Last updated: August 11, 2021

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3D printing has not only revolutionised industry, but now also the hobby DIY world! Besides the right printer, there is one thing you can't do without: The filament! It is the basis of today's most common additive manufacturing process: FDM printing. FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modelling and works by extruding a plastic filament layer by layer.

Why is FDM printing the most popular? It's simple: it's relatively cheap - good for us! Do you want to venture into the world of 3D printing and are wondering which printer to buy and which materials to find on the market? In our filament test 2021 you can find out which are the best filaments and how they handle!




The most important facts

  • Filaments are the basis of FDM 3D printing. To ensure that your model has the desired quality, you should think about the function of the object beforehand.
  • There are now countless filaments on offer. In addition to the common filaments such as PLA, ABS, PETG and TPU, we also present you with exciting alternatives!
  • Even though PLA is considered biodegradable, you should note that this only applies under industrial conditions. Normal recycling centres are not designed to recycle filaments.

The Best Filament: Our Picks

To help you find the right filament for your application, we have compiled our favourites for you here. All the filaments presented are available in a diameter of 1.75 mm.

Filament: buying and evaluation criteria

Before you decide on a filament, you need to know whether your 3D printer can process it. Different filaments differ in their mechanical properties and thus also in their handling.

Here we show you which criteria to consider. With the right choice of filament, your 3D objects will also meet your requirements!

Diameter

Basically, filament is offered in two different sizes: 1.75 and 3.0 mm. The filament sold today as 3.0 mm has an effective size of 2.85 mm. Real 3.0 mm filament is hardly to be found any more.

Most 3D printers use 1.75 mm filament because it is easier to use. It is more flexible, easier to dispense and requires lower printing temperatures. In return, 3.0 mm filament achieves higher print speeds as more material can be printed in the same time.

The thickness of the filament is irrelevant for the fineness of the result. The material is melted in the hotend and pressed through the nozzle. This usually has a diameter of 0.4 to 1.2 mm.

Printing temperature

The printing temperature depends on your material, printer and object. Most manufacturers give information on printing temperatures. However, you will notice that there is a high variance and that customer recommendations differ. The optimal printing temperature is crucial for the quality of your print! Even 5 °C can make a noticeable difference.

Even the same filament may require different temperatures in different printers.

If the temperature is too low and the plastic too cold, it cannot become liquid properly. The result is that the layers do not adhere to each other properly and gaps can even form during printing. If the temperature is too high, the plastic literally flows out of the extruder and the model warps because it cannot cool down quickly enough.

The best way to determine the optimal temperature for your filament is to print a so-called Temp-Tower. Here you print a model with different temperatures layer by layer. At the end you can see at which temperature your material behaves optimally.

Pay attention to whether a heated print bed is recommended or necessary for your filament. As a rule, PLA and TPU do not necessarily need a heated print bed. ABS and PETG, on the other hand, do. The exact temperature of the print bed is not as important as that of the nozzle.

Type Recommended temperature
PLA (Polyactide) Print temperature: 180 - 230 °C
Print bed: 50 - 70 °C (not necessary)
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) Print temperature: 220 - 260 °C
Print bed: 80 - 110 °C
PETG (polyethylene terephthalate) print temperature: 220 - 250 °C
Print bed: 50 - 75 °C
TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) print temperature: 210 - 235 °C
Print bed: 30 - 60 °C (not necessary)

Toxins

There are filaments which are well suited for beginners and home use. PLA is one of them. It is considered odourless and harmless to handle. Since PLA is made from sugar cane, it sometimes gives off a caramel-like smell when printed. Don't let this fool you: Even filaments made from biodegradable materials can contain unknown additives that you should not inhale!

If you want to print ABS, a closed pressure chamber is absolutely necessary. ABS releases toxic fumes, odours and ultra-fine particles during printing.

These can enter the body, build up and cause health problems. Under no circumstances should you permanently stand next to it while printing and inhale the fumes. Print in a well-ventilated room.

Properties

The right choice of filament depends on the properties you want the printed model to have! Filaments differ in hardness, flexibility, temperature resistance and other properties.

  • PLA: Are you a 3D printing beginner looking for an inexpensive, easy-to-process material? PLA is the most popular filament for beginners and is also used for 3D pens. You can create models, prototypes and containers with it. Unfortunately, PLA is not very flexible and shock-resistant. A model can easily break if it is stressed or dropped.
  • ABS: The second most popular filament is ABS. It is a little more difficult to process than PLA. It requires higher printing temperatures and a heated print bed. A closed printing chamber is necessary because ABS releases toxic substances during printing. ABS is dimensionally stable up to approx. 90°C. It is more stable against mechanical stress and much more shock-resistant than PLA. This makes it suitable for mobile phone covers, resilient toys and components such as gear wheels. You can sand, drill and paint it.
  • PETG: Both not ideal? Don't worry, that's what PETG is for! In the meantime, ABS is increasingly being replaced by PETG. You know PET as a recyclable plastic bottle from the supermarket. PETG is the glycol-modified version of plastic which is clearer, less brittle and more suitable for 3D printing. PETG is more impact resistant, flexible and heat resistant than PLA and easier to work with than ABS. It is transparent and weatherproof, making it suitable for outdoor use, mechanical parts and tools.
  • TPU: Do you want a model that has high flexibility and resistance? TPU is a thermoplastic elastomer. As the name suggests, it has rubber-like properties and is available in different Shore hardnesses. It is suitable for flexible parts that retain their properties even in cold and weather conditions. TPU is moderately difficult to print, it requires above all a clean filament guide. TPU is suitable for mechanical components that are exposed to increased stress, toys, casings and wristbands. Even shoe soles have been made from it! In the model sector, seals and shock absorbers are made from it.

Quality

Quality differences between manufacturers become noticeable through variations in the diameter of the filament. If a filament has impurities and strong variations in processing, it can lead to blockages in the printer.

High quality filaments are carefully wound onto the spool so that the filament can unwind evenly during the printing process.

It is understandable that you want to try out inexpensive material. Good results can also be achieved with this material. If you work with 3D printing materials on a regular basis, you will come to appreciate high quality filament! More and more people in the community are choosing filaments from Germany and Europe.

The reason for this is different production and labour standards. Added substances in the filaments remain unknown with many Asian manufacturers. In Europe, on the other hand, stricter regulations apply to working conditions and sustainability.

Filament: Frequently asked questions and answers

To make sure your filament knowledge is complete, we have answered frequently asked questions about filament.

What is filament?

According to the origin of the word, filaments are individual fibres of a material in an indefinite length. In our case, plastic fibres for our FDM printing. To produce this, plastic granulate is melted down and drawn into plastic filaments. For this purpose, it is pressed under pressure through a nozzle (extruder). When it cools down, the plastic solidifies again and is wound onto a spool.

Filament

Lego bricks are made of ABS, the same material that is used for 3D printing. (Image source: Xavi Cabrera / unsplash)

The applications of filament range from the hobby sector to industry and medicine. Filaments can be very different and range from classic plastic materials to water-soluble substances used in the food industry.

What types of filaments are there?

There are now almost as many types of filament as there are printed objects. Even one type of material will differ in the exact composition among different manufacturers.

Therefore, try to avoid mixing different filament rolls or manufacturers in one print.

Type Advantages Disadvantages
PLA (polyactide) High strength, low distortion on cooling, easy to process, inexpensive Brittle, low impact resistance, low flexibility, average durability, may melt above 60° C
ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) High impact strength, good heat resistance, inexpensive Difficult to process, warps when cooled, releases toxic gases and nanoparticles when printed
PETG (polyethylene terephthalate) High strength, impact resistant, resilient, minimal warping when cooled, UV resistant, temperature resistant up to 80° C hygroscopic, not as scratch-resistant as ABS, sticky after extrusion (thread formation)
TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) very high flexibility, minimal warpage not suitable for all 3D printers, not food-safe, moderately difficult to print (controlled and slow)

Meanwhile there are many different filaments in different compositions and optics. Below you will find the most popular alternatives to the classic plastics.

What alternative filaments are there?

You can try to bury your PLA model in the compost, but it will not decompose completely there. Here we show you alternatives to the common plastic filaments!

  • Green-TEC: This bio-filament from Extrudr consists of 100 % renewable and natural raw materials. It is temperature resistant up to 110 °C and its stability is comparable to ABS and PETG. In contrast to PLA, which can only be completely recycled under industrial conditions, the BIOCOMPUND filament from Extrudr fits 100% into the natural cycle.
  • Aglix DURA: The manufacturer AGLIX 3D has created the DURA filament based on algae, which is 100% compostable. AGLIX promises a filament that can be processed with any conventional 3D printer. DURA is stronger than ABS, does not require a heated print bed and has a printing temperature of 175 to 195 °C.
  • WillowFlex: WillowFlex is a flexible and compostable bio-plastic produced by 3dk in Berlin. It is dimensionally stable up to 110 °C and suitable for all common 3D printers. The printing temperature is 180 - 200 °C. A heated print bed is not absolutely necessary (60 - 70 °C).

Even PLA filaments, which are considered biodegradable, are only biodegradable under industrial conditions. Not all recycling centres are designed to recycle PLA.

Filament

There is a difference between a substance that is considered biodegradable under laboratory conditions and one that is compostable. (Image source: Markus Spiske/ unsplash)

Do you want to have fun with your 3D printing without a guilty conscience and don't really have a high material consumption anyway? Compostable filaments are more expensive than the mass-produced goods from China. Our environment pays the price.

How do I store filament properly?

Basically, all filaments are hygroscopic, some more than others. This means that they absorb humidity from the environment. Damp filament can cause problems in processing.

As a general rule, you should protect your filament from moisture and use it quickly after opening. If you want to store it for a longer period of time, you can find special vacuum boxes in the shops.

You can also buy a vacuum device. These devices are usually used in sous-vide cooking. Put your filament in the bag and add desiccant. Put on the vacuum and it will remove the air from the bag and seal it.

You can also make your own drying box for storage. Transparent boxes from the DIY store or Ikea are often used for this. It is important that you always use a desiccant, as your box will not be 100% airtight. The most popular for this is silica gel. The yellowish beads absorb the moisture from their surroundings and turn greenish.

You can reuse silica gel by drying the beads at 80°C in the oven.

You can also use simple zip bags with silica gel bags in them to store your filament. Above all, protect your filament from sunlight. If your silica balls have turned green, you should replace them.

Can filament be recycled?

In 3D printing, it happens more often than you would wish that your model becomes defective and thus unusable. This is annoying, expensive and uses up resources. But even with 3D printing, sustainability doesn't want to be left out!

Filament

Filaments made of plastics can only be recycled by type. (Image source: Volodymyr Hryshchenko/ Unsplash)

There are Kickstarter projects that want to make it possible to recycle failed 3D models. Old models are shredded, remelted and drawn into new filaments. However, this is only possible if the waste is made of single-grade plastic.

Conclusion

You can often find inexpensive filaments for beginners from manufacturers in Asia. However, you will also notice that the quality of the products varies. Once you have gained a certain amount of practice, we recommend that you go for higher quality products from European manufacturers.

With the right filament, nothing stands in the way of your models! Even if your first prints are not perfect, don't give up! It's hard to get started. If you know your printer and your material, you will know which variables to choose for the best printing process!

Image source: Luchschen / 123rf

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