3D Printing Materials and Filament—A Comprehensive Guide

All about the stuff that makes things.
Ash Ash (331)
1 minute

If you want to 3D print, you'll need some filament. But which filament is best for your project? Today we'll look at what factors to consider and how well the most common filament types stack up. You can get things printed for you without a 3D printer, it will help to know what kind of filament to request when ordering your print job.

In the 3D printing industry, the metric system is king. Your printer likely measures temperature using Celsius, and we will here as well. I'll also go over a few essential tools that can revolutionize your 3D printing workflow and increase the quality of your final prints.

Wire cutters ×1
3D print removal tool ×1
Digital calipers ×1
PLA filament ×1
ABS filament ×1
ASA filament ×1
PETG filament ×1

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Nozzle temperature: 190°C - 210°C

Bed temperature: 40°C

This is a really popular type of 3D printer filament. PLA stands for Polylactic Acid. This material is a type of plastic derived from starches in plants like corn. It's biodegradable and easy to recycle. PLA is excellent for indoor 3D printing projects. Objects printed in PLA are less likely to warp compared to other popular filament types like ABS. It's is an affordable option and readily available from most 3D printing retailers.

PLA is an absorbent material and should be stored in a sealed container. It shouldn't be used for projects involving frequent contact with water, as it weakens the structure and causes the PLA to deteriorate.

PLA is not food safe. It should not be used to print food utensils or kitchenware. While it isn't toxic, PLA's porous nature is exacerbated when 3D-printed. PLA objects lock in moisture, making a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

When you purchase a roll of PLA, check the label for instructions. Most manufacturers provide specific temperatures to use with their filament. In most cases, your nozzle should be heated between 190°C and 210°C to optimally print PLA. The bed can be kept around 40°C. As always, experiment with a few test runs to find the ideal nozzle and bed temperature.

Nozzle temperature: 230°C - 260°C

Bed temperature: 80°C - 110°C

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. This filament is really sturdy. Ventilate your workspace well when working with ABS. Objects printed with ABS can be used in outdoor settings, but the filament color will often fade with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Unlike PLA, ABS won't deteriorate with frequent exposure to water. ABS is not food safe and shouldn't be used to create food utensils or kitchenware.

ABS requires high temperatures to properly print, so you'll need a heated bed to use when printing with ABS. Also, this filament is known to warp easily, so it can help to control the ambient temperature around the 3D printer. A 3D printer enclosure is ideal for printing with ABS.

Check the label of your ABS roll for specific instructions. In general, your nozzle will need to be heated to around 230°C to 260°C. Experiment with test prints to find the ideal temperature on your printer. Keep the bed heated between 80°C and 110°C for ABS prints.

Nozzle temperature: 220°C - 250°C

Bed temperature: 80°C - 110°C

ASA stands for Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate. This is the best option for outdoor 3D prints. It might have a higher price tag, but it’s worth the investment. Unlike ABS, ASA is a UV-resistant material. Objects printed in ASA can withstand most weather—making it ideal for outdoor use.

ASA is not considered a food-safe material. Do not use ASA to create food utensils or kitchenware. ASA will not deteriorate with frequent contact with water, but moisture is easily trapped in the creases of 3D-printed layers. This makes it easy for bacteria or mold to cultivate.

ASA is prone to serious warping. It helps to create a warm environment for the ASA to print with a clean finish. Consider using a 3D printer enclosure when printing with this filament and ventilate the room well.

When printing ASA, the nozzle should be heated between 220°C and 250°C. Experiment with different temperatures to find the best one for your project. You may find that wider filament works better with a higher temperature. The bed should be heated between 80°C and 110°C.

Nozzle temperature: 230°C - 260°C

Bed temperature: 75°C - 85°C

PETG stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol. It's a food-safe filament, well known for its durability and strength. Even though PETG is food safe, the 3D printing process creates layers that trap moisture. This can be unhygienic, so an object created with PETG needs a proper finish before it can be used in the kitchen.

Compared to ABS, PETG is much stronger. It's also less likely to warp or shrink throughout the printing process. PETG is a good option for general uses and projects involving water—like flower pots or showerheads.

