3D Printing Plastic Types: A Comprehensive Guide [2023]

Reinforcement Learning: The strings represent data transmittance, with each iteration they change something. Artist: Vincent Schwenk.

Unlocking the Full Potential of 3D Printing with the Right Plastic Materials


Welcome to our comprehensive guide on 3D printing plastic types. In this article, we will explore the various types of plastic materials used in 3D printing and provide you with all the information you need to make informed decisions when choosing the right material for your projects. With the rapid advancements and growing popularity of 3D printing technology, it is crucial to understand the different plastic options available to create high-quality, functional, and visually appealing prints. So, let's dive in and explore the fascinating world of 3D printing plastics.

Table of Contents

Types of 3D Printing Plastics

3D printing plastics come in a variety of materials, each with its unique properties and characteristics. Let's take a closer look at some of the most commonly used types of 3D printing plastics:

1. PLA (Polylactic Acid)

Polylactic Acid (PLA) is one of the most popular choices for 3D printing enthusiasts. It is derived from renewable resources such as cornstarch or sugarcane and offers a natural, glossy finish to prints. PLA is known for its ease of use, low printing temperature, and minimal warping. It is biodegradable and produces minimal odor during printing, making it an environmentally friendly option. However, PLA has low heat resistance and is more brittle compared to other materials.

Key Features of PLA:

  • Easy to use and beginner-friendly
  • Low printing temperature
  • Biodegradable and environmentally friendly
  • Minimal warping during printing

2. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a widely used 3D printing plastic known for its strength and durability. It offers excellent impact resistance and can withstand higher temperatures compared to PLA. ABS is a popular choice for functional parts, prototypes, and engineering applications. It requires higher printing temperatures and proper ventilation due to the emission of potentially harmful fumes. Additionally, ABS is prone to warping and may require the use of a heated bed or enclosure for successful prints.

Key Features of ABS:

  • High strength and durability
  • Good temperature resistance
  • Suitable for functional parts and engineering applications
  • Prone to warping

3. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-Modified)

Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-Modified (PETG) is a versatile 3D printing plastic that combines the best properties of PLA and ABS. It offers good strength, impact resistance, and flexibility while maintaining ease of use. PETG is known for its high transparency and excellent layer adhesion. It is a popular choice for applications that require durability, such as mechanical parts, containers, and protective equipment. PETG is less prone to warping compared to ABS and can be easily printed without a heated bed.

Key Features of PETG:

  • Good strength and impact resistance
  • High transparency
  • Excellent layer adhesion
  • Less prone to warping

4. TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is a flexible and elastic 3D printing material that is perfect for creating rubber-like objects, such as phone cases, gaskets, and footwear. TPU offers excellent abrasion resistance and has a high degree of flexibility. It is known for its shock-absorbing properties, making it suitable for applications that require impact resistance. TPU is also resistant to oils, greases, and solvents, making it an ideal choice for industrial prototypes and functional parts.

Key Features of TPU:

  • Flexible and elastic
  • Excellent abrasion resistance
  • Suitable for rubber-like objects
  • Shock-absorbing properties

5. Nylon

Nylon is a strong and versatile 3D printing plastic commonly used in engineering applications. It offers excellent durability, impact resistance, and chemical resistance. Nylon is known for its high heat resistance and low friction coefficient, making it suitable for applications such as gears, bearings, and structural components. It requires higher printing temperatures and proper ventilation due to the emission of fumes during printing.

Key Features of Nylon:

  • High strength and durability
  • Excellent heat and chemical resistance
  • Low friction coefficient
  • Suitable for engineering applications

Choosing the Right Plastic for Your Project

Reinforcement Learning: The strings represent data transmittance, with each iteration they change something. Artist: Vincent Schwenk.

When selecting a plastic material for your 3D printing project, several factors should be considered. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Function and Purpose: Determine the intended function and purpose of your printed object. Is it for display, mechanical use, or functional application? This will help you narrow down the suitable plastic options.

  2. Properties and Features: Consider the desired properties of your print, such as strength, flexibility, temperature resistance, chemical resistance, or transparency. Different plastics offer varying degrees of these properties, so choose accordingly.

  3. Printing Difficulty: Evaluate your 3D printing experience and the capabilities of your printer. Some materials require specific printer settings, higher temperatures, or additional equipment like a heated bed. Choose a plastic that matches your printing skills and equipment capabilities.

  4. Environmental Factors: Consider the environmental impact of your chosen plastic. Biodegradable options like PLA are more sustainable but may have limitations in terms of strength and temperature resistance.

