If there is one aspect that sets apart 3D printing from other forms of manufacturing, then it is variety of materials that can be printed upon. A single 3D printer can print on multiple materials to create multiple types of objects. In traditional manufacturing, for each type of material a different machine is required, not so in the case of 3D printing. The materials available for 3D printing have evolved a lot in the last few years. Different kinds of materials are developed for different printing technologies namely powder, filament, granules, fillets, resin and so on. Also, at the industrial level there are very specific materials created for highly specific purposes. All this led to a wide variety of materials that can be 3D printed upon. In this article we shall look into the few commonly used materials for 3D printing.
Plastics are one of the most commonly used materials for 3D printing, in particular for FDM technology based 3D printing which has become the most popular technology these days. Plastic material is available both in powder form and filament form. Powder form plastic is used for sintering process (mainly SLS) and filament form is used for FFF process (also called FDM process).
There are two types of plastics commonly used for FDM technology based 3D printing. One is ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and other one is PLA (Polylactic Acid). ABS is strong, flexible and durable. It is generally used for printing objects with curved edges. It is not so well suited for sharp edges. PLA is ductile and is well suited for sharp edges. ABS is naturally white in color but using various dyes during the filament extrusion process, various colored ABS filaments can also be created. ABS can be mixed with powdered aluminum to produce another common 3D printing material for sintering – Alumide. PLA is a bio-degradable plastic material that has gained wide acceptance within 3D printing community primarily because of its environmental friendliness. It can be used in resin format for DLP/SL processes as well as in filament form for the FDM process.
There are various other types of plastics developed by mixing plastic with other materials. These include LayWood – a wood/polymer composite, PET-G, HIPS, Nylon, PVA and so on. Plastics proved a low cost material to 3D printed on. With lot of research going on in the plastics for 3D printing area we shall be observing lot more developments in this area.