Which Filament Do I Need for My 3D Printer?

Personal 3d printer and abs or pla filament coils next to him.

The evolution of the printer has brought us some very impressive new capabilities, including that of the very popular 3D printer. While the ability to obtain one of these printers used to only be available to big company names and individuals, the 3D printer itself has undergone a lot of updates, and one can now be purchased by almost anyone.

If you’ve recently come into possession of a 3D printer, be sure you know how 3D printers work before you start the process of printing something. It is not simply a case of installing ink cartridges and paper to create your designs; in fact, 3D printers require something referred to as a “filament” to produce three-dimensional objects right before your eyes.

A 3D printing filament is the material needed to create a physical object from a printer. The material is thermoplastic, meaning it is a polymer that becomes moldable at a certain temperature, and which then hardens as it cools. Filaments have a wide range of different properties, and each requires a specific, unique temperature before it can be shaped.

If you’re looking to purchase some filament for your 3D printer, consider the information provided to decide which filament you need.

Things to Know About Filament

Size and Diameter

Filament only comes in two different diameter options, which include 1.75mm and 3mm. If you’re trying to decide which type you need for your printer, this will be one of the first things to know so you can narrow down your search. Three-dimensional printers will only work with one size, not both. If you’re not sure which your printer needs, head online to research the type of printer you have or measure any included filament in the packaging.

Your 3D printer should come with filament in one of these two diameters, but some printer companies will utilize their own specific diameter. This is generally a decision made to ensure that the printer company also gets all of your business when it comes to filament purchases.

If you already have a printer, the manual should let you know if you have to purchase a specific brand of filament or if you can use filament from other company suppliers. It’s a good idea, when initially shopping for a 3D printer, to make sure you can use filaments from a variety of suppliers so your options are not limited.

Scientists doing research with the 3D print filament

Quality Supplier

If you’re not sure about which filament to choose and from which supplier, chances are the more you pay, the better quality you will get. Some lower quality filament options will have lumps, causing the diameter of the filament to be wider or smaller than the stated diameter. This kind of issue might cause problems, such as stripping or jamming, so always go with a higher quality if you want a problem-free print.

Material

There is a wide range of filament material options available; however, if this is your first time using a 3D printer, then you’ll want to know about the two most common materials. The two most common filaments are known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and PolyLactic Acid (PLA). Each of these filaments has its own unique characteristics, and it will likely come down to personal preference when deciding between the two.

Temperature

With ABS, the required temperature for extruding is very specific, at 437 degrees Fahrenheit, while PLA has a wider range of 356-428 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re choosing based on temperature or a faster result, PLA will begin extruding more quickly, but not by much.

Toxicity

If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly option, then PLA might be the solution for you. PLA filament is plant-based and gives off less of a fume smell than other options. In comparison, ABS is oil-based and often gives off stronger fumes. If you go with ABS, be sure you have a designated area that has a lot of ventilation.

3D printing piece 3D Printing detail

Heated Bed

A heated bed is required for some filaments, which is used to keep the bottom portion of the object warm while the rest is still being extracted. This ensures that there are no curls or cracks that occur during the process, and that the entire object cools as a collective piece.

The ABS filament requires a heated bed, likely because of its higher temperature requirement and the need to maintain that temperature throughout. A filament like PLA certainly works better when used with a heated bed, but it is not necessary.

Conclusion

If you’re new to using a 3D printer, make sure that you do your research before purchasing one. This is often a fairly large investment, and you’ll want to be sure that you go with a quality filament brand that has the ability to hold filaments that you want for your printing needs.

Be sure to do your research ahead of time and speak to someone about 3D printer options, as well as their capabilities with different filaments, to ensure the perfect print every time.