What Material is 3D Printed? Exploring the World of 3D Printing Materials [2023]

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Welcome to 3D Printed™, your ultimate guide to all things related to 3D printing! In this article, we will delve into the exciting world of 3D printing materials and explore the various options available to you. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced user, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the knowledge you need to choose the right material for your 3D printing project.

Table of Contents:

  • Plastic 3D Printing Materials and Processes
  • FDM 3D Printing
  • SLA 3D Printing
  • SLS 3D Printing
  • Compare Plastic 3D Printing Materials and Processes
  • Metal 3D Printing
  • Framework for Choosing the Right 3D Printing Material
  • Find the Best 3D Printing Material for Your Project
  • FAQ
    • Are 3D prints made of plastic?
    • What is the best material for 3D printing?
  • Quick Tips and Facts
  • Useful Links
  • Reference Links

Plastic 3D Printing Materials and Processes

Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials in 3D printing due to its affordability, versatility, and ease of use. There are several different plastic-based 3D printing processes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses:

FDM 3D Printing

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is a popular plastic 3D printing process that involves extruding layers of melted filament to create a three-dimensional object. FDM printers are widely available and relatively inexpensive, making them a great choice for beginners and hobbyists.

Key features of FDM 3D printing:

  • Affordable and easy to use
  • Wide range of plastic filaments available, such as PLA, ABS, PETG, and TPU
  • Suitable for creating functional prototypes, household items, and small-scale models
  • Can produce objects with good strength and durability

Pros of FDM 3D printing:

  • Cost-effective compared to other 3D printing processes
  • Wide material selection
  • Simple setup and operation

Cons of FDM 3D printing:

  • Limited precision and resolution compared to other 3D printing technologies
  • Visible layer lines on the finished prints
  • Requires support structures for overhangs and complex geometries

SLA 3D Printing

Stereolithography (SLA) is a resin-based 3D printing process that uses a liquid photopolymer resin cured by a UV laser to create highly detailed and accurate prints. SLA printers are known for their exceptional print quality and are commonly used in industries such as jewelry, dental, and prototyping.

Key features of SLA 3D printing:

  • High resolution and accuracy
  • Precise detailing and intricate designs
  • Recommended for small objects, jewelry, and dental models
  • Wide selection of resins available, including standard, flexible, and castable resins

Pros of SLA 3D printing:

  • Incredible level of detail and surface finish
  • Ideal for creating complex geometries
  • Capable of producing smooth, professional-grade prototypes

Cons of SLA 3D printing:

  • Expensive compared to FDM
  • Limited build volume
  • Post-processing required (removing supports and curing)

SLS 3D Printing

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a powder-based 3D printing process that uses a high-powered laser to selectively fuse powdered materials to form a solid object. SLS allows for the use of various materials, including plastic, metals, and ceramics, and is commonly used in the production of functional prototypes, end-use parts, and complex geometries.

Key features of SLS 3D printing:

  • Capable of printing with a wide range of materials, including nylon, polyamide, and metal powders
  • High strength and durability of printed parts
  • Complex geometries can be achieved without the need for support structures
  • Suitable for functional prototypes, automotive parts, and aerospace components

Pros of SLS 3D printing:

  • No need for support structures, as unsintered powder acts as self-supporting during printing
  • Excellent mechanical properties of printed parts
  • Versatile material options, including flexible and heat-resistant materials

Cons of SLS 3D printing:

  • Higher cost compared to FDM and SLA
  • Limited options for surface finishing
  • Requires post-processing (removing excess powder and additional curing if needed)

Compare Plastic 3D Printing Materials and Processes

Material Features Strengths Weaknesses
PLA Biodegradable and easy to print with Environmentally friendly Limited heat resistance and flexibility
ABS Good strength and durability Impact resistance Requires proper ventilation due to fumes during printing
PETG Strong, lightweight, and flexible Chemical resistance and transparency Slightly more difficult to print than PLA and ABS
TPU Elastic and flexible Soft-touch feel Requires a printer with a direct-drive extruder for printing
Nylon High strength and toughness Wear resistance and low friction Requires a heated build plate and controlled printing environment

Metal 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a rapidly evolving technology that allows the creation of complex metal parts with high precision and accuracy. Various metal alloys can be used in this process, including stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, and even precious metals like gold and silver.

