Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Written By: Raymond Tsui
Hi everyone! In the last FDM printing article we talked about FDM printing basics and finding the optimal printer for you. If you have not read the first article, Hardware/FDM Printing Proficiently Part 1, click here to read more about it. Now, time to find the filament you want. What material should you use? Let's give you a brief introduction to some common filament options.
CAUTION: 3D-Printers are essentially machines that melt plastic. Melting plastic can release certain particles that can severely harm VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in your organs (especially lungs) if inhaled. Please keep a safe and reasonable distance away from your printer, even if printing with “safer” materials. Printing in a monitored environment in your garage or in an isolated, relatively unused room is recommended. An enclosure is also a good investment. When printing, exercise close supervision to the machine as it is still a dangerous operation. Please do not print without supervision/monitoring of the printer as it may malfunction. Printers are a fire risk!
PLA, PLA+ FDM printers mainly use PLA, or polylactic acid, as the main filament material. This is one of the most used materials by makers and tinkerers alike. It is relatively cheap, easy to use, and is biodegradable. Best for prototyping or making decorations that require little to no structural load (like figurines, decorations, etc.). Safer to work with (less particles to harm VOCs). Low melting point, good for cheap printers but pretty disastrous if left in a hot car under the sun.
One of the popular filament choices. However, it is not recommended for newer users as it requires a heated bed + an enclosure to print as the material tends to detach from the print bed due to temperature differences (not good). It is also pretty funky to print with, so I wouldn’t recommend it to the average newbie. Relatively unsafe to work with if exposed for extended periods of time. Higher melting point. PETG
One of the best filament options for high load, high stress prints. It is flexible and strong, able to resist pretty high temperatures. Heated bed is recommended as the filament is a bit messy to deal with and will separate occasionally. Don’t expect the highest quality prints with this material! Relatively safe to work with, exercise caution when in close proximity of the printer for an extended period of time. Fairly high melting point, I would recommend you swapping out the heatbreak of the printer as it is mainly a PETG tubing-lined heatbreak (it will denature under high temperatures and jam your printer) with an all-metal one. However, it is possible to print at below 240C (PETG denaturing temperature) but do not go over this threshold!
Flexible Filament (TPU)
TPU is very flexible, perfect for doing squishy or soft parts. Direct Drive extruders are recommended over bowden as bowden tends to squish the filament in the tubing to the extruder, hampering extrusion and retraction of prints. There are a few more filament materials such as nylon and polycarbonate, but the average 400-dollar printer coupled with a rookie hobbyist won’t be using those materials anytime soon, or until after they’ve read past this introductory article and a few more ALL3DP articles.
At the end of the day, we can’t tell you what exact filament to use because it depends on each person's specific situation. However, if you are a beginner, you should start with PLA and work your way up to more advanced materials. Hatchbox-brand filament is strongly recommended as it is relatively cheap to buy off Amazon and has amazing filament quality.
Again, don’t jump to other filaments before you master PLA! Even if PLA sounds weak, it is enough for 75% of your parts and is stronger than you think. I’ve made the same mistake when I first bought my filament. Remember, even the most seasoned of printer users will lean towards PLA for many of their creations!