[2023] The Ultimate Guide to Thermoplastic 3D Printing: Everything You Need to Know

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Discover the Ins and Outs of Thermoplastic 3D Printing


Welcome to our comprehensive guide on thermoplastic 3D printing, your one-stop resource for all things related to printing with thermoplastics. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, we've got you covered. In this guide, we'll walk you through the key considerations, benefits, and best practices for 3D printing with thermoplastics. So grab your filament and let's dive in!

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Key Considerations
    1. Strength, Rigidity, and High Temperature Tolerance
    2. Material Properties
    3. Compatibility with 3D Printers
    4. Cost
  3. Choosing the Right Thermoplastic
    1. PLA (Polylactic Acid)
    2. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
    3. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)
    4. Nylon
    5. TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)
    6. Flexible Filaments
    7. Specialty Thermoplastics
  4. Print Settings and Techniques
    1. Bed Adhesion
    2. Layer Height and Printing Speed
    3. Temperature Settings
    4. Support Structures
    5. Post-Processing
  5. Troubleshooting Common Issues
    1. Adhesion Problems
    2. Print Warping
    3. Stringing and Oozing
    4. Brittleness
  6. FAQ
    1. Can you 3D print thermoplastics?
    2. What is thermoplastic used in 3D printing?
    3. Why use thermoplastic for 3D printing?
    4. Is TPU more expensive than PLA?
  7. Quick Tips and Facts
  8. Useful Links
    1. Amazon
    2. Walmart
    3. Etsy
    4. 3D Printed™
    5. YouTube Videos
    6. News Articles
    7. Books
  9. Reference Links

Thermoplastic 3D printing is revolutionizing the world of manufacturing and prototyping. With its versatility, durability, and wide range of material options, thermoplastics offer endless possibilities. In this guide, we'll help you navigate the world of thermoplastic 3D printing and empower you to create high-quality, functional prints.

Before you dive into thermoplastic 3D printing, it's important to consider a few key factors that will affect your printing experience and the quality of your prints.

Strength, Rigidity, and High Temperature Tolerance

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If your part requires strength, rigidity, or high-temperature tolerance, then thermoplastics are an excellent option for your 3D printing needs. Unlike thermoset materials, thermoplastics can be heated and reshaped multiple times without undergoing irreversible chemical changes. This feature makes them ideal for applications that require durability under stress or exposure to elevated temperatures.

When choosing a thermoplastic for strength, consider materials such as ABS, Nylon, or TPU. These materials offer exceptional strength, impact resistance, and flexibility, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.

Material Properties

Each thermoplastic has its own unique set of properties, including strength, flexibility, transparency, and heat resistance. Understanding these properties will help you select the right material for your specific application. For example, PLA is a popular choice for beginners due to its ease of use and biodegradability, while ABS offers higher impact resistance and durability.

Be sure to review the datasheets and technical specifications of each thermoplastic before making a decision. This will ensure that you choose the material that best suits your requirements.

Compatibility with 3D Printers

Not all 3D printers are compatible with every type of thermoplastic. Before purchasing a specific thermoplastic filament, check your printer's specifications to ensure compatibility. Some printers may require modifications or upgrades to accommodate certain materials.


The cost of thermoplastic filaments can vary significantly depending on the material and brand. Popular thermoplastics like PLA and ABS are generally more affordable, while specialty materials may have a higher price tag.

Consider your budget and the specific needs of your project when choosing a thermoplastic. Remember, the cost of the filament is just one aspect of the overall printing process. Factors such as print quality, durability, and ease of use should also be taken into account.

Now that you understand the key considerations for thermoplastic 3D printing, let's explore some of the most popular thermoplastics and their unique properties.

PLA (Polylactic Acid)

PLA is one of the most widely used thermoplastics in 3D printing. It's known for its ease of use, low odor, and environmentally friendly nature. PLA is derived from renewable resources like cornstarch or sugarcane, making it biodegradable and compostable.

  • Strengths:

    • Easy to print with
    • Low warping and shrinkage
    • Biodegradable and environmentally friendly
  • Weaknesses:

    • Lower impact resistance than ABS
    • Not suitable for high-temperature applications

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ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS is a popular thermoplastic known for its strength, impact resistance, and durability. It's commonly used in applications that require tough parts, such as automotive components and functional prototypes.

  • Strengths:

    • High impact resistance
    • Good temperature resistance
    • Suitable for post-processing (sanding, acetone smoothing, painting)
  • Weaknesses:

    • Higher warping and shrinkage compared to PLA
    • Strong odor during printing

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PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)

PETG is a versatile thermoplastic that combines the properties of both PLA and ABS. It offers easy printability, good strength, and excellent layer adhesion. PETG is commonly used for functional parts, mechanical components, and food-safe applications.

