3D Printing Materials: What Can You Print From?

 |  Anastasia Misiuk

3D Printing Materials: A Quick Guide

In the XX century, plastic was an absolute breakthrough in industrial production and became vital for 3D printing with the rise of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. New types of plastic were developed for printing materials, each fits its purpose, depending on what you are going to print. Read our plastic filament guide and find out more about materials you can use with your printer!

Nowadays the range of materials to print from is much wider. You can print not only from plastic but also from epoxy resins (SLA materials), wax, glass filled polyamide, various metals, and even ash from burnt coal! 

Let’s find out what else is used as printing material in different industries and how scientists invent new materials for 3D printing!

As FDM technology remains the most popular in the world (around 80% 3D printers sold are FDM printers), filament producents look for new options. A mix of plastic with a small amount of wood or even metal is quite popular, so this way your print has a metal finish and the material itself is harder. You can find plastic mixed with copper, bronze, iron, and steel. The metal-plastic filament is harder and stronger than other types of plastic. Or is it?

PEEK was developed for professional usage and high-quality prints with a minimum of post-processing. It may be used with SLS and FDM printing technology. You may ask: «What makes it so special?» Well, PEEK materials are highly resistant to heat, stress, and chemicals. The only difficulty is that your printer should heat it up to 400 degrees to extrude. 

Engineers managed to also mix wood with plastic, creating semi-wood printing filament. The temperature of extrusion even helps to change the shade of brown of your final print! Printing at lower temperatures gives lighter shade, and making the printing temperature higher gives the darker shade of the printed objects. This is not only visually interesting and allowing to achieve the natural look of the print. Other popular semi-natural materials are mixed with bamboo, hemp, or more exotic olive.

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image source: 3dwithus.com

Metal 3D printing is rapidly gaining popularity and nowadays engineers develop more ways of printing different types of metal. Direct Metal Laser Sintering and Direct Metal Deposition are the most frequently used technologies in metal printing. Aluminum as one of the lightest and softest metals, so it is widely used in the prototyping and aerospace industry. Aluminum is quite resistant to stress and heat, so its use will only be developed wider. It is now possible to print copper and bronze as printing materials.

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image source: pinterest.com

Not interesting enough? How about printing from precious metals? Yes, it is possible! Silver, gold, and platinum are used as printing materials in jewelry design and the medical industry. Powder Bed Fusion is the main technology that allows printing with precious metals. Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) methods use either a laser or electron beam to melt and fuse the material powder together.  The process repeats until the model is ready and the unfused powder can be removed during post printing. The hardest part there, as you already guessed, is not to lose any of the precious powder.

As we get used also to advanced 3D printing technologies, unusual and extremely exotic materials are being invented all the time. If plastic filament glowing in the dark does not surprise you, what would you say about printing from space dust? Scientists reproduced Moondust here on Earth and developed printing material from it. Now it is used only for prototyping in the aerospace industry and it’s quite hard to imagine an opportunity to order something like this online. Another aerospace initiative is 3D printing from space plastic, the garbage all around our orbit. The idea is to collect, melt, and reuse it as printing material.

When it comes to eco-friendly 3D printing, the most recent breakthrough happened in Singapore. Researchers at the NTU invented 3D printable concrete which consists mainly of fly ash from burnt coal. The main usage purpose of this material is construction, 3D printing houses. As coal is one of the most popular (and very polluting!) sources of energy nowadays, the opportunity to make it less harmful and more useful by printing houses sounds great!

Students of UPM, Madrid went even further and developed an UrbanBees project. It is still an idea phase, and the idea is to send bee-like drones to the most polluted areas. Just like the bees collect nectars from flowers, bee-drones are supposed to collect air pollution and produce 3D printing filament. 

We hope this article helped you to find out more about what can you print your models from or even inspired you to create your own, unique mixed material. Enjoy your printing and never stop creating with SelfCAD!  

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