This filament requires high temperatures to print. Check the label on your filament for specific instructions. For PETG, heat the nozzle between 230°C and 260°C. The ideal temperature will vary depending on the size of filament you’re using. The bed should be heated around 80°C.

Nozzle temperature: 160°C to 210°C

Bed temperature: 60°C - 70°C

PET stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate. PET is in the same family as PETG - it's just like PETG but without the glycol. It's considered a food-safe material. In fact, PET is used to create most plastic bottles and is 100% recyclable.

This filament is sturdy, but also incredibly lightweight. Because of the lack of glycol, PET is slightly more brittle than PETG. Regardless, it's still good for many projects, especially those involving water.

PET requires less heat than PETG. Your filament roll should have specific temperature instructions. Usually, PET will print between 160°C and 210°C. It helps to run a few test prints. Keep the bed heated around 60°C to 70°C.

Nozzle temperature: 240°C - 260°C

Bed temperature: 70°C - 80°C

This is an extremely durable filament. Nylon builds really strong parts and has great layer adhesion. It's commonly used to create mechanical parts for building things like gears and brackets.

Nylon filament is not food safe. Do not use it to create utensils for food or kitchenware. It absorbs moisture very easily and must be stored in an airtight container. Prints made with nylon last longer when kept dry and indoors.

Nylon is prone to warping while printing. A 3D printer enclosure is ideal for printing nylon objects. Check your filament roll for specific heat instructions. Most nylon will print between 240°C and 260°C. The bed needs to be kept around 70°C to 80°C.

Nozzle temperature: 190°C - 230°C

Bed temperature: 40°C - 70°C

This is the coolest and definitely most unique type of 3D printer filament. Wood-based filament is, as you may have guessed, created using actual wood. It's typically a mixture of wood particles and PLA with often less than 30% wood.

Like real wood, 3D-printed objects made with it can be stained with actual wood stain. Finished wood prints often look very nice, but this filament isn't without its fair share of challenges.

Wood filament has a tendency to clog extruder nozzles. The wood particles don't always disperse evenly to allow a steady flow of PLA mixed filament. It helps to use a larger nozzle. This type of filament is also prone to leave strings while printing.

Wood-based filament prints at a lower temperature. Your filament roll will often share specific temperature instructions. In general, wood filament tends to melt around 190°C to 230°C. If you use a heated bed, feel free to experiment in the 40°C - 70°C range.

Nozzle temperature: 210°C - 240°C

Bed temperature: 40°C

TPE is used in flexible 3D prints. This material is super bendy! TPE stands for ThermoPlastic Elastomer. You may see another flexible material on the market called TPU, this is another type of Thermoplastic Elastomer. I mention them together because they share so much in common.

TPE might be flexible, but it's also sturdy. The final product is a kind of plastic/rubber mix. This provides much-needed durability with impressive flexing qualities.

These filaments are usually easy to print. Check the filament roll for specific temperature instructions. Most TPE's and TPU's will print between 210°C and 240°C. If you use a heated bed, start at 40°C. You may need to experiment with a few test prints to find the ideal temperature.

When it comes to 3D printing materials, there are a few tools that can make all the difference in your workflow. These are a few extra items that I can't help but recommend to make your 3D printing process a little easier.

Wire cutters - These are essential for cutting through filament and cleaning up details on final prints.

3D printer removal tool - Also known as a 3D printer scraper, these are necessary for removing prints from the bed—especially after it's been heated.

Digital calipers - This makes measuring things on a microscale much easier. Calipers can be used to measure filament and make adjustments to the distance between the nozzle and bed.

OctoPrint - This is a next-level tool for controlling and monitoring your 3D prints like a pro. It's a special program that runs on a Raspberry Pi. When connected to your 3D printer, you can control it from anywhere—even using your phone!

Some you can live in; others allow you to live!
Michael Michael (156)

A 3D-printed house? What about a store that 3D prints you a custom shoe? And will we be able to, one day, 3D print our way to Mars? It's all possible!