Beginner’s Guide: What is 3D Printer Filament?

Filament is the raw material used to print objects with 3D printers . The method of printing with filaments is called FFF (also called FDM).

image of 3d printer filament

FFF stands for Fused Filament Fabrication, and FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling.
FFF and FDM are thus basically the same method.

About 70% of all printers on the market are FFF / FDM 3D Printers, and thus use filaments as raw material.

The most common is to print with plastic filaments, such as PLA, ABS, PETG or NYLON.

There are many different modifications to filaments for 3D printers, such as Carbon Fiber, Wood, Metal, Aluminum, Glass, Luminous, Transparent and more.

More about this further down in the guide.

Complete list of all filaments

Complete guide with over 25 filaments – Areas of use, properties, specifications and more. Learn everything in our Material Guide.

Sizes of filaments and their differences

The two most common sizes of filaments

The most common sizes of filaments for 3D printers are 1.75mm filament and 2.85mm filament. These sizes fit most 3D printers on the market. It is worth mentioning that 1.75mm is slightly more common.

Sometimes 2.85mm is also called 3mm filament. This is a legacy from the fact that many manufacturers called their filaments 3mm in the beginning, even though they were in fact about 2.8 – 2.9mm.

It is important to check the tolerance and roundness of filaments to be procured, as there are important quality aspects directly related to the size.

Why Different Sizes of Filaments for 3D Printers?

Broadly speaking, there are not much differences between the different sizes. But there are some aspects that can be taken into account. Below we have listed the most common differences in the filament dimensions.

When buying a 3D Printer, we at 3D Guide usually recommend 1.75mm printers as it starts to become more standardized and common.
However, there is no reason to replace a working 2.85mm 3D printer with a 1.75mm one at present.

Differences between 1.75mm and 2.85mm filaments

  • 1.75mm Filament
    • Smaller diameter means that you can also get more detailed prints in some cases.
    • Begins to become more standardized and thus easier to get hold of.
  • 2.85mm Filament
    • More rigid.
    • In some cases better suited for flexible filaments because the cross section is larger and thus less risk of the flexible filament “flexing” when you push it forward to the nozzle.

As you can see above, there are not huge differences in which size / dimension you choose. Unless you have specific requirements that must be met, we recommend 1.75mm filament for 3D printers, especially for beginners.

What size of filament should you choose?

Which size you should choose depends, as you probably fully understood, on the area of ​​use. If you only want to do simpler things, we recommend that you use 1.75mm.

1.75mm is becoming more common, and is starting to be standardized. The other sizes are more suitable for special purposes that you have read about above.

What are the filament materials for 3D Printers?

image of 3d printed object
There are a lot of different types of filament materials on the market for 3D printers, and we will present the most common filaments and their properties in this guide. Which filament is best suited for you depends mainly on which end product you are striving for and which 3D printer you have.

If the product is to be simple and decorative, and only stand on the desk or shelf, then PLA is a good choice. If, on the other hand, the product is to be rigid and durable for outdoor use (rain, sun, temperature changes), then PETG or NYLON may be best.

The most common filament materials

  • PLA (Polylactic Acid)
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
  • NYLON (Polyamide)
  • PETG (polyethylene terephthalate) + (Glycol modification)

We will go through the pros and cons of the above material. We will also show the most common settings on 3D printers that each material requires.

PLA Filament – Good quality at low cost

PLA stands for Polylactic Acid and is a degradable plastic material (Polymer) that is usually made from renewable assets. It is also the most common filament on the market for 3D printers.

PLA is well suited for prototypes and products that are not exposed to much stress. We always recommend PLA to beginners.

  • Advantages of PLA filament:

  • Odorless when printing
  • Does not require a heated plate
  • Is stiff
  • Can be cooled down relatively quickly
  • Low warp (retains shape, does not bend and does not detach so easily from the building board)
  • Long service life
  • Cheap to manufacture
  • Disadvantages of PLA filaments:

  • Not particularly heat resistant
  • Not particularly suitable for outdoor use

Hardware requirements for PLA Filament

For the best quality of 3D printing, the 3D Printer should meet the following criteria

  • Hot plate

  • Not necessary
  • Construction platform

  • Blue tape / Glue
  • Nozzle

  • 180-230 ° C
  • Cooling

  • Recommended

ABS Filament – A little more durable at the expense of details

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene and is a plastic material for 3D printers that is quite common in e.g. hoods for vacuum cleaners, telephones, computers, LEGO etc.

