3D Printers can use a wide range of materials, including plastics, resins, metals, ceramics and more.
The most popular material is plastic, and most of the home / desktop style printers print objects using plastic, however some of the higher-end printers are capable of printing using many different materials.
Currently some of the Objet range of printers support up to 107 materials. Take a look at the Objet Materials page to learn more about the type of materials their printers support.
At the moment the majority of 3D Printers, especially the low cost systems, print using a technology called 'Fused filament fabrication (FFF)', these printers currently tend to print using one of the following materials:
- PLA (Polylactic Acid) – PLA is probably the easiest material to work with when you first start 3D printing. It is an environmentally friendly material that is very safe to use, as it is a biodegradable thermoplastic that has been derived from renewable resources such as corn starch and sugar canes.
- ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) – ABS is considered to be the second easiest material to work with when you start 3D printing. It's very safe and strong, and widely used for things like car bumpers, and lego (the kids toy).
- PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic) – PVA plastic which is quite different to PVA Glue (please don't try putting PVA Glue into your 3D Printer, it definitely won't work). The popular Makerbot Replicator 2 printers use PVA plastic.
The higher end printers, can use various powder based materials to create 3D objects, these materials can include:
- Polyamide – Which is a strong and flexible material that allows a high level of detail to be achieved. Polyamide objects are constructed from a white, very fine, granular powder.
- Alumide – Is a Polyamide-like material with a distinctive sandy and granular look, that is a rigid and strong material. Alumide objects are constructed from a blend of gray aluminum powder and polyamide, a very fine granular powder.
- Multicolor – A full color material with a sandy and granular appearance. Models made out of multicolor are constructed from a fine granular powder.
Resins are also a material sometimes used in 3D Printing, although design freedom is limited due to the structure necessary to support the objects during the printing process. The following are examples of some resins that can be used:
- High detail resin – Objects made out of high detail resin are constructed from a photo polymeric liquid. This material is ideal for small and/or very finely-detailed visual models, where high detail is required.
- Paintable resin – Objects made out of paintable resin have a smooth surface and will look beautiful painted.
- Transparent resin – Objects made out of transparent resin are constructed from a hardened liquid. The material is strong, hard, stiff, water resistant by nature, and of course, transparent. Transparent resin is suited for models needing a good, smooth, quality surface with a transparent look.
Some metals and ceramics are also being used in 3D Printing, here are a few examples:
- Titanium – Is very light and the strongest 3D printing material available. Objects made from titanium are printed using titanium powder that is sintered together by a laser.
- Stainless steel – Object produced in stainless steel are 3D printed using a stainless steel powder that is infused with bronze material. Stainless steel is the cheapest form of metal printing, very strong and suitable for very large objects.
- Bronze – Objects produced in bronze are 3D printed in using a bronze powder that is infused with bronze. Bronze is an affordable and strong material for printing models in metal.
- Brass, Silver, Gold – Can also be used in 3D printing, although involves printing a wax mould which is then filled with the molten material.
- Ceramics – A 3D printing material that has a shiny appearance, is heat resistant, recyclable and food safe. Models made out of ceramics are constructed from alumina silica ceramic powder, then sealed with porcelain and silica and glazed. A perfect material for home decor items and tableware.
If you are thinking about purchasing a 3D Printed object via one of the many 3D Printing Service companies, we would recommend purchasing a sample kit as this is a great way to look at the different types of printed materials before deciding on a particular material for your printing requirements. A couple of the most popular 3D Printing Services are i-materialise and Sculpteo, and you can find their sample kits here:
Materials that the 3D Printers use
To find out what sort of material each printer uses, take a look at the technical specifications on the manufacturers web site, it should provide this information, alternatively contact the manufacturer or supplier. To find out what materials some of the popular printers use, head over to our 3D Printer information page.