hydroxide is required. Its ‘glass transition temperature’ is above 60 degrees Celsius. Since it is brittle, it has limited uses.
  • Nylon: This synthetic polymer ups the quality of 3D designs and is extensively used in industries, such as textiles, food, automotive and others. As compared to ABS and PLA, Nylon is more durable and flexible. It is one of the most preferred materials in polymer 3D printing for gear mechanisms and complex parts. However, it is more expensive than both ABS and PLA.
  • Resins: Resins have proved excellent in fabricating visual prototypes and patterns for investment casting. This is because these provide the smoothest surface finish as compared to other 3D printing processes.

#2 Finish

Since, different materials have different usages in 3D printing, it is easy to fabricate highly detailed cosmetic parts. For example, polyjet builds parts in full CMYKW color with the smallest layer. Although different materials have different finishes, some materials are more disposed towards better sanding, polishing and painting, as compared to others.

#3 Mechanical properties

Subjected to rigorous testing, the 3D printing materials are required to endure high stresses in a taxing environment. You can choose the right material needed by simply filtering through key characteristics, such as toughness, impact resistance, flame retardancy, etc.

#4 Certifications

Depending on the application, you may need to consider certifications required for the materials used. So, beyond choosing a material based only on properties mentioned above you should consider factors such as biocompatibility, chemical resistance, sterilization capabilities, flame, smoke and toxicity certifications, FDA certification for skin contact, and other certifications.


3D printing is a viable manufacturing technique for all kinds of projects these days. From prototyping to large-scale production, the process continues to make in-roads in the industrial world. And as the range of materials that can be used in 3D printing continues to expand, so too can we expect to see its use grow further. Online resources for finding and comparing materials will prove indispensable for making the most of the benefits of 3D printing.

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