  5. Budget: Factor in the cost of the plastic material. Prices may vary depending on the type and brand. Consider your budget and choose a plastic that meets your requirements without breaking the bank.

By carefully considering these factors, you can select the right plastic material that meets your project's needs and ensures successful prints.

Printing Tips and Techniques

To achieve optimal prints with your chosen plastic material, here are some valuable tips and techniques:

  • Proper Bed Adhesion: Ensure a secure adhesion of your print to the build plate. Use adhesive sprays, tapes, or a heated bed to prevent warping and improve bed adhesion.

  • Printing Temperature: Set the appropriate printing temperature for your chosen plastic. Refer to the manufacturer's recommendations or experiment with different temperature settings to achieve the best results.

  • Layer Height and Speed: Adjust the layer height and printing speed according to the complexity and desired quality of your print. Fine details may require lower layer heights and slower speeds.

  • Support Structures: Determine whether your print requires support structures, especially for overhangs or complex geometries. Support structures prevent drooping and improve print quality.

  • Cooling Fan: Use a cooling fan for materials that benefit from controlled cooling, such as PLA. The fan helps in reducing stringing and improving overall print quality.

  • Post-Processing: Consider post-processing techniques like sanding, painting, or smoothing to achieve the desired finish and visual appeal.

By following these tips and techniques, you can enhance your 3D printing experience and achieve outstanding results.

Post-Processing and Finishing

Post-processing and finishing techniques can elevate the final appearance and functionality of your 3D prints. Here are some common techniques to consider:

  • Sanding: Smooth rough surfaces and remove layer lines using sandpaper or sanding tools. Start with coarse grit and gradually move to fine grit for a polished finish.

  • Painting: Add color and enhance the aesthetic appeal of your prints by applying a coat of paint. Use spray paint, acrylic paints, or brush-on paints for desired effects.

  • Polishing: Achieve a glossy and smooth surface by applying polishing compounds or using a polishing machine specifically designed for 3D prints.

  • Varnishing: Apply a protective coating, such as clear varnish or epoxy, to improve durability and provide a glossy finish.

  • Assembly and Joining: If your project consists of multiple printed parts, consider using adhesive or mechanical methods for proper assembly and joining.

Experiment with different post-processing techniques to achieve the desired look and functionality for your 3D prints.

Storage and Handling

Proper storage and handling of 3D printing plastic materials are essential to maintain their quality and prevent degradation. Here are some tips to ensure long-lasting performance:

  • Moisture Control: Keep your plastic filaments in a dry environment to prevent moisture absorption. Consider using desiccant packs or storage containers with airtight seals.

  • Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Store your materials away from extreme temperatures, as high heat or freezing conditions can affect their properties.

  • Protection from UV Exposure: Shield your printed objects or plastic materials from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or UV radiation. UV rays can cause discoloration or degradation.

  • Labeling and Organization: Properly label and organize your plastic materials to ensure easy identification and prevent cross-contamination.

Following these storage and handling practices will help prolong the lifespan and performance of your 3D printing plastic materials.


What are the 3 types of polymers commonly used for 3D printing?

The three common types of polymers used for 3D printing are PLA (Polylactic Acid), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), and PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-Modified). These materials offer a wide range of properties suitable for various applications.

Can you use any plastic for 3D printing?

No, not all plastics are suitable for 3D printing. The plastic materials used in 3D printing are specifically formulated for the additive manufacturing process. They require specific physical properties, heat resistance, and extrusion characteristics to ensure successful prints.

Is ABS better than PLA?

The choice between ABS and PLA depends on the specific requirements of your project. ABS offers higher strength and durability, making it suitable for functional parts and engineering applications. PLA, on the other hand, is easier to print with and offers biodegradability and a wider range of vibrant colors. Consider the functional needs and printing capabilities to determine which material is better suited for your project.

Quick Tips and Facts

  • Nylon is a popular choice for strong and durable 3D prints thanks to its high strength, heat resistance, and low friction coefficient.
  • PLA is easy to use and environmentally friendly, making it a great option for beginners and sustainable projects.
  • Printing with TPU requires specific settings and considerations due to its flexible and elastic nature. Experiment with retraction settings and print speeds to achieve optimal results.
  • Post-processing techniques, such as sanding, painting, and varnishing, can dramatically improve the appearance and functionality of your 3D prints.
  • Some plastic filaments, like wood-filled PLA, can create realistic wood-like finishes, adding a unique touch to your prints.

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