5 Common 3D Printing Filaments



3D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing, has expanded rapidly over the past decade. The ability to translate 3D digital designs into physical objects is revolutionizing product design and production across industries. As 3D printers become more advanced and accessible, there has been an explosion of new materials that can be used to print objects – known as 3D printing filaments.

With such a wide variety of filaments now available with different properties and applications, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin.

This guide will provide an in-depth look at six of the most popular filaments used today so you can determine the best option for your specific 3D printing needs. We will explore the key benefits and tradeoffs of each material, ideal applications, and things to keep in mind when printing with each filament type.

Key Filament Characteristics

There are several key factors that influence how a filament will perform during printing and its resulting print qualities that should be considered when selecting a material:

  • Strength and Durability: Important for withstanding mechanical stresses and deformation over time. Durability also indicates chemical and heat resistance.
  • Flexibility and Elasticity: Range of pliability along the rigid to elastic spectrum. Flexible prints can bend and compress without breaking.
  • Print Difficulty: Related to optimal print bed adhesion, tendency to warp, ideal nozzle temperature, and other printer settings needed.
  • Layer Adhesion: Refers to how strongly layers bond during the extrusion process to ensure print integrity.
  • Aesthetics: Surface texture, lustre and optical clarity affect appearance which is crucial for decorative objects and prototypes.

Top Filament Choices

Now we will drill down into the most utilized filaments in 3D printing today:

PLA Filament

PLA (polylactic acid plastic) is arguably the most popular desktop 3D printing filament, especially for beginners. Here’s an overview:

  • Derived from renewable plant-based sources like corn starch or sugar cane.
  • Biodegradable with lower environmental impact than traditional plastics.
  • Glossy, attractive finish showcasing fine layer details.

Due to its low melting point, PLA flows easily through extruder nozzles. Print adhesion with PLA is excellent across various build plate materials like tape, glues and glass. It also solidifies rapidly, minimizing time-consuming cooling adjustments.

While PLA’s stiffness makes beautiful rigid prints, it lacks long-term durability compared to other engineering-grade plastics. Unless required for mechanical strength, PLA remains a top choice for models, prototypes and hobby creations.

ABS Filament

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a popular plastic known for its strength, flexibility, and heat resistance compared to PLA. Key traits:

  • Derived from petroleum-based sources so not biodegradable.
  • Withstands higher temperatures than PLA before softening and degrading.
  • Tends to shrink more during cooling leading to warped corners if insufficient bed adhesion.

Printing with ABS requires higher nozzle temperatures around 220-250°C and usually a heated print bed. Careful calibration is needed but it rewards the extra effort with smooth interlayer bonding and durable parts able to withstand rugged use.

While the fumes released when printing ABS necessitate good ventilation, its versatility makes ABS a go-to engineering filament for prototypes and end-use components.

PETG Filament

PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified) filament combines the easiest qualities of PLA with the strength of ABS. Benefits include:

  • Made from polyester so recyclable and more eco-friendly than ABS.
  • Excellent layer bonding properties for watertight prints.
  • Higher flexibility and impact resistance versus PLA and ABS.

PETG’s main disadvantage is stringing left between print layers leading to messy finishes requiring more post-processing to remove. Print adhesion can also be more challenging with PETG but when dialed in properly, it excels at prints like vases and wearables needing ductility.

Nylon Filament

Nylon filament offers impressive strength, durability, and temperature resistance rivaling engineering resins. Key traits:

  • Made from synthetic thermoplastic polyamides allowing versatility in formulas.
  • Withstands solvents and fuels that dissolve other plastics.
  • Layer bonding relies heavily on optimal nozzle and bed temperatures.

Nylon’s hygroscopic nature causes it to absorb ambient moisture leading to pooling and popping during prints. As such, an enclosure and filament drying is recommended though adds complexity. Properly dialed in prints reward with smooth interlayers and living hinge flexibility impossible with other plastics.

From sturdy brackets and custom gears to flexible wearables, nylon’s resiliency expands the realm of functional 3D prints across industries.

Flexible Filaments

Flexible filaments like thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and other elastomers create amazingly elastic prints stretching over 600% of their normal shape. Benefits include:

  • TPU made from polymerized urethane monomers for extreme flexibility.
  • Highly customizable durometer ratings from shore 35A-95A (soft to firm).
  • Ideal for wearables, prosthetics, and applications needing compliance.

However, their ultra-flexible nature requires direct drive extruders and perfectly dialed retraction settings to prevent stringing. The additional tweaking is worth it for durable products with stunning flex qualities unlike any other plastic.

Filament Comparison Chart

To summarize key differences between popular filaments:

FilamentStrengthDurabilityFlexibilityPrint Difficulty
ABSHighHighSomewhat FlexibleIntermediate
Flexibles (TPE, TPU)LowMediumHighly FlexibleDifficult
NylonHighHighSomewhat FlexibleDifficult


With this guide covering properties of the most common 3D printing filament choices today, you hopefully feel equipped to select the best material for your next project based on application requirements and printing experience level.

Keep in mind that innovative new filaments are constantly hitting the market, expanding possibilities for strength, flexibility, aesthetics and functionality further. Composites reinforced with wood, carbon fiber and metal powders; PLA blends enhanced for heat resistance; dissolvable support materials; shimmering and color-changing plastics; flexible rubbers with stunning stretch and rebound; the options continue to grow.

There is an exciting frontier ahead in leveraging new 3D printing filament formulations. As additive manufacturing enables designs not possible with traditional methods, material scientists will continue tweaking and creating novel extrusion media. Stay tuned for more developments expanding the boundaries of what can be 3D printed!

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