When Selecting Filament for 3D Printing, You Get What You Pay For

Filament will make or break you.

Most professionals working in additive manufacturing would be quick to agree with the sentiment above. No matter how much knowledge, passion, or patience 3D printers have, success will be challenging if the equipment and filament they are using aren’t high quality and appropriate for the job.

It’s evident that the 3D printing machines being used should be purchased from a reputable company that knows additive manufacturing technology well and provides innovative solutions. From an equipment standpoint, that’s where it starts, but not where it ends.

Building a 3D printing business isn’t cheap. Like with anything else, you get what you pay for. So, although it can be tempting for some to cut corners anywhere they can, it will eventually catch up with them. Quality and productivity will be compromised.

Additive manufacturers sometimes attempt to save costs when choosing filament. Sometimes, they’ll choose a slightly less expensive filament for a project, or they’ll pick one that isn’t quite right for the job.

One reason to consider using a more inexpensive filament over another option is that the additive manufacturing process can involve trial and error. That can result in some material waste as projects are restarted.

If you try to use a filament that isn’t as expensive as another one, it will “catch up with you in the end. When you put a good filament in, it makes a world of difference. That’s why we work closely with Village Plastics. John knows his filament –unbelievable.”

Pamela Szmara, president of Pamton 3D

There are at least a dozen different types of filament being used in additive manufacturing. They all have their advantages, limitations, and specific purposes. From a cost perspective, they can vary widely.

This blog will provide basic information about the most commonly used filament types, including benefits, applications, and other information.

ABS Filament

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is the most commonly used plastic in 3D printing. It is the same kind of plastic used in making Legos. Anyone who has stepped on one of their kid’s Legos will tell you how tough this filament is.

This filament is very suitable for 3D printing because it’s tough, nontoxic, and holds color well during the printing process.

It melts and becomes pliable at about 430 degrees Fahrenheit. ABS does produce a mildly unpleasant smell when heated, and the vapor can contain nasty chemicals, so if you’re using ABS in your shop, you need good ventilation. Note: ABS is not biodegradable and shrinks in contact with air, so the printing platform must be heated to prevent warping.

Additive manufacturers typically use ABS filament for printing gears and other moving or interlocking parts for the automotive or manufacturing industries.

ABS is sometimes found in powder form for powder bed processes like SLS and liquid form for SLA and PolyJet processes.

PLA Filament

Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the most widely used filaments in FDM printing. This type of filament is suitable for those just getting started in additive manufacturing because it’s easy to handle, doesn’t require sophisticated equipment, and is very affordable. It’s also easier to print with than ABS because it’s stickier.

PLA is versatile, but it’s also not the strongest of the printing polymers available. It is created from corn starch or sugar cane and is biodegradable. PLA shapes are used as removable shapes in casting processes. The finished, printed shape is coated in a ceramic film before being burnt out, and the resulting void is filled with molten metal to form the correct part.

It is similar to the material used in biodegradable plastic packaging. There is a slight smell when heated, like microwave popcorn, but no toxic odors or vapor.

PLA is not food-safe and somewhat brittle, making prints prone to breaking under stress. Some 3D printers add chemicals to make it less brittle and more tolerant to heat. This type of filament is commonly used as a material for medical implants and skin-absorbable stitches.

Nylon (Polyamides) Filament

The name nylon refers to a group of synthetic polymers that were initially created as replacements for silks. Nylon is a durable material with very high tensile strength. That means it can hold a lot of weight without breaking.

The use of nylon in 3D printing is relatively new, but it’s becoming popular because the final product it produces is very tough and resistant to damage. It’s also inexpensive and not damaged by most common chemicals.

Using the SLS process, objects made from polyamides (nylon) are usually created from a fine, white, granular powder. Some variants of the material are also available in filaments used in fused deposition modeling (FDM).

One negative to using nylon is that it requires high temperatures to print, and many extruders can’t manage that. It’s also more challenging to get it to stick to the print bed than with ABS or PLA. Nylon needs both a heated print bed and white glue to stick during printing.  

Typical applications using nylon include utensils that touch food and plant pots that fill with water. Due to its high quality, polyamides (nylon) are used to manufacture gears, parts for the aerospace market, automotive market, robotics, medical prostheses, and injection molds.

PET Filament

Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is typically seen in disposable plastic bottles. This type of filament is ideal for any pieces intended for contact with food. PET material is approved for food use by the FDA, so you can use it to make dishes, cups, and plates.

The material is rigid and has good chemical resistance. It’s similar to polyester, which is commonly used to make clothing. PET is sometimes marketed as a translucent filament and includes variants such as PETG, PETE, and PETT. Advantages of PET include that the material doesn’t release any odors when printing, and it is recyclable.

While PET is strong and resilient, it must be printed slowly to ensure that layers print correctly. So, printing with PET is typically a lot slower than with other materials.

Each filament type has its advantages, drawbacks, and purposes. When choosing the right job, cost should be only one consideration. Selecting a filament with the sole goal of cutting costs can result in shoddy work and a product that may not impress the client.


W. (2017, November 11). 5 most popular 3d Printing Thermoplastics. 3D Insider. https://3dinsider.com/5-most-popular-3d-printing-thermoplastics/.  

W. (2017, November 11). 5 most popular 3d Printing Thermoplastics. 3D Insider. https://3dinsider.com/5-most-popular-3d-printing-thermoplastics/.  

T. D. (2020, July 23). The pros and cons of every 3d printing filament material. 3D Insider. https://3dinsider.com/pros-and-cons-3d-printing-filaments/.  3D printing materials guide: Plastics. 3Dnatives. (2020, June 8). https://www.3dnatives.com/en/plastics-used-3d-printing110420174/#!