  • Strengths:

    • High strength and durability
    • Good chemical resistance
    • FDA-approved for food contact
  • Weaknesses:

    • Slightly higher printing temperature compared to PLA and ABS
    • Prone to stringing and oozing during printing

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Nylon is a strong and versatile thermoplastic with excellent mechanical properties. It's known for its high impact resistance, toughness, and low friction coefficient. Nylon is commonly used in engineering applications that require durability and dimensional stability.

  • Strengths:

    • High mechanical strength
    • Excellent wear resistance
    • Low friction coefficient
  • Weaknesses:

    • Requires specialized bed adhesion techniques
    • Challenging to print for beginners

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TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)

TPU is a flexible and elastic thermoplastic that's perfect for producing rubber-like parts. It offers excellent impact absorption, abrasion resistance, and flexibility. TPU is commonly used in applications such as phone cases, shoe soles, and prosthetics.

  • Strengths:

    • Soft, flexible, and stretchable
    • High wear and impact resistance
    • Easy to print with when using the right settings
  • Weaknesses:

    • Prone to stringing and oozing during printing
    • Requires good bed adhesion techniques

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Flexible Filaments

In addition to TPU, there are other flexible filaments available that offer varying degrees of flexibility. These filaments are ideal for printing objects that require rubber-like properties and bendability.

Some popular flexible filaments include:

  • TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer): Similar to TPU, TPE offers flexibility and elasticity, but with different properties.

  • Soft PLA: Soft PLA is a flexible filament derived from PLA that combines rigidity with a degree of bendability.

  • Ninjaflex: Ninjaflex is a well-known brand of flexible filament that offers a wide range of hardness and elasticity options.

Experiment with different flexible filaments to find the one that suits your specific needs.

Specialty Thermoplastics

In addition to the thermoplastics mentioned above, there are a variety of specialty thermoplastics available for specific applications. These thermoplastics offer unique properties that make them suitable for specialized uses, such as:

  • Polycarbonate (PC): Known for its high-temperature resistance and strength, PC is often used in components that require transparency, such as lenses and protective covers.

  • PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol): PVA is a water-soluble thermoplastic commonly used as a support material for dual-extrusion 3D printers. It dissolves in water, making it easy to remove from complex prints.

  • Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber-infused materials offer high strength, rigidity, and lightness. They are often used in applications that require exceptional mechanical properties.

It's important to note that specialty thermoplastics may have specific printing requirements. Make sure to consult the manufacturers' guidelines and recommendations before printing.

Now that you've chosen the right thermoplastic for your project, it's time to fine-tune your print settings and techniques to achieve the best results.

Bed Adhesion

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Proper bed adhesion is crucial for successful 3D printing. Without good adhesion, your print may warp, detach, or fail altogether. Here are some tips for achieving optimal bed adhesion:

  • Clean the bed: Ensure that your print bed is clean and free of dust or grease. Use isopropyl alcohol or a similar cleaning solution to wipe off any residue.

  • Level the bed: Leveling the print bed ensures that the nozzle is the correct distance from the bed, promoting proper adhesion. Follow your printer's guidelines on bed leveling.

  • Use adhesives: Depending on the type of thermoplastic, you may need to use adhesives or additional tools to improve bed adhesion. For example, painters' tape, glue sticks, or specialized adhesives can help with adhesion for certain materials.

Experiment with different bed adhesion techniques to find the one that works best for the thermoplastic you're using.

Layer Height and Printing Speed

The layer height and printing speed can greatly influence the quality and strength of your prints. Here's what you need to know:

  • Layer height: The layer height refers to the thickness of each printed layer. Generally, a smaller layer height (e.g., 0.1mm) produces finer detail, while a larger layer height (e.g., 0.3mm) results in faster prints. However, note that reducing the layer height will increase the overall print time.

  • Printing speed: The printing speed determines how fast the printer moves while extruding filament. Higher speeds can result in quicker prints but may sacrifice print quality. Find the optimal printing speed for your specific thermoplastic by adjusting the settings and observing the results.

Temperature Settings

Optimal temperature settings are crucial for successful 3D printing with thermoplastics. Each thermoplastic has a specific temperature range that ensures proper extrusion and adhesion. Check the filament manufacturer's guidelines for the recommended temperature settings.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Nozzle temperature: The nozzle temperature determines the heat at which the thermoplastic melts and is extruded. Start with the manufacturer's recommended temperature, and adjust it slightly based on your experience. Higher temperatures increase print flow but may result in stringing and oozing.

  • Print bed temperature: Some thermoplastics require a heated print bed for better adhesion. Refer to the filament manufacturer's guidelines for the recommended print bed temperature. If your printer doesn't have a heated bed, consider using adhesive aids like a raft or a brim.

Support Structures

For complex models with overhangs or intricate designs, support structures are often necessary. Support structures provide temporary scaffolding that is later removed or dissolved. The type and density of supports may vary depending on the slicing software you use.

Here are a few things to consider when using support structures:

  • Supported materials: Not all thermoplastics are suitable for support structures. Make sure the material you're using is compatible with your slicer and can be easily removed or dissolved.

  • Print orientation: Orienting your model correctly can minimize the need for supports. Experiment with different orientations to determine the one that requires the least support material.

  • Support removal: After printing, carefully remove the support structures using pliers, flush cutters, or dissolving agents (for water-soluble support materials like PVA).


Post-processing can enhance the appearance and functionality of your 3D prints. Depending on the thermoplastic and your specific requirements, various post-processing techniques can be used:

  • Sanding and smoothing: Sanding rough surfaces or using a polishing compound can improve the overall finish of your prints. This technique is especially effective for ABS and PLA.

  • Acetone smoothing: For ABS prints, you can brush or immerse your prints in acetone to achieve a smooth, glossy finish. However, be cautious as acetone is highly flammable and should be used with proper ventilation.

  • Painting: Applying a coat of paint can give your prints a professional touch. Choose a suitable paint designed for the specific thermoplastic you're using.

Remember, each post-processing technique requires proper safety precautions and should be performed in a well-ventilated area.

Even with the best preparations and settings, you may encounter common issues while 3D printing with thermoplastics. Here are the most common issues and their potential solutions:

Adhesion Problems

  • Issue: Prints are not sticking to the bed, warping, or detaching mid-print.
  • Solution:
    • Ensure proper bed leveling and cleaning.
    • Increase bed temperature or use adhesives like painters' tape or glue sticks.
    • Adjust the first layer height and printing speed.
    • Use a brim or raft to improve adhesion.

  • Issue: The corners or edges of your print are lifting or warping.
  • Solution:
    • Use a heated bed if the material requires it.
    • Increase bed temperature or apply an adhesive aid like a raft or brim.
    • Consider using a brim or support structures to minimize warping.
    • Enclose your printer to maintain a stable ambient temperature.

Stringing and Oozing

  • Issue: Thin strands of filament appear between printed parts or on the print itself.
  • Solution:
    • Adjust the retraction settings to reduce filament oozing.
    • Increase travel speed or enable coasting to minimize stringing.
    • Check filament diameter and adjust the extrusion multiplier if needed.


  • Issue: Prints are brittle and prone to breaking.
  • Solution:
    • Increase the print temperature slightly.
    • Adjust the cooling fan speed to reduce rapid cooling and promote layer adhesion.
    • Increase the wall thickness or add additional perimeters.

Got questions about thermoplastic 3D printing? We've got answers! Check out our FAQ below:

Can you 3D print thermoplastics?

Yes, you can 3D print thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are the most commonly used materials in 3D printing due to their versatility and wide range of material properties.

What is thermoplastic used in 3D printing?

In 3D printing, thermoplastics are used as feedstock to create three-dimensional objects. These materials have the unique ability to be heated and cooled multiple times without undergoing permanent chemical changes.

Why use thermoplastic for 3D printing?

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Thermoplastics offer a wide range of benefits for 3D printing, including:

  • Versatility: Thermoplastics come in various material options, each with its own unique set of properties.
  • Durability: Parts printed with thermoplastics are known for their strength, impact resistance, and longevity.
  • High temperature tolerance: Thermoplastics can withstand elevated temperatures without deforming or melting.
  • Easy post-processing: Many thermoplastics can be sanded, painted, or smoothed to achieve the desired finish.

Is TPU more expensive than PLA?

It depends. TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is generally more expensive than PLA (Polylactic Acid). However, pricing can vary depending on the brand, quality, and quantity of the filament.

  • Always review the datasheets and technical specifications of each thermoplastic before printing.
  • Consider using a direct drive extruder for better control over flexible filaments.
  • Experiment with different print settings to find the optimal combination for your specific thermoplastic.
  • Proper storage of thermoplastic filament is essential to prevent moisture absorption and degradation.
  • When printing with specialty thermoplastics, follow the manufacturer's guidelines for proper printing techniques.

Now that you're armed with knowledge about thermoplastic 3D printing, it's time to unleash your creativity and bring your designs to life. Happy printing!

Ready to get started with thermoplastic 3D printing? Check out these links for a wide range of thermoplastic filaments, tools, and resources:




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