ABS is suitable for prototypes and prints that need to be subjected to a little more stress, or where a finishing operation is to take place after printing from the 3D printer.

ABS filament is not degradable in most cases.

  • Advantages of ABS filament:

  • Pretty strong
  • Heat resistant
  • Withstands outdoor climate
  • Cheap to manufacture
  • Disadvantages of ABS filament:

  • Smells when printed
  • Slow cooling is required
  • Tendency to shrink

Hardware requirements for ABS Filament

For the best quality of 3D printing, the 3D Printer should meet the following criteria

  • Hot plate

  • 95-110 ° C
  • Hot plate necessary
  • Cover is recommended
  • Construction platform

  • Kapton tape
  • Nozzle

  • 220-250 ° C
  • Cooling

  • Not necessary

NYLON Filament – Strong but demanding

NYLON filament is a kind of polyamide material that is widely used in textiles today. It is durable and elastic.

NYLON is extremely sensitive to moisture, and should be printed in a moisture-free environment and also stored in a moisture-free / air-free place when not in use, to achieve good results.

  • Advantages of NYLON filament:

  • Odorless when printing
  • Durable
  • Slightly elastic
  • Disadvantages of NYLON filament:

  • Extra sensitive to moisture
  • Requires moisture-free storage
  • Requires high temperatures when printing
  • Slow printing is recommended, which takes time

Hardware requirements for NYLON Filament

For the best quality of 3D printing, the 3D Printer should meet the following criteria

  • Hot plate

  • 70-90 ° C
  • Hot plate necessary
  • Cover is recommended
  • Construction platform

  • PEI
  • Nozzle

  • 245-275 ° C
  • Cooling

  • Not necessary

PETG Filament – Good for functional products

PETG filaments are basically the same material used to make PET bottles, but with a modification.

PETG is not degradable, but it is recyclable just like PET bottles.

  • Advantages of PETG filament:

  • Shiny and smooth surfaces
  • Durable
  • Water repellent
  • Temperature resistant
  • Something flexible
  • Disadvantages of PETG filaments:

  • Sticks very easily
  • Requires high temperatures when printing
  • Slightly more expensive to manufacture

Hardware requirements for PETG Filament

For the best quality of 3D printing, the 3D Printer should meet the following criteria

  • Hot plate

  • 75-90 ° C
  • Hot plate necessary
  • Cover is recommended
  • Construction platform

  • Blue tape / Masking tape
  • Nozzle

  • 230-250 ° C
  • Cooling

  • Cooling is recommended

How to make filaments for 3D printers?

Filaments are manufactured in different ways from company to company, but the type of plastic also affects the manufacturing process.

PLA filaments are the most common material for 3D printers on the market today, and we will describe the manufacturing process for PLA filaments below.

The plastic that manufacturers use to create filaments comes in the form of pellets from a supplier. These plastic raw materials must be clean and free from contaminants to get the best results.

image of 3d printer filament pellets

Amount and Humidity of pellets

When the plastic (raw material) arrives at the manufacturer, these plastic pellets are weighed into a machine carefully to get the best results.

The humidity must also be checked, which is why many manufacturers use machines that dry and dehumidify the plastic before the manufacturing process.

How does filament get its color?

Most plastic pellets are transparent or come in a certain color.

To get the color of the filaments , you first add an accurate amount of dyes / dyes so that you have a predetermined ratio between plastic and color . Then mix everything so that the mixture is complete.

Extrusion, measurement and packaging

Then the heating itself begins. After the plastic has reached a certain temperature, it is extruded through a calibrated hole that is carefully set.

This wire in turn goes out through the extruder and further through a measuring instrument that measures roundness, oval and other parameters depending on complexity.

At the end of the production process, the filament thread now ends up on a roll, where it is rolled up and completed.

The coils are then packaged in packages and prepared for transport.

Test to find the best Filament for 3D Printers

Sometimes you may need to test yourself on which filament is best . It is often possible to print prototypes and simply try out which filament is best for the end product and needs.

You can also read here about the Best PLA Filaments 2020.

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