Key features of metal 3D printing:

  • Highly precise and accurate
  • Enables the production of intricate designs and complex geometries
  • Suitable for engineering applications, aerospace and automotive industries, and medical devices

Pros of metal 3D printing:

  • Capable of producing strong and durable metal parts
  • Greater design flexibility compared to traditional manufacturing methods
  • Reduces material waste and production time

Cons of metal 3D printing:

  • Expensive technology, mainly used in industrial applications
  • Requires specialized equipment and expertise
  • Post-processing required, such as heat treatment and machining

Framework for Choosing the Right 3D Printing Material

Choosing the right 3D printing material for your project depends on several factors, including the desired application, functional requirements, and budget. Here is a framework to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Application: Consider the intended use of the printed object. Is it a functional prototype, an end-use part, or an artistic creation?

  2. Mechanical Properties: Determine the required strength, flexibility, and durability of the printed object. Different materials offer varying levels of mechanical performance.

  3. Surface Finish: Evaluate the desired aesthetics of the print. Some materials produce smooth, polished finishes, while others may have visible layer lines.

  4. Material Properties: Consider the specific attributes of each material, such as heat resistance, chemical resistance, transparency, or flexibility.

  5. Cost: Evaluate the cost of the 3D printing process, including the material, equipment, and post-processing requirements.

By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision and choose the best 3D printing material for your project.

Find the Best 3D Printing Material for Your Project

With a wide range of 3D printing materials available, it can be challenging to decide which one is best suited for your project. To help you get started, we have compiled a list of the most popular materials and their recommended applications:

  1. PLA: Ideal for beginners and general-purpose printing. It is biodegradable, easy to print, and suitable for prototyping, hobbyist projects, and educational purposes.

  2. ABS: Offers good strength and durability, making it suitable for functional parts, mechanical prototypes, and end-use applications.

  3. PETG: Combines the strength and durability of ABS with the ease of printing of PLA. It is suitable for various applications, including mechanical parts, enclosures, and cosplay props.

  4. TPU: Known for its elasticity and flexibility, TPU is ideal for creating soft-touch objects, such as phone cases, wearables, and medical models.

  5. Nylon: Provides high strength, toughness, and wear resistance. It is recommended for functional prototypes, mechanical parts, and replacement components.

  6. Metal Alloys: If you require high-strength, heat-resistant, or corrosion-resistant parts, metal 3D printing is the way to go. It is suitable for aerospace, automotive, and industrial applications.

Ultimately, the best 3D printing material depends on your specific requirements and preferences. Experimenting with different materials will help you discover the perfect match for your projects.


Are 3D prints made of plastic?

Yes, many 3D prints are made of plastic. Plastic is a common material used in various 3D printing processes such as FDM, SLA, and SLS. However, it is important to note that 3D printing can also utilize other materials like metals, ceramics, and even food-grade materials.

What is the best material for 3D printing?

The best material for 3D printing depends on your specific needs and requirements. There isn't a single "one-size-fits-all" answer as different materials excel in different applications. However, some popular 3D printing materials include PLA, ABS, PETG, TPU, and various metal alloys. Consider factors like strength, flexibility, heat resistance, and aesthetics when choosing the right material for your project.

Quick Tips and Facts

  • PLA is derived from renewable resources such as corn starch and sugarcane, making it an eco-friendly choice.
  • ABS is known for its durability and impact resistance, making it suitable for functional prototypes and industrial applications.
  • SLA resin prints may require additional post-curing in a UV chamber to ensure maximum strength and stability.
  • Nylon filament tends to absorb moisture from the air, so it's important to store it properly to avoid print quality issues.
  • Metal 3D printing technologies are rapidly advancing, enabling the production of complex metal parts with high precision.

Note: The information provided in this article is based on our research and expertise in the field. Always refer to the manufacturer's guidelines and consult with experts before making any decisions related to 3D printing materials and processes.

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