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 3d Printing: Choosing your materials

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3d Printing: Choosing your materials
« on: Sep 19, 2023, 02:01 PM »
3D Printing: Choosing Your Material
Author: Kyríbes Shukalar
Edited by MMCC Education Team

So you want to 3D print armor or prop weapons, but you arenít sure what materials to choose? Confused by which material is ďbestĒ? Well look no further! Here are all the major types of 3d printing filaments, and some pros and cons of each to help you make up your mind:

The Basics

3D printing material is referred to as filament. It is essentially a type of plastic thatís been extruded into a long, thin, and continuous string. 1.75mm is the standard diameter. There are differences between brands, as there are no standards as far as material formulas for any given filament type, and, as with  anything else, every brand has different quality control standards. These variations lead to different print qualities that can be offset or corrected by an experienced 3D printer to varying degrees. Virtually every type of filament is available from Amazon, so the easiest thing to do once you choose your material is to find a brand with good reviews. Through a little bit of trial and error, youíll likely find a brand that fits your needs the best.

Filament Types

  • PLA
  • PLA+
  • PETG
  • ABS
  • Nylon
  • PC
  • Carbon Fiber
  • TPU (Not approvable)
By far, the most common types of filament are PLA (and itís objectively better cousin PLA+), PETG, and ABS. All three are approvable armor materials, and each has pros and cons as far as printing qualities as well as finished product qualities. All three of these will print on the most basic 3D printers with a little bit of dialing in with your printer settings.

There are also several other, more exotic filaments, such as Nylon, PC (Polycarbonate), Carbon Fiber, and TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane). These are largely specialized materials and arenít super commonly used. Some of these materials are far superior to the common types, but they are equally difficult to print. Some cannot even be printed on a basic 3d printer setup and require things like temperature controlled enclosures and upgraded components that can handle the extra heat required to print. TPU in particular is not currently an approvable material. The flexible nature of the material makes it especially difficult (read nigh impossible) to successfully smooth the print lines while maintaining the materials flexibility. However, for those who are willing to invest in the requirements of these materials, this tutorial will also cover the material qualities, pros, and cons of a few of these.

Material Qualities

Keep in mind that these are all fairly generic descriptions. Due to possible variations from manufacturer to manufacturer, always use the temp settings recommended by your particular brand, usually printed on the label.

**Safety Note** For any material that requires print temperatures above 250įC, you must have a printer with direct extrusion. Bowden tubes will start to break down at this temperature, releasing extremely hazardous toxic fumes.

a. (1) PLA
(Polylactic Acid)
Print Temp: 180-230įC
Bed Temp: 20-70įC

PLA is far and away the most widely used 3D printing material. Itís available in as many colors and finishes by as many different manufacturers as you can imagine. Itís also extremely forgiving during printing. Layer adhesion is all but guaranteed, to the point where itís not necessarily even required to heat the print bed at all. It makes a perfect beginner filament when youíre just learning, as it also tends to be the cheapest. It also happens to be relatively brittle, so dropping prints may result in cracks. It isnít especially heat resistant, either, so prints exposed to radiant heat may warp. This doesnít mean itís not appropriate to use for helmets or armor printing, but prints may require reinforcement with some type of resin or other strengthening material.

a. (2) PLA+
(Polylactic AcidÖPlus)
Print Temp: 190-220įC
Bed Temp: 25-60įC

PLA+ is exactly like normal PLA, except itís better in every way. Essentially, it is PLA with additives that enhance its physical characteristics. Itís much more resistant to heat and far less fragile. Itís just as easy to print, but is much more viable as an armor/helmet material. Having said all that, itís also not a standardized material. The actual additives vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Itís also far less available, as not every manufacturer has a PLA+, and those that do tend to have it available in far fewer color and finish options. Other names for PLA+ include PLA Plus, PLA Pro, or PLA2.

(Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)
Print Temp: 220-250įC
Bed Temp: 50-75įC

PETG is easily the second most popular filament, especially among costumers/armor printers like ourselves. PETG is more flexible than PLA or PLA+ (though PLA+ is close), therefore less brittle. Itís far more resistant to breakage. It also has a much higher resistance to heat, making it especially attractive to anyone wearing armor at outside events. It is also, however, much more temperamental. Unlike PLA, it is not forgiving to imprecise printer settings. Not enough heat will result in separated layers, too much heat results in heavy stringing across the print. Itís also more susceptible to ambient temperatures during printing, though not quite to the point of needing to enclose your printer. Additionally, PETG tends to absorb moisture in the air, making it brittle and unprintable. Should you choose this material, itís best to keep it in a sealed container when not in use.

c. ABS
(Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
Print Temp: 210-250įC
Bed Temp: 80-110įC

The world of Star Wars costuming is very familiar with ABS, as this is the most common material used in making Stormtrooper armor, though these tend to be vacuum formed. This material is highly resistant to breakage, but it has itís drawbacks as well. ABS is sensitive to UV radition, which can significantly weaken the material over time. It also produces fumes while printing, and while these are not considered toxic fumes, it can be very unpleasant and is thought by some to be carcinogenic. Additionally, depending on your printer setup, you made need some upgrades to get to the required temperatures, and while your donít necessarily need an enclosure to successfully print with ABS, it usually makes it easier to do so. One of the biggest pros of using ABS, though, is that it doesnít require sanding to smooth it. ABS can be smoothed fairly easily using acetone, which is readily available in the form of nail polish remover.

d. Nylon
Also known as PA (Polyamide)
Print Temp: 240-260įC
Bed Temp: 70-100įC

Now weíre getting into some of the more exotic 3D printing materials. Nylon is extremely durable, flexible, and strong. Itís also significantly more expensive, and will require a significantly bigger investment in your printer setup. Because it requires such a high temp, you will need to have a direct drive extruder, as Bowden tubes cannot handle those temps. Youíll also need your printer to be enclosed to hold that temperature in, as Nylon can warp pretty badly while itís printing in open air. Also, much like PETG, Nylon filament needs to be kept in a air tight container when not in use, as it absorbs ambient moisture.

e. PC
Print Temp: 270-310įC
Bed Temp: 90-110įC

Polycarbonate filament is essentially like Nylon, except more! Itís stronger and more resistant to heat. You could literally use PC filament to print automotive components. Itís also significantly more expensive and even more difficult to print, due to the heat required. Also just like Nylon and PETG, itís susceptible to moisture and must be appropriately stored.

f. Carbon Fiber

Ok, this one is a bit of a cheat. Carbon Fiber isnít really a filament material in and of itself. Instead, some manufacturers offer versions of PLA or ABS that have been reinforced with Carbon Fiber. Youíll have to go by the manufacturer recommendations as far as print and bed temps. So, obviously infusing these filaments with carbon fiber makes them significantly stronger, but the thing that needs to be remembered is that carbon fiber is extremely hard on your printer. You may find yourself having to change out nozzles after printing with less than half of your spool, unless you use nozzles made of hardened steel (or something even harder still).

The bottom line is, there is no ďperfectĒ or ďbestĒ filament. Every type of material has pros and cons, and every material makes compromises in one way or another. The best material for you is a personal preference, and most people involved in 3d printing figure out what they like best after a significant amount of trial and error. Additionally, each filaments ease of use depend on your skill with dialing in your print parameters and your actual printerís capabilities.

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