TPE vs TPU Flexible Filament

TPE vs TPU filament: what is the difference between the two flexible filaments? Read on to find out as well as get tips for printing the filament.

Overview of Flexible Filaments

Flexible filaments are thermoplastic elastomers that can be printed with various 3D printers. The prints made from these two materials are both stretchable and bendable.

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There are a number of reasons why you may want to print a model using flexible filament. The properties of the filament explain it all:

  • Good resistance to high or low temperatures
  • Chemical resistant
  • Abrasion and tearing resistant
  • Vibration and shock-resistant

With all these properties, printing flexible filaments is not as easy as printing common filaments like PLA and ABS. Generally, the more bendable and softer a material is, the trickier it is to print.

TPE vs TPU Filaments: Overview

TPE Filament

TPE is an abbreviation of thermoplastic elastomer. This material is a blend of soft rubber and hard plastic. Therefore, it has both elastic and thermoplastic properties.

TPE refers to a wide range of flexible materials, including thermoplastic polyamide (TPA), thermoplastic co-polyester (TCP), thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), among others.

Here is one of the best TPE filaments:

TPE vs TPU Flexible Filament 2

AVAILABLE ON ESUN3D

TPU Filament

TPU is an abbreviation of thermoplastic polyurethane. This is the most common type of TPE and while flexible, is more rigid.

Here is one of the best TPE filaments:

TPE vs TPU Flexible Filament 3

AVAILABLE ON ESUN3D

TPE vs TPU: Definition

Most people use the terms TPU and TPE interchangeably. However, they do not mean the same thing. Here is an overview of the differences between the two materials:

  • TPE refers to a collection of flexible filaments. On the other hand, TPU refers to a specific flexible filament that is more rigid.
  • TPE is a soft material that has been used in the additive manufacturing industry for years. On the other hand, TPU is a recent material on the scene.

TPE vs TPU: The Differences

The biggest difference between TPU and TPE filament is their hardness, i.e., their resistance to surface deformation.

TPU is harder than TPE.

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The Shore hardness of TPU is between 60A and 55D while the elastic range falls between 600 to 700 percent.

Since TPE refers to a range of flexible materials, it is logical that its hardness will vary from TPU. Some TPE materials are as soft as a rubber band while others are as hard as a car tire.

Coming to rigidity, TPU is harder than TPE. Rigidity does not refer to hardness. Rather, it is the ability of a material to bend when subjected to a force and return to its original form.

Another difference between TPU and TPE is in terms of weight. TPU is denser than TPE materials. Therefore, prints made from TPU are generally heavier than those made from other TPE materials.

TPU prints also have a smoother finish while TPE prints tend to have a more rubbery texture.

Finally, TPU has better resistance to abrasion and shrinks less than other TPEs.

Now that we know the differences between TPU and TPE, let’s look at the best print settings for each of the materials.

TPE Print Settings

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Printing TPE filament can be quite difficult due to its elasticity. For the best print results, use the following settings:

  • Print speed: 5mm/s – 30 mm/s
  • Bed temperature: Unheated to 110 ºC
  • Extruder temperature: 210 ºC to 260 ºC

The best 3D printer for flexible filament such as TPE is one with a direct drive extruder. If the printing speed is too fast, the filament can jam in the extruder.

Some of the popular TPE filament you can buy include 3DXFlex TPE, MatterHackers Pro Series TPE and eSun TPE.

TPU Print Settings

TPU is relatively stiffer than TPE. Therefore, it is easy to print but not as easy as it is with rigid filaments like PLA.

Here are the recommended print settings for TPU:

  • Print speed: 5mm/s – 30 mm/s
  • Bed temperature: Unheated to 60 ºC
  • Extruder temperature: 210 ºC to 230 ºC

To get the best print results, slow down the extrusion speed and retraction movement.

Some of the popular TPU filaments available on the market include Ninja Tek, Polymaker PolyFlex, MatterHackers Build Series TPU, Ultimaker TPU and Kodak Flex TPU.

TPU vs TPE Filament: Which Should You Choose?

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TPU is the easiest TPE to print. Generally, if you want models that are tougher, heavier, and more durable, you should go for TPU.

On the other hand, if you want models that are softer, more flexible, and lighter, choose TPE